Startup Idea Secrecy: Why fearless learners change the world. And how to be one…

An open letter to entrepreneurs who think their idea is worth stealing…

Dear smart person with $$$$ idea,

Well done on your $$$$ idea. I don’t know what the idea is (you won’t tell me!), but I’m sure it’s good.

Ideas are the motors of innovation; they move the world forward, often to a better place. Without them, civilization stagnates and withers away, pining for its former glory. Innovation is as essential to the world as food to our bodies, as love to our souls. So, thank you for your inspiration and for providing momentum to the great human mission.

Your idea is worth a lot. $$$$, as I understand it. In fact, it’s worth so much that telling people about it is a huge risk. What if they steal your idea? And with it your chance for $$$$? What a miserable outcome that would be. All your clever idea-making for nothing.

This line of reasoning produces the following reaction in many entrepreneurs:

They tell no one.
They don’t ask anyone for help, input, feedback, partnerships or funding.
They take the $$$$ idea to the grave.

No one will find it there.

idea secrecy 1

But what if you want to realise the dream? To execute your idea? That’s great. You’re the type of person who takes risks to make a difference. Your fearlessness to try and to be wrong again and again until you are right is supreme.

This is the crux of the matter. An idea alone means very little. No matter how innovative or original your idea seems, someone else has probably had the same idea. In fact, hundreds have probably had it.

What matters then is execution.

Execution over Idea. This phrase is now so often quoted that it seems cliché. But many people still fail to act on its message. So, why does execution trump idea?

As you start out on the journey of making your idea reality, every person you speak to will offer a slightly different perspective. The input of some will have more value than others, sure. But until you ask, it won’t be clear from which data points you will derive most value.

This is so important. What matters is that the more people you ask, the more data points you collect for decision-making. The more informed your decisions are, the better your execution will be. Without ‘talking’, how do you verify assumptions?

How do you know you are doing the right thing?


The truth of it is that no product matches the original idea born in the ‘lightbulb’ moment. Ever. No good product is the same as its first version or its second etc, necessarily. Products which survive and thrive are updated, continuously. Changing customer demands require constant innovation. To execute well, companies must be alive to this. They must be able to listen to feedback and iterate if need be.

This is widely understood and accepted for products which already exist in the marketplace. But, many people don’t see that this holds true for products which are still ideas. Executing well from idea-stage to completed product should be a similar process to updating an existing product based on customer needs.

Otherwise, you are building something without knowledge, without guidance, based only on your own opinion and assumptions.

How can that be good?

It can’t.
Consider this:

Your mother is retiring after 45 years. Her hard work ensured that you were fed, educated and entertained in warmth and security. Every good memory you have can be traced in some way to the opportunities her labour afforded you. You have a lot to be thankful for. You want to find the perfect gift to encapsulate how much she means to you.

Do you:

a) Go with the first idea that comes to mind.

b) Jar of dirt with a rude note about your deprived and wretched upbringing.

c) Brainstorm a few ideas that seem good to you. Then approach people who know your mother and ask what they think of your ideas and/or what they would give her in your position.

No prizes here!

Maybe one in a thousand times you’ll be blessed with a moment of visionary inspiration and option a) will work. But, those are not good odds. Especially when your mother’s happiness or the success of your dream business is at stake.

idea secrecy buddha

Consider this too:

Imagine a hypothetical situation in which you have the choice of investing in one of two companies at concept stage. Which would you choose for a £100,000 investment?

1. An average idea guaranteed to be executed outstandingly


2. An outstanding idea guaranteed to be executed averagely

While it is possible for great ideas to be successful through semi-competent, muddled execution, in the game of probability, your best bet will be to focus on a concept which is being executed efficiently and powerfully.

This ties in with a point I made in my post “How do investors evaluate startup pitches?” The article was based on a piece by Silicon Valley investor Paul Graham on his blog. The core point was that good investors spend a large portion of their due diligence analysing the merits of the team behind the project. Why? Because they know that the idea in its current form will have to go through many iterations before it can be truly successful. Given this, they want to be sure that the team are good enough to navigate the choppy waters of building a great product to fit their market.

In other words, they want to be sure that the EXECUTION is going to be on point.

You should not be concerned about someone stealing your idea. You should be concerned about someone executing it better than you.

Some of the best businesses are simple ideas.

Google’s core concept allows people to search for stuff on the internet. But it wasn’t the first internet search engine. Henry Ford built the most successful car manufacturing company of the 20th Century. But he didn’t invent the automobile.

What made them so successful?

You guessed it.


Google brought the dynamism associated with startups to the corporate level. This means that it can measure and respond to changing user demands rapidly (and that it is an attractive place for top talent). There is a great article on TechCrunch about this called Why Google beat Yahoo in the war for the internet. (Worth a read if you have time).

Henry Ford helped revolutionise factory efficiency by sponsoring the development of the assembly line, and in so doing, he was able to mass produce the first affordable car.

They did the idea best. There was no pretence to ownership of the idea; no notion of ‘my’ idea. They just found an idea and executed it. That’s how they now own it.

This is not to say that the idea isn’t important. Terrible ideas don’t get very far. But how can you truly know whether the idea is good or bad until you share it and learn?

I am not suggesting that it’s okay to be totally indiscreet. There is merit in hiding what you are doing from competitors etc. You should be judicious in your choice of people to share it with. But not to the point of telling no-one!

We sometimes encounter this problem on Angel Investment Network. An entrepreneur wants to raise money for their concept. They sign up and submit a pitch. But they don’t want to reveal too much in case someone pinches the idea. And their pitch ends up containing no interesting info for our investors.

The result? Surprise, surprise. Zero investor leads. And some-number-more-than-zero complaints directed at us.

idea secrecy sad

If you want to raise money from investors, you should be prepared to sell your idea. And to sell, you must tell; the story, the numbers, the notion. Otherwise, someone else will. It’s that simple.

In practical terms, there are protective measures available:

– NDA’s – You can ask anyone you show the idea to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement. This means you have a contract with them. This can work out fine. But it is also a huge turn-off and friction point. Most VCs will tell you to get lost – they understand that execution beats idea!

– Teaser Pitches – you can try to write your initial pitch as a teaser which reveals enough to get people interested to sign an NDA. But this a real art form and there is a danger that you undersell the business and lose out on valuable feedback and/or leads.

– Patents/Trademarks – depending on your business, you can consider getting legal patents and trademarks for the idea.

These can all be useful ways of protection in some cases. But they do not grant 100% protection. And they can be impediments to getting useful feedback – the sort of feedback, which means your execution is good. The only way to get close to 100% protection is to make your business better than the rest! And to keep doing so. That’s what the best companies do.

In summary…

I commend you for your $$$$ idea. But I urge you to be brave. To hold your idea up for scrutiny. To listen to the feedback that will allow you to execute well; the feedback that will transform your idea into a successful and lucrative reality.

It is the fearless who change the world. Those with the courage to learn and listen; with the courage to face criticism; with the courage to be continuously wrong until they are right. And when they are right, they get it so right.

The startup community is an admirable one. You can expect a warm and attentive reception – the feedback will be critical, but that’s why it’s so useful. So, I encourage you to take full advantage of this. You can be sure your competitors will be (unless you still think they are trying to steal your idea).

I look forward to your feedback.

Happy Christmas!


Startup Investment – How do you get good deal flow?

Investors are all looking for a startup investment they believe will be successful. That much is self-evident. Of course, some investors will be looking to invest in companies in which they are interested or experienced. But ultimately, everyone is linked by the shared ambition to back winners.

So that begs the question – How do you pick a winner?

Pick an investment winner

The answer to this comes in three parts: the first is to do with Deal Flow and will be discussed in this post; the second concerns Deal Evaluation which was discussed in a previous post; and the third part is to do with Due Diligence, which will be covered at a later date.

Deal Flow:

One of the most important factors in successfully picking a winner is to have a large and varied number of deals to choose from. Naturally, the more deals you can get eyes on, the more astute you will be when it comes to picking good ones to invest in. That statement comes with a slight caveat – the deals you view have to be of a reasonable quality for you to learn anything valuable.

So where can you find a constant stream of deals of reasonable to high quality?

Network, Contacts & Friends:

The traditional way to do this is through your contacts. If you’re acquainted with people in the startup/investment community, whether they be entrepreneurs or investors, it’s highly likely that they’ll send deals your way. Especially if you ask them. (Silicon Valley in the US is basically fuelled by referrals).

The more you get involved in conversations the more you’ll be included in further conversations. For instance, if a friend or investment broker, sends you a deal, even if you know you’re not going to invest this time around (for whatever reason), it’s still worth responding to them and thereby keep the conversation open by demonstrating your continued interest and engagement.

Many of our investors on Angel Investment Network say that carrying out Due Diligence on companies vastly increased their networks by the simple virtue of having conversations with the right people (even if most were via email!); and as a result, they all started coming across increasingly better opportunities.

In other words, the more you build and nurture your network within this sector, the more you will be exposed to better investment opportunities.

Angel Investment Sites:

Using your network, as set out above, is the traditional way, but it still holds just as true. However, since the digital networking boom with the rise of sites like LinkedIn, it has become easier to broaden your professional network in less ‘organic’ ways. You no longer have to know someone to know them.

It is now easier than ever to expose yourself to quality investment deals and startup contacts online, and in so doing expand your personal network as never before. And you are, no doubt, aware of this as you browse this content on a site called Angel Investment Network!

Further to this, when you actually invest in a startup not only are you casting yourself in a very positive light to the company you invest in, but also to whoever was involved in brokering the deal, other investors you spoke to during your Due Diligence and to friends of the company you invested in. Once you’ve done this, you can guarantee that an increasing number of deals will come your way a) from the fact that you’ve expanded your network in the right way and b) from the fact that people know your serious and not a time waster.

Paul Graham says the following in support of this in a talk he gave at AngelConf in 2009 called ‘How to be an Angel Investor’;

“The best way to get lots of referrals is to invest in startups. No matter how smart and nice you seem, insiders will be reluctant to send you referrals until you’ve proven yourself by doing a couple investments. Some smart, nice guys turn out to be flaky, high-maintenance investors. But once you prove yourself as a good investor, the deal flow, as they call it, will increase rapidly in both quality and quantity.”

(Paul Graham is the guy who founded Viaweb (the first SaaS company) which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998 for a reported $49million. He then founded Y Combinator which has funded over 1000 startups since 2005, including Dropbox, Airbnb, Stripe, and Reddit. So he knows a thing or two about this.)

Startup Pitching & Networking Events:

The final string to your bow when it comes to receiving good deal flow is, of course, networking and pitching events. At these events, you’ll be able to both see deals pitched directly to you and to discuss them and network with other investors and entrepreneurs. You can learn a great deal and expand your network over complimentary drinks and nibbles.

There are tonnes of these events especially in startup-focused cities. We hold a pitching and networking event biannually. For information please send a quick email to


Ultimately, it all comes down to expanding your network and maintaining positive conversations with people in the industry. To recap the best ways to do this are:

– Startup events

– Angel Networking sites

– Investing

And in all cases, it’s the value of the interactions you make that will dictate the positive influence on your network and concomitantly, the standard and consistency of deal flow that gets referred to you.

What’s the outlook for mobile app startups and investors in 2017?

“There’s an app for that”, or some variant of the phrase, is now one of the most common responses to anyone raising a complaint or bemoaning a problem, however small.

Rise and fall of man

The extreme sense of entitlement coupled with the profound idleness that characterises our age has created a market for apps which manage or assist with our dry-cleaning, our sex life, our tampon subscription, our polyphasic sleep-mapping, our pets’ bowel movements…I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere in the murky depths of the App Store there’s an app for communing with the dead – or perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Black Mirror.

The last decade has seen the rapid and unstoppable emergence of the mobile application. And it’s not just quick-on-the-uptake millennials who are enamoured with this new way of being, by now nearly everyone is a smartphone-toting app addict.

But is this set to last? And what’s the outlook for mobile app entrepreneurs and investors?

The general consensus from anecdotal reports is that mobile app companies are finding it more difficult to raise finance. This requires some unpacking. Thanks to a report from our friends at Beauhurst, who track the funds raised by thousands of seed, venture and growth-stage companies, we can see that the amount invested in mobile apps in the UK reached its highest ever level of just over £560m in 2016 (that’s up from £67m in 2011 and circa £275m in 2015).

Mobile app deal numbers and amount invested 2011-2016
Mobile app deal numbers and amount invested 2011-2016

So what’s the problem? Clearly, there are enormous (and increasing) amounts of capital still being ploughed into the app industry by investors. But hold on, there’s a nuance to this.

The crucial change which gives credence to the consensus is that the stage of the app companies raising money has changed. In 2013, 70% of app companies who raised money were seed stage, but by 2016 that number had dropped to 62% with more investors opting for the more proven venture and growth-stage companies.

So from this, we can see that for early stage app companies the prospect of raising finance has indeed become marginally harder. However, the amounts being invested into the sector are still growing at an impressive rate so for apps good enough to compete, there’s still a world of opportunity.

With thanks to Beauhurst for permission to use their data. You can read their article here

Business Funding Show Event – Canary Wharf 23rd February

Angel Investment Network will once again be joining a host of other companies from the startup investment space at the latest Business Funding Show on 23rd February near Canary Wharf tube station.

PICTURE with Logos

Attendees will be given the opportunity to:

– Meet famous entrepreneurs like Mark Wright (BBC Apprentice Winner)
– Learn from Angel Investors such as Mike Greene (C4 Secret Millionaire)
– Meet a range of leading financial institutions
– Get free 1-2-1 with Top Investors & VCs
– Attend talks from industry experts

Wondering what it’s all about? Check out what it was like last year in the video below:

If I were an SME today and I’d just started a business or I was growing a business in my early days, I’d be here at the Show, because I want to learn more and more about all the different forms of funding available, meet potential funders every year, meet with fellow entrepreneurs and learn from them, learn from the speakers, who are very experienced.Lord Bilimoria of Cobra Beer

Picture Richard

My mission is to help entrepreneurs to set-up and grow their business. So, the Business Funding Show is a perfect event for this, as it’s all about helping entrepreneurs to learn how to get money and grow fast.Richard Reed of Innocent Drinks

Our very own Xavier Ballester will also be giving a workshop on raising money through angel investors!

You can get tickets here.

Success Story: Data Science marketplace Pivigo secures investment following rapid growth

Pivigo (, a data science marketplace and training provider based in London, has announced the successful closing of its funding round with investment secured from high profile consortia including Angel Academe, Craigie Capital, Dubai-based Dunamis Ventures Ltd and London Co-Investment Fund, the Mayor of London’s early stage business fund.

Angel Investment Network is delighted to have made a significant contribution to this success story through its introduction of Dunamis Ventures Ltd.

You can view the full press release on the Pivigo blog here

Now that they are fully funded, they are well placed “to reach a much larger audience, help connect more people with each other and work with companies to gain value from data…” as Founder and CEO, Kim Nilsson, puts it.

We can’t wait to see the progress they make!

Proposal Tip of the Week

What’s the point of a proposal? Why use sites like Angel Investment Network? Why not just send your full business plan to people you want to invest?

Well, for a start, not everyone has the contact details of a large number of investors just sat in their inbox. Networking/Connection sites like Angel Investment Network hold the key to advertising your latest business venture to thousands of prospective investors so that you can find the right ones to suit the nature of the project. That sounds a little sales-y, I know, but it’s important to understand in order to realise the significance of the short proposal instead of the full-blown business plan.

When you’re marketing an idea to thousands of people, not just in the fundraising community but anywhere, you cannot simply take it for granted that people will actually take time to consider your idea; in any marketplace thousands upon thousands of ideas are competing to grab the attention of the onlookers. Precedence is not always, and certainly not necessarily, defined by merit, but rather by the ability to capture attention.

Don’t think ‘I know my idea is brilliant, so why wouldn’t investors read my business plan? They’d be stupid not to…’ That attitude will help you raise the square root of nothing. Think instead ‘How can I make it so that investors literally cannot wait to get their greedy paws on my business plan and start properly digesting my idea?’

Here’s where your short proposal comes in. It is meant to be pithy and concise. Something that can be easily understood and result in them wanting to know more. It is the first rung on the ladder towards them investing; and that can often be the hardest part – getting them to step onto the ladder. Once they’re on, of course some may fall off on the way to the top, but at least you’re beginning to win them over and it becomes progressively harder for them to get off.

As such you should consider your proposal as a ‘hook’, to use Nir Eyal’s term, or in internet-speak a CTA (call-to-action). In your proposal make them love your idea enough to take the next step. Tell them the best bits. Don’t swamp them in superfluous detail.

Proposal Tip of the Week

It’s funny what working near a beach for 3 weeks will do to one’s ability to keep their blog updated! But I’m back in the office now, back to the grindstone so your weekly dose of pitching/proposal advice is back up and running.

The previous 4 tips have talked in general terms about the ideal structure for your proposal: Tip #1 advised you to put your achievements first, Tip #2 encouraged you to then articulate the problem you solve, Tip #3 how you solve that problem and Tip #4 told you to make it clear how big the market opportunity is.

This week I wanted to talk about tone. How should your pitch come across? Funny? Serious? Detailed? Light?

When I arrived in the office this morning one of my colleagues was bragging about how he had re-written someone’s proposal for them after they had got no interest from investors after 90 days on Angel Investment Network. Now the business wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t an Uber or Facebook by any stretch of the imagination. The reason the guy had done so poorly was that the way he had written his proposal was about as exciting as watching paint dry in prison.

My colleague made no drastic changes – the fact of the business and its products (innovative power tools) were beyond his control. And yet his changes resulted in 82 investors contacting the entrepreneur. 82. When previously he’d got zero.

What did he change? He injected some life, some enthusiasm, some excitement into the proposal. The subject matter remained the same, but he gave the proposal a buzz. He infused it with a sense of success just around the corner; and that’s what intrigued the investors.

So give yourself a fighting chance and make sure you strike the right tone…

Proposal Tip of the Week

Tip #4 “How big’s the itch and is it spreading…like a rash?”

To continue the itch metaphor from proposal tips #2 and #3 (which dealt with the importance of giving a clear explanation of the itch you scratch and how you scratch it), in this post I’d like to touch on the size of the itch and how it’s growing.

For those of you beginning to find my strangled metaphor tedious, I’ll stop. I’m talking, of course, about the market your business operates/plans to operate in.

It’s no use solving a problem – even if you solve it unbelievably well – if it’s a problem only extant for a single hermit on the remote island of Tristan de Cunha, then it’s great for the hermit, but not a viable business (unless he’s sitting on pots of gold).

The problem you solve has to be one that a large and growing number of people suffer from without a solution; and are willing to pay for.

The more statistics you have to indicate this, the more prospective investors are likely to give your idea credence! There are plenty of websites available to help you with this, so don’t skip this bit…

Success Story: Atlantic Healthcare closes $24 million financing

Some good news came in over the weekend in a press release from Atlantic Healthcare. It’s encouraging to see our Pharmaceutical companies flourishing alongside their arguably more trendy tech counterparts.

We raised circa £350,000 for Atlantic Healthcare as part of their seed round. It’s taken a few years, but that’s nearly always the way with pharmaceuticals; and now they’ve just closed a $24 million round with funds coming from the founders of Salix Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Fullbrook Thorpe Investments LLP (the family investment arm of Andy Leaver, founder of Clinigen Group plc); and LDC (the private equity division of Lloyds Banking Group plc); alongside their existing investors.

This round will allow them to complete the pivotal Phase 3 of their product development and will make alicaforsen market-ready for the treatment of IBD pouchitis which currently has no approved treatments.

Proposal Tip of the Week

So far in this series we’ve discussed 2 of my 3 recommended first steps for starting your pitch in a way that makes investors instantly grasp the value of your idea.

Third up is the natural corollary of the problem, that is, the solution.

Tip #3 “How do you scratch that itch?”

Once you’ve made the effort, as set out in Proposal Tip #2, to give a cogent explanation of the problem, and the investors have started to relate to the pain point, then you hit them with your solution.

How you do this will depend hugely on what your solution is, but the key point is to make it super clear. No one will understand your solution as well as you do – so don’t expect them to. Set out your explanation in as simple as possible terms as if explaining to a total novice.

Entrepreneurs often make the mistake of being too technical at this stage under the mistaken belief that if they sound like a genius then the prospective investor will fall head over heels and want to invest.


If someone doesn’t understand your idea quickly they’ll look elsewhere for an idea they can understand and relate to quickly.

You’ve been warned for this week…