Ask Valleywag: How do I hire geniuses without sharing my idea?

Dear readers, the Valley is a frightening place. So many norms, so few people willing to help. So in addition to how-to articles, consider Valleywag your source for one-on-one advice. E-mail tips@valleywag.com with "Ask Valleywag" in the subject, and you could get your question answered by any of our correspondents or on-call experts.

Our first letter comes from Eric, who writes:

I've been creating web ideas for over a year now and feel like I'm hitting a brick wall. My motivation to create and implement new ideas is slowly fading away because of my lack of contacts.

I'm writing to you because I've come up with a new idea that can revolution the way we do buying and selling online. I believe my idea could possibly be as big as Pierre's idea when he created EBay in 1995. But what's so good about this idea if I can't properly implement it with a great team? I was wondering if you could possibly give some words of advice on how a one man team can prosper in an industry like this. Or even better, refer anyone who you think would be interested in being part of a team that will create and innovate the way consumers buy and sell online.

After the jump, the sad truth: Ideas are worth zilch.

Dear Eric,

Your idea, whatever it is, could very well be revolutionary. It could shift the paradigm, flip the hierarchy, subvert the hegemony. But it's also nothing special.

Ask any creative person — especially a writer — for the most loathsome sentence in the world. (It's "You're past deadline.") But the second is "I have this great idea!"

Because that implies that hey, once the idea's there, the rest is just busywork, right? Throw some engineers in a room, slather some venture capital over the whole mess, and they'll spin ideas into gold. That thought process is what made the dot-com bubble. And this time around — yes, Virginia, there is a bubble — it won't work.

Oh, there's stupid money floating around. But this time, everyone smells it. In the first bubble, your only enemy was yourself — how could you fuck up your own deal?

This time, your enemy is every other half-competent engineer, entrepreneur, and visionary in the Valley and beyond. And there's one thing they all have: ideas.

In a crowd of smart, well-educated, and privileged people, ideas are the cheapest commodity. Even a drop-out gossip columnist can name five off the top of his head: Aggregated drama tracking; vertical search for statistics; a network of personality-based group webzines; weblog-driven desktop toys; a section in brick-and-mortar American Apparel stores for branded CafePress-style tees. Chances are, those ideas are already taken, tested, and rejected.

So take one piece of advice from this, Eric: If you want to build your idea, share it. If you're afraid someone will steal it, then how will you sell it? If a copycat could take you out, then nothing can turn your idea into a gravy train.

Sincerely,
Valleywag