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STARTUP

Burn Your NDA

Three reasons to run a more open, honest start-up. (And, no, that doesn't involve non-disclosure agreements.)

When we first started Napkin Labs, we kept our business idea close to the chest, sharing it only with those in our trusted circle. I've seen other entrepreneurs be protective of their idea in the early stages, too, even going so far as to ask for non-disclosure agreements to be signed before initial conversations.

But after a few years in the start-up universe, I've realized that being secretive is a really big mistake. While it may seem risky to open up your business idea to the world, failing to do so can cause your start-up to miss out on some huge opportunities. Here are three reasons your start-up should be more open.

1. Your idea is not what's most important.

In the early stages of Napkin Labs, I spent many nights lying awake, thinking about how my business partner and I were about to change the world with our groundbreaking business idea. We were convinced that letting our idea leak would be lethal to the future of Napkin Labs; any smart person could turn the idea into an overnight success (or so we thought).

Looking back three years later, it's funny to think about how confident we were in our original idea, because since then, it's evolved and adapted into something very different. In retrospect, Napkin Labs's success has been defined more by the people, feedback, and tools that have helped our business evolve, rather than the idea that started our company.

2. Openness lets you learn faster.

Being open about your business idea helps to make every conversation more productive. When my business partner and I finally started to share our idea for Napkin Labs with advisors, friends and entrepreneurs, the amount of helpful insight that we collected on a daily basis grew exponentially. In fact, it pains me to think of all of the valuable advice and feedback we missed during our secrecy phase. The benefits continued to grow when we began opening up to potential customers as well, since they provided a ton of valuable insight and helped us prioritize new features.

3. Talking attracts advocates.

Advocates are important to the growth of any start-up, but you won't get support without letting people into the fold. I'm constantly astounded by the amount of support and enthusiasm for Napkin Labs that I gain by simply chatting with friends, entrepreneurs, business people, and customers about the company. In reality, I've had a bunch of casual conversations lead to people becoming huge advocates of Napkin Labs. Some of these advocates have introduced me to customers, partners, and investors.

Want to take it a step further? Ask for feedback, and if fits with your vision, then implement it immediately. When you let people help shape the future of your business, they'll feel connected to what you're building and will be motivated to spread the word about your company among their friends and professional network...customers included!

In an age where there is hardly such a thing as a new idea, being open about your business is critical to the success of any start-up. The more open and confident you are about your idea, the faster you'll be to adapt, execute, gain support and--most importantly--get ahead.

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Last updated: May 31, 2012

RILEY GIBSON | Columnist | CEO, Napkin Labs

Riley Gibson is the co-founder and CEO of Napkin Labs, a start-up that builds tools to help companies turn their Facebook fans into an army of collaborators for new insights and ideas. For more, check out the Napkin Labs blog.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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