Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 2nd 2017 Contents MARCH 2 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG13
When you have a brilliant idea as an
emerging entrepreneur, is it possible
to get the right people on board and
engage with larger businesses without
them stealing the idea?
--- Kylie McGowan, Australia
It can be tricky to know how to develop
ideas when you're first starting out
in business. You might think you've
come up with something that could
be turned into a successful enter-
prise---and that there's a real market
for your product or service---but there's a big
difference between formulating an idea and
bringing it to life. Nevertheless, keeping an idea
to yourself is something that all entrepreneurs
At first, you may want to seek feedback from
friends and family: The simple act of explaining
the business concept to people you're close to
will raise issues that may have gone unnoticed,
or it might trigger new ideas. As things develop,
you'll hopefully be on the lookout for business
partners and potential team members who can
help you along the way, as well as possible in-
vestors and attention from the press.
Additionally, spending time with people
from the industry you're looking to break
into will be invaluable, especially if you can
place your trust in one of them as a mentor.
Having someone with relevant knowledge to
bounce ideas off of and point you in the right
direction often proves crucial to the success
of fledgling businesses. A good mentor will
be able to advise you on which businesses or
individuals it would be wise to meet with, and
just how much information you should share
But even with an experienced mentor, the
truth is that you can never consider yourself
"safe" from a competitor stealing your idea.
After all, no aspect of business can be consid-
ered free of risk. The key thing to remember is
that when you do share the idea, make sure that
you're in the best position to capitalise on its
success. Even if you have a thriving business
in one country, someone from a different ter-
ritory where you're not active could replicate
what you're doing.
The risk is worth taking, though, because
keeping an idea to yourself stunts its growth.
The likelihood that you'll be an expert in every
aspect of its development of an idea is remote
and input from other people will push things
forward. Also, chances are that someone else is
working on the same idea, or one that's similar.
If you try to develop it alone, the competition
could leap to the front of the queue.
The development of the telephone is a great
example of risk. Most of us understand Al-
exander Graham Bell to be the inventor. But
while he was awarded the first patent, and
subsequently rose to stardom, the telephone
could have been invented by someone else: At
the same time that Bell was readying his pro-
totype, Elisha Gray and Antonio Meucci were
working on similar devices. If their attempts
had progressed a little better, the history books
would look quite different today!
In recent years, there's been a concerted
effort by some people in the entrepreneur-
ial community to break down the historical
barriers that have been erected in the name
of secrecy. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has
even refused to enforce hundreds of Tesla
patents because doing so would have made it
more difficult for the electric vehicle industry
"There was a wall of Tesla patents in the
lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters," Musk
wrote in a blog post in 2014. "That is no longer
the case. They have been removed, in the spir-
it of the open-source movement, for the ad-
vancement of electric vehicle technology. Tesla
Motors was created to accelerate the advent
of sustainable transport. If we clear a path to
the creation of compelling electric vehicles,
but then lay intellectual property landmines
behind us to inhibit others, we are acting in a
manner contrary to that goal."
While I'm not advocating the publication of
every idea you have in the name of the open-
source movement, it's good to remember that
secrecy shouldn't be a blanket that covers
everything you're working on.
Knowing what to share and what not to share
is a skill you can acquire. Until then, finding a
mentor who can help guide such decisions is
a good first step. Sharing your ideas with that
person will be a liberating experience.
(Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin
Group and companies such as Virgin Atlantic,
Virgin America, Virgin Mobile and Virgin Active.
He maintains a blog at www.virgin.com/richard-
branson/blog. You can follow him on Twitter
at twitter.com/richardbranson. To learn more
about the Virgin Group: www.virgin.com.)
(Questions from readers will be answered in
future columns. Please send them to Richard.
Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your
name, country, email address and the name of
the website or publication where you read the
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