I am frequently asked by entrepreneurs whether I think a
startup should ask potential investors to sign a non-disclosure agreement
(NDA). While the answer depends largely on the situation, my view is that
in most cases an NDA is unnecessary if the only information being conveyed to
potential investors is their company's general business plan or overall market
Entrepreneurs generally tend to overestimate the need for
an NDA in these situations. They will often seek to obtain NDAs from
others, including potential investors, just to hear their business plan.
This is often a waste of time and energy and can be a turnoff to potential
investors. Many professional investors like VCs or even angels hear
numerous business plans and will simply not sign an NDA to hear each one.
If they did, they would be putting themselves at risk, because each time
they sign a new NDA, they create the potential to be sued for an alleged breach
of that NDA (whether they actually breached it or not). Given that there
are so many businesses out there seeking their capital, it's easier just to
forgo hearing the pitch from a business that insists on the investor signing an
That said, an NDA can be very useful and highly necessary
when there are genuine trade secrets or technical details that need to be
protected (i.e. some kind of "secret sauce"). This could be in the form
of a chemical formula, programming code, technical plans, or some other
hard information where there is a genuine risk of misappropriation.
Therefore, NDAs should generally only be used when conveying actual
proprietary information that goes beyond mere discussions of overall
To get an investor's perspective,
I recommend that you read the following article by Aristos Peters,
who raises funds for early stage startups: Why I don't sign NDAs
Read more articles by Alexander Davie at Strictly Business, a
business law blog for entrepreneurs, emerging companies, and the investment
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