I'd be willing to bet that since it was your idea, you have a much better understanding of the problem and how you're solving it than she does. Use that too. See where she falls down in her offering and exploit it.
Just my two cents.
Force her to launch earlier than she wants to. The other thing I'd say is some 37Signals advice. Hold back some completed functionality at the time of launch. Release it in a week or twos time. Thus demonstrating that not only did you launch but you are constantly going to be ahead of her.
Finally, please use the anger judiciously. Instead of running her over, crush her spirit.
"Here's another way to look at it. If merely telling someone your idea means that it can be ripped off, then you hardly have a defensible product. If secrecy is your main weapon, then it will be hard to find investors. By the way, what happens when you ship? Are you going to ask every customer to sign a nondisclosure too?" And what about your first employees?
(quote from an Old Guy Kawasaki Column)
And if you think the fact that her seed-funded team of 5 developers gives her an indomitable advantage, think again.
It's not what you do, it's HOW YOU DO IT.
So what action should you be taking? I'd say to look real hard at what she's doing. If she nailed it and has built something great, find another idea. They're everywhere. If she hasn't nailed it and you can make a better product, make it.
And, if you're feeling vindictive (I wouldn't bother with this), you could plant a few seeds within your shared network-- tell your mutual friends/contacts what she did.
ideas are cheap, implementation is hard.
I am very competent web app developer, with several major applications under my belt. While on the surface you might think you will be able to whip out a clone of one of the popular web apps easily (let alone a brand new idea) but you will find the devil is in the details. What makes or breaks those sites are the thousands of minute implementation level decisions which build up to make a quality application.
Complex software takes good knowledge of complex algorithms and man-years of development. Well.. since everybody wants to get rich quickly these days, innovation scaled down to web "applications", where the only valuable thing is percisely the idea. And your only advantage is the time to market.
It took years for other big firms to develop search engines as good as google's is. THAT is what I call "implementation is hard". Implementing something as trivial as myspace is less complex than compiler class project in college. (I've done both).
Why do hundreds of kids bother applying to YCombinator?
Can't they just whip up a webapp in a few months?
Yes - web dev is easier than desktop app or complex client/server applications, but Hitting the High Notes (as Joel says) will never be "easy". Simple, yes. Easy, no.
Hate to sound negative though, having that happen to you surely hurts...
And yes, kids apply to YCombinator exactly because they can whip up a web app in a few months. YCombinator puts them in front of VCs after that.
There are always exceptions to every rule though, re: the original point.
i.e. MySpace. Talk about crappy technology (or so it would seem; they've managed to scale well), and a has-run idea.
These are webapps, not operating systems, not mainframes, not databases. The barrier to entry, cost of operation, and development time are all pretty low. You can hire the PR people when you actually need them (probably sometime after you actually have cash flow). There's plenty of ways to market a webapp for free, and I sure would not hire a marketing firm to promote my new site.
Thinking "it's implementation, stupid" is too narrow-minded and Web2.0-ish.
they have downvoted you.
you now have -1 points. As I learned myself.
8. Slowness in Launching
what is her website url?
Here's what you should do: expose her! That's right, start a blog, start the website for your idea and tell everyone how this person got the idea from you and breached the confidentiality. Post email exchange, provide a timeline of your conversaton with her, provide what you provided her with. Get it out in the sunlight. Investors and VCs will shun away from her since who wants to invest into a person that's a THIEF and invest into a company that might get sued by somoene (you)?! Startups have a low probability of success and these legal issues could just sink it. It's easier to invest into a "clean" startup.
Get the word out about her! Learn about SEO and work on getting your page to show up on the first page results when someone searches for her name. Talk to journalists (TC, GigaOM, etc) and get them to write about what happened to you. Expose her and get some publicity about your site in the process! Destroy her reputation! NEVER forget: in business, reputation is everything! Worst thing you can do is keep quiet about it.
Implement the idea yourself and do it better than she does.
Who cares if she was 'first' to do it...just make one that is better.
Someone mentioned partnering up with her - don't do it. "Fool me once, shame on you, Fool me twice, shame on me"
What a shame, a friend messing up another friend. This industry is definitely more cutt-throat than I thought.
I'm not saying they ripped us of course (who could possibly prove that?) but I will say that the timing is awfully coincidental, given that the overall ideas behind our program have been in development for almost a year (and we just started publicizing our ideas recently)!
Personally I take it as a compliment, and am grateful/flattered to have such a large competitor emulating plans we've had in development for a while. (The main thing we heard while pursuing this idea was "How can you possibly improve upon Gmail?" Well now Gmail itself recommends recommendations upon its service.)
All this, however, corresponds directly to what PG says and some of you echo below:
http://www.paulgraham.com/startupmistakes.html 8. Slowness in Launching
(I'm new to this whole arena, so it's taken us a while to a) find the right developers and b) get up to speed before launch.)
If anyone's interested in weighing in, I wonder if open sourcing our project might help it or be of general interest/utility... is anyone interested in "an Open Source Alternative to Gmail that You Can Install and Run on Your Own Servers"? If so, I could use some help.
I am actually interested in ultimately duplicating _and open sourcing_ a lot of the functionality of Google generally, in order to decentralize it (the operation and its power, which after all is only algorithms + horsepower) and nullify the negative privacy implications of Google. What do you think? Any takers?
I think the only possible contender to Google is an open source alternative. Let's Open Source Google!
PS From another news.YC article: "In Silicon Valley, Google-as-the-giant talk is deafening. As others have noted, startups used to get the question "What are you going to do when Microsoft does this?" and today, it's "What are you going to do about Google?"
hey nathan - glad to find you on here. (it's Shanti)
I've been meaning to tell you... is your model a hosted one?
One space that Google (nor Sprout) will ever dominate is a software model where you allow clients to install your app on their own servers or VPSes. (i.e. a JumpBox)
Clients then get the best of both worlds:
1) Your killer UI
2) Privacy/Security/Control of their companies email data on their own server
Sure you've thought of this, just thought I'd give it a plug.
Yes this is along the same lines of what I am thinking recently too. It has become impossible to compete with Google 'on their own terms' (so to speak).
So why not just tilt the gameboard a little bit, change the turf, even the playing field back out a little bit? :) (Pardon the worn cliches.)
But seriously, on a related note, here's a very recent article partially addressing this topic: Read/Write Web interviewing Google's open source chieftain (Chris DiBona):
I think there's a huge market for something like this.
Not to mention partnering up with other big boys in the space to leverage their networks / customers.
A presentation and an hour talk surely hasn't given her much of an advantage. Go off and build your idea into a successful company. The day after it hits Techcrunch you'll have 50 competitors anyway.
1. Partner with her if possible.
2. Get a lawyer's opinion. There may be legal actions you can take, but I can't provide any advice on this.
3. Build faster and launch faster than her.
You can either do the idea better than she does, or you can start working on another idea. Given that she's outsourcing the development, either one should be feasible.
Suing over ideas is just a waste of effort; the only people who come out ahead in the end are the lawyers.
The fact that you emailed her the presentation, IF any ideas are patentable, is proof enough.
This also proves those wrong who say that "Ideas are worthless".
Also, there's a possibility those site editors simply avoid mentioning her site at all, which would be just as good for the O.P.
In fact, her ripping off his idea could end up being better publicity than he would've gotten anywhere else.
If the accusation is public knowledge, she'll have a difficult time raising a second round.
1. launch now
2. start a blog about the event
nice-side-effect: get the rest of the world tuned into the idea and create a ton of competition in the space.
MySpace was a really simple idea, most of which had been done before, just not all on the same site. The reason they were successful wasn't because of the strength of the idea, it was because they got their site out there when the only real competition was Friendster, and since their site relies on network effects for much of its usefulness, it has been difficult for others with the same idea to be successful.
She screwed you over, but I doubt there's much you can do about it except try to beat her. Also, people who do things like that should have to pay with their reputation, but if your idea is too obvious, people will just think you're lame when you tell the story.
With that said, I still think he should try to compete with her if he thinks the idea is worthwhile, but he should definitely reevaluate whether or not it's worth it to leave his job/school to do it full time. At this point, anything less than full time isn't going to accomplish anything.
Back in '01 when my uncle was doing his startup, couple months before his site's launch we ran across a site that was VERY similar to what he was building. And here was a site that looked like it had been born out of my uncle's business plan. Few months later that site would fold--and we're still in business today.
Better question is HOW well is she doing what you planned to do.
1. Keep key aspects secret. One always has to release some info, at least to get some feedback on the pertinence of the general idea or when we sell it. But keep some trump cards hidden in your pocket. This is often related to the 'how' aspect of the idea where you could make a difference with a "stealer".
2. Proceed in a way allowing you to prove that you shared the idea with X or Y. This is one of the purpose of an NDA (non disclosure agreement). If you can proove that, then you have a leverage on the stealer's investors because you may publish it and it will call back into question their honnesty and fairness. If they ripped you, they could rip clients. This is why public opinion frowns uppon stealing ideas even if it's not illegal.
3. If option 2 is not possible, then another leverage you have is that you can publish the idea and put the investors at risk to face many competitors and eventually freeware versions of it in a very short time. This is even more effective if the product is not out yet.
Be aware that you represent a direct threat to investment when comming up with such kind claim and want to use these leverages. So prepare your negation before using those leverages. This means that directly after presenting the problem to the investors, present the different options you have at hand. First present the options that would require some sort of cooperation from their side, second the only options left to you if they refuse (the one I presented above) and third that you are open to any other options that they may want to suggest and that would respect everybody's interrests.
Be aware that there are things that can't be undone and also that it is better to have half of something than all of nothing. You can remind this rule while argumenting your cause, but keep in mind that it applies to you too. So be ready to accept an arrangement if possible. Keep a very open mind about the options you will consider. For instance you could ask them to invest in another idea you might have, but be very carefull to not blackmail them into that. Just say that this would be an acceptable outcome for you if they agree to it and that you would then drop the case because you don't bite the hand that feeds you. Of course this suppose you have a valid alternate idea to show them when you say that. But be carefull with this because VC can easily get you out of your founded business if they want to. What you have to sell to VC is your capacity to create value by your inspiration or vision. This is what they are looking for.
There is alot more to say, but PG is much better than me at it.
my first suggestion would be to contact this person directly and discuss what has transpired.
Other issues aside, there might be an opportunity to partner, especially if she has funding and you provide the development expertise.
Has he launched yet?
The thing you should seek now are better friends, and better ideas. ;-)