On NDAs

I originally shared this here on The Bitcoin Pub. To lay some context down, I have been getting a lot of pitches for new projects in the blockchain space, especially because I’m building in that exact space (go figure).

After getting the 100th pitch (or so) I realized that I could do myself a massive favor and just write out all of my thoughts on this particular topic and then just reference the canonical post whenever I get pinged! What a novel idea, I know.

To be even more specific, what really sets me off is when folks ask me to sign an NDA (Non-Disclosure Agreement) before they can tell me their great idea.

I simply do not sign NDAs. They are essentially worthless, especially in my line of work. Execution, as I have written countless times on this blog, is everything. Anything else, especially at the early concept stage, is an utter waste of time.

Just go build, full stop.

With that in mind, here’s what I wrote about “pitching new ideas” and non-disclosure agreements and stuff like that…


Hey, I’ve Got an Idea…

… you can stop right there.

Ideas are worthless because ideas require no real work. For instance, I had the clever idea of building a chatbot that would deliver ice cream, on-demand, while I went to the bathroom this morning (I particularly like vanilla bean ice cream, for those paying attention).

In startup world (and life in general), execution is everything. I don’t really care if you have an idea… I’ve had 1,000 of them myself! But only a few of those were believed in strongly enough to actually go do something about it.

To be clear, this doesn’t mean that the idea you have is a bad one or that it’s one that shouldn’t be explored or pursued… the thing is that you don’t need my help to both explore it or pursue it.

Will You Sign This NDA?

No fucking way.

Why? Because ideas are worthless. In fact, the paper that we’d sign would be intrinsically worth more than the idea. Marinate on that.

But just as important is the fact that the likelihood of this “new” idea being fundamentally and principally unique is almost zero. To paraphrase (badly) Tyler Durden:

Your idea is not special. Your idea is not beautiful or a unique snowflake.

What makes the idea special or beautiful or unique is that you moved the idea from abstraction into implementation. You’ve moved from an idea into execution. You’ve given birth to the idea and now, it’s alive.

But most people never get there and they fill in the gaps of execution with paperwork which essentially amounts to an excuse that mask their insecurities.

But What if Someone Steals My Idea?

Then you’ve already revealed your achilles heel. In an effort to not repeat myself, this shows that you’re more interested in covering your ass then doing the hard work of building the idea into a form that could be truly defensible.

Remember, your idea isn’t new which means that it’s already been stolen. In fact, in the time that you spent preparing an NDA or trying to figure out how to “secure” your idea… you’ve already lost valuable time in building the thing outright.

There are too many examples of this to mention but just think of all of the category leaders within our business world and just think of how many were truly unique at the time. Most of them had a ton of competition when they first started… but they won because they executed better than the rest.

A final example might be our community site here and the YouTube channel that we’re putting together. Both the forum and the YouTube are channel are not technologically-unique in anyway, shape, or form. We use the same toolkits, platforms, and off-the-shelf technology as anyone else.

Why is it that we’re growing so well? In one word, execution. @peter and I have determined that if we work smarter (and harder) than anyone else then we will become a category leader within the space. And, as a consequence, we’ll reach the most people, have the most impact on people’s lives, and hopefully be rewarded for our investment.

The last part isn’t guaranteed, of course, but we feel like it’s worth the time, effort, and risk.

By the time you’ve finished your CYA paperwork your competitors (the ones you know about and the ones that you most certainly do not know about) are already 100 steps ahead of you. Now, you’re behind.

One final thing to consider, and this may come off a bit harsh, is the possibility that the reason you can’t share your idea publicly (i.e. it stays behind an NDA) is because your idea isn’t actually that good to begin with. Or, you simply do not have the courage or resolve to stand public criticism and to do the hard work of building it alone.

That’s not to hurt your feelings or, again, to tell you that this idea doesn’t have merit. It probably does! What I am telling you is that your priorities and worldview are fundamentally misaligned with ours and we wouldn’t be good partners anyway.

But I Need Your Help Because ___________

No, you actually don’t.

@peter and I are not the brightest, smartest, fastest, nor more resourceful folks on the planet. We are also not the most experienced business-builders or software engineers on the planet (far from it). We are not even film or video experts (this is a glorious internal joke that we share, but that’s besides the point).

In short, if you’ve canvassed the vast sea of the internet and have drawn the conclusion that @peter and I are the best folks to help you with your new idea or project then you haven’t searched (e.g. networked) enough.

This isn’t false humility. It is, quite literally, a fact.

But, more tactically, @peter and I simply do not have the time or resources to help you (currently) with your great, new, and exciting venture. Why? Because we’re building our own and serving our community full-time (where “full time” is ~ 20 hrs per day, 7 days a week).

You see, there’s something beautiful about knowing who you serve and one’s mission around those ideas of service. It creates perfect, unadulterated focus. We are busy serving our cryptonation in the best ways possible and any time outside of that is dedicated to our family and small group of friends (besides taking breaks for physical and mental health).

Finally, and most poignantly on this point, you don’t need our help because we didn’t need yours.

@peter and I got this started because we believed our time and effort would reward those that we serve and, consequently, eventually, reward us as well. We didn’t go out looking for others to take our idea and make it a reality… instead, we just started building.

And you should too.

But Can You Advise or Introduce Me…

Nope, sorry.

It’s not that we don’t have great relationships or a network that you could plug into but the time required to do a proper, quality introduction is incredibly time-consuming. This is not the same thing as tweeting out that a “friend needs help, insert link to project here.”

Proper introductions are costly, both in terms of relational equity as well as time, and it’s the latter that we really don’t have much of. This also applies to “advising” or “being on the board” of other startups and companies.

The reason I do not currently hold a single board seat on any company right now is because I am far too busy building my own projects and performing the necessary functional and fiduciary responsibilities of a real board seat are very time intensive. Most people have no idea what a real Board Member does and the requirements therein.

So, this is why becoming an “advisor” to your project or spending the time to do a real, quality introduction, isn’t something that I can easily do.

But You’re Missing Out on the Next Big Thing!

Okay, that’s cool. I can live with that.

But why don’t you instead prove me wrong by executing the fuck out of the idea and then come back to me months (or years) from now and make me eat this post. I’d gladly tell you (and the rest of the world) that I was wrong and I missed out.

Okay… So, Any Final Thoughts…?

Yes, of course.

@peter and I believe in a decentralized future. It doesn’t quite exist today, but, we’re quickly building that reality (with you, in fact). We believe that this future is aligned with open source philosophies and pragmatics, meaning, that giving away stuff is what you do, full stop.

In fact, just review what we’ve put together so far in the last few months…! The vast majority of it is free, freely given to help our community learn and grow together. We’ve created transparency reports all along the way and when we ask for help to help buoy the costs we do it in a way that’s honest and, hopefully, not icky.

With this decentralized worldview we also believe in a permission-less economy. You do not need @peter nor my blessing to go build what you need built (not that you were looking for it anyway…). In fact, if you want to build something that might be seen as a “direct” competitor to what we’re building… fantastic! We bless your effort and hope you succeed!

And why wouldn’t we.

We didn’t ask for anyone’s permission to build this community site. We didn’t ask anyone’s permission to build a YouTube channel. We didn’t ask for anyone’s permission to build anything we’re doing. We simply took the ideas that we had in our heads and started to execute against them and we hoped that people would show up and be blessed by our work.

I hope, for your sake and mine, that whatever you choose to do with your most precious, limited, and most valuable resource is wildly successful. The time we have left on earth is quickly being eaten up by indecision, insecurity, and general executional-malaise that is stopping great things, necessary things, from being created and offered to the world.

Do not be like those who sit and struggle with an idea as they try to wrestle it to the floor in their own head. Instead, share it publicly, courageously, with others and then go build it. I believe that when you do that you’ll find plenty of people who, instead of “stealing” the idea, will decide to help you build it.

We’ve seen that here on The Pub… I mean, that’s why many of you are still here.

Good luck and godspeed. I don’t principally hate NDAs or the requests that you make for my most precious resource… I hate that you wasted good time crafting a message to me or @peter instead of building your future.

%d bloggers like this: