How To Tell Someone You Won’t Sign Their NDA

“Will you sign my NDA?” is one of those awkard questions I get fairly often. Over time I’ve used a few different responses for why I won’t sign. Here are three of my favorites.

Pithy Yet Effective

No. Next question.

This is best used when spoken in a British accent, and wearing a Simon Cowell-esque outift. You can preface it by saying “I’m not trying to insult you but…” for added effectiveness.

Idealistic

I’m really sorry but I can’t. I believe that ideas need air. Very often the people who demand that an NDA be signed are first time entrepreneurs. I know from experience as a young entrepreneur that a free exchange of ideas will be thousands of times more helpful than trying to shelter your concept from getting Winklevossed. You’ll learn a lot more by getting your idea out in the open. Not only that, but most of the helpful people you’re going to meet in the startup scene won’t sign an NDA if you want to talk to them.

I think this is the most important reason not to make people sign an NDA, but I don’t like using it because it sounds very paternalistic. Many people will agree with this, but be prepared for further protestations from more belligerent conversationalists. The people that protest the most vigorously will very often be building things that uniquely rearrange the words “social”, “location-based”, and “gamified” into fun combinations.

Pragmatic

I can’t and here’s why. I talk to startup people about their ideas every day. If I had to sign an NDA for every idea I heard I literally wouldn’t be able to talk to anyone without fear of violating the terms of some agreement I signed 3 months ago. It would just be an untenable situation for me. I’d love to talk to you more about your idea, but I understand if you’d rather keep it protected. 

This is fantastic because it doesn’t sound like you’re knocking their ability as entrepreneurs, and puts the blame firmly on the broad-range of your social calendar – always a plus.

I hope this helps someone skirt around the NDA question. And if you’re someone who believes that an NDA is necessary to the success of your nascent startup dreams, I urge you to have a little more faith in people. They may surprise you.

If you read this far you should probably follow me on Twitter.

P.S If none of these satisfy you and you want to send them back a fake NDA you can use a project I built a while ago called absurdNDA. Enjoy.


12 Jan 2012, 1:48am | 2 comments

  • Brett Topche

    The last one is pretty much the standard VC answer. We see so many companies, that to sign and uphold an NDA with everyone would be impossible. On the flip side, our ability to do business depends on entrepreneurs’ willingness to share their ideas with us. If we become known as “the guys who spill the beans”, no one will tell us what they’re up to and we’ll be out of business. That’s a far more powerful incentive than any NDA.

  • Dan Shipper

    Good point. The entrepreneur community is still relatively small there's a big incentive so maintaining a trustworthy reputation is a strong incentive.

 

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