When I began as an entrepreneur, I was so excited and passionate about what I wanted to do as a life purpose or of my business ideas that I spoke about it with every Tom, Dick and Harry. And the Janes, Susans and Marys. Soon I saw Jane and Mary partnered to run an idea I spoke of, and Tom and Harry picked up another one and as they had enough money to turn the idea into a business, they did exactly that.
They were all friends and family at one point and people I trusted. I remember I cried for days and looked up at the sky and asked God why he was being unfair.
Very recently, another bunch of people who felt they were more powerful and monied put all their money strength behind an idea I had worked on for years, stole my work identity and tried their level best to make money on it. They failed miserably, but someone else learnt about their move and brought it to my notice. I sued them and they have been declared imposters and now paying me damages for cheating and stealing the identity. The experience was unpleasant but protecting your ideas and identity is a battle that an entrepreneur must learn to fight.
With so many bright minds turning entrepreneurs and raring to go, it is important to remember that there is a possibility of you speaking to the wrong people about your breakthrough business idea. You own it and you are the first person who deserves to make money on it. But as all new entrepreneurs need monetary backing , they end up speaking with the wrong people in the hope that they would get the necessary funds.
With hundreds of networking events asking you to pitch ideas, plenty of people wanting to fund new ideas in the hope of making money and new entrepreneurs desirous of making it big, it is important to know when, how and where to draw the line. Ideas can be stolen, there is no copyright on ideas; they are not protected under the law. A very famous veteran filmmaker arrogantly claims on his twitter page, ‘I steal ideas’. So how do you protect your ideas? Here’s how:
1. IF YOU ARE CREATING A BRAND:
Seek legal advice, protect the name and activity that you wish to pursue. Never seek money for registering your name, trade-mark or brand name. Use your own money. This is a DIY activity. The process is very simple and you must keep it discreet, stay quiet until you are legally registered. So when you do go out with the name of your business, you are covered and you can display that your trade name is legally protected. This is very important and not spoken about enough. This alone at times may be the only way someone cannot walk away with what is yours.
2. ASK FOR A CONFIDENTIALITY OR A NON-DISCLOSURE DOCUMENT:
Most funders may not like the idea or may even refuse to talk about this. Many would say that people come to them with similar ideas, so it is difficult for them to take responsibility. I have had a venture capitalist tell me ‘even if we give you a non-disclosure document, that piece of paper has little value, you know we can still work on any idea with another entrepreneur.’ Go to credible people. Check people’s credibility in the market, know who has worked with them and do your own due diligence. Do ask how they intend to give you and your idea protection. You have a right to know their background.
3. IDEA AND BUSINESS PLAN:
If you do agree to send out your business plan to anyone for consideration, make sure it is brief and only the summary idea with the monetary returns are given out. The investors are always keen on the numbers and want to meet the person who will take the idea through. Connect with them around these two first. Genuine people are plenty and they will always talk straight. You will find their work on their websites and you will find them in the searches. They will be quick to make decisions and they will ask very specific question regarding the monetary returns. Beware of anyone who asks for the business plan first before talking. Anyone who says, ‘show me the numbers’, understands that it boils down to support for the numbers. You choose!
Choose the forums where you speak about your ideas very carefully. There are many who genuinely want to support entrepreneurship and then there are many who are mere event organizers. As an entrepreneur you would often be tempted to present your idea to the first willing person or group. My advice is to slow down, see what the group is intending to do, how does it intend to support entrepreneurs, who are the people behind it and their results. I remember attending an international entrepreneur boot camp many years ago. I was new and so fully believed in my idea that the people who organized that event, came to me for many years asking me to give up the idea, sell it to them for a pittance as they were in a position to run it better. I am a lawyer too, so I saved myself from that situation.
5. BEWARE OF QUICK MONEY MAKERS:
There are many people out there who are out to make a quick buck. If he can do it, I can too, is their way of looking at things. You will have to train yourself to identify such people and that comes from experience. They are the first to walk away with someone’s ideas and are fast to begin doing something about it. You have to watch who does that and how fast. Most that I have experienced have failed but they do try. There is little they can do because execution matters, but there is a possibility of diluting the strength of the idea. As the owner of the idea, you will be terribly hurt if you do not watch out for such people.
6. DEVELOP THE DIY ATTITUDE:
Until you have worked on every detail of your idea, keep it to yourself. Do it Yourself ! Avoid running to lots of people to give you feedback or advice. Unless you have zeroed in on people who you can trust and who can trust you, DIY is the way. Find mentors instead of investors first. Let some seniors guide you before you jump in to raise money. Learn the ropes so you don’t face the heat of your great idea being taken over by someone else.
7. THE WORLD IS COMPETITIVE:
There is no one who does not want to win. Forget that the people who steal ideas, will ever give you credit for that. They want to take away the credit. So it is your responsibility to make sure you are careful. I have had instances of very close friends and even family walking away and calling my ideas theirs. They even pitched the same ideas to investors as they could see the money because I showed them where the money was! Discern and be careful.
8. RELATIONSHIPS MATTER:
Try to maintain good relationships with people around you. One angry person can retaliate by spoiling another’s business to settle scores. There are lots of egos running around, avoid engaging with such people. Ask questions, learn about people, listen to them, know their intent. If they are over bad…you know what to do. If they are over nice…you know something is fishy…run in the opposite direction.
Wishing you safe and wealthy entrepreneurship!
Abha Maryada Banerjee is India’s first woman motivational speaker of international acclaim. She has been the Peak Performance/Mental Strength Coach for Indian Olympic Athletes. Called ‘Asian Oprah’ and the ‘Asian Woman Motivator’, she professes ‘Personal Mastery’ for individuals and ‘Emotional Fitness’ for Corporates’ and Entrepreneurs for achieving human capital excellence. She is the founder of a People Building Company called SUCCESS INDIA LEADERSHIP with extended works in Indonesia and Singapore. She has been recognized as a Premier Expert in Leadership and Motivation internationally and was chosen as America’s Premier Experts. She recently appeared on Brian Tracy’s show for her book on Leadership for Women. Abha’s much-awaited watershed super-manual on Leadership for Women, called NUCLEUS: Power Women lead from the Core, is scheduled to release in India in February 2014.