Periodically, friends or colleagues ask me for advice about this-or-that startup company. I love talking about that sort of thing, and I’m very happy to help, so these are great discussions. But often, they then ask me to sign an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement). Yuck. I’m never going to sign one again.
You see, when a friend asks you to sign one, to refuse is awkward. If you tell them you don’t sign them as a matter of policy, they’ll wonder, “is it just me? maybe he doesn’t want to help me.” But that isn’t it. So, I’m left either having to decide to create this confrontation, or more likely, cave in, sign the damn thing and move on.
But NDAs are a pain in the neck, and about as useful as dirt. Why would I want a legally binding document that someone can later use against me? If you are asking me for advice, why should I sign *your* document? If you don’t trust me, fine, don’t ask. But I’m a man of my word, and that’s what you’ll have to trust. If you don’t think you can trust me, perhaps I’m not the right person to talk to anyway?
So, this blog posting is purely a selfish one. I post it so that in the future I can refer people to it and say, “I don’t sign NDAs, and it’s just a policy I have”. There is nothing personal to it, and they can read it on my blog dated Aug 17, 2007. If that is a showstopper, that’s not my problem.
One last note to potential askers of NDA signatures. NDAs are legal documents. When you ask someone to sign one, you are asking them to do a big favor. Each one is different. There are mutual NDAs. There are one-way NDAs. The differences are annoyingly subtle. When someone doesn’t trust me enough to work without an NDA, I don’t trust them enough to believe their NDA won’t bite me. So, I have to do a legal review with my lawyer. Please respect my decision to not use NDAs unless absolutely necessary. And, while you are at it, fire your lawyer – he is the real problem.