By Karthik Sridharan W’07/ENG’07, Co-founder and CEO of Kinnek
As I look back on the past nearly three years of working on Kinnek, there is one thing I would do differently – I wouldn’t be scared to share our idea with other entrepreneurs early on.
When starting a company, it’s incredibly helpful to interact with other entrepreneurs and get their advice. Once I got over my own hesitation to discuss Kinnek with others, I was able to benefit from brainstorming product ideas, learning from others’ mistakes, avoiding typical startup pitfalls, benchmarking my startup against other early-stage companies, and learning about current best-practices in our sector. These are all things that I’ve been able to do while chatting over coffee with other entrepreneurs, and it’s been invaluable to the growth of Kinnek over the years. Additionally, speaking about Kinnek was fantastic preparation for pitching investors, because it was an exercise in distilling the idea of our company into its core components, cutting out the fat, and making our company sound exciting to those who otherwise had no reason to care.
Unfortunately, many early-stage entrepreneurs are unnecessarily paranoid about people “stealing” their idea, and avoid speaking about their company with others at all costs. I had the same mentality when we first started Kinnek, but it’s simply a misplaced fear. [tweetthis alt=”‘Entrepreneurs just do not steal each other’s ideas often.’ #truth from Karthik Sridharan #W07 via @WhartonEntrep” shorturl=”http://whr.tn/1DQlxPM”]”Entrepreneurs just do not steal each other’s ideas often”[/tweetthis]; it isn’t something that you should worry about that much. Unless you’re spilling the beans on your company’s most obvious technical and operational secrets, the simple act of telling a friend or acquaintance about your general business model is just not that dangerous. I soon realized that if our company’s success was so easily replicable that a simple coffee chat could yield a viable competitor, then maybe we weren’t doing such a great job of building our company. When it comes to building a valuable company, what usually matters most is your ability to execute an idea, not simply having the idea. Eventually everyone will come to find out about what your company does – in fact you’ll want them to!
This unnecessary paranoia causes a lot of entrepreneurs to fall into the trap of becoming very intellectually isolated while building their companies. This prevents people from improving their product as quickly as they should, learning about industry best-practices, and expanding their professional networks fast enough. There is a real pay-it-forward culture among technology entrepreneurs, and they’re usually excited to think about someone else’s idea for a change and dole out helpful advice. Don’t miss out on this! You’d be doing yourself and your company a big disservice by not taking advantage of this culture.
I’d recommend starting your chats with fellow entrepreneurs in your personal network and the Penn/Wharton alumni network (the latter has been immensely helpful for me). Feel free to reach out to me as well, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always glad to brainstorm with those in the larger Penn/Wharton community that are passionate about entrepreneurship!
Bio: Karthik Sridharan is co-founder and CEO of Kinnek, an online marketplace that provides small businesses a better way to find suppliers and make purchases. He is a graduate of the M&T Program (Wharton ’07, SEAS ’07), and lives in New York City.