Four Ways Startups Protect Their Ideas

Competitive protection is more than just keeping secrets and filing for patents

Joe Procopio

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If you build a great product or service, but one that can potentially be copied, how do you protect it?

That question came in through my channels last week with no context and no background information. Thankfully, with 20+ years experience building companies on sweat and intellectual property, I don’t need either.

The short answer is: A truly great product or service idea is one that can never be copied, because its success or failure all depends on how well the company executes the idea.

The longer and less-bullshit answer is far more complex and nuanced. But it’s still about playing chess while everyone else is playing checkers.

The swamp and the moat

I like to use story elements when it comes to giving actionable insight on these kinds of complex concepts. Stories are great because investors, board members, and customers can understand them quickly, and entrepreneurs can quickly apply the concepts to their own unique product or service.

One of the key story elements we’re using for our next fundraising cycle paints a vivid picture of the value of our intellectual property and our plans for keeping our secrets away from the inevitable competition. I dubbed the story the swamp and the moat.

Quick background: At Precision Fermentation, we’ve developed a hardware and software solution to monitor and automate brewing. When you brew beer, what’s inside that tank is a swamp. It’s dark, it’s murky, and there’s all kinds of science happening with bacteria and chemical reactions. It’s incredibly difficult to monitor, let alone automate. I could drone on, but I think I painted the proper picture.

We’ve developed a solution that not only lets you see inside the swamp, but gives you a very clear map through that swamp to a very high-quality product on the other side. Optimized. Efficient. Repeatable.

The problem you’re trying to solve with your product or service is also a swamp, just maybe in a less physically metaphorical sense. If the problem wasn’t murky, soupy, and difficult to cut a path…

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Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com