by Anna M. Clark
“You’ll never believe what just happened to me,” Anna Brindley told me. “I just got the rug pulled out from under me on a webinar for Entrepreneur magazine.” Seriously? “Does anyone even stay awake during those things?” I joked. “Don’t kid yourself,” she said, “people you can’t even see are waiting to pounce on your next big idea.”
Anna B. is not paranoid. As a seasoned entrepreneur, designer and the co-founder of Think Tank Society, a mindshare group for fellow startups, Anna lets good ideas flow freely and helps others hone theirs, too. But this time was different.
Here’s what happened: excited to learn, Anna logged on to the web event and wasted no time engaging Amy Cosper, editor of Entrepreneur, with her questions. “What is drip marketing?” Anna asked. Cosper explained, “That’s a bad name for it, but it means marketing that comes in drips.” Somebody else offered up his preferred term: “tease marketing.” Quick with ideas, Anna wrote back her own quip: “drip tease.” Seeing that, the editor said out loud, “Oh that’s brilliant Brindley, I’m writing that down!”
Immediately, another webinar participant named Chris writes in, “I just checked the domain driptease.com and it’s available.” Not 30 seconds later, Chris revealed that he just bought it. “What was galling,” Anna told me afterwards, “was suddenly everyone starts congratulating Chris. It wasn’t his idea, but he jumped on it before I had even 5 minutes to consider what I might do with it.”
According to Anna, she casually tossed her idea into a collaborative forum and it was glommed on to so quickly that even the webinar participants didn’t remember who made it up first. “I’m sure I wouldn’t even have used it myself,” said Anna laughing, “but the situation did leave me feeling a bit like road kill.” As for Chris, he was none-too-shy about showing off his spoils in his same-day blog post entitled, “DripTease.com coming soon…” Chris wrote, “I can’t resist a good business idea. Just ask me about the time I beat a multi-billion dollar business to the web-url punch. It’s just how I roll.”
We live in a world that moves a warp speed. Even though we all enjoy the benefits of greater collaboration and transparency, there will always be opportunists and mavericks standing ready to capitalize on a good idea. Anna’s story is a lesson for anyone with a good idea: move on it fast, because the slow lane is a road to nowhere.
Here are 5 tips to ensure that you remain the beneficiary of your own best thinking:
1. Keep an ideas journal. Sign and date your most promising entries. Charles Darwin did this with such rigor that his notebooks pinpoint the precise day in which he discovered his theory of natural selection: September 28, 1838. You can stake your claim on your own world-changing ideas by documenting them first in your notebooks.
2. Run an online search. Make sure somebody else hasn’t already run with your idea before you waste your time. If they have, start thinking up a value-add to update your thinking to first-class status.
3. Secure the domain name. Log on to http://www.godaddy.com and search for a domain name to match your idea. Most domain names are about $10 – not bad to secure something that could end up making a million.
4. Get your IP lined up before you start sharing with others. Check out http://www.uspto.gov to search trademarks and copyrights. If you aren’t ready to formally register a mark, you may still qualify to apply for intent to use if you are in good faith planning on using your idea for commerce.
5. Use a NDA. Before sharing your idea with anyone outside your “circle of trust”, ask him/her to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Be aware that many venture capitalists will not sign such agreements, but there are a number of situations where confidentiality agreements are accepted, if not expected.
These tips apply to protection of an early-stage idea, primarily related to a brand or concept. Inventors should do more research on patents before deciding how to proceed.
Speaking of patents, Anna Brindley is the proud owner of a new one of her own. Keen to share her experience with others, Anna disclosed her tips for securing ideas at a recent Think Tank Society meeting. “I’ve been on the road to entrepreneurship for 12 years,” she said. “I get a charge out of moving in the fast lane, but I like to see deserving friends flourish, too. I’d rather give someone a lift up than leave them behind.” She added, “What else can I say? That’s just how I roll.”