But… what if someone steals/copies my product idea?

I know I’ve been asked it a few times recently but it’s one question that many proprietary software developers face.

What happens if your thoughtfully researched, painstakingly-crafted product idea gets copied?

And when that plucky young upstart comes up with a verbatim feature-for-feature copy of your software,  will all those months (or even years) of hard work, all those prototype iterations and tireless experiments with various implementations be for nought?

Before answering “yes” or “no” to this question, there are a couple of factors to consider:

  • Your focus and dedication to the problem space, not just the product
    From an outsiders point-of-view, it may seem that you’ve just been clever enough to happen upon an untapped market and create a product that capitalises on it, but really where it all comes from is a dedication to solving a real-world problem. Having this focus means you can never really lose:  if your goal to begin with was to solve a problem, and someone else was inspired by you and did a better job at it, wouldn’t your end-goal have been realised? This of course would presume that your hypothetical competitor possessed the following.
  • Your understanding of the problem space
    You’ve lived this problem for years and made the mistakes, challenged your own assumptions, and adapted your approach accordingly. You’ve earned your stripes and have the battle scars to show for it. Your competitors are just playing catch-up and the only insight into the problem space they are getting is in how your product is currently implemented. Or indeed if your product is still just an idea, they’re only getting a “snapshot” of its present (highly volatile) state.

Even though I am still months from launch of my first product in a long long time, I believe we all understand this (at least sub-consciously) because we’ve been customers for many years and know that it’s the vendors that tirelessly focus on solving our problems that keep us coming back.

A couple of weeks ago Parker Thompson of Pivotal Labs tweeted this:

“If an NDA is all that stands between your company and failure you’re already screwed.”

As my product nears launch, I’m going to keep reminding myself of this as it will keep me focused on that end-goal of solving a problem, rather than clinging to the naive hope that somehow I can protect my idea from being “stolen”.