I recently had someone ask me to sign an NDA so they could share three sentences about their business. It occurred that while many people have asked for that, I can’t think of one who has started and run a business – as President/CEO for a few years or product cycles – or sold one for substantial shareholder gain. Correlation at least, causality perhaps.
These days I want the anti-NDA: a disclosure agreement. A promise that, in return for my explanation and effort, the recipient commits to share it with three people who they think will care. Sign a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license with a minimum commitment. Prospective customer, scrappy tinkerer, competitor, beta tester, skeptic, journalist, someone.
Partner? A mutual disclosure agreement, where we both commit to make ourselves useful by opening doors. The risk to me is not that a stranger will drop everything they’re doing, direct meaningful resources toward the goal, know the market well enough to turn a paragraph into a business, make up for starting later, and execute and commercialize it better than me. The risk is simply that it’s a dead end: a bad use of time.
Merlin Mann says it well in Ideas, Execution, and the Rare Auteur:
An idea is no more useful than a coupon for a bag of sugar; show me the finished cake, then we’ll talk. The bottom line is that if you don’t have an amazing, passionate idea and the means to make it superb, you’re probably just a douchebag with an expensive phone. And a stack of NDAs.