Monday, December 14, 2009

They stole my startup idea

I recently came across a series of posts by Steve Blank on how couple of his ideas were stolen. This reminded me of somewhat similar thing happened to me a few years ago. I want to get it off my chest by sharing it here. So, here it goes.

In 2004, I was toying with a business idea that I had for sometime and finally decided to put it on paper and get some feedback. I was still working a full-time job then. The idea was about leveraging the growing popularity and penetration of mobile phones in the villages of Bangladesh (that's where I am originally from). Although the poor farmers were using the phones to find out prices in the market, but it was limited in scope. The farmers were still going through the middlemen who were taking advantage of the price arbitrage that existed because of lack of market information available to the farmers. So, I thought what if we enabled a market place over this growing network of mobile phones and help cut out the middlemen. Fittingly, I called my venture " Grameen Bazaar." I thought who would be better to seek advice from than the person behind the company called "Grameen Phone" that, in partnership with the "Grameen Bank" (the organization behind the micro lending), brought the phones to the poor. My expectation was to see what he thought about the idea and possibly convince him to get involved in some capacity. So, I contacted him by email and sent him my biz plan. Then scheduled a phone call to discuss my idea. I was excited to talk with him on the phone only to be disappointed. He was less than encouraging. He was busy with other ventures that he would not have time to help me out. So, what I did as most wanna-be entrepreneur would have done- shelved my idea and moved on.

Fast forward a couple years. It was 2006, I finally quit my job to plunge into my first entrepreneurial venture (Code71 and ScrumPad). I had to travel to Bangladesh (that is where I setup our offshore development center). At that time I came across this new company called "Cell Bazaar." I naturally got interested and did some digging around. To my surprise, I found out, you guessed it right, that the founder of the company sure enough was the younger brother of the person I had spoken to about "Garmeen Bazaar." I was sad to learn this, not because they pursued my idea, but because I was not acknowledged in some manner- privately or otherwise.

I was happy to see someone working on an idea that I also thought worth pursuing. I subscribe to the idea that Seth always preaches- spread ideas, don't protect them. I understand that the fact of the matter was I just had an idea and did not act on it, and someone did. I guess I just wanted to see a little professional courtesy extend to me when they had decided to pursue the idea by dropping me a line-

"Hey, My brother decided to pursue the idea you shared with me. If you are still interested, let's chat again."

Am I being too sensitive about this whole thing? What do you think?


  1. Thoralf8:20 AM

    Hi Syed, bright ideas should be internationally patented to be on the safe side. The challenge - as always - is: who supports you. It seems that the support available depends on the market environment and trust. The good thing about learning is that you can always try again. Cheers tj

  2. Hi Syed, this is a sad story but I agree with Thoralf, the game is not over and you can try again. I strongly believe in Bangladesh, CellBazaar is not going to be the ultimate hit in classifieds. There is still plenty of rooms to surpass them.

  3. Hi Syed: Great seeing you today. Sad to hear about this one. Very unfortunate.

  4. Such a situation can very often occur in the modern world, but the main thing is not to despair and continue to work on yourself and realize your ideas and ideas. For example, I always dreamed of starting my business with my good friend and we created an online casino based on this software And I was very pleased with the result.