What if Someone Steals My Startup Idea?

What if someone steals my startup idea

Nobody really wants to steal your startup ideas. Most people don’t even have time to even build their own ideas. So thinking about whether someone is looking to steal your startup ideas is more of a question of learning how to protect yourself, your ideas and your future startup (if it comes out of the ideation and concept validation stage). 

When you build something, you’ll have to ask for feedback at one point anyway. This idea also stemmed when we were writing our article on the 6 Myths about Starting your Own Business.

If you’re scared of your super secret idea being stolen, you’ll spend weeks or months building something nobody wants to use. It’s better to know early what people think about your app.

Don’t be scared of talking about your product. It might be the only way to find out if it’s worth building.


There’s another word for it – copied.

It was not stolen, because you still have the idea.

It was copied.

If you implement your idea faster than the one who copied it, you may be successful.

But most startup ideas fail, so there is nothing to worry about.


Competition can become your ally.

It means that you’ve created something that is useful and others want to try their hand at getting some of that success.

You can’t fault them for that and for some startups, it’s what forces them to push a little harder and be a little more innovative.

However, you also want to be sure that you don’t get overshadowed by your competitors and a lot of that is going to come down to you, your team, and your level of dedication.

So will someone steal your idea? If your idea is good, probably.


Should you be afraid of that? Absolutely not.

Embrace the challenge and make sure you are still number one.

Now, if you have something particularly unique think about whether or not your startup qualifies for any type of patent, copyright or other IP protection. Ideas aren’t protected by law, but real-life inventions are.


Having your idea stolen or copied is the last thing to worry about.

Ideas are dime a dozen and mean nothing in an of themselves. I don’t care if it’s a multimillion or a multibillion dollar idea – it won’t mean a thing unless you see it through until the end which is clearly easier said than done.

Having your idea stolen is very unlikely to ever happen for the mere fact that taking an idea from concept to realization and ultimately self-sustainable business takes great deal of hard work, time, money, skills, experience and most importantly STAYING POWER.

Entrepreneurship means dealing with uncertainties on daily basis and loving it. Your ability to get punched in the face day in and day out and pick yourself up to carry on will ultimately be a decisive factor whether you make it or not.

Either way, brace yourself and be mentally ready, oh and don’t worry about having your idea stolen.

To help you start your entrepreneurial journey, you may want to read these blog posts I’ve carefully selected for you.


Can a startup sue an ex-cofounder for stealing an idea?

Anyone can sue for anything.

To be successful, you usually have to show damages that they are infringing on your intellectual property.

Unfortunately, you can’t protect the idea itself, just how it is implemented.

It is a good idea to document everything in case you need it in court.

This is not legal advice, and I am not a lawyer. In legal disputes, I heard that lawyers always win. (They usually get paid whether you win or lose).

I would be very careful in deciding whether it’s feasible to sue.

  • Can you prove the idea 100% yours and not based on prior work?
  • Did they sign a work-for-hire or a blanket assignment?
  • Is that assignment too broad, attempting to cover anything that is not explicitly declared prior work, for instance?
  • Do you have documented proof that the idea was stolen when you were in the process of patenting it?   


Having your startup idea copied or stolen may not be a bad thing after all.

Any founder worth their salt – who has grown their company to any significant scale and experienced any semblance of success – will tell you that one of the leading indicators that their startup has got any chance of success was the day they realised they had copycats.

Welcome them like a sibling replicating your style. They might resemble you but they will never be you.

Enjoy the flattery then continue revolutionizing.

Copying a product is the biggest compliment another founder can give you. It’s a veiled confession of superiority which acknowledges their own inability to innovate.

The platitude that everything is in the implementation has never been more true.

But there is a key element of that which people never realise of misunderstanding: as critical to the development of any product is the learning that went into its development.

The failures you overcame, the reasons for the specific choices that were made that led to the product or service you offer today,

It’s the equivalent of getting marks for your working in a Mathematics examinations.

While you have the working and the answer, the startup ripping your idea off only has the answer and understands nothing about the question or the struggle to get there.

Where you have iteratively developed your startup over time, internalising the lessons of what has worked and what hasn’t, NewCo hasn’t and will often be sentenced to explore and repeat the same mistakes you did. During this process they are unlikely to persist as their passion is misplaced.


You must relentlessly stick to your mission and not be distracted.

Even if you both start out from the same place, the likelihood of you reaching the same end point or progressing in the same direction is unlikely.

But make no mistake about it, competition is an existential threat.

Competition is war, but it provides validity to your argument. Competitors bring validation of ideas and increase focus on unloved spaces. When you have those replicating your efforts you know what you are producing is resonating with a wider audience.


Double down and get back to it.

Focus on your key advantages, batter down the hatches and blow them away.

If you have existing users/customers renew every focus on over delivering at every opportunity. Your customers are the lifeblood of your future success and a resource that should be exploited for learning and teaching at every opportunity.

Start talking to them more; you should have more users to interview if you are the incumbent which is a massive advantage.

Understand your advantages and start putting them to use. Do you have more users, a wider customer base, more financial resources? Whatever it is work to your strengths, understand your weaknesses and exploit theirs.

Get dirty and renew your love for the problem you are solving. Competition should sharpen your mind not dissuade you from participating.


Remember that competitors can win.

Everyone assumed there was no room for another search engine while Yahoo ruled the surf of the interweb, before Google dropped in and yahoo sank in their wake.

Competitors should eradicate any and all complacency.

You won’t be the only fish in the pond any longer.


But the pond can be expanded → Blue Ocean Strategy

As your market gets more public acclaim those other fishes are understandably trying to steal your lunch. You may start out as the big fish in an increasingly large pond, but to stay at the top of the food chain, your need to continue to offer the best service/product.

The old adage of a new company having to be 10x better in order to encourage customers might be true when a company is an established brand, but at the early stages it is an empty moat you can’t hide behind.

The ease in which users can download an app and delete it should frighten us all, but it is also our greatest strength.

Continue to wow your customers and they will remain. Remain abreast of your competitors developments and continue to produce. Make sure they always remain the one’s who are striving to keep up.

It would be a mistake to panic and over commit resources to watch them.

It would be equally as large a mistake to ignore them completely.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” ― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

That is the nature of entrepreneurship.

Continuous existential threats that must be navigated with grace while continuing to offer an increasingly superior service, both to what you offered previously and what your competitors seek to replicate.

So embrace those who copy your work. Thank them for the motivation and put it to work. You now know you’re business has merit. Now it’s your responsibility to respond to the challenge and excel.


If you can’t handle the fight don’t put on the gloves.

If you are it’s time to start swinging.

This is a question we hear regularly. And there is nothing wrong about this thinking. It’s totally understandable.

There are many angles to this question. Let’s try to tackle the ones, which are most important – at least from our point of view.

Ideas are not a rare thing. 

Think about it, people come up with ideas constantly.

Having an idea for improving something, which exists already, can be a very valid idea, too. Think mobile phones: Apple was not the first company creating a mobile phone. Actually it was one of the last ones. But what did they do?

They re-thought the idea of how mobile phones work. They improved and invented on top of many things, which already existed. They simply made the whole experience feel easier.

As you can see, having an idea is not the fundamental thing. But then what is?

Ideas are nothing without execution

That basically sums it up quite well. Think about it. Almost anybody can have an idea. But who’s enthusiastic enough to make it become real?

Only the fewest people. And even if somebody would try to create an idea from somebody else, he would miss certain qualities to succeed.

People who come up with an idea and who are crazy enough to bet on it and start executing truly believe in their idea. And believing in it is one of the most important things.

Imagine somebody would hear about an idea but just think ‘cool, let’s make some money out of it’ and he would try to copy it. He would miss the essential, his driving force would be money-making, not the true believe in the idea, which makes a big difference.

What’s more important than a startup idea?

No, it’s not having money or having a lot of free time. The team working on the startup idea is actually the most important factor.

That’s the reason why many investors look more at a startup team than at their idea. Just remember that you can apply to Y Combinator without an Idea. But why ist that? Good question.

The reason is again pretty simple: a great team can bring any idea to live and make it a success. For them it wouldn’t matter at all what the idea would be about.

The great thing about a team is that usually the team members have complementary skills. They simply do the best in their respective fields and magic things will happen.

Do tell people about your startup idea

Actually telling people about your idea is a very important thing to do. Only in this way you’ll be able to start collecting feedback early and shape your idea into a startup success story!

And feedback is so important, just remember who came up with the hashtags on Twitter: the Twitter users.

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2 Replies to “What if Someone Steals My Startup Idea?”

  1. I know this is really boring and you are skipping to the next comment, but I just wanted to throw you a big thanks – you cleared up some things for me!

  2. People seem to think that there’s a scarcity of ideas, and the world is full of idea-grabbers just lying in wait to hear a good idea and then pounce on it and profit from it. That’s not how it works.

    In fact, there is an overabundance of good ideas. What is scarce is people capable of executing the idea. If you share your idea, it will just enter the long queue of good ideas floating around waiting to find someone to execute them.

    But it’s not just “execution”. There are other factors that make you uniquely suitable for championing your startup.

    The full extent of your idea can’t be communicated with a few sentences or a slideshow. You have a certain vision for it, built by whatever it is that inspired the idea and probably a lot of thinking afterwards. You’re the one who will see the big picture together with all the fine details, and know how the idea should evolve.

    For the same reason, you’re the one most likely to believe in the idea. I’m sure you believe the idea is good, and it very well may be, but others who don’t know what you know won’t necessarily see that. It’s extremely unlikely that anyone you share the idea with will believe in it enough to want to steal it.

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