You are in the early stages of a startup idea and want to protect it. You might think about an innovative solution to a problem or a gap in the market that others haven’t noticed. Fortunately, it is becoming less frequent but we still get asked to sign an NDA to simply listen to an idea. Our standard answer is ‘Sorry, we don’t do that at our first meeting’.

This post is not about popular non-disclosure agreements as a mechanism to ensure that the person or organisation who gains access to sensitive information doesn’t disclose it to a third party. For more on NDAs, read an earlier post titled, “Why we don’t usually sign NDAs for startup ideas”

Instead, the intention is to pose the question: “What is the best way I can protect my idea?” After all, is an idea worth protecting if it is not worth much? So the answer depends on how much is the startup idea worth. At this stage we are generally all pretty fond of our ideas and think they are worth LOTS.  After all, they are ‘valuable’, they are unique – no one else has done this before. Sounds familiar?

The answer may not surprise you. If you are familiar with the startup world you may have heard this word many times.


Derek Sivers


In fact, the value of a startup idea is measured by its execution. In the book “Anything you want: 40 lessons for a new kind of entrepreneur”, Derek Sivers sees execution as a multiplier – the higher the execution, the more valuable the idea.  He dedicates an entire chapter titled, ‘Ideas are just a multiplier of execution’ to this topic.

Quality of idea

Awful idea → -1

Weak idea → 1

So-so idea → 5

Good idea → 10

Great idea → 15

Brilliant idea → 20

Level of execution

No execution → $1

Weak execution → $1,000

So-so execution → $10,000

Good execution → $100,000

Great execution → $1,000,000

Brilliant execution → $10,000,000

Now to measure your business you must multiple both. So for example, a brilliant idea with no execution is worth $20, whilst the most brilliant idea takes great execution to be worth $20,000,000.

So how to best protect your startup idea? Execute.