In 2019, with the role social media plays in our lives as people and entrepreneurs, someone stealing your idea is approximately the most insignificant challenge you will ever have as you look to build a sustainable business.
What I mean is, entrepreneurship is hard, it is more than hard, it is virtually statistically impossible to succeed. There are quite literally endless challenges you will face along the way, and someone "stealing" your idea should not even be on your list.
An idea is just that, and it is about 0.1 percent of what is needed to win at this game so don't focus your energy or resources on preventing it, but rather spend your time building a product people love, and guess what? No one can copy that.
Here are three things you can start building now, that will eventually protect you from someone stealing your idea.
Killer execution cannot be copied.
I know this has already become somewhat of a cliche, but there is a reason these things become cliches, they are deeply true, so people like to say them. Facebook was not the first social network on the internet, not even close. Apple was not first to mobile. Google was not first to search. Uber was not first to transportation. I can obviously go on for hours, but you know where I am going with this.
In today's day and age, being first is borderline worthless. In fact, I am not sure if most CEOs would agree with the following statement, but not being first, seeing how others have won or lost at your game, might actually be beneficial for you and your success.
The bottom line is, if you execute well, build a product users love, not only will your company grow, but it will be very hard to copy your success. Loyalty is very difficult to copy.
Focus on building, shipping, iterating, and not on filing patents, maintaining secrecy, and drafting NDAs. As an entrepreneur, you have very limited resources, use them wisely.
A strong brand people care about is the best defense.
While you build and tweak your product market fit, don't forget your messaging, positioning, and your authority in your space. Those are some big words and as someone who is focused on building a business, branding might not be your thing. While you recruit your A team of engineers and designers, it is important to not neglect the marketing aspect of your business.
Now, I get it, your product isn't ready for promotion but that does not mean you should not be doing any marketing. If you are an AI startup for example, there is no reason not to open Twitter, search for keywords, and engage with people asking questions about AI. There is no reason you should not be writing content about AI and there is no reason you should not be spending time building some initial demand for the product that you are building. Get people excited, get people to care, get to the top of mind. That cannot be stolen.
Network Effects are like armor to your venture.
There is a reason I left this one for last, and the reason is, it is by far, the best way to add defensibility to your startup. We have spoken at length about the many chicken and egg situations involved in building products that depend on people, namely, you need users for value and you need value for users. If you are Facebook user one, no one else is there, and there is nothing for you to do there. But if there is nothing for you to do there, then why would anyone join?
Network Effects is a topic widely covered on the internet by leading investors and CEOs. The premise is fairly simple but if you can incorporate Network Effects into your product, you are pretty much protected. Every user that joins your network increases the value of your product. As the value increases, the user benefits more from your product and is inclined, whether by simple word-of-mouth or by sharing mechanisms you built into the product to share what you have built with their friends.
Building Network Effects deep into your product will increase traction, but not just traction, it will increase retention, thereby making your product harder to copy, because those users now need to abandon their comfort zone and jump ship to a new product. That is a lot harder to do than it sounds, when people are actually benefiting along with their friends from what you have built.
All three of these points have one thing in common. Play the long game, think of your users, put your paranoia aside, and copying your product won't even be a feasible option for your competitors.