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This article was published on March 25, 2014

3 myths about keeping your startup a secret

3 myths about keeping your startup a secret
David Hauser
Story by

David Hauser

Founder of Grasshopper. Founder of Chargify. Founder of PopSurvey. Angel Investor. Founder of Grasshopper. Founder of Chargify. Founder of PopSurvey. Angel Investor.

This post originally appeared on the blog and has been republished with permission.

“Transparency” has become a buzzword in the startup world. Many companies are sharing things previously deemed top secret—their web traffic sources, employee compensation, and project management processes.

This is great. It allows those in the startup world to build a community, help each other, and ultimately make more companies successful.

Even so, there are many leaders that believe this sort of sharing could drag them down. When I was a student entrepreneur, I was always worried that leaking my company secrets would put us at risk. I reasoned that if our competitors knew how we did business, it would be easier for them to overtake us.

I was wrong.

It can be tough to let go of your secret sauce, but the pros (helpful feedback and trust in your brand) far outweigh the costs.

The most common reasons people keep their startup ideas under wraps are bogus, so let’s fight these myths with reality.

Myth #1: People will steal your company


When you conceive a new idea, the last thing you want is for someone to move on it before you, so keeping it a secret must be the best option, right?

Well, maybe not. There are likely multiple people are working on your exact idea right now. Think of how many car-sharing apps burst onto the scene in the span of one year—Uber, Hailo, Lyft, and others all emerged at once.

You can keep your idea a secret, but if it’s really that good, there’s a great chance that someone else is already working on it.

Look at what Buffer, the crowning jewel of transparency, shares on its blog. It provides work-hacks that anyone could use, even its competitors. Does Buffer care and worry about its competitors’ social media managers stealing its ideas? No. Buffer knows it has a strong content strategy and a super useful product. The community it’s built through transparency trumps anyone stealing an idea.

If you talk about your ideas with other people, you’re likely to get super helpful feedback about how to perfect your product and grow your business.

Myth #2: It’s all in the ideas

coffee ideas

Many entrepreneurs believe their ideas separate their company from the competition, but YOU are what makes the company unique (in a good way!)

To prove the point, let’s talk about a decade-old example: Facebook. The social network started first at Harvard, then spread to other college campuses. For the first couple of years, users had to use .edu e-mail addresses to gain access. The competition had plenty of time to create a knockoff Facebook and compete.

Why didn’t any big companies like Google or Microsoft create something for users to take advantage of that market? Why didn’t competitors spring up left and right?

The difference is execution.

What set Facebook apart is not the idea or any kind of patentable intellectual property but how well it built and grew the product. By starting small and growing larger, it gained traction with a limited user base before expanding.

No matter how much or how little you talk about your ideas, you’re still on the hook for building a successful product and company. Execution counts for more than that original idea.

Myth #3: First-mover advantage


Just because you started skiing at age 7 instead of age 5 doesn’t mean you’re bound to a life in the lodge. There’s not always a benefit from first-mover advantage.

If there’s a market for your product or service, then it just means that you’re the first that will compete in the space.  Remember: Most markets can sustain more than one business (just think about how many different companies sell car insurance).

Every great business that proves a market will face competition. At that point, you’ll need to compete on something other than your original idea. Plus, you’ll be visible enough that your competition is looking right at you, benefiting from your obvious first-timer mess-ups.

Samsung certainly didn’t move first. Instead, it moved way late, but was able to push into the market through smart product development– now it’s giving Apple a run for their money.

Don’t keep it secret

If you’re keeping all your ideas under wraps, it’s time to let go. Being transparent will show that you’re a trustworthy and responsible entrepreneur that cares about execution. Go to it. Get blabbing.