As an app developer, I get a lot of people emailing me about working on their app idea. And about 50% of them say something along the lines of, “but don’t share this with anyone,” or “you need to sign an NDA before talking about our app idea.” That is just wrong.
Keeping your app confidential before it’s released is actually the worst thing you can do for your app. I know you think you’re protecting your intellectual property, preventing people from stealing your idea and copying your app. But people have already copied your app - go to the app store right now, and you’ll find at least five people making apps that do the same thing. (If you don’t find the competition, you’re probably just not searching the right keywords. If you still don’t find competition, that can actually be a bad sign - no competitors means there’s no one spending money in this area). People don’t even have to steal your idea - they just had the same idea as you. Really, there are only so many ideas out there people have. Tons of people have them, less people act on them, and even less people act on them well.
And really, what does “protecting your idea” say? That you are literally so unable to handle competition that if someone merely tries to compete against you, they could put you out of business? If the mere existence of competition will ruin you, this isn’t the business you should be in. There will always be competition.
And also, there’s so many benefits from sharing your app idea!
1. You get to talk to customers.
They only way you know whether or not your app will be successful is if you talk to your customers, and you need to actually share your app with customers to talk to your customers. If you don’t talk to customers before you launch, you’re basically gambling with your app. If I wanted to gamble I’d go buy a $20 lotto ticket, not pour my life into an app.
2. You get to talk to advisers.
If you share your app idea with people who have already been around the block, they can tell you what will and won’t work. You’re not perfect, and there are things you don’t know about app development. And what you don’t know could kill your app. These advisers can tell you what you don’t know and save your app, but you have to tell them about your app first.
3. You can get started marketing.
Without marketing, at launch, you have nothing. Your app goes live on the App Store, you only get a handful of downloads, no one notices, and that’s the end of it. Your app just sits on the store, inert. I know that millions of people download apps, but they don’t just sit around on the app store looking for apps. If you don’t show them yours, they won’t download it. Instead of waiting until your app is live, start marketing it with a website and mailing list before it’s released, so that you can be greeted with thousands of downloads on launch day.
4. Nobody respects someone who demands secrecy.
When you make an app, you aren’t doing it alone. You’re working with designers, developers, financial backers, and marketing experts. The people who are good and skilled in this field get a lot of work proposals, and a lot of them come from people saying “we can’t talk until you sign an NDA.” They’re going to reject work out of hand, just because of that. They know that privacy in app development just hurts the business, and makes their lives far harder. You need the best contractors far more than you need that secrecy, so let it go.
I know that it’s a first instinct to protect your app idea, but it’s a first instinct that’s wrong. Often in life, the right thing to do isn’t a first instinct. You relax your fingers to get out of a Chinese trap, not fight it. It’s counterintuitive. And to win in the app store, you don’t fight secretively with tooth and nail, bumping up against everyone else you come across, but instead you open your idea to the world and work with everyone on it. Counterintuitive.