Hacker News new | more | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Love it. Two years ago I did this, and wrote a little something about it when I started:

"Why my code and ideas are public"


I blogged about it to call attention to it for one main reason:

I wanted to see if anyone would "steal" the ideas.

Because it seems to be many (MANY) people's biggest worry about sharing any ideas: that someone will steal them. See the comments in https://sivers.org/how2hire for example. Also this from Jason Fried of Basecamp: https://twitter.com/jasonfried/status/683809719782215680

Anyway - it's been two years now, and nobody has stolen any of the ideas. It could just be that my ideas suck, but I suspect that the worry of people stealing ideas is nothing to worry about for any of us.

Derek I think you are right about why none of these ideas have been stolen :)

As a general rule you don’t have to worry about your ideas being stolen unless you are lucky enough to have a truly brilliant idea [1]. The chance that you have a brilliant idea is very low.

1. By brilliant I mean an idea that checks more than 10 off my list. http://www.tillett.info/2015/08/30/ideas-are-not-cheap/

You sure about that scale? It doesn't seem particularly hard to check off 10 items off that list. I tried a previous failed idea, an idea I didn't follow up on yet and an idea I'm currently working on and got 8, 10 and 12 respectively, skipping some items I don't have an answer for.

I mean I would consider all three of those good ideas, but I definitely wouldn't call them brilliant.

What were the 12 that you ticked off? I would love to see an idea that hit 12 of them - I can’t think of an idea in history that has hit 12 if you mark fairly.

From my conversations with people about this list there seems to be quite a divergence in how people are marking off if their idea meets a criteria or not. For example, people consider that their idea is not easy to replicate because someone like them could not easily replicate it, not what a well resourced team could do. It is very hard to find an idea that can not be easily replicated with the right resources. I should do a follow up post on how to do this so you don’t fool yourself into think your idea is better than it really is.

1, 3, 4, 5, 15, 17, 18, 19¹, 20, 23, 24, 25

¹ Arguably uncertain about this one so willing to bring it down to 11.

I can see some flaws in this list though. For one thing, anyone who ticks 1 will also tick 23 for example. 16 ("Is 100x better than any current product or service.") is also very subjective.

I didn't tick "Cannot be easily replicated" and, for the reasons you mentioned, that's essentially untickable. Google cannot be easily replicated, but that's because Google's been around a decade.

Please do a follow up because I'm working on an idea that hits 19 of the points you list.

Last year me a 2 of my friends sat down in a pub one night and did a brainstorming session for me (IT ideas) and 1 of the others (a writer - so story/article ideas).

We were trying to do the 100-10-1 process. Harder than it looks, but me and my other friend got 50 ideas each. Then over the next 2 days whittled it down to 5 ideas each to start work on. The 1 idea I am now concentrating on hits 19 of you points, and I am actually quite excited about it, especially as I will be the first power user, it scratches an itch for me.

I would like to see your list passed around some other successful people to see what they would add, and whether or not more items could be added, maybe including some negative items (ie if the idea hits this, minus a point from the score) . Then think about what the real number of points needed for a good idea should be. I am going to look back over my brainstorming list now and see how some of the other ideas score on you list.

Thanks for putting it together!

I will do a follow up and flesh out the criteria in more depth so that everyone is on the same page. I use this list to judge my (and other people’s) ideas, so I know what each criteria means, but as this thread has showed there must be quite a divergence between my judgement and others.

I would certainly love to talk to anyone about their ideas if they are meeting 19 off the list! Very impressive.

social media thing (just assume it's this.cm. Mine is an experiment and I don't plan on making money on):

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7¹, 8, 9, 10², 11, 12², 14, 15, 16

¹ not counted, as I'm not the first mover

² debatable

edit: I don't think my Idea is an easy opportunity to make money because of the network effect (which ironically makes tick a few of the points), making it hard to gain critical mass. And It's also hard because of the existing, well defended, monopolies and big players.

I am surprised that you consider a social media opportunity can be bootstrapped (i.e hits point 1). Has there ever been a successful social media company that has not required outside funding?

I think I really need to flesh these checklists out more.

As said, this is a research experiment I'm doing, not aiming at necessary success.

Absolute minimum to at least do some qualitative analysis would be 30 active and connected users (my friends that I could talk to) using it for a month or so.

I'm doing it because the problems are hard and interesting. I'm writing my diploma about the general thing.

I am not criticising you - I am criticising myself for not making these criteria more explicit. If I had better explained what I meant by 1 for example then you would not have thought that your idea was bootstrapable.

Good luck with the diploma.

ah right, thanks :)

I'm inclined to agree.

I've seen a couple of instances of idea theft reasonably up close with a previous employer where a couple of companies (that I know about) stole not just the product ideas, but substantially replicated the business model as well.

The key point here is that the theft was of ideas that had already been turned into successful products or businesses in their own right. I've never seen an instance where somebody stole an idea that hadn't already been realised successfully; I'm sure it happens, but I reckon it's pretty rare.

I think unrealised business ideas, even those that turn out to be hugely successful, often don't sound that compelling unless you're personally invested in them already. Hence people don't tend to steal them.

On the other hand, if something is already successful that can significantly derisk, or reduce the perception of risk, involved in attempting it yourself, and therefore might make it more appealing to copy.

So, yes, I agree, where brilliant equates to demonstrably successful.

Obviously if something is too well established, or your potential competitors massively overmatch you in terms of talent or resources, this argument falls apart. There's probably some combination of optimal scale/adoption/market awareness/penetration/maturity, etc., that makes this more viable. In a consolidated market copying would almost certainly be a terrible idea.

Strictly speaking, I don't believe in "Good" vs. "Bad" ideas, because ultimately those are opinion until tested by the market. A much better measure (which you do touch upon without saying directly) is feasibility:

I blogged about this: http://soundingboard.tv/good-bad-idea/

This is what I get when I visit your blog: "This request has been denied for security reasons. If you believe this was in error, please contact support."

My idea checks the following: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 21, 23, 24, 25.

Ideas are so cheap people get distracted with lesser ones.

Derek! Nice to have found you here! Keep writing that stuff, you're great and I'm a big fan of yours.

Also, a note: EVEN IF someone steal your idea and becomes rich with it, it doesn't necessarily mean that you would have been able to.

An example I come out with is Orkut vs Facebook. Orkut didn't go anywhere, Facebook did very well. If Mark Z stole the idea (don't know if he did) or not, would not have changed Orkut's fate by much.

To me, a more compelling question is if Orkut would have succeeded if Facebook had never been invented?

I guess all those Social networking websites(MySpace,Orkut etc) can be involved here.If these sort of questions pique your interest.I'd suggest you take a look a the Chinese market. It can be treated as a parallel universe where apps/companies develop under different restrictions which brings about a unique ecosystem for the user. This is an interesting example [1].


To me, the more compelling question is: why was Orkut so much better?

And the answer is: no news feed.

I've had three ideas stolen from me directly, of the 10 or so I have tried in the past 5 years. All three were from people trying to specifically harm me; not from people wanting to run with the idea.

All my business plans/documents/etc are released under a GPL license. I consider PDF's to be the binaries, and provide .ODT files on request. I just delay the release a few months so I can get a head start (unless it's something timely like a refugee foundation).

How do we request your .ODT files? No contact info is visible in your profile.

send a request to legal@medicalcannab.is, and I'll happily provide you with whatever forms you like. :)

Also, know that there is a common misunderstanding that GPL-only organizations must make everything they use public. Should you not know about an application, the licensor is in no way obligated to provide you with a list of the free software it is using internally.

For a while, when smartphones started tracking workouts and I got into cycling, I wanted to build a system that turned every single ride into a time trial where you compete against others. Then Strava happened. My only regret was not trying to get a job with them when I first heard about it.

and Endomundo

This is why I wont be stealing your ideas: http://www.ultraimg.com/images/captcha48d84.png

Is there a part two of that Jason Fried tweet?

I opensourced all of my money.

People always say that it's about the 'execution' and not the 'idea', but it's still not a good idea to share your good ideas until you are sure you either will not use it or have already gone past the initial execution stage.

Why? There might be a person that has way more resources than you do (or is just better at executing) and will beat you to the market.

It's pretty unlikely that such a productive person or company would not have their own ideas on which they are already working. The only people who are interested in stealing ideas are people who don't know anything about building things. Lacking that constructive knowledge means they lack the basic foundation on which to riff ideas.

Not really. I didn't tell anyone "my idea", but several people copied it after my site was released (afaik, we were first of kind). One of them eventually eclipsed us, despite our one year head start, by making extensive use of the owner's existing spam and "SEO" network. Their site was a cheap knockoff, and the product was objectively worse in every meaningful category. The only reason one would use them instead of us is because they didn't know about us, which eventually became the case more often than not.

A lot of tech people in the SV bubble are oblivious to it, but there is a tech scene out there in flyover country where wealthy salespeople and marketers just do a bad job of ripping stuff off with cheap labor from oDesk and then use spam tactics to overcome the other guy, who is usually a developer slaving over something in his off hours and spends most of his free time trying to improve his product, and therefore does not have an extensive spam network to exploit.

Aside from this actually happening to me, I personally know 2 guys who have gotten rich from doing this, I accidentally interviewed at a place that does it, and I have a couple of friends who work for people that do it or something approximating it.

If you have an online business that's starting to do well, I think it's a good idea to get working on a patent for it before the filing deadline (1 yr from public disclosure) and before these guys notice you.

There's kind of this myth in the tech scene that you need to be productive and creative to make something that does well. Maybe that's true if you're going to take your company to a $10B market cap, but there are plenty of people doing 10s of millions, in and out of tech, without any of that on stuff that you probably don't even notice or think about.

> and the product was objectively worse in every meaningful category.

Except marketing and sales. You forgot marketing and sales. Most developers do. Even if you're releasing your project free and open source, there is still a marketing and "sales" cycle you have to engage, to convince people to spend their time on your project.

If you really care about your projects, you'll stop neglecting marketing and sales.

Regardless, you've not proven that people steal "ideas". You've proven that companies see competitors as market signals. Smart business people don't just jump on whatever some rando in a bar is jabbering on about, even if you're that rando and you're not insane.

>Except marketing and sales. You forgot marketing and sales.

I mean, I didn't really "forget" them so much as try to earn them in the "honest" way. I was paying for sponsorships and ads. I was trying to make partnerships. We had a social media presence that was growing and active. We stupidly believed Google's recommendation that the best way to rank is to "just write great content", so we did that without putting a huge amount of emphasis on "link building".

Our competitor had a pre-existing network of spam sites that he used to post links to himself and get increased PageRank. He astroturfed Facebook and Twitter. He spammed niche forums until it didn't matter that they were blocking him anymore because everyone who used them had been exposed to his copycat product (they deleted any post that mentioned us, even after we offered a commission on any sign ups; we basically just accepted that since it was their turf).

Those were all things that I thought were, at best, impolite. But I've now learned my lesson: you can't win doing things the expensive, above-board way unless you have WAY a lot of money and a dedicated PR team (aka "polite spam"). If you're going to be independent and not take outside investment, and CNN isn't going to run a story on you on day 1, you have to undercut the other guy through the same guerilla spam tactics that he would use against you. We had a 1 year head start and still got clobbered by his half-functional knockoff.

We're now paying "SEO consultants" to include us on their network of link spam sites so that we can get PageRank up. I'd be interested in getting an efficient, consistent astroturfing op going, but haven't really found a great way to do it yet. I'm now convinced these tactics are hard necessities if you want to succeed in online business without the external funding needed to pay a big PR firm to get press hits, or to pay 30x more for the same reach from conventional, authorized advertisements.

No, you should not get a patent for a "software idea". Software patents are an objective drain on human productivity and innovation.

Can you give a couple of examples of companies/sites that these folks have cloned?

Can you give examples of these types of companies?

They're usually hidden behind layers of LLCs and DBAs, so not really; there's not a big website that says "Hey, we just steal whatever we can". If you trace the threads back to "online lead generation experts" or "internet marketing specialists", you'll find lots of such enterprises.

In my case, most of the active properties I knew are offline (though their proprietors are still rich). One guy was trying to be Tim Ferriss and had a membership site that promised to teach users how to get rich working no more than 4 hours a day. He had about 2 dozen other sites generating some income here or there, but I don't remember any others. They were hosted on a rack with 3 FreeBSD servers running in the corner of his office that some contractor had set up years earlier.

One guy was selling really bad eBay listing management software. He also had sites meant to ease the process of applying for government grants, a site that referred patients to audiologists for new hearing aids (which resulted in a lawsuit from the competitor that he had ripped off), and others.

Although all of these projects were objectively terrible and not competitive with the good products in each field, these guys almost undoubtedly made way more money than the programmers of the products they're trying to copy because they had much better SEO and spam game. While the dev who builds decent products is spending his free time thinking of the amazing features he's going to build and how much his users will appreciate them, the career spammer is thinking about which of his spam sites he needs to swap links with next so that Google doesn't detect the link ring and decrease the PageRank, and how he needs to add another minimum wage lackey to keep up with all the astroturfing they need to do.

I know of several similar schemes. They aren't the edgy startups we hear about here on HN, but the proprietors end up making quite the pretty penny off these things, despite the fact that none of them have any interest in the subject matter, nor any technical skill. They spam and rake in the dough, getting their tech work done by offshore contractors on oDesk if they can't find a naive local student who'll work only for promises of equity.

The moral of the story is that devs need to spend their time getting access to a network of sites that make it easy to gain PageRank for any desired term and tapping good astroturfing resources instead of working on features. It's really discouraging as a tech entrepreneur trying to provide quality products.

It's easy to forget that "execution" means "concept + code + culture + marketing + maybe some investment"

Of all of those, code is probably the least important.

Effective marketing - which at the level you're talking about is easy to do with boilerplate copywriting, monkey spamming, and some SEO - is far better at dollar-for-dollar ROI than most unicorn ideas that need investors.

There's an entire subculture of shitty people running these shitty scammy "businesses" and sometimes cross-promoting each other. Unfortunately they really can be an easy way to earn money - if you have the ethics of a lizard.

But it highlights the fact that unless you're marketing products for developers, most customers don't care about code, or even about features. The vast bulk of any market, especially in the US, is full of people who care about making money with the minimum of effort and being attractive to the opposite sex. Any product that promises either or both has an immediate head start.

>While the dev who builds decent products is spending his free time thinking of the amazing features he's going to build and how much his users will appreciate them

Which I guess describes most people here. I know my default tendency is always to think: "idea = code + cool features + website/app"

But it's a really bad idea to confuse this with running a profitable business. Luckily I can indulge myself, but it's still useful to remember that the view from Customer Land looks nothing like the view from inside a Git repo.

Really interesting--thanks for sharing. I was in the affiliate space for a while and networked with quite a few affiliates in the Chicago area in particular. I met owners of several SEO link rings, and also someone who was doing it at large scale (200+ sites with decent PR) to drive links and traffic for insurance.

Another person I met was the guy who made a certain NSFW video involving a certain cup and a couple girls go viral who was 18 at the time, and drove an M3 that he paid for by cookie stuffing Amazon affiliate links using a fairly savvy approach to avoid detection, and using click hijacking attacks to make people automatically like his FB pages back when that was popular.

As much as I hate that stuff it fascinates me to no end because these people are some of the best "out of the box" thinkers I've ever met. I'd never go into business with one of them, but in general they were all pretty cool guys to drink with.

Any other examples of specific products or things like that you can share? I'm curious if these tend to be more info product-based or if these people are actually sourcing physical products or coders to create a crappy clone to sell.

That doesn't bother me with most of my ideas. Reason being, I have the idea because I want something that someone else doesn't provide, and I wish they would. I personally don't want to run a business. I'd rather someone who does take my idea, build the thing so that I get to use it.

I've jokingly said to my wife that I need to email some of these ideas to apple and google, because they have the capability to build them and then I'd get to have one.

Maybe I don't understand what you mean, but I'd argue that if your competitive advantage is that slight, you'll likely get killed even if you make it to market first.

Generally an idea can be any kind of know how. You could've invented a faster algorithm that gives you competitive advantage for some time. If you share the algorithm the advantage is lost.

I don't believe that sharing all your business know hows is going to be beneficial to you.

Feedback. The benefit of sharing your ideas is that other people get to spot holes in them before you find those holes the expensive way.

In your analogy: your faster algorithm is probably not optimal. Sharing it with some people who can give feedback will make it better. Those people are probably not your competition, and your competition can talk to those people even if you don't. If the algorithm is going to make that much difference, then if your competition aren't working on it they're incompetent, and if they are working on it then who's to say they haven't got the better version already?

Your losses from sharing the algorithm are negligible (because the competition are either incompetent or working on it themselves) but your benefits from sharing and getting feedback are large.

You completely dismissed the possibility that you come up with something better than anyone has and by sharing it you just give it to them for free.

Yes, because the chances of you coming up with something better than anyone else has, on your own with no consultation with anyone else, no feedback and no collaboration, is unlikely in the extreme.

I wouldn't consider an innovative algorithm to be "an idea." It's as much an invention or a trade secret as anything else.

Ideas are cheap (approaching worthless but not quite) - trade secrets are incredibly valuable.

It takes immense commitment to bring an idea to life. If someone had asked me to build an app that can send disappearing messages, being a technical guy, I would have immediately dismissed it saying its impossible. But SnapChat worked, turns out people aren't too worried about taking screenshots.

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact