A lot of people have wonderful ideas to pitch to investors, but they are afraid to do so. I don’t blame them for that because most of them have passed through a lot of ordeals in the hands of investors and clients. Some have been out rightly rejected, thereby making them feel inadequate; while others were mocked and embarrassed for being bold enough to dream big.
But the one that touches me most is that of those whose ideas were stolen by the investors/clients they pitched to.
This is not a new thing. Many inventors and freelancers can attest to this. It can happen to anybody, even to those in the corporate world. Yes, junior officers can have their ideas stolen by their superiors, who present these ideas to board members without giving credits to their subordinates that thought them up. This situation gets worse when the board assigns this superior officer the responsibility of supervising the implementation of the ideas and then promoting him after the junior officers must have seen it to fruition. We see this everyday in our places of work and it can be very devastating. But the end result is that the junior officers have learnt to keep mute, play ignorant and keep their disruptive ideas to themselves, even if it means the organisation crumbling. It is indeed a case of a vicious cycle.
But this article isn’t about those in the corporate world. Its interest is on freelancers and start-ups whose ideas are hijacked by their clients and investors. It hurts when you think up something, plan it, visualise it and then have it stolen right under your nose. And worse is, the thief gives you no form of credit and makes you look like a copycat should you go ahead to set your idea into motion.
There are reasons why these idea thieves succeed. Sometimes it’s because of some skills they have developed (especially publicity and marketing skills), other times it’s because of the loopholes the proposed investee overlooked. Below are some of the reasons why it is easy to steal ideas from innovators.
a. Revealing too much: There are some investors and clients that will want you to tell them everything concerning your idea. For instance, you are an interior decorator, or should I say, cabinet maker. You met with a client whose kitchen cabinets you are pitching to install. This client may demand that you give him a clear picture of what you have in mind, and being a “good person”, you downloaded the pictures in your head to him in such a way that he is seeing what you are seeing, with exact measurements and dimensions. This person can easily pick up your idea and hand it over to his carpenter to do the job, using your specifications.
This can also be seen among start-ups whose investors ask for every detail concerning the business. Yes, I know these investors want to be sure they are not going to waste their money but some of them still hijack these ideas from these investees and either build them up by themselves or pitch them to others.
b. Being too Conventional: Sometimes it is easy to pick someone’s brain because he’s too predictable. This is not saying that idea thieves prefer going after conventional ideas, but they wouldn’t mind settling for one when they have nothing else to hold onto.
c. Pitching to only one Source: I know a lot of investors and clients don’t like people pitching ideas simultaneously to several investors and clients, but hey, this is about you looking out for yourself. Pitching to one client/investor and spending weeks or months waiting for his reply could be disastrous to freelancers and start-ups. And this will be most disappointing when the response turned out negative, or worse, silent.
d. Little or No Investigative Work: Some start-ups are so carried away by promises of brighter future that they fail to investigate their knights in shining armour. Those “investors” knew how desperate these people are and will therefore lure them with flashy empty promises. Without suspecting much, these start-ups and freelancers offload everything they have without knowing they were about to be robbed.
e. Poor Networking: It is easier to steal from a loner than from someone that moves with the herd. I’m saying you should have the herder’s mentality, but when people don’t really know you and what you are capable of, trust me, someone is going to tie you to a stake and milk you dry.
Without being too verbose, I’ll list out ways idea thieves can be outsmarted.
1. Make Investigations: You can ask around to find out the reputation of the client/investor. If you see or hear any negative review, be on the alert for scam.
2. Give only Rudimentary Ideas: Don’t give out everything. State enough to capture the interest of the person and to convince him that you know what you are doing.
3. Engage in Simultaneous Submissions: Don’t pitch your idea to only one outlet. Spread it out. If all of them are going to steal it, then let them battle that. However, the essence of spreading ideas simultaneously is that there will be more chances of your submissions getting interests shortly after submission. That way, you can start early to work on your project. And you know, the earlier you worked on your ideas, the lesser the possibility of it being hijacked.
4. Be Disruptive: This is the era that calls for disruptive innovations, so you need to be one for you will be sorted after. Let’s assume you pitched the framework of your exotic idea to several people, and you told them it’s simultaneous submission, believe me they will want to hear further from you. Then, you can make your choice.
5. Stay Visible: Visibility is one major ingredient in the sauce called success. It is harder to steal from someone that is known. So stay visible, both online and offline. Find good platforms that will project your image positively and build up there.
6. Don’t be Desperate: This is easier said than done, but it’s good to know anyway. Being desperate has cost people so much. Some will settle for less, while others will settle for none. Though this is not easy, try to remove desperation from your demeanour as you go after clients and investors.
7. Be Confident: This is the last one I want to drop here. It is easier to steal from someone that sounded unsure of himself than a confident person. So be bold, be assertive and exude confidence.
I know a lot of people are expecting to see something on copyrights and patents. Well, all I can say here is that this article is about ideas that have not been invented or published yet. It is about ideas that are yet to be put to work. They are still in their frameworks with no flesh to say how it will turn out. It could be something you communicated to someone orally or in writing, which has not yet been put to test. Therefore, it may not be wise to look for laws that will protect ideas that are still in their incubation period.
But in a case where the idea has already been published or invented, but you seek expansion, you can then consider any of those laws that appy to your case.