I’ve been an entrepreneur for a few years now — in the beginning of my journey, like many wide-eyed potential business owners, I visited many startup, business-focused and funding events and exhibited in a few as well.
My first business’ target was the entrepreneur market, providing things like website design, SEO, and admin, all with the focus of offering them to startups at low cost.
There was one phrase which I heard so often I actually lost count of the number of times it crossed my ears, but it was also a phrase that, before beginning my journey, I had uttered myself.
Something which only escaped the lips of budding entrepreneurs, those who hadn’t yet started their own ventures — those would-be business owners toying with the idea of dipping their toes into the ocean of the startup world.
‘I have a brilliant idea, one which could change everything, but I can’t tell you because I don’t want anyone to steal it.’
This was quite a problematic statement at times, especially when someone was asking me to build a website or do some marketing for them and they wouldn’t tell me what their business was actually about.
I used to tell them, ‘if you don’t want to tell me, why do you want a website to tell everyone else?’
Now, as I mentioned, I used to say this before starting a business, but when I actually went head first into the startup world, I quickly realised that having an idea and actually seeing it through are two VERY different things.
Anyone can have an idea. No doubt thousands of brilliant ideas are thought up everyday, ones which could change the face of many different industries, even humanity itself, but these ideas will go nowhere without action.
Before any action is taken, an idea is just that, an idea. It’s theory, and even if you have a brilliant idea, no one is going to steal it from you before you make it a success.
If it’s an idea that hasn’t been done before, it’s a virtual certainty that no one will steal it from you.
‘But if an idea is that good, why wouldn’t someone steal?’
I hear you asking me.
It’s because no one has done it, there’s no actual proof it will work, or rather, no proof it will be a success and bring the founders the success they desire.
The only time someone will actually steal your idea is once you’ve made a success of it. Once you’ve put the hours, weeks and months of work in, gone through hell and back to make your business grow and when it starts getting traction and recognised success, that’s when people’s ears will prick up and they’ll take notice.
Because you’ve made a success of it, because you’ve proven the business model works, others have the proof and validation they need to start their own ventures doing something similar (even if they completely copy your idea).
But even if they do, you’ve already made a success of it, so their competition will drive your business to become better in the face of theirs.
It’s very well known, especially in the entrepreneur and start-up sphere, that there’s no point in reinventing the wheel.
If someone has made something which works, then it’s quicker, cheaper and easier to just copy them, or if you require what they have, to hire them.
If you’re the person that other people are copying then you’re the innovator who’s created something worthwhile. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all.
There are various real world examples of companies which do exactly the same, or similar things, and all make a pretty decent success out of it, with one obviously always coming first.
Middle-man delivery services between restaurants and customers, for example. Just Eat, founded 2001, Hungry House, founded 2006 and Deliveroo, founded 2013, all do exactly the same thing.
Social networks pretty much do the same thing as each other, but just with slightly different focuses. MySpace was one of the first, then Bebo, then Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, plus I don’t know how many others.
Investors are another example. So many people copy Warren Buffett’s strategies because he’s the most successful investor in the world. It’s easy to see that he knows what he’s doing, so logically it’s quicker and easier to just copy him than to figure out how all the investment markets work and create a strategy for oneself.
We can’t say either way whether the services which came subsequently were directly copied from the first in their industries, and in many cases the business model is copied with slight changes in business focus being made, but it’s certain that a previous success validates an idea and business model, giving others enough confidence to copy it and build their own, similar businesses.
Bottom line is, if you have a brilliant idea, share it with the world.
Shout it from the rooftops. Get feedback on it, both from people who would benefit from your idea and those who wouldn’t.
Don’t be scared of anyone stealing it, because until you put in the time and the graft into it to make it a success, everyone else will be too scared to take the leap, and once you make a success of it, you’ll be the innovator people will copy.
Be the innovator, tell everyone your idea, put the work in.