Tech Life Slightly more than a hearty handshake


The lesson of the Holy Shit is that when you stumble upon a truly revolutionary idea, you have the ability to recognize it. There are lots of people who, when they first saw a web page, thought, “I can order pizza on the phone with a live person. Why would I do it on the computer via, what’d you call it? A browser? Also, why is that text blinking?”

You didn’t see pizza. You didn’t even see the blinking text. In fact, you saw nothing in particular; you just had a gut feeling. There was no logic or strategy behind the gut feeling, it was a sense of deep potential. Your amorphous thought was, “I can’t think of anything I won’t be able to do on the web.”

A Holy Shit is the instant of instinctually recognizing massive potential.

As epiphanies go, Holy Shits are few and far between. My gut says you’re lucky if you stumble upon one a year. However, smaller versions happen all the time.

A by-product of obsessively, constantly surfing the net to discover the bright and the shiny is a steady flow of promising new ideas. Mostly slight variations on existing great ideas that tickle your fancy. For example, after staring at Twitter for nearly two years, I’m guessing I’ve had a dozen bright ideas about Twitter-inspired products. These ideas tend to show up in the morning during the drive, after appropriate caffeination, and more often than not they fade the moment I walk into the office.

But some stick.

My rule is: if I’m still thinking about a bright idea when I’m driving home, it’s worth writing down. By passing the idea through my fingers I make it slightly more real… I give it definition.

And then I sleep on it.

The following morning, if I’m still chewing on the bright idea, I start to worry because the logical next step is to pitch a friend. The rule here is: all ideas improve as a function of the number of eyeballs that see them. The troubling converse rule is: as soon as your idea gets out in the wild, it’s no longer yours.

In the corporate world, there’s a legal instrument to protect bright ideas generated inside of the business and it’s called a Non-Disclosure Agreement or an “NDA“. When you sign an NDA for a company, you’re legally saying, “I’ve agreed to take on the responsibility of protecting and not revealing the company’s intellectual property even if that intellectual property consists of ideas that came out of my head in the first place.”

There are lots of interesting variations of the NDA, but the two significant ones are: the Two-Way and the One-Way.

The Two-Way NDA says, “Anything either of us says is private”. The more scary One-Way states, “We can use anything you say, but you can’t use anything we say”.

Neither of these legal instruments is useful to me when I merely want to pitch a friend about my idea. The concept of getting Phil to sign an NDA over a beer while we shoot the shit about my random drive-to-work idea makes no sense. Phil’s a friend.

But I want Phil to know that what I want to chat about is more than our average conversation. I want slightly more than a smidge of ceremony before I spill the beans about my bright idea and I call this ceremony the FriendDA.

The FriendDA is a non-binding, warm blanket agreement that offers absolutely no legal protection. I’d suggest if the idea of legal protection is even crossing your mind that the FriendDA is totally inappropriate for your current needs.

Take a look.

Ideally, the understanding you want to get to with the FriendDA requires only a simple question. The moment you’re about to pitch Phil on the idea you ask, “FriendDA?”

Phil takes a sip of beer and nods.

And you’re off.

21 Responses

  1. Among my friends we’ve always used the term “Personal NDA” to mean the same thing. FriendDA is clumsy in the mouth and it takes time to explain it the first time you use it. “Personal NDA” is immediately understandable by both parties and is a lot easier (if a tiny bit longer) to say.

  2. If I had to ask someone not to screw me over when I told them my ideas, they wouldn’t be a very good friend in the first place.

  3. Larry Stewart 16 years ago

    I tried to get my corp to adopt the following, but they went for the lawyers instead:

    This isn’t lawyerese. We hope it is easy to understand.

    1. Please don’t tell other people about what we’re doing.

    We won’t tell anyone secret stuff you tell us.

    2. We’ll try to tell you what information we consider secret

    You tell us what you consider secret

    3. We’re not granting permission to do anything with the information

    Neither are you.

    3. After two years, all bets are off

    4. This doesn’t apply if:

    a) You already knew our stuff or we already knew your stuff

    b) It’s public knowlege

    c) You (we) hear about it from someone not under NDA

    d) The secrets must be revealed to comply with the law.

  4. If I were on my home computer, I would totally be giving the FriendDA a thumbs up on stumbleupon

  5. Great! Up until now I’ve just gone and ask “NDA?” amongst friends before going on about state secrets, now I can point to a site with the “legal” wording 😛

  6. Arjan Zuidhof 16 years ago

    So. You went and bought a complete domain for that 😉

    Funny though, that you put this into wording; can imagine people sometimes think twice before sharing their possibly earth-shattering thoughts with others. Now they’re covered. Or something.

  7. clvrmnky 16 years ago

    Heh. I’ve often had the very same thought, and I’ve seen good ideas out there and remembered that I had had the very same notion some months or years past.

    I’ve pretty much gone ahead and just decided to give my ideas away (good, bad or indifferent).

  8. Hans Sjunnesson 16 years ago

    One essay in 37Signal’s book ‘Getting Real’, touches on this. Especially the quote at the bottom. You can read the essey online here

    Basically, a brilliant idea with a poor execution is worth very little, just as a poor idea with brilliant execution is worth very little.

    I’m not protective of my ideas. Instead I tell people about all of my good side projects. My rationale is that even if they go out and execute on my idea, if my execution is better than theirs, it’s still a success. However if they do a better job than me, that means my execution is poor and I was headed for failure anyway.

  9. Amazing. I love it. Down with the NDA!

  10. kenkins 16 years ago

    Awesome. For years I’ve done this by saying, “Between us?”

    I have a lot of non-technical friends.

  11. Arden 16 years ago

    Did you get anyone to agree to the FriendDA before you pitched them the idea to actually go through with it? That would be appropriate.

  12. Steven Fisher 16 years ago

    @Trey: The point for me would be that this covers everything I’d want to let a friend know. It isn’t that I need to tell them not to screw me, it’s that I want to explain that it would be screwing. They might not even realize that. I’d rather spent 60 seconds explaining that I don’t want the idea shared than be pissy at them later, trying to explain why sharing the idea bothered me.

    @Larry: I’m totally stealing that. 🙂

    @Hans: Sure, ideas aren’t worth much without execution. If a friend wants to execute an idea, that’s cool. I’d like to know about it, and if they can do it better than I can they’re welcome to it. Heck, maybe we can work together. Ideas are not that hard. I’m more worried with them telling someone who isn’t my friend.

  13. Here’s my idea: a friend stabs me in the back and steals my great idea and makes millions, I take a bat to their kneecaps.

  14. Superb. Will need to use this with some of my “friends.”

  15. We tend to call this the FrieNDA.

  16. Don’t like it as something I’d actually need from a friend. Do like it as an idea though, so thumbs up.

    The font on is too big.

  17. “FriendDA is clumsy in the mouth…”

    @Zach: Really? Then you may have a strange mouth (or maybe a strange accent? 🙂 Try dropping the first d when you say it: “Frien-D-A”, rhymes with “N-D-A.”

  18. I hate to pour water on this brilliant & fun tongue-and-cheek post, but actually signing the FriendDA in most U.S. states DOES signal intent.

    With a strong intention argument, a competent lawyer can make a strong enough prima facia case to at least coax a large settlement–esp if post-dated and verifiable contributions are, in any way, attributable to the “blanket keeper”.

    The bottom line, in the eyes of the law, is to:

    1. Write down and date the details of the idea prior to discussions with any 3rd parties (even friends).

    2. If you wish to have discussions, do so ONLY on a one-on-one basis in a U.S. state (a distinct minority) which requires BOTH parties to agree on any surreptitious recording.

    Ensuring #1 allows for prior documentation as evidence and ensuring #2 provides for plausible deniability.

    That being said, the spirit of the article is great and I’ve broken BOTH of the aforementioned rules often enough. Life is simply too short to be concerned with legalisms the vast majority of the time.

  19. Josh Moore 16 years ago

    Hi, I am working as a programmer/qa team leader for a small ISV in Taiwan (I am from the USA). So I have a limited number of people around me that I can easily communicate with that are actually in the programming field. I like the idea of the FriendDA because I am actually having some ideas for a start up. But, I with the lack of local people to talk to I am wondering is there an online community were anyone has developed a strong enough relationship to implement this? If so please let me know.

  20. I guess real friendships carry an inherent FriendDA, but I do find the idea fun and useful for a lot of cases.

    But let’s just say that ideas are more or less floating around and it’s the will and drive to implement them that matters most in the long run.

    Great blog!

    – T

  21. WOW. Simple and elegant!

    The friend who sent the link to your friendDA is the first guy who gets to hear all my crazy ideas. And whenever either of us had to share new ideas we would say “NDA” before the conversation.

    Now we would say “friendDA”. And that’s a lot more fun!