Stealth Start-ups and the Illusion of Originality

Rommil Santiago
2 min readDec 7, 2015


Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Every now and then, I run into someone who has a great idea for a startup but isn’t ready to share it because someone may steal his or her idea. Uh huh.


There are a lot of secrets in the world. We don’t openly share a lot of information like our medical histories, PIN numbers, or family recipes. And there are definitely cases where keeping secrets make sense. Sensitive information about our personal lives can be used in terrible ways such as identity and property theft. But when it comes to ideas for a new product — I wholeheartedly believe that keeping them secret is a start-up killer. In fact, keeping your ideas secret should be the least of your worries.

Don’t lie to yourself. Your idea isn’t original anyway

Over the billions of people who are alive today, and those that have passed before us — chances are that your secret idea was already thought of. There really aren’t any original ideas anymore. In fact, there are only a few dozen plotlines that make for interesting stories. Luckily, having an original idea doesn’t matter anyways.

Take a moment and think of three numbers that add up to 100. Any three numbers. I’ll bet you good money that they weren’t 17.5, 33 and 49.5.

My point here is that despite the two of us having the same goal, we didn’t solve it in the exact same way. Similarly, companies will solve similar problems in ways that differ in efficiency, flexibility, and repeatability. And that’s a good thing.

Execution is what counts. Apple has copied its fair share of features over its lifetime. In fact, most of what Apple releases aren’t new ideas (read: Apple Pen). But they execute better than most (arguably) to win over customers. You really don’t have to be the first to win. Though being last is probably a bad idea.

So, the value is not in the idea itself, but rather in how the idea is realized and brought to the market. In fact, if your idea is any good, eventually, there will be copycats. What then? It’s the processes you’ve formalized in realizing your product that will keep you afloat long after your idea becomes old news. It’s the lessons you learned while trying to tweak your product-market-fit (PMF) that will give you an edge. And you can only get this edge with real customer feedback. The moral of the story, then?

Doing + Learning + Doing again > Secrets.

Each and every time.

Originally published at



Rommil Santiago

Collaborating across functions to tackle new initiatives, stand up new practices, and achieve lofty goals for the last 15 years. Practicing at Loblaw Digital.