Don't Steal These Ideas

Written by Reinder de Vries on June 29 2016 in App Business

Don't Steal These Ideas

Ideas are not our own. They just float by on the ether.

Let’s talk about ideas for a second. I’ve already explained how your ideas don’t need to be unique to be great. Many of the ideas that spawned successful businesses weren’t unique, not even remarkable, but still managed to amass a huge following over the years.

Previously, I also taught you that ideas are no good on their own. You need to take action upon your ideas! The Creative App Workflow, The App Launch Plan can help you with taking action. In the story of Bob and Alice, I explain to you how great ideas can still fail if you don’t take the right actions upon it.

Isn’t everything about ideas said, then? No, unfortunately not. There’s still one very nasty mistruth about ideas among us: ideas need to be kept secret.

Ideas and Secrets

Let’s make a definition: that of ideas and secrets. What are ideas, anyway? Defining what an idea is, is pretty hard:

  • Ideas are realizations, something that comes up in your head out of nowhere.
  • Ideas are solutions to problems, like “Where am I going to park my car, in the city, where it’s safe and in walking distance of the mall?”
  • Ideas are answers to questions or directives, like “Come up with 10 ideas for a food-related app, right now.”

Google says an “idea” is a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action, and gives synonyms such as plan, scheme, suggestion, action point, vision, aim, and purpose.

Nowhere does it say secret. So what’s a secret? It’s this: “not known or seen or not meant to be known or seen by others.” Some examples:

  • It’s a secret that you stole sweets when your parents weren’t watching, when you were 5 years old
  • The things three-letter government agencies do are usually secret, or at least confidential
  • Sensitive business information, like an upcoming company sale or merger, is usually kept secret

Ideas Are Not Secrets

Let’s compare secrets and ideas – ideas for apps – because this is an app blog after all.

A while back I had the idea to build a game app for iPhone, about startups and startup life. It would be some sort of Role Playing Game (RPG) with pixel graphics and 8-bit sound. Silicon Valley meets Farmville meets Mario Brothers.

Now let’s check out the secrets involved with that idea. For starters, the idea itself isn’t a secret. Even though it’s a novel idea, it’s not new: many games have been built, many of which are Role Playing Games and even one of them is a startup simulation for iPhone.

This is what I think are secrets, for this idea:

  • A startup simulation game for iPhone exists, but it’s all text-based and has a standard UI. By no means it “plays” as a game. It’s save to say this game idea doesn’t really exist yet, which makes it interesting for me to pursue. It’s not unique, though!
  • While searching for game kits and graphics packs I found several interesting ones, with affordable licensing options, that weren’t used for this particular kind of game. Such a secret would I call a modern “trade secret”. Just like a business doesn’t want to tell you who their suppliers are, I wouldn’t want you to know which game pack I have in mind.
  • I’ve got a vision when it comes to monetizing such a game for iPhone. Although I can tell you the monetization category, which is “free to play, pay to win”, I will keep its specifics from you… or not. Games like these have in-game time mechanics (with so called “ticks”). Say every tick is 24 hours and you have a limited set of actions you’re allowed to take. If you pay a small fee, you can take more actions than everyone else and get ahead of your in-game competition. Neat, right?

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Don’t Covet Your Ideas

The mighty Paul Arden of Saatchi and Saatchi said: “Don’t covet your ideas.” (source). As a creative director he had all right to keep is ideas secret, but he didn’t. Why?

Because Paul Arden believed that if he gave away everything he had, more would come back to him. In his cornerstone book “It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be” he explains that ideas are no one’s, so you can’t claim ownership over them. It’s not for no reason that you can’t patent ideas.

Arden writes: “Ideas are open knowledge … You just have to put yourself in a frame of mind to pick them up.” This line is especially striking. Ideas are an abundance, unless you treat them as a scarcity. Then you’ll never have ideas.

You just have to put your mind on the right ether frequency to pick up ideas. How do you do that? James Altucher calls it idea sex:

  • Go to a conference
  • Read a blog
  • Write an article about something
  • Go to a museum
  • Chat with your friends
  • Have a heated debate about something
  • Dream
  • Listen to podcasts

The key here is abundance. When you put your mind in a state of abundance, ideas will come to you, because you send out ideas yourself. You couldn’t go to conferences if no one was willing to share their ideas with you. You can’t have a discussion and come up with great input if your debating partner is secretive of his or her ideas!

If you put yourself in a scarcity mindset by coveting your ideas, you’ll never experience the abundance idea generation can give you. It’ll always elude you.

By the way – why am I sharing my secrets with you? It’s an illustrative point: secrets put you into a reactive idea void. You can’t steal anyone’s vision, even if you steal their ideas. Maybe Steve Jobs stole the ideas for the first second GUI from XEROX, but do you think he could steal their vision? He needed one of his own.

Even if you want to create that startup game idea I shared with you, and “steal” it from me, you only have a paragraph of text to go on. That’s a lot of interpolation you need to do, a lot of filling in the blanks. You’d have greater chances of success when you would join me.

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The Three Rules Of Ideas

So, to recap this blog post for you I’ve created the Three Rules of Ideas. This is it:

  1. Ideas are no one’s*
  2. Ideas are abundant, unless you think they’re not, then they’ll be a scarcity to you
  3. Ideas are currency with which you can transmute inaction into action – you can buy actions with ideas

If you don’t spend your ideas, all you will get is inaction. As for point 1, ideas are no one’s, some stuff has to be kept secret for you to succeed.

You now know the difference between ideas and secrets, so I trust you’ll manage to make the distinctions. Secrets need to be kept secret. Ideas don’t.

Big List of Ideas

Last updated: June 29th, 2016

A post of ideas wouldn’t be complete without actual ideas. In the spirit of sharing, I’ll share with you some of the best ideas I’ve had over the past few years building apps.

(Note: I’m thinking about creating a GitHub repository for these ideas, open-sourced, and add a way for app makers to contribute. Heh, a list with just my ideas doesn’t do anybody too much good… Want to join? Let’s call it a private beta. Send me an email at and we’ll take it from there.)

Startup Game
A role playing game themed around Silicon Valley startups, taking place in a isometric / semi–3D game world. You can either be a founder, an investor, and an employee. Factions have to work together to build companies, but the greatest individual “wins”.

Ecommerce Storefront
You basically import a ton of webshops into an app, and make an affiliate commission when someone makes a purchase. You’d do best to create this around a single theme or topic. One way to get new customers would be to offer a “lead magnet” in the form of a discount at a particular webshop, which you negotiate with the webshop owners.

Siri on Steroids
Siri is cool, but it’s lagging behind in terms of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning. It’s great to send texts with voice and order a Uber without touching your phone, but come on. We were promised flying cars and J.A.R.V.I.S.! Watch the movie “Her” and you’ll know what I mean.

A Motivational App
Don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? This app will motivate you with Smart Goals, tracking your progress and sending you motivational tips throughout the day.

The Dumb Smartphone
This isn’t an app, it’s more like a full smartphone operating system. All smartphones these days are rigged with default settings that allow notifications to pop up. Why not make an Android clone that has smart notifications built in, that only pop up when you’re ready for them? When you’re working deeply, no distractions. This should have been built-in from the start – humans aren’t built for distraction.

Inner is a social network for yourself, that’s not shared with others. It’s not just a diary, photo album or note-taking app. It’s a full-featured Facebook, but then shared with no one. I think we people have the need to record important moments in our lives, but most of that is still done through traditional text updates and pictures. Why not make a media-rich timeline of important moments in your life, without mixing it with all the distracting “social” stuff of our lives?

Social Network with a Memory Problem
Facebook is incredibly evil these days, using your data for advertising. Although I think it’s a healthy by-effect of capitalism, it also is a topic of security and privacy. So… let’s build a social network that forgets everything it knows about you every 24 hours unless you mark something as important. You’d pay a normal fee for the network, instead of being advertised to.

Super Intelligent Search Engine
This idea is simple: you put in a search query into the machine, and the machine comes up with the only right result.

Skill Builder App
Knowing how to learn is a basic skill for all human beings, but so many of us just stop learning stuff at a point in our lives. Make an app that helps people learn, that learns them how to learn, with a solid framework built into an actionable app.

Favorable Favorizer
An app to get favors from strangers. You input your network and for what price you’d be willing to get a stranger in touch with someone from your network. (This is a very old idea – pre–2008 – and I recognize now that several apps have taken this “referral” system and successfully built businesses out of it.)

An app that suggests content to you based on previous interests.

Sell Ideas
Whoah I had this idea for this blog post a long time ago… Why not make an app in which you can download product ideas with their basic business plans? I know, I know, it’s what you do after you come up with the idea that matters… but still! Which idea-deprived individual wouldn’t pay $ 5 for an idea?

Random Match Dating App
Online dating has gotten very intelligent lately. Personality type matches, interest matching, sifting through thousands of profiles. What if you found out a successful relationship is only for 45% determined by the factors these dating apps use to make matches? You could cover the other 55% by trusting randomness to bring you into contact with potential matches. Real-life is often random anyway.

Tapping Game
I believe this game idea has already been built, but it’s fun and stupid anyway. Make a game that turns a mark into a particular color at a random time, synchronized around the world. The first one to tap wins. I’d say it’s technically impossible to determine who tapped first when the user distribution is big enough, but it’s a cool idea.

A Really Smart Recipe App
This is one of those zero-to-one app ideas. Why is every recipe app just about recipes? I want a recipe app that a) knows what products I have in the fridge b) can tell me what kinds of dinner recipes I might like and c) tell me what to get at the shop, when I’m at the shop, and then tells me at home how to make dinner with it.

“Soulcaptain” Quotes App
Apps with inspirational quotes always have this sort of charm. Why not make a quotes app that’s like fuel and soothing for the soul?

Reminder Lockscreen Widget
Super simple idea: one app, one reminder, and you see the reminder as a widget on your Lockscreen.

Rock Star Developer
Remember when every coder wanted to be a “rock star developer”? Well, with this app everyone can be a rock star. You simply pose as if you’re making your entree on your own rock concert stage, while making a video of it, and the app adds fireworks and blazing guitars and what not. Could be hotter than Dubsync.

Human Zapier
Know Zapier? The connect everything app. This is a Zapier for humans. Connect humans to one another and have them do task and everything. Like Minions. From that movie… Minions.

Series App
An app that tells you the next episode (when, what, etc.) of a TV series you’re watching.

Time Since App
Record life events and then see how much time has passed since that event. How long ago did you graduate? How far are you from quitting that job? How long did you not think about pink elephants… Oops!

Give Me Five
You know that moment when The Rock is really angry at you and tells you “Give me five!” Well… this is that app. You hit the button, punch in your objective (5 sit-ups, pull-ups, cold-calls, network introductions) and you do your task, and punch the button every time a task is done until the counter hits zero. BOOM!

Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries is a professional iOS developer. He teaches app developers how to build their own apps at Since 2009 he has developed a few dozen apps for iOS, worked for global brands and lead development at several startups. When he’s not coding, he enjoys strong espresso and traveling.