Secrecy and Startups

The word “stealth” used to be commonly heard in startup circles. Ten years ago. Today you’re more likely to be scoffed at for saying you’re a stealth startup and not openly discussing your work. As many have said, it’s not likely that someone you meet will want to drop everything they’re doing and copy your business.

Here are four startups I met that were secret when it didn’t call for it and where they are today.

1. Told me the general gist of their service but wouldn’t answer any questions about it. Their lawyer advised them not to talk about any details yet. Also couldn’t tell me why not. Is it time for a new lawyer?

2. One asked me about my startup and after I finished talking introduced themselves as being in stealth mode. All it took was for me to say “oh, please…” for their explanation to come out. I liked the idea and they had a first demo user. But it didn’t work out in the end. The founder abandoned the startup to go back to the corporate world.

3. Wanted me to sign NDAs to hear about their work. But I asked general questions and found that they refused to do any customer development work even after identifying an interesting user group. Instead they went and planned for a 12 – 18 month development timeline. My most recent news about them is they never got the service off the ground.

4. A fashion startup that thought someone would steal their idea. Produced the first product and all marketing without any customer development work. No one used the first product, which is now discontinued and cost them their first year of work. They eventually switched their focus and are now doing well. And no one stole their first idea.

Rather than be secret, it’s much more likely that by talking, you’ll gain some feedback or a connection to someone who can help. So don’t be afraid to talk about your work.
Filed in: startup data