The Corn On The Cob Theory: Share Your Idea With Out Giving It Away

The Corn On The Cob Theory: Share Your Idea With Out Giving It Away

You show up 10 minutes early for the appointment, dressed in your best clothes.

It’s hot out and you hope that you won’t sweat through your shirt. You’ve been anticipating this meeting, and fear overtakes excitement at this point. He sees you arrive early.

He’s larger than you thought.

Dressed in jeans and a polo, he makes you feel overdressed. You begin to have doubts. Should you introduce yourself? Does he know who you are? Do you have a picture of yourself in your email signature? Your thoughts start to race just as he walks over and introduces himself.

“So, you must be Ryan?”

“Yes. It’s great to meet you, Mr. Jacobson.”

“Well, I can’t wait to hear about this new idea you wanted to talk about.”

Most online websites advised you to not share your ideas with people, especially investors, unless you have a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA). You’re still tired from all the research last night, and hope you chose the right template to manipulate to make it seem like you have your own NDA. (And you hope that you didn’t get a computer virus from all of the downloading.)

“Mr. Jacobson, before we discuss my idea, I wanted to talk with you about signing an NDA.”

Mr. Jacobson’s smile turns to a smirk, his lips purse, and his eyebrows raise, but he doesn’t say anything. He just sits there and looks at you with his steel blue eyes.

You fumble for the paperwork in the pad-folio you recently picked up at Staples, and hand him the stapled NDA papers with a shaky hand.

“I’m happy to give you a few minutes to read over the agreement before signing.”

He takes the papers, flips through them, and hands them back with a smile that could charm a wet cat.

Confusion abounds.

“Ryan, I’m not going to sign your form, but I’d be happy to talk about your idea.”

Welcome to the inventor’s dilemma. Deep down, you know that your idea is so amazing and revolutionary, people will steal it if you are not careful. Especially an investor who has more money and connections than you do.

Did you just pigeonhole yourself as the rookie who brought an NDA to an initial meeting?


Bottom Line:

If you bring an NDA to an initial meeting with an investor or potential mentor, there’s a good chance he will hand it right back to you and explain that he is simply not interested in hearing your idea if he has to sign.

These are challenging waters to navigate, especially if you are really passionate about your idea and feel you need investor and mentor support to help you launch your idea.

It is a very rookie mistake to think an investor will sign an NDA before hearing your idea.

They hear more ideas than they can handle. They are not in the business of stealing ideas.

If you cannot explain your idea without disclosing elements that could be stolen, you need to take a look at your ability to communicate your idea, instead of trying to search online for answers about how to protect your idea with a NDA.

Have you ever seen a corn cob?

The corn on the cob consists of hundreds of kernels. Visualize it. Let’s have those kernels represent core elements of your idea and innovation that can be stolen. The corn on the cob as a whole represents your overall idea.

The simplest way to understand how to communicate your idea to an investor, family member, or anybody you talk to, lies in asking them to imagine a corn on the cob, without giving them the actual kernels.

If I were to show you a corn on the cob, you would be able to recognize that it is a corn on the cob. Your audience does not need to have all of the individual kernels in order for them to understand the object.

If your new big idea is a smartphone app using a certain technology in a certain way to do something innovative, then learn to describe it in a way without giving away the core kernels.

Share with people the problem you’re solving. Tell them the problem that your smart phone application is going to solve. If they believe that the problem you’re solving takes priority over other things, they will want to learn more, and begin to ask questions.

Talk about your idea, but withhold the individual kernels that would allow them to copy the idea.

Ideas are useless. Execution has value. Don’t try to get an NDA signed. At the end of the day, if someone wants to steal your idea, they will, regardless of the NDA. If they sign the NDA and then steal your idea, you will have to hire an expensive attorney to prove it was your idea. This is most likely money that you do not have.

Time is money. Your time and money needs to be focused on running as fast as you can to develop, prototype, and launch your new idea.

Sharing your idea like it’s a corn on the cob will also help you avoid triggering public disclosure of your ideas. If you don’t know how public disclosure relates to intellectual property, you should spend your time researching online, and stop trying to find a good boilerplate NDA’s.


Do you sign them when they are presented, or would you rather not hear the idea. Share your thoughts on NDA’s in the comments?

Startup Development

1 Comment

  1. ICC T20 world cup 2016
    March 30, 2016

    Good article. I will be going through many of these issues
    as well..