As I’ve mentioned in some previous posts on this site, I’m currently working on a project that is a site for sharing, and talking about, business ideas. I’m combining a social voting site (like Digg), where people can submit very brief descriptions of ideas to be voted on, with a Wiki that people can use to collaboratively work on them.

I’m making a lot of progress and will probably be able to soft-launch the site in the next week, or if not then, in early September. I’ll follow with a more formal announcement when I’ve got some content up there.

In the meantime, a couple days I stumbled on this interesting post from Chris Dixon, which talks more about this theme of publicizing your thinking. He recommends to entrepreneurs that they be “the opposite of secretive”. I think what I am trying to do is help bring about that outcome for people. Why is there such a disparity between talking about a finished product and talking about a work in progress? Why do many people like to keep their entrepreneurial ideas to themselves?

Chris’ post is a great rebuttal to some of the more common answers, and yet even he (comments in italics) falls into the same traps that he is warning others about:

There are probably 2 people in the world inclined/able/willing to copy your ideas. Showing ideas to people individually you can probably avoid them and also get maximum feedback.

  • But isn’t the risk of having someone “steal” an idea from your blog infinitesimal, and outweighed by the possible social benefit to having someone run with an idea you aren’t working on? Someone mentions this calculus in the comments. Is an idea, especially one with an uncommitted originator, worth anything?

I just need to clean [my ideas] up [before I release them] because they have so many cobwebs on them at this point it would be kind of embarrassing. This was a post by Chris in response to commenters who pressed him to reveal some of the ideas he’s had.

  • I don’t know, it might be refreshing, especially for new entrepreneurs, to see that even Chris Dixon has bad ideas. But I highly doubt any of them are truly bad, even if they may seem that way in retrospect. And lastly, is there any real reputational risk here, given Dixon’s reputation?

I think it is just scary to open your sketchbook to people. I know I’ve found it difficult. Your sketchbook is full of weird doodles that didn’t go anywhere, and perhaps even your early mistakes. It shows that you aren’t polished all the time, that at one point you were learning, too. We are in the habit of curating our projects and the way we present ourselves, and showing a portfolio to people.

Now, there are lots of highly legitimate reasons to keep your sketchbook to yourself. It is true, as Dixon points out, that most feedback is basically worthless. And it’s also true that even ill-informed feedback can be memorable, and throw you off track. Lastly, obviously people are very busy and if you’re looking for an investor, or a project partner, you probably can’t tell them about everything you’ve ever worked on.

But the fact is, your sketchbook is part of your portfolio. Or at least, it’s the basis for it. I think many smart people are too timid about putting a sketchbook out there, or even acknowledging its existence.

Anyway, I’ll launch the site and populate it with a bunch of my ideas to start, and I’ll leave it up as a public sketchbook of what I’m thinking. If others add to it, that would be awesome and I’d be very happy about that. If people use the collaborative (wiki) features, that’d be great but doesn’t need to happen. I’ll try to get as much up there as possible. For the wiki, I hope to get in the habit of emailing people who release source code and other thoughts about business that didn’t work out, and ask them if I can include their ideas.

By the way, I also learned in reading Chris’ post that this has actually been triedcouple times; it doesn’t seem to have succeeded. Well, that’s OK. I’m going to try it a slightly different way. And, worst case, this should be a useful tool for me, at the very least.

Lastly, I am also planning to add a link on this blog to my “entries to write” list, as soon as I can figure out how to make a list public on Remember the Milk. I think that should be another interesting dimension to this idea.