If you ever watched the hit-series Silicon Valley, you may remember one of the early episodes when the series’ main startup Pied Piper got their algorithm stolen, or as they called it - they got brain raped.
Actually, throughout the series several companies tried to steal their algorithm, and one even went to market with it before them, though they didn't quite have the whole algorithm and didn’t quite understand the whole point behind it, which resulted in a product that wasn't as good as the idea's main inventor intended it to be. In the end, Pied Piper still had the better product, despite all the competitors with similar products.
You may also remember our blog post on Wimdu, who was essentially Airbnb's clone. Wimdu was accused of copying their website and poaching from their community, taking information from Airbnb's listings without permission. In the end, Wimdu didn't survive because of their business model and the lack of a long-term mission.
These are both examples (real and fictional) of startups who had their ideas stolen or had clones, but still managed to end on top, because their product appealed to customers better. It could have easily gone the other way, because customers don't really care whose idea it was first, but which product performs better and which product solves their problem.
This would mean that ideas are actually worthless, and it's really about how you execute them, when and how much work you put into it. Going to market early with an MVP is crucial even at the risk of competitors stealing your concept, because it tells you if the product should be built to begin with, which features to add and remove, and to fix bugs. The feedback you get from testing the MPV will also tell you if you need to persevere, pivot or perish. Testing is key.
One of Playing Lean’s biggest supporters, Mentive, took the Lean Startup methodology to heart and tested their project Kiwiik early and often. They first created a prototype of the idea to let the potential customer better understand what the idea was. The product went through many prototypes and many tests, but every time something wasn’t working and it needed further changes. After pivoting, they did a beta launch of their MVP, focusing on testing their hypotheses by observing the customer’s behavior with the product. After much testing, they managed to raise brand awareness and capture the attention of investors.
When I was browsing the internet and researching idea-theft, I found a lot of articles on how to prevent your idea from getting stolen. I soon realized that rather than spending your time and energy on preventing your idea from getting stolen, you should focus on building a product that people will love. That is something that nobody can steal. And nobody can steal how you execute your idea.
Maybe the success of an idea is like the success of a professional athlete – it’s 10% talent and 90% work. A lot of athletes have the same talent, but only those that put in the extra work and pour their heart into it make it. And of course, a little bit of luck and a good pitch will help attract sponsors/investors and help your idea come to fruition.
One of the benefits of playing our board game Playing Lean is actually learning how to test your ideas without having to risk your life savings. It will teach you how to understand the needs of your customers better and how to design the products and services they want.
So maybe if you have an idea and you’re not really familiar with the Lean Startup methodology, but want to quickly learn the concepts and how to experiment, play the game and later use that knowledge to work out your idea.