Please Don’t Tell Anyone About My Business

A common topic of ridicule in the community lately is the plight of the pre-startup. You’ll recognize these poor bastards as soon as they see that you might be interested in their pitch. (Not their product, mind you, because they likely haven’t decided what to sell yet.) They’ll come to your meetup, where you discuss the current state of all things web technology. They’ll appear to be really interested in the topics addressed by your speaker (if you have one), and they’ll mingle nicely. At some point, though, they’ll begin the procedure.

The first thing they do upon discovering that you’re a service provider (which really is as broad as it sounds), is to inform you that they can’t tell you about their business without your signing a nondisclosure agreement. Fortunately for you, they’re up-front about this, almost as a courtesy moment for you to call an audible and get the fuck out of there. Stay you must, though, to hear it all. You express interest in learning more, but dodge the NDA by explaining that you can’t estimate how long it will take to build something without seeing the plans. They counter with a comically high level explanation of a social media or social marketing or social networking tool that in no way sounds profitable. Since you can derive no distinct business from their description, you ask candidly if they have secured angel funding for product development. They likely confess to not actually having a product fully defined, but really needing your help to figure that out as well. You tell them about all the fledgling businesses you’ve helped make money, assuring them you could help them figure their business out, but you don’t offer free services. This is when they drop the big one on you.

They have no money to pay you up-front, but they would *love* to cut you in on 5% for your efforts. Hell, they might even give you 10% if you really sacrifice. This is the lovely slice of cake on a plate in the middle of the jungle. Run away. It’s a trap!

You don’t want to work for/with someone who demands that you never breathe a word about their project to another living soul without their permission. At first glance, you might understand and even agree with their concerns that their private information remain protected and think this is why you’re signing that NDA. Think about it, though. The intent of the NDA is to prevent you from disclosing information regarding their product and/or business. How are they ever going to promote a product when the people they hire can’t discuss it?

And weren’t they talking about a social network anyway? They’re trying to promote open communication by stifling it? No. They’re like a dog trying to catch snowballs, grabbing desperately to hold on to anything that might move their Untitled Soon-to-be-Product closer to market. They believe if they lock down their idea, no one else will find out and beat them to market. They’ve forgotten the first rule of business. Sell to someone who wants to buy. If they were focused on how to *improve* profitability in an existing market and not how to be profitable in a new market, they would have money to pay you for your services, and they would be happy to hear that you’re talking about their product for free.