What To Do When Someone Steals Your Startup Idea

stealing business idea

As everyone in the world of business is striving to be on the cusp of the next big great thing, it’s almost inevitable that you find out that someone is getting a business off the ground that sounds unpleasantly familiar. Before you send all of your Twitter followers to their page to cause havoc, here are six things you should do.

Verify that it’s really a copy

If you looked at very brief descriptions of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the three services might sound very similar. As anyone who uses them knows, they’re incredibly different. Take the time to make sure that your idea was really stolen, and it’s not just a case of someone jumping off your service to create a similar concept, customized for their own niche.

Don’t rely on third party information for this; verify your information on your own. Call the company, visit the website, and find out everything you can. Then, decide what to do next.

Keep perspective

While it’s easy to lose your cool, resist the urge. Feeling like your business idea has been copied is one thing, but proving it is an entirely different problem, especially if you haven’t actually started your business yet. Consider: how many companies sell tiny cupcakes, or pants, or cell phones? Ideas themselves are almost never as original as we think they are.

Now, if they’ve stolen your content? If their logo is exactly like yours, or their webpage was cloned from yours? That’s a different situation where you may have more options available.

Let them fail instead of you

If you were just bandying about this business concept at a local networking event, and suddenly someone else is off and running, it might be your best move to simply let them go with it. You know how much harder it is to run a business than it is to conceive of one; let them be the one that takes the fall.

Alternatively, keep on with your own startup timeline, but closely watch their pitfalls. They can end up being almost a trial case for your business, and you can see what goes horribly wrong before you have to suffer the consequences.

Do better than them

George Herbert once said that living well is the best revenge. In this case, running your business so well that you obliterate them as your competition can be much more satisfying than fuming for months or calling them shouting.

Follow your business plan, track your cash flow, keep your marketing top notch, connect with your customers, honor your employees – you know, do all the things that make you an amazing entrepreneur. Worry less about them, and focus entirely on your own business, and how you can make it the absolute best.

We won’t blame you if you end up doing a little jig when you see their URL has gone dark or “closing sale” appears in their front window.

Consider legal recourse for IP theft

Now, this situation probably applies most often to freelancers. More than one freelancer has gotten their work done in a timely fashion, delivered the product, and found that the client suddenly goes unresponsive. You never get paid, and yet you see the work appear on their website, or their product goes up for sale. What do you do?

In a perfect world, you would have received a work for hire document, signed, which shows that both you and the client agreed that ownership would be transferred once payment was complete. If so, start by politely contacting the client and letting them know that payment hasn’t been received, and could they please confirm when it was sent? Mentioning that you’ve noticed your design implementation or seen your article shared on social media isn’t a bad idea either.

If that doesn’t work, your next step may be to consult a lawyer, but remember, legal actions take time and money, and you may not recoup anything like what you spend.

If you got the client through any kind of agency or service, make sure to let them know what’s happened; they may be able to suspend the client’s account, so that at least they can’t take advantage of any other freelancers.

What advice would you offer to entrepreneurs who have just discovered that someone has taken their startup idea?


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