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How to Protect Your App Ideas from Being Stolen When Outsourcing
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How to Protect Your App Ideas from Being Stolen When Outsourcing

If there’s one thing I know for certain, it’s that entrepreneurs LOVE ideas – especially Appreneurs!  I know I constantly think of ideas for new apps all the time and if you’re looking to get into app development (or you already are), chances are you’re in the same boat as me!

However, another thing that most entrepreneurs have in common is that they’re afraid of people STEALING their ideas.  What could be worse than coming up with a genius app idea, only to have someone you hired to develop the app for you steal it for themself?!

So naturally, because of this fear, many prospective and beginning app developers are wondering what they should do to protect their app ideas!

So today I decided to answer this question once and for all.  I am about to share with you exactly what you should do to protect your app ideas from being stolen when outsourcing…

 

>>> NOTHING <<<

 

Yes, you read that correctly!  I personally think that taking lots of extra precautions to protect your app ideas from being stolen is a waste of time, for the following reasons:

1) First of app, it would be insanely stupid on the developer’s part to steal your app idea!  Why would any reputable developer (you are using a reputable developer, right?) risk his or her reputation and put their future income at jeopardy just to steal one app idea which may or may not be successful?

2) Secondly, your app idea probably sucks anyway!  I’m not trying to be mean here, but the reality is that most “genius” app ideas that people have end up failing miserably once released.  Take my own app SharePrayer for example.  I thought that was a pretty good app idea and so far this “pretty good” app idea has lost me more than $800.

3) It’s not necessarily a bad thing if a developer steals your idea!  Sure, there’s always a chance that the next Mark Zuckerberg is the one who steals your idea and you end up missing out on billions of dollars.  However, the much more likely scenario is that the person who stole your idea ends up failing miserably and you can thank him for spending his money to test your idea for you!  He just saved you the time and money developing an app that was going to lose your money!  Or, the other option is that the person who stole your idea is having success with it, in which case – what’s to stop you from moving forward with your app anyways?  In order for an app to be successful it doesn’t have to be completely unique!  If you’re creative and determined, you have a good shot at making just as much money as they person who stole the idea from you, if not more!

Those 3 reasons should be more than enough to make you understand that it’s not worth stressing about whether your developer will steal your app ideas.  I’m sure you have more important things in your life to worry about than that!

However, I know there are people out there who don’t believe me or simply want that “extra protection” for their ideas.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t use it as an excuse not to take action.  Many people with legitimately great app ideas never end up getting them developed because they’re so scared someone will steal it from them.  And to that I say:

An idea is just that – an idea.  Ideas are absolutely WORTHLESS unless accompanied by action!  (Click to Tweet)

With that being said, here are a few methods you can use to protect your app ideas from developers.

Use an Nondisclosure Agreement

This is probably the most common method of protecting your ideas from developers.  I’ve used this method before when hiring through Elance and what I did was when I posted the job description, I essentially told them very vaguely what the app would do and what general features it would have.  In SharePrayer‘s case, I essentially said it was a notepad and alarm cock combined into one app with the feature of being able to share notes with friends via Facebook, Twitter, and email.  They had no idea how this app was going to be used or marketed and I didn’t provide mockups or more details until they signed and returned an NDA to me.

Now there are a few things to bear in mind when using NDAs.

1) Although I don’t have personal experience here, I have heard that they are extremely hard to enforce legally.  As a matter of fact, being that I’m under 18 years old, signing an NDA with a developer holds absolutely NO legal weight whatsoever for me!  Why did I do it then?  Simple – the developers had no idea that I was under 18 and I essentially just used the NDA to to scare any thoughts of stealing my idea out of them.

2) If you aren’t disclosing much information about your app up-front, the bids developers give you are not going to be very accurate at first.  All this means is that you won’t be able to filter our developers by price until later in the process.

3) It’s a pain to keep track of what developers have signed and returned your NDA, which ones haven’t, etc. especially when you’re using a site like Elance where it’s not uncommon to get a few dozen proposals within a couple days.

Use a Noncompete Agreement

Essentially what a Noncompete Agreement does is it prevents developers from working on any projects that will directly compete with yours for a given amount of time after finishing your app.  While this sounds great for you, think about it from the developers point of view.  If I would’ve made my developer for SharePrayer sign a Noncompete Agreement, he wouldn’t be able to work on any apps having to do with religion.  While that is a smaller niche in my case, in many other cases this could limit the number of future clients he can work with, which he will not want to do.

So while I don’t have any experience using a Noncompete Agreement, I can tell you with confidence that it will be almost impossible for you to find a reputable developer that is willing to sign one.

Limit Who You Tell

This is the easiest and the most effective method of preventing developers from stealing your app ideas!  Logically, the less developers you tell about the details of your idea, the less chance you have of it being stolen.  As I mentioned before, any reputable app developer in his right mind will not steal your app ideas.  It’s the developers who aren’t reputable that are more likely to do something like that.  So if you are using a site like Elance, make sure to screen the dozens of proposals you get and only give the details of your app to the ones who are reputable.

There are various ways of judging who is reputable and who isn’t on Elance, but one simple method is to simply look at what their feedback rating, how many jobs they’ve completed, and how much money they’ve made on Elance.  For example, you could filter out anyone who doesn’t have any feedback or has less than 3 stars average feedback rating.  That will decrease the number of developers who know the details of your app.

Take Your Chances

This is the method I use most of the time because as I’m sure you’re tired of hearing…your app ideas will most likely NOT be stolen!  And even if one of my app ideas WERE to be stolen, I have hundreds more app ideas stored on my computer that I’d love to pursue so it’s not a big deal.

What About You?

I know not everyone is going to agree with me on this, and that’s alright!  I love hearing your opinions whether you agree with me or not!

With that being said, let me know in the comments section what you think about this!  What strategies to you use (if any) to protect your app ideas?  Do you feel it’s worth it?

Looking forward to hearing from you!

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Comments

  1. Great post, Thomas.
    I followed the same practice for my app on Elance (which I am publishing to the Windows Store this weekend!!!).

    I gave a general overview of the capabilities that I needed and had the developers sign an NDA before I sent them a two and a half page detailed requirements document.

    I think the NDA is legally useless though. The developers I interviewed were all in foreign countries, so I doubt that it would even be enforceable. Plus, are you really going to sue somebody for stealing your idea when the lawyers fees will probably be more than what your app will make in a year?

    • Thanks Will! Congrats on your upcoming app…that’s awesome! Let me know how it turns out for you!

      Yeah, you’re right. There is probably no way an NDA would be enforceable with anyone outside the US. And even if you could it’s not worth your time and money to hire a lawyer.

    • David Janner says:

      Yeah will, I agree.

      One of my partners is an ip lawyer and he deals a lot with app development, so he’s pretty much an expert in the field. Of course he wrote up a nice NDA for us. Legally it probably wouldn’t help us much, but it does help ‘frighten’ off potential crooks. If anyone hesitates or refuses to sign an NDA we just won’t work with them – its kind of just another phase of the developer screening process rather than for legal purposes.

      • Totally agree – NDAs are much better used to “scare” developers than to actually legally prevent them from stealing an idea.

      • please am recently looking venture into developing apps by outsourcing the work. can i get a copy of your nicely written NDA to use as a sample. projects1779 AT gmail dot com. i will greatly appreciate. I have learnt a lot from this blog

        • Steven allen says:

          Agreed! Although a bit cheeky, if anyone has a draft NDA that they don’t mind sharing it would be greatly appreciated by those who can’t afford lawyers fees!

  2. Hi Thomas!

    Great article!
    I completely agree with you that people are concerned about Privacy their ideas, and fear that it may be stolen. I personally went through this fear, when I created my first game for the android market. When I put an advert on odesk, I was showered with offers. I even managed to ask a programmer, what is the guarantee that he will not steal my idea – funny isn`t it? Now it is. That programmer didn`t respond and the project did another programmer. But the fact is that those programmers who are working on sites like odesk, freelance, elance, they’re not there to steal the ideas of their clients. They are there to earn for a living. They think only about how to get new project to work on, not to steal ideas.

    I finally, started my own blog, and wrote about 10 articles. Now they gradually will be published, but I still keep writing more articles on the front … As well as on my blog I do not mention the applications that I have created, because they are successful in that niche where they are located plus those niches are still not full. Here, then it is necessary to argue with common sense, the preservation of the idea. After all, if I start to spread screenshots with my income and at the same point from which applications, there is a high probability that these niches are quickly filled. They will be filled by alike we are, because it’s like a slot machine – if everyone will see that it always gives a prize, then all will aspire to play it!
    This is my observation of other blogers in subjects of developing applications and making money from them.
    I am ok to share my experience, tell the tips and secrets of Android app business, to help people to improve their business situations but not share my own ideas. Otherwise there won`t be a job for me 😉

    • Yeah it would be a terrible business decision for any reputable developer to try and steal one of their client’s ideas. Risking thousands of dollars to steal an idea that may or may not prove to be a success…doesn’t sound like a good trade to me!

      The biggest “risk” for me is sharing my app ideas here on the blog, especially before they are live on the App Stores/Google Play. I’m essentially letting a bunch of current and prospective app developers know which of ideas are successful and which are failing. Someone could potentially just use that data to their advantage and rip one of my apps off or try to beat me to my own idea before I publish an app.

      First of all I trust the community here, so I hope nobody would steal my ideas on purpose just to try and prevent me from having success with them. Secondly, I know that even if someone tried to do so, if I work hard I could still do better than them by making sure my app is the BEST of it’s kind available and market the app better as well. So between those two things, I don’t mind sharing my ideas and successes/failures here on the blog. Hopefully I’m not making a mistake, but I don’t think I am. :)

  3. Originality is important to stick out in this very competitive world.Thus, as a developer it is important to come up with a unique app that will capture the interest of bigger market. Using a NDA is also a good way to protect your ideas, as you mentioned, if it’s really a reputable company it will not jeopardize its name because of stolen ideas.

    • Hey Turner – Yeah I definitely encourage people to make sure your app has at least 1 thing unique about it – even if the idea itself isn’t 100% unique. Using a reputable company is definitely important as well as you mentioned. Thanks for commenting!

  4. Great post Thomas!

    I haven’t created an app (yet!), but these tips can be applied to any business idea peopple may be working on. I totally agree that you should only work with reputable people that you can trust and having a legal contract will help.

    At least if you do these and your app idea does end up being stolen, you have legal options to pursue. I suppose it’s the equivalent of getting insurance on your idea.

    Keep up the great work! :)

    • Thanks Matt! You’re right – I’ve used the same tips for hiring writers, VAs, etc. Although there are no bulletproof methods to protecting your app ideas, at least implementing “something” will give people the peace of mind to get started and take action – and that’s what it’s all about :)

  5. Francesco says:

    I want to add my two cents: the real problem for me is not that other developers steal my project but that at some point, when my app is out and it is going pretty well (for my poor income), some big company with big market share can take “inspiration” from my app and using its broad channels will make my app vanish… for me this is the second step of this problem…. I wait for your comments….

    • Hey Francisco – You make a very good point! If you have a great app idea, or a simple improvement upon an existing idea app idea you are definitely “at risk” of a large company adding those features to their own app as well. There really isn’t any legal way of preventing this, however you need to make sure that your app can compete and THRIVE against larger apps with higher marketing budgets. How can you do this? By having clear benefits of your app that larger companies can’t replicate. Sometimes that’s a more personal experience, better customer service, and being able to react faster to market feedback.

      One example of this could be Twitter’s use of hashtags. When it was first taking off, the creator Jack Dorsey I’m sure was worried Facebook might simply incorporate hashtags and one major incentive of people using Twitter would be gone. However, look how long it took Facebook to do this, and even after incorporating them, Twitter isn’t dying off anytime soon.

      Long story short – if your app provides enough value and you position it right, you will be able to survive and possibly thrive even if/when larger companies try to compete with you.

  6. Hi,
    I am new to the app world, and have hired a developer to create my new innovative app idea. It should be done in a few weeks for the Android System. I plan on releasing it on the iOS as well. Is there any way someone can legally copy my app and release it on iOS before me?

    • Hey Shawn – There is always that risk that if you release on Android first that someone will see it there, really like it, and try to develop something similar before you for iOS. However, this will only happen and only be a concern if your app is really successful, in which case it’s a “good” problem to have. The chances of someone stealing it are slim though, and in my opinion it’s not worth worrying about it before you see success. Hope that helps! Best of luck with the app and let me know if you have any other questions along the way!

      • Thank you Thomas,

        I really enjoy the website. I will definitely be referring to it quite a bit until and after the release of my app. It is very hard to find a one stop shop of informative information in regards to apps. I have another question, if you don’t mind giving me your two cents? I have designed a new innovative messaging app which means I have had to sign up for a web hosting site, and a company called Clickatell for the use of their API. This ultimately means I will need to keep up on my app progress. Now I am thinking of starting my own “business”. Do you know anything about this field? Should I wait and see if it becomes successful? If so, how successful? I am learning as I go…

        • Hey Shawn – As far as setting up a formal business entity is concerned, I’m definitely not an expert. I’m working on setting up my own LLC so I’m just learning the ropes myself. I’d definitely talk to an attorney for this one – sorry I can’t be more of a help in this area!

  7. Hassan Mushaid says:

    Great post. This has now put my fears aside and can now move forward with getting my ideas developed instead of hiding and protecting them in my mind.

  8. I posted an idea oxagile for a free quote. I made the mistake of typing a very descriptive app idea and sending it to them for a quote. Ive heard nothing back from them. I really feel as if my app idea has been stolen. Although, they are top 20 most promising development company with lots of rewards. Thats the only thing that makes me feel better about the situation.

  9. I have a question related to marketing.what are the best ways to market my app.

  10. Hey Thomas! This is a really good post. I just have one question about apps and the supposed “claiming” of ideas. A few years ago I started an app for the desktop platform and it has grown considerbly ever since. However, I have run into another developer that claims that I am taking his/her ideas when he/she started a few months ago. I was never aware of this app before and it was really puzzling. I soon noticed that there was a small influx of negative comments. Is what he/she doing really legal? Thanks in advance.

  11. Charles Monroe says:

    A reputable developer WILL steal your idea if it is awesome. End of story. There will be ZERO consequence because you do not have $200k to pursue them in court. End of that. The whole article is hogwash.

  12. Dany Daniel says:

    Hey Thomas, what about after launching your app how do you protect it from being copied by others? how do i protect it ?

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