NDAs and Me, Ideas and Execution

It’s so funny when I hear people being so protective of ideas. (People who want me to sign an nda to tell me the simplest idea.)

To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed. They are just a multiplier. Execution is worth millions.

– Derek Sivers, president and programmer, CD Baby and HostBaby

I just found this quote in 37Signals’s book, “Getting Real”, which is an awesome book on super fast Web development.

It says it all.
So far I’ve had a few entrepreneurs ask me to sign an NDA before talking about their startups. Each time, I politely decline. My main reason for declining is just what Derek Sivers says in his quote. Ideas are just that – they are just ideas. No substance, no solidity yet, but just words. Execution is harder than you think. Just because you tell me your idea doesn’t mean I am going to go out and build it. In fact, I have no desire to build it. I recognize that it’s your idea and that you are the best person to execute it, not me. And I don’t have the time or desire to execute it, nor is it my business model to build stuff.
So in essence I am saying that there should be no fear about sharing ideas and that goes both ways. I don’t mind throwing ideas their way as much as I like hearing them. I toss out ideas all the time and I don’t look for monetary return because I know that 99% of the time, they won’t be able to or have time or desire to execute on them.
But occasionally, they may find value in my ideas and actually do something with them and make their product stronger. That’s a good thing. But most of the time, they’ll need the originator of the idea to fully explain the idea enough to the entrepreneur so that they can internalize it and be able to execute against it. In that, I build value for my services and it helps sell my value to a startup.
Here are my thoughts about NDAs:
1. If I sign an NDA, then I’ll be bound to not reveal any ideas from my interactions with them for the length of time designated in the NDA. While I have no problem signing one if I do work with them in official capacity, it is possible that I might end up not working with them. If I don’t work with them, I could be hampered from working with any other company in the same space because I might inadvertantly reveal some bit of knowledge that could be taken as confidential by the company I signed an NDA with.
2. If for some reason I were to sign lots of NDAs, I would have to manage the NDAs which is a nightmare. I’d have to remember when each NDA started and when they would end. They could all have variable expiration terms. The chance of slipping up would be incredibly high which could put me at legal risk.
3. Negotiation of NDAs would increase my legal fees. There are mutual NDAs and one-way NDAs. There are those that go in perpetuity and those that end in 1, 2, 5 or any number of years. There is no standard NDA; the conditions are written based on the situation. I’d have to go through negotiation on every one.
4. If there is something you don’t trust me enough to tell me, then don’t tell me.
5. Trust is an essential part of my business. You gotta know when to keep your mouth shut and no piece of paper is going to help with that.
6. I have and will walk away from companies who require NDAs to hear about what they are doing. It doesn’t matter how cool the company seems to be. It just isn’t worth the hassle. There will ALWAYS be other companies and opportunities.