Reception Desk NDAs

I've been out in the bay area for a few days making the rounds. One of the things I encounter out here that I don't encounter in NYC is reception desk NDAs. I really hate them.

You show up to meet someone. You are greeted by the person at the reception desk. They ask you to sign a boilerplate NDA. It's so insulting. I read one yesterday and thought "there is no way I'm going to sign this." I wasn't there to discuss anything related to the Company whose offices I was visiting. I was just there to catch up with someone on general stuff going on in the angel and VC world. But I didn't want to make a scene and I wasn't going to discuss any company business anyway so I signed it.

These companies don't offer you a copy of what you signed. They don't offer you the option of meeting in a lounge where you don't enter company premises and thus don't have to sign the damn thing. They don't offer you a call to your lawyer to find out what the hell you are signing. It is just sign this or don't come into our offices.

Google does this. LinkedIn does this. Facebook does this. I am sure many other big Internet companies do it. But when you visit News Corp, Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, WPP, Warner Music, or any other large NYC company, you never are asked to sign something like that. What do Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other large Internet companies have going on in their offices that is so different than what the big companies in NYC have going on in their offices?

I have refused to sign these Reception Desk NDAs in the past. It is usually when I'm visiting the CEO or some other top exec. Then I don't feel so badly about making a stink. But when I'm visiting an employee who doesn't have any control over the policy, I usually just sign the thing and steam about it privately.

I'd love to hear some rationale for this behavior. It really makes no sense to me. And it's just not hospitable behavior to someone who makes the trip to come see you in your place.


Comments (Archived):

  1. John Minnihan

    “But when I’m visiting an employee who doesn’t have any control over the policy, I usually just sign the thing and steam about it privately”Why meet at the co. office at all if you aren’t there on co. business? 

    1. fredwilson

      i won’t do that again. once i know that the company does this to visitors, i refuse to take meetings there. but the first time is when you get caught

      1. Rohan

        Good you didn’t fight it.’What you fight, you often strengthen.’Lesson learnt. Move on works much better.

        1. fredwilson

          that makes some sense (the rationale)but then why don’t all the big companies do this?

          1. Rohan

            My guess is that it’s similar to non compete’s – which are hardly ever enforced but still done. Google facebook linkedin etc are probably trying to guard stuff between each other.Key is trying – just like they’re trying to restrict talent flow between each other.Wild guess. @JLM:disqus  What would you think?

          2. andyswan

            Symptom of the disease that idea/app = business.

          3. Neal7799

            Why didn’t you ask to call the person and go to sit with him outside?Why? I bet :- lawyers crap- self esteem, – a stupid notion that someone will see something on the board and tell TC- The holy grail – someone will see user/password of the servers and will hack the fuck their IT (like some NDA will prevent that)

          4. Phil Michaelson

            I think there are cases when big companies are quicker to realize which activities they’re doing that waste time and money when scaled. Having NDAs signed by every visitor is a cost that adds up when you need to train a receptionist on the form, and store the form, over decades of receptionist churn across lots of facilities and 10,000s of visitors. This also reminds me of when IBM eliminated titles on business cards to save money, given how often they reorganized and promoted employees.  The costs added up over 80,000 employees. IBM, which has a billion dollar business licensing patents, also doesn’t make visitors sign NDAs in the 4 facilities I’ve visited.

          5. Rohan

            The other possibility that comes to mind is that one of them began doing it and the others immediately tried to copy it.But @971513a1e5b5880bdae919a06f5e4c39:disqus  has a point. Maybe it’s simply fear of techcrunch..

          6. Elia Freedman

            I spent a lot of time at Palm and Intel and other big companies in the early 2000s. I don’t remember either of them ever making me sign an NDA but both made me sign in and be escorted by a single person. Intel, by the way, who may be more paranoid than any company on the planet.

          7. JamesHRH

            I actually think the reason is immaturity of leadership, partly in the way that @jasonpwright:disqus suggests and more in the way that the executive leading many of these companies are just not that experienced.The leadership actually thinks they can control things this way. They do not know that culture keeps people from being sloppy with outsiders; keep people from bringing people into the building who are TC snoops; keeps people from etc….

          8. Np Mahajan

            I think , it’s out of a feeling of insecurity, which is pity on a big company’s part.

          9. Carl Rahn Griffith

            It’s basically a prenuptial agreement.And any relationship predicated on that is usually doomed.

          10. LE

             “basically a prenuptial agreement.And any relationship predicated on that”Have you ever been divorced?

          11. Carl Rahn Griffith

            Yes, @le:disqus – and no prenup involved 😉

          12. LE

            “no prenup involved”The biggest reason I can give anyone to have a prenup is that people change. And situations and circumstances change over time.  What someone is like today is not what they might be later on (I’m not talking about looks btw.) No matter how much you think that it won’t happen to you it can happen to you.  Same goes for business partnership agreement. There is nothing wrong with a document that spells out what happens if the partnership is dissolved.  

          13. Howard

            First of all, most big companies do this. Not sure why you picked E&M companies for your examples but try Disney. In general, the studios won’t let you in the door without a sponsor and a form of this. Beyond that, I don’t understand your argument. You went to a company’s offices and they said, “if you want to come in, you need to acknowledge that there might be some proprietary information that could be disclosed and that doesn’t become yours.” What’s wrong with that? You could have had the receptionist call the employee, had him or her come out to meet you and gone elsewhere. Even if you sign, if you [have] acquire[d] information independently, there is no general agreement that waives your rights to it so what are you worried about? Do you believe that Steve Jobs should have been able to visit PARC, see various things that were around there and use them without license? By the way, while common, all of that advice to sign as someone else, fictitious or not, is fraud and, by itself, illegal and much easier to prosecute than an NDA violation.

          14. Tracey Jackson

            I have to disagree about the studios. Disney will try and nail you if you put Mickey Mouse on a cake without their permission, but all you need to get into any studio is an appointment and your ID to show you are who you are. I have spent my life in the studios and never signed  an NDA. The studios assume everyone is out to steal everything and they just want to be the first to do it.I think the whole thing is insulting and childish, and I would probably stomp off to the cafeteria too.It yells out insecurity more than anything else.

          15. FAKE GRIMLOCK


        2. Carl Rahn Griffith

          Abso-bloody-lutely!Took me a long time – too long – to learn that!

        3. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          1. Rohan




      3. Antone Johnson

        Ironically, holding these meetings at a cafe or restaurant can undermine confidentiality, because those are public places where others might overhear!  Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face….

  2. Rohan

    Amateur. Low Trust. Transactional. Short Term.

  3. JLM

    Just sign them as M Mouse.NDAs and non-compete agreements are among the most difficult legal contracts to enforce for a number of hyper-technical reasons.The company has some high duty to protect its own trade secrets and proprietary information.  When they fail to exercise that duty, they cannot otherwise enforce it.Any company that displays its trade secret, proprietary and confidential information on the way to the meeting rooms or the cafeteria is nuts anyway.

    1. Rohan

      Hahaha.I think I’d do Batman or Captain Haddock! 😀

    2. David Semeria

      Most excellent JLM!And perhaps keep a pair of pantomime ears handy, just in case the receptionist gets suspicious….

      1. JamesHRH

        You can get the Big White Cartoon Mickey hands @ Disney World. A little more subtle……?……

        1. ShanaC

          you also can get ears there!

    3. David Semeria

      Aaron C. Search is a personal favorite of mine.

      1. Dennis Buizert

        I used several such as Wayne Tolate, Ned Sigger (Signed). It is outlandish for a company to let you sign a NDA at the front door. It means we do not trust you with a single thing we are about to tell you. So just to cover our ass and ensure we can bludgeon you here a non disclosure. 

        1. David Semeria

          My all-time favorite is Mandy Lifeboats

          1. Dennis Buizert

            Hahaha 🙂

          2. Tereza

            Herasmus B. Dragon

          3. S. Pandya

            Count DeMoney!

      2. LIAD

        Mike Hunt

        1. markslater

          roger the cabin boy? 

          1. First Post

            No, No, Master Bates, surely

          2. LIAD

            Ben Dover

          3. markslater

            roger the cabin boy

    4. ShanaC

      I prefer wonder woman

      1. Rohan

        I was going to say she would be my top woman choice!

      2. Bryce Katz

        “Diana Prince” would probably take longer to figure out. 😉

        1. FAKE GRIMLOCK

          +1 NERD CRED.

      3. Tereza

        Jeanne D’Arc

      4. JLM

        For other reasons all together, I also prefer Wonder Woman.

        1. JamesHRH

          My son wanted to be Wonder Woman for Hallowe’en, when he was 5.It turned out I had nothing to be proud of or to investigate…….he liked the bullet deflecting bracelets.I am surprised no one has come up with the elementary school classic I. P. Nickels (author of Treasure by the Toilet) – particularly relevant given the topic.Not the highest level of discourse ever seen on AVC!

        2. Mark Essel

          This reason?

    5. William Mougayar

      Funny. How about asking to be blind-folded on the way to the meeting rooms in return for waiving the signature. 

      1. Paul Eze

        You may not see but you can hear. try blindfolding and ear-plugging. Lol

    6. William Mougayar

      There seems to be a common thing to such NDAs and toilet paper. 

      1. panterosa,

        Why not make NDA toilet roll and send to the above perpetrators?Would be a great product to design. Tissues could be individual quotes from the NDA.

    7. Adam Gering

      Yes, this is a particularly annoying legal concept: “Enforce it or lose it”. It really gives companies a bad image when their lawyers beat up school children on the playground with broad trademarks and patents claims.

    8. Donna Brewington White

      Or the french counterpart Mini Mousse.

    9. Sheldon Thomas

      Amen to that… we have to sign them and create them all the time and, I’m no lawyer, but they are somewhat laughable in language.Signed: Amanda Hugenkiss

  4. Rohan

    Oadn, QOTD (On a different note, Quote of the day)”If not now, then when?”Good day folks! 🙂

  5. andyswan

    This is why everyone should have a backup signature.  I call mine “Dr. Andrew”.  Almost illegible, passes cursory review by the flunkies, but wouldn’t hold water in court (neither would the “intimidate but don’t enforce” document, either)

    1. LE

      “but wouldn’t hold water in court”There is a big gap between what wouldn’t hold up in court and what could cause you problems and give someone a leg to stand on and create legal fees.I have personal knowledge of someone who held up a real estate transaction for about two years based upon the single signature of 1 of two partners in a real estate deal on a napkin. Yes a napkin. It simply said “I will sell you the building at (address) for (amount)”. The lawyers laughed because it was on a napkin AND only one partner had signed AND the buyer even knew there were two partners. They made a case that the one partner had authority to bind the other partner to the deal. It defied many legal principles but it gave them a leg to stand on and tied up the property. The lawyer who held up the property was then hired a few years later by the party that had been screwed so to speak (no love lost – he was impressed with their strategy).

      1. David Semeria

        A contract is valid regardless of what it’s written on (indeed there’s no actual requirement for it to be written at all).A few years ago some protesters in the UK submitted a contract written on a big smelly fish. Their counterparty was legally obliged to accept it.

        1. LE

          “indeed there’s no actual requirement for it to be written at all”Well that’s not true in the US for certain contracts:…The contract written on the napkin didn’t contain all the required elements of a contract for the sale of real estate. For starters, it had only the signature of one owner of the real estate.  

      2. panterosa,

        This kind of foot dragging and holding up the works is Exactly why I quit RE. So exhausting to be around that behavior, regardless of the pay/return.And way not as fun as being a broke ass entrepreneur making what you love…

        1. Donna Brewington White

          “And way not as fun as being a broke ass entrepreneur making what you love…”Couldn’t just LIKE this, had to repeat it!  Oh, that’s great.Although, must say that the broke part does get old after a while. :-)BTW, it was fantastic meeting you in NYC!

          1. panterosa,

            Great to meet you too!I have some cards to send you with your bcard attached. Sorry for delay.

          2. Donna Brewington White

            Great, I really look forward to receiving those. Can you afford postage?  😉

          3. panterosa,

            Yes I can afford postage. I’m not out tricking for that just yet :)Hopefully some nice people will fund my IP soon and ease the load. Single motherhood and entrepreneurship are a feisty mix funding and time wise. But I am very present and very into making it work, even if my coach say life work balance is bullshit!!

        2. Donna Brewington White

          P.S.  Had to Tumblr that:

          1. panterosa,

            Glad you liked it!Have to be clever broke, and broke with other fun broke people.

  6. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Totemic for delusions of grandeur, usually…

    1. Rohan


    2. ShanaC

      very jungian of you

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Too much bloody time working in Vienna over the past decade or so (lovely place that it is), Shana – everything gets very Freudian, et al… ;-)I prefer a Yorkshire or New York State of Mind 🙂

  7. Chris O'Donnell

    California is also a state where non-compete agreements are virtually impossible to enforce. I wonder if there is a connection between that and the apparent paranoia about what you might learn while visiting the office?

    1. ShanaC

      Good question.  I’m curious about that too.  How enforceable are NDAs in California?

      1. Antone Johnson

        In general, enforceability isn’t as much of an issue as proof.  Unless somebody did something flagrant that left an obvious trail of evidence, the company would have to prove that such-and-such is a trade secret and that Jane Doe or her company stole it from visiting the company (as opposed to developing it independently or receiving the same info via a third party).  That takes some serious legal work, meaning a lot of money.That said, there may be some connection in that some companies get PISSED when a key employee leaves for a competitor.  If they can’t do anything about it from a non-competition standpoint (usually the case in CA), sometimes they’ll go after alleged misappropriation of trade secrets as another means of punishing the departed employee (or, more accurately, her new company).

        1. ShanaC

          hmmm. so a preemptive weapon.

  8. Hank Williams

    yup it sucks. It is an inappropriate indignity. I would imagine that, given your position, you are less subject to such indignities, and when you are it must feel all the more galling. For most of us, getting screwed by inappropriate or disrespectful stuff is just called getting along. I find myself just ignoring stuff like that because there’s nothing I can do, but it is interesting having someone like you point out how bad it is. I realize I’ve become inured to so much.



  9. jason wright

    “Google does this. LinkedIn does this. Facebook does this. I am sure many other big Internet companies do it. But when you visit News Corp, Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, WPP, Warner Music, or any other large NYC company, you never are asked to sign something like that.”A worthy culture can take time to develop. G, L, and F are young. NC, TW, GS, WPP, WPP, WM, have been around a while longer. Perhaps the web tech world is also a little paranoid and insecure. They live in a world of disruption. Even some 1789 French revolutionaries lost their heads. It can happen.

  10. Neal7799

    Signing NDA is something that one should sign only in rare cases (I made a decision never to sign an NDA, only if I decide to join the company or in most cases it is mine) – If someone wants to see, I’m not going to be legally obligated just because we talked. Not giving you a copy is on the verge of criminal. 

    1. Rohan

      Agree. It is probably illegal.I half expected you to come up with a whole bunch of NDA product ideas. 😉

      1. Neal7799

        :)sometime the best product ideas are the anti Nike slogan – just (DONT) do it

        1. Rohan

          Wise you are, Master Neal.Say no we must, when unnecessary it isArt of knowing when not to do, wisdom is.

      2. panterosa,

        I came up with product ideas in response to William above. Just the beginning.

    2. LE

      “Not giving you a copy is on the verge of criminal.”Well it’s certainly not criminal. And obviously there is nothing to prevent you from requesting a photocopy or taking the time to review before signing.  I don’t think that would be any defense, certainly not for a sophisticated business person.(I don’t agree with the practice – I am just mentioning the above in response to your comment.)

    3. johnmccarthy

      Hard to put this on a due diligence list of binding obligations…..”Signed something on some day at an office in Palo Alto that might have bound me to not talk about something. I think.” Lawyers would have a field day with this one, could push off the close of a deal for a week or 2…..

  11. Dennis Buizert

    NDA’s are in fact over rated. They are only for after the fact.Which means, it is already to late. Plus letting someone sign a NDA when entering your doorsteps is insulting. It means you do not value their responsibility as a person and as a professional. You don’t trust  them and you don’t trust them with the information you are about to give them in a simple conversation. NDA’s should only be drafted for special reasoning such as agreeing to a work contract or sorts. But still I firmly believe that an NDA is a thing in place that only helps after the fact. And when that has happened it is a) too late b) you did not verify the person you met.Plus if you’re a company, try to be transparent about a lot of things. This way NDAs are of no value. 

  12. Shawn Cohen

    I’ve had some people sign NDAs that I’ve felt embarrassed asking to but it was policy.At our startup, however, our CEO is extremely open w/ info and doesn’t typically see a need for an NDA. But other people here are completely paranoid. That makes me think part of the rationale either way is just a personality preference.

  13. Tom Labus

    This is a serious case of “we think too much of ourselves”.It can be treated by laughing wildly at the person serving up this gibberish or in extreme cases  an offer for a quick beer.

  14. falicon

    Agree.In a somewhat related rant, I hate when people gChat (or otherwise try to IM me) and then have an auto-response that ‘so and so is busy and you might be interrupting them’…If you reach out to me, don’t give me a message that I might be bothering you when I actually try to respond (automated or not)…grrr….

  15. JamesHRH

    A Reception-desk-NDA is a less than glowing commentary on your executive / management / staff business judgement:”we really can’t keep our mouths shut””we can’t tell strategically important from trivial””we have no commitment to our company from anyone working here”Should all be in the preamble paragraph of the document you are asked to sign. Poor form.

  16. Emi Gal

    I’ve made a habit of signing “James Bond”. Works every time. 

    1. laurie kalmanson

      Stirred, not shaken

    2. LE

      Although I can’t cite the case law to back this up my guess would be that if they could tie you to the “James Bond” signature that would create a leg to stand on legally if the stakes were high enough. Edit: Well while nobody is going to get prosecuted of course – as expected there is at least one law on the books that would seem to indicate that signing someone else’s name is a crime. No surprise there with the amount of law on the books. As I said “leg to stand on”.

      1. gorbachev

        But they’re Silicon Valley companies.

  17. awaldstein

    Never thought about the east/west split on this.I don’t like to make regional generalizations but do they hold here?Industry by industry it holds. UBS here and UBS in SF, no NDA.What about Google in NYC and Google on the Peninsula? If that is yes there and no here, this is  a bit whacked.

    1. Luke Chamberlin

      I’ve never had to sign one to visit friends at Google NYC.

      1. awaldstein

        The search for logic is not turning up any. 

      2. JimHirshfield

        You found the secret tunnel into Google?

        1. Rohan

          Underestimate Master Skywalker you must not. At your peril, that will be.The force is with him. 🙂

        2. Luke Chamberlin

          An old abandoned subway line that you can only enter from beneath the Hudson.

          1. JimHirshfield

            Platform 9-3/4, Kings Cross Station, perhaps?

    2. JimHirshfield

      I’ve signed NDA at Google NYC…perhaps twice.

      1. awaldstein

        Ah, you do, @twitter-41899343:disqus doesn’t.Whacked indeed is the category.When I ran larger companies in the SF and LA, I never had this policy. Public or not.Maybe this is something new. Geo whatever. I’m following @andyswan:disqus and @JLM:disqus and adopting an NDA name.

        1. JimHirshfield

          Can I recommend Awol Stein?

    3. Adrian Palacios

      I’ve had to sign one every time I’ve been to Google NYC (on three occasions).

    4. William Mougayar

      It may be a West coast company thing, not location specific. I’ve recently had to sign such a toilet paper thing at the Facebook office in Toronto when the presentation was about brainwashing us to develop on their platform and it was literally a 20 min pitch that didn’t reveal anything that wasn’t already available on their app developers site.

  18. LIAD

    It’s a power trip pure and simple.Psychologically it immediately puts you on the back foot and (irregardless of why you are there),  makes you play defence right from the beginning. From a manipulation perspective it’s a great tool to have in your arsenal. ‘You’re on my turf, you play by my rules, I’m in charge. Chump!’Outside this machiavellian usage, maybe the companies are scared you will glean top-secret information from reflections in the pool balls as you walk by their chill-out areas.

    1. Eric

      If this becomes common then the best defense is to have your own NDA and insist that they sign it prior to your entering.Sign theirs, and make sure that yours says that it supersedes all previous agreements and NDAs.

      1. Roham

        hahaha I like this even better than the “I need my lawyer to see this” above

  19. jason wright

    …and you should have pulled out your Android and taken a photograph of the NDA…and posted it here.

    1. fredwilson

      shit. i totally should have done that.

      1. jason wright

        The chance will come again. I’m not so sharp when on the move either, but my ‘double take’ mind comes up with the answer a little later, when I’m back in familiar surroundings, and then I’m ready for next time. Keep the batts fully charged. 

  20. Matt Straz

    Another reason why New York beats the Valley.

    1. JimHirshfield

      Except that these same companies (goog, fb) require an NDA when you visit their NYC offices.

  21. Chris Ked

    I totally agree. Wondering why these companies are doing it. However, if you pay us a visit the next time you are in Berlin we won’t make you sign a NDA. I bring you a fresh coffee and challenge you in a table tennis match.Enjoy your day.Chris

    1. Rohan

      Is that invite for everybody? 😉

      1. Chris Ked

        For sure, give me a buzz if you are in Berlin. However, be prepared to be challenged in table tennis on our miniature table!I’ll set up a tournament if enough guys participate =)Cheers,Chris

        1. Rohan

          Haha. Coool! 😀

  22. laurie kalmanson

    i’ve had ndas pushed at me before the coffee was even’s rude. “hi, welcome to my house; please sign this paper that says you promise not to steal anything.”it’s also vaingloriousrule of ndas: the earlyness of the point at which you are handed one is inversely proportional to the awesomeness of what comes after that

    1. Seth Godin

      They served you coffee?

      1. fredwilson

        that gave me a chuckle. thanks seth. needed it.

      2. laurie kalmanson

        very light, yes. you?

      3. Rohan


      4. Little Respite

        Ah! Now I know their reasoning – they did not want us to steal their coffee recipe 🙂

        1. ShanaC

          proprietary roasting techniques and all. 🙂

  23. JimHirshfield

    It is weird. For the record, Google and FB do this in NYC also. It’s a virus. Some attorney somewhere had this “brilliant” idea to tack on an NDA to the visitor badge software at reception…and it spread from there.

    1. JimHirshfield

      Oh, shit! I think I just violated those NDAs by exposing their aforementioned existence.

      1. Rohan


    2. Anthony Ortenzi

      FWIW, I encountered this built into a kiosk which printed the visitor pass to access Sun Microsystems 101 Park Avenue offices several years ago as well.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Interesting, an earlier case of the epidemic…and a Silicon Valley company infecting NYC as well.

    3. Jerry Neumann

      I walked into Google NYC, told the person I was meeting I wouldn’t sign the NDA and he shrugged and took me to the cafeteria. Free lunch.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Lesson learned: don’t negotiate or debate the receptionist; just speak with your host.

      2. fredwilson


    4. Chris Swan

      Google do the same in London. I always decline, which leads to them telling me that I can only go to the ‘public’ areas like the cafeteria, which is fine – as that’s where I usually like to talk to friendly Googlers.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Good to know. Seems like “best practice” for ensuring free lunch is part of the meeting.  😉

  24. Ana Milicevic

    I wonder how much of this is simply the power of suggestion: you signed something legalese, therefore you must not discuss what you see here with anyone (NDA) or do anything remotely similar to this (non-compete).

    1. LE

      “power of suggestion”Agree. It’s like priming someone. It sends a message. It also creates an image of importance like the biometric rooms on the dog and pony show tour. 



  25. Bob Whaler

    To circumvent the process, I sign “I Decline” in cursive. Instead of signing a false or silly name as others have mentioned, this technique caries legal meaning and weight. (I also do this on all of the idiotic “contracts” we face in a over-lawyered America: season tickets, rental agreements, et al.)It doesn’t change Fred’s point though.

    1. ShanaC

      Is there a waty to do this with digital software while getting the software.  it bothers me to no end that I can’t counteroffer their licenses. So not fair to the user

    2. Roham

      Does it really carry legal weight? What if the “I decline” is barely legible? Couldn’t they claim that you’re misleading them?

    3. chernevik

      How about “Signed subject to disclaimers published at…”

  26. Ed Freyfogle

    I have a great story about a reception desk NDA I signed at Google’s London office. Unfortunately I’m legally bound not to reveal it.

    1. Rohan


  27. Drit Suljoti

    Google might be the only company in NYC requiring a “Reception Desk NDA” – you have to accept it on touch screen computer to get a Visitor sticker.I doubt this NDA contract will hold in any court, but I am sure there is an arbitration clause in there with some organization in some other state. Mostlikely the whole point of having it is tha the company can sue and cause a lot of legal cost just to deal with it.

  28. daryn

    Funny, being a left coaster, I assumed all big companies did this. I’ve definitely done it up here at Microsoft, as well as at Apple and others in the valley. Of course, I’ve also seen “sign-in sheets” that have website-like “I agree to the T&C” on the bottom of the piece of paper. They’re no better, but easier to overlook.  And, I’ve seen it on the east coast too, at a software company, but I was VIP’d out of it by the person I was visiting.One interesting thing: at the new Amazon campus, there’s a building with an auditorium where they hold a lot of their open-to-the-public events. Besides having a good venue for these events, it makes it easier for them to control security (both IT and physical) and they don’t have to bother with badging and having guests sign NDAs, etc. 

  29. dan f.

    and these are the same companies that engage in corporate espionage through their official  “competitive intelligence” jobs they offer as well as through other unofficial activities. 

  30. philip lang

    Internet companies are much different than the Goldmans of the world.  At Goldman, there is an entire division (compliance) dedicated to the preservation of confidentiality within the bank.  They are responsible for ensuring that the proper people have access to the proper information, and that no outsiders can access confidential client information.  When you go to a meeting at GS, you can’t accidentally stumble onto the banking floor and get inside information about the next big merger – clean desk policies, client codenames and closed-door offices prevent that.In contrast, Google shares information openly with all of its employees.  Every Google employee new about Google+ months before its big launch.  The same day that Google announced it was going to offer free GPS on phone, any Googler could have made a small mint by shorting Garmin.  Google employees have access to a trove of what third parties would deem material insider information.  Large whiteboards in glass-walled conference rooms and wide-open office floors without divisional entry restrictions lead to a free flow of confidential information.  At a bank, its not possible to walk onto the sales and trading floor if you are in the investment banking division, because there is a Chinese Wall.  Tech companies lack the internal controls to keep proprietary information confidential.  I don’t think its right for them to make you sign a blanket confidentiality agreement, but tech companies don’t want to make all their employees switch to blackberry, PCs and outdated file sharing to clamp down on security like investment banks.  Until they do, a confidentiality statement at the door is probably their best protection against an unauthorized leak of material nonpublic information.

    1. ShanaC

      Is it necessary to go the route of a banking company if you are a tech company though?  I mean unless you are visiting R & D, is that extreme really necessary?

      1. philip lang

        But banks have the controls – they don’t make you sign an NDA to get into their office because it isn’t possible to encounter proprietary information just by going to a meeting.  Meeting floors are separate from client floors, all presentations use code names for companies and people are instructed not to talk about business in the elevators.Tech companies don’t have this control.  If you walked into Facebook and found out they were making a public company acquisition, that would be a really big issue.  Not to mention they are in a much more competitive environment where its innovation – not relationships – that determines who is at the top of the business.  Large tech companies are constantly rolling out new products that would be deemed material nonpublic information.  

    2. JoeC

      I am going to set the over/under on Google compliance officers globally at 25 people.  Any takers out there?

    3. JLM

      It is not the possession of “material non-public information” which is the source of mischief, it is ACTING upon that information which gets you the jail cell.  Also profiting by selling the info.All kinds of companies share material non-public information with only the admonition that it is what it purports to be.The problem will be between you and the SEC if you act upon it. 

      1. philip lang

        Sure, but you’re using “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” logic.  It is up to the companies to ensure that material non-public information doesn’t escape in the first place.  If a company lets in visitors and has nonpublic information clearly in sight, it is not doing enough to control the flow of information.  Controls are necessary, and I would argue that confidentiality agreements are a too-small-bandage for the lack of information control in a startup.

        1. JLM

          Sure, I agree with what you are saying.In the instance I was suggesting the material non-public information was legitimately supplied.

    4. Jordan Elpern-Waxman

      That’s true about investment banks, but only about investment banks. Fred is talking about a broader range of NY companies.FWIW I’ve never seen a reception desk NDA in NY.

  31. Neil Braithwaite

    Take your own NDA (Mine says; I’m rubber you’re glue…etc.) and tell the person at the reception desk they must first sign yours before you sign theirs. Keep plenty handy and have everyone you meet in that company sign it. I find it to be a great ice breaker – and it gets your point across about how you feel about their “reception” NDA policy.

  32. JimHirshfield

    “What is this?” asks a visitor squinting at the form he must sign before proceeding to the cafeteria at Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters. “An NDA? To have lunch?”The receptionist shrugs. “This is Google,” she says. “They’re crazy that way.”-Wired, November 2001 “Google vs. Evil”…

  33. freds4hb

    I love your “meeting office/lounge” concept. It does make an entry/meeting discussion easier without the needless haggle of a “document”. Could even have a “visitor’s log” to show who was there (and display that it has no legal standing, simply a record of who was there if that is needed for recording). More as a “who’s who” than a legal implication. Besides, what if you just wanted to go to lunch with someone and wait for them! “Yes I’ve signed your NDA for lunch. I will tell no one of the sushi!”

  34. smallchou

    Fred, I agree. You’re also right that I don’t have any control over the policy. In the past, I’ve told guests they don’t need to sign it for ‘catch-up’ situations and just walked them outside to a picnic table or similar. In Silicon Valley, it’s nicer outside anyway. 🙂

  35. Eric

    Does mentioning it breech the NDA?If I was there at their request I would start redlining it, and crossing out the parts that I disagree with. Then I would initial each change and hand it back asking for a copy.I have been at military development centers that have less strange requirements.

    1. JimHirshfield

      It’s electronic – on screen.  😉

  36. LE

    “And it’s just not hospitable behavior to someone who makes the trip to come see you in your place.”In the examples you are mentioning I think this is the classic case of ignorance on the part of the people you are visiting to not differentiate different classes of visitors. Even Countrywide had “friends of Angelo”:…In any business that I have been involved in we have always taken the time to at least attempt to know who we are dealing with and treat them differently if different treatment was warranted for a business reason. This is trivially easy in the internet age. Before the internet we would dial up to Dun & Bradstreet by modem and pull a D&B rept. while the customer was on the phone requesting a quote to qualify the account potential. We had video cameras (before they were readily available) in the lobby. If man or professionally dressed woman walks in, go down and meet personally and follow their order to make sure the right things happen. Obviously when you are visiting of course they know who you are so no research is necessary.The behavior you are pointing out generally comes from people who haven’t spent time on the front lines to experience the real world.

    1. lauraglu

      Sounds like you could have a Klout competitor if you productized this! 

      1. LE

        Sure like a bricks and mortar klout.  For the 99% of the important people out there that don’t spend time on social media or aren’t online influencers but might say something on CNBC.

  37. NHeath

    Amazon makes you sign an NDA for even a first-round interview.  To repeat, a candidate must sign an NDA in order to enter into a discussion of their own weaknesses and times they’ve shown leadership (and other useless first round interview questions).

  38. Coryndon luxmoore

    This kind of behavior is just as bad when you are a new employee or contractor. There is nothing like a forced signature on a completely one sided contract to make your new hire feel like threatened chattel.This type of behavior is at complete cross purposes of creating a creative innovative company.

  39. bfeld

    I have a similar reaction and have often opted not to sign the NDA. In some cases I get a special badge that says something with a Scarlet N on it (e.g. DANGER NO NDA SIGNED), other times I create a commotion. Sometimes I’ve ended up just signing it to end the commotion.I think from now on I won’t sign the NDA on principle. I wonder what will happen. It’ll be a good experiment for 2012.

    1. Rohan

      “Whatever you fight, you strengthen, and what you resist, persists.” | Eckhart Tolle



        1. Rohan

          Killing sometimes, we don’t need.Pick our battles, we must. 

          1. FAKE GRIMLOCK


          2. Rohan

            Missed one, you have.When shake hands, both do.And as winners, both walk away.

          3. LE

            If you are a runner try this. If a dog chases you you don’t run away you run toward the dog and flail your arms and act crazy. The dog will run (try it). But usually only the first time. The second time they aren’t surprised anymore.

    2. matthughes

      A new year’s resolution. 

  40. ErikSchwartz

    I wonder how useful an NDA without a prior disclosure really is.At least in the valley you generally don’t need to show ID, get photographed, and get a cavity search to enter a building (which is pretty common in NYC these days).

    1. PhilipSugar

      I was going to bring that up Erik!  They take your ID and SCAN it.  That is what really bothers me as we have the scanning equipment in our office and I know what is encoded on the barcode on the back of the ID.  I once was doing at a demo and scanned mine only to be embarrassed to see my past residences, moving violations current address and DOB, SS#  (that was an old ID) there is a reason that is a big 2D barcode.  It contains a ton of info.

      1. ShanaC

        Well, to shift the dicussion: how would you feel about biometrics in the same situation?

        1. PhilipSugar

          I would not enter.

          1. ShanaC

            So how should we check that you are Philip and I am Shana?

    2. jason wright

      No samples required?

  41. ahumancapitalist

    Seems like a strong signal that a company has more to lose than to gain.  Though I do wonder if part of it is US-government related.  The Google NDA includes a clause about not doing business with Iran, North Korea, other countries on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. 

  42. Wesley Verhoeve

    Self-importance stimulation. I have a similar problem when visiting major record companies. They make you sign in, call up, etc., before you even get to the receptionist. No one is running up into Universal to try to rob them. Just another layer of crap that is not warranted.

  43. ShanaC

    Only thing worse is software licensing agreements.  I don’t know why they are enforceable, you can’t negotiate them, you’re forced into agreement.

  44. kristalberg

    My Amex in house attorney flipped out when I casually mentioned to her that I had signed NDAs at Google, FB and LinkedIn. It is really awful not to provide a copy to visitors prior so they (or their company’s counsel) can evaluate. However, the entire practice is a bit ridiculous as per many of the spot on comments below.

  45. H2

    Apple is part of the same club

  46. Anthony Ortenzi

    I wonder what the NDA looks like at 1 Infinite Loop, and whether or not the cleaning staff signs ’em.

    1. Marco

      There are no reception desk NDAs at Apple.

  47. Madeleine Cag

    agreed,amorphous purpose, difficult (if not impossible and certainly costly) toenforce. The practice could stem from a lot of things, like a legal department’sinsecurity about its competence in the law (typical belt and brace approach); or its understandingof what a company’s valuable secrets really are, or its lack of confidence in acourt’s ability to understand what is important in a company (been burnt before)

    1. Johan J.

      I have to agree with your second comment. If a business risks a loss from what i could see on a whiteboard, their businessmodel is broken anyway, at least they seem to think so and try to hide behind legalese even if it isn’t enforcable. Remember: they can’t pay their lawyers if they are really out of business. Or they do not trust their employees to keep things like “war rooms” or other real sensitive data away from normal visitors.Do you really want to be in business with people who do not trust their own creativity, ideas, network, employees and advantages of being the first?

  48. Jason Crawford

    I have successfully refused these without too much fuss at both Google and Facebook. At Google they gave me a temporary/visitor badge that clearly said “DIDN”T SIGN NDA” on it. At Facebook the receptionist was a little nonplussed and asked the friend I was visiting if it was OK, but he waved me through.

  49. Daniel Loreto

    I think you should just say you don’t want to sign the NDA. In most cases they’ll still let you have the meeting and in my experience it hasn’t been a hassle.They have these receptions NDA at Google NYC as well, but in a “self service kiosk” so it’s less confrontational. Every time I go I click “Decline NDA” and it still prints a visitor badge but with a little footnote saying I declined the NDA; then they let me through and I have my meetings anyways.

  50. Pete Griffiths

    I agree.  It’s obnoxious.

  51. jedc

    This definitely seems like a regional phenomenon.  No Google office I know of in Europe has a reception desk NDA.

  52. Guest

    Here are my two senses on this.The company that require reception-desk DNAs are idiots.Where I work – big ad agency – I am welcome to bring in anyone at any time but we exercise common sense. Some rooms are definitely out of reach. War rooms, brainstorming rooms, etc.that have sensitive, time-sensitive, revealing information about our clients of course I am not going to bring anyone in there. (we have big clients, Goldman, Mastercard, Nike etc…)But my personal sense is that even if one did, the risk of someone actually doing any damage with any learning by going by or sitting in a room is really so minimal in my opinion.Granted, there are legitimate worries that should be exercised with caution but inthe large scheme of things. What is the worse it can actually happen?One spills a secret? Too bad you get some free media attention.Asking to sign NDAs is plain rude in most circumstances and specially on the one you just described.  A legit case is something we have called the shadow program where we invite high-school kids to be one’s shadow for a day or a few days.The idea of such program is to give a real world sense to students who may consider going into a similar field of studies when they go to college. In that case, because this person is going to potentially be exposed to so much information. Then we ask them to sign NDAs.But for a short visit…. simply rude.

  53. LE

    “Then I don’t feel so badly about making a stink. “I don’t ever feel bad about making a stink but I will only make a stink after considering the pros and cons of the particular situation. It’s also important to consider the golden rule. He who has the gold, rules.  That may be you. And it may be the person you are visiting.If I had an appointment with a person (high level or not) and the purpose was to secure business or some gain, I would sign.  If a meeting with a high level person just to socialize and with no potential gain, I would sign (like getting frisked at the White House). Other cases, I wouldn’t. My guess is that if you said to the receptionist “call (person you are meeting with) and tell them I don’t think I NEED TO SIGN AN NDA” that is within your rights and you have no reason to feel bad or like you are creating a stink. And the other side would back down. If not, leave.  Like Enron though it always helps to ask “why”. When I went to the ophthalmologist they wanted to photocopy my drivers license. I asked “why”. The answer was “so we don’t have to ask every visit we can just keep it in your folder”. So I said no and they said “no problem”. I was at a real estate closing and they wanted me to sign some document I had never seen at a closing. I started asking questions and they immediately backed down almost like they were guilty of something.

  54. johnfurst

    Wow, that screams, *”We do not trust you!”* right at the gate.On the other hand I suffered as a manger in those big type of corporations that projects and deals were put on hold because legal departments of both parties needed weeks to agree on an appropriate NDA.And one commenter is absolutely right, your trade secrets shouldn’t disclosed everywhere in the building. That’s probably the only case that can justify a reception desk NDA.

  55. alanbleiweiss

    On one of the visits I made to Google, after signing the reception desk NDA for the umpteenth time (can’t I just sign it once and then they can keep it on file? I mean, we’re in the 21st century, at a TECHNOLOGY company, right?) I met with several Googlers in a conference room , including a VP, and at one point they throw some stuff up on the presentation screen – giving me a preview of a soon to be released new service.I snapped a picture of one of the screens and went to post it to TwitPic – because sharing with my twitter followers is part of my personal brand.   One of the guys went into a sheer panic death-spiral, wanting to know what I was doing.  I told him.  He got super-nervous, blabbering about how he didn’t think I could do it.  Ha!  Try and stop me…Fortunately the VP thought it was a kick that I did that.  He figured it would help with the pre-launch buzz… It was pretty hysterical though – watching the nervous one squirm in his seat for a few minutes.  🙂 

  56. Chris Swan

    I always say that I’m not allowed to sign legal agreements without them being previously reviewed by my own company’s lawyers. There’s not usually any fuss over this. It sometimes leads to an empty threat of only being allowed into unrestricted parts of the building, which is never a problem in practice.

    1. gomobile

      Brilliant, non combative and issue resolving.

    2. laurie kalmanson

      awesomereminds me of the scene in the woody allen movie where marshall mcluhan steps out of the crowd, “you know nothing of my work.”

      1. fredwilson

        he has used that basic joke a few times. most recently in midnight in paris when the owen wilson character sees a famous painting being painted then sees it the next day in the museum and correct the jerk who is pontificating on the meaning of it

        1. laurie kalmanson

          on my instant queue now.

    3. Roham

      good call. has the added benefit of making you sound very, *very* important. 

      1. Chris Swan

        The first time I used this it was true – I was a mere underling with no authority. I’ve stuck to the same line since though as it worked so well.

    4. fredwilson

      ooh. i like that.

    5. JamesHRH

      And there is your winner folks – nice Chris.For an extra flourish, refer to legal folks as ‘counsel’….”I am sorry, but I am not allowed to sign any document without the advice of counsel”Has a European Old World elegance to it 😉

  57. LScott

    Fred,At this point I recommend you pull this out of your briefcase/backpack and say you need to call someone for advice.…Levity…..

  58. shi11

    lame. you could retort with your own nda. i’ll sign yours if you sign mine.

    1. fredwilson

      i think i might have to start carrying one on my android phone and then hand it to the receptionist. great idea

  59. Bperrier

    I usually write Mitch and Murray from Downtown

  60. gomobile

    I once signed one at a large search company.  Am I breaking it by reporting that they had Coke cola in their soda machines?  Well there it is, it was Google.  I think sometimes they do it just to remind you (the visitor) and more importantly themselves that they’re cool and innovating.  While I have met some top level people in my day, I never thought that they shared anything that secretive and if they did as professional, you have an obligation not to share in any event, NDA or not. Has anyone ever been sued over these things? Never heard if that EVER happened, so what exactly is the point?  A deterrent?  just silly.

  61. Ted Carroll

    Reception desk NDA’s – sounds like the start of a bad lawyerjoke.So you’re a guest, right? Not there by force but byinvitation – and you’re handed legal documents to sign before you get to meetyour host? That’s an insult to someone with guest status in my opinion.I’d ask the receptionist to call the person I’m meeting withand ask them to come out. Then I’d tell them or anyone they send I’m notsigning and if that doesn’t suit then I’d suggest holding a short meeting inthe reception area or if that doesn’t suit then I’d say goodbye and not goback.

  62. Elie Seidman

    Totally agree – so offensive. 

  63. Iustartup

    Fred, an (unpopular) view is to simply point to the fact that you, Brad and others sign them. I see nothing wrong with asking someone to sign an NDA as a matter of protocol and if someone says no then simply meet with them in a separate conference room. I’ve worked in the hedge fund world and we’re also very secretive, just like technology companies. Information moves quickly and tends to have a disproportionately high impact on the life cycle of startups / technology companies.  Put another way, if you invested a significant portion of your personal wealth and time into a venture, would you be more happy or less happy if the people you entrusted with your money and time took reasonable / cursory steps to safeguard your interests? It’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

    1. Donna Brewington White

      So far, I think you may be the only person who has actually responded to the question of “why?”Of course, I haven’t scrolled to the bottom of the feed yet.

      1. William Mougayar

        That’s right. I was expecting more answers from those that were practicing this, even from lawyers. Still, that response isn’t strong enough. There ought be discrimination for who signs this. A blanket NDA process is not desirable. 

        1. Iustartup

          With all due respect, (and I know this is not a popular view) this is a business and companies often have an interest in establishing a culture that places an emphasis on confidentiality. To my knowledge, not one person has answered my question: “If you invested a significant portion of your personal wealth and time into a venture, would you be more happy or less happy if the people you entrusted with your money and time took reasonable / cursory steps to safeguard your interests? My guess is if we were investors, we would want reasonable steps to be taken that have a higher probability of creating an environment that enhances confidentiality. I’m not picking on Fred or Brad or others…but are they saying they would tell their companies not to take advantage of  opportunities to have outside people sign NDAs? My hunch is they would say, “if someone is willing to sign an NDA, then have them sign the thing” To speak to the point of others, if NDAs are in fact meaningless and unenforceable (as some have implied), why do many VCs and others refuse to sign them? If someone chooses to get insulted over a pro forma attempt to create an atmosphere of confidentiality, sobeit. I often ask for NDAs to be signed in (other contexts) and frequently get them. Anecdotally, it has been my experience that people are less likely to tell their friends and acquaintances about the particulars of meetings we’ve had when they’ve signed an NDA. Just my 2 cents

          1. William Mougayar

            I don’t think we’re disputing the act of signing NDAs when it makes sense.The point of contention is the surprise element, the blanket approach, and not even disclosing the NDA itself.

  64. AVCoholic

    I’m willing to bet most companies that do it, don’t have any specific reason why they do it except maybe because they saw it done by another, large tech company. As JLM pointed out, they’re so hard to uphold that they’re not really worth much more then the paper they’re written on. I doubt too much thought went into it, which is actually a problem because of how it can set a tone for the meeting and/or relationship. It’s one of those little, subtle things that the risks surely don’t outweigh the gains and if they took a few seconds to actually contemplate it, would scrap the idea.

  65. David Roman

    I really am beginning to despise NDA’s, so much so that i’ve just about completely discontinued requesting they be signed. It’s a shame that assuming distrust has become protocol.Whats even more interesting to me is there is no doubt that requesting and executing an NDA changes the dynamics of the relationship right off the bat, especially in the more intimate cases. With that being said, taking into consideration the slim chance that you will actually get burned- is it possible that the shift of dynamics in the relationship prove to be much more detrimental? Quite possibly. Is it worth it? No.If in your gut you legitimately feel that foul play could arise without an NDA- ask yourself, should you really be doing business with them? To refrain from requesting NDA’s, i’ve just been more selective with who I share certain things with. This to me is a more legitimate philosophy, especially in enterprise as this will encourage employees to simply be more selective with who is invited on campus which could ultimately work in the companies favor because at the end of the day if someone has the wrong intentions do you honestly think an NDA will hold them back? Let’s be real.

  66. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry

    Pretty sure that not giving you a copy makes them unenforceable. And I agree, they’re ridiculous. 

  67. michael

    I started to politely decline these. Most of the check-in computers have an option to decline the NDA. Google is one of those (though it’s not obvious in the UI) and in most cases I end up with a modified Visitor Badge.

  68. William Mougayar

    How about suggesting to move the meeting next door to Starbucks, then…in joking say- why don’t we bring that NDA with us and have every one there sign it? 

  69. Will Luttrell

    I didn’t sign the Google one.  I was given a different color ID Badge.

  70. hypermark

    My personal bias is that this is part of the “Corporate Counsel Starter Kit.” Lawyers gotta “lawyer.” ;-)It’s ridiculous, inasmuch as it’s largely unenforceable, but then again, save for reading to make sure that there’s nothing especially onerous about the particular NDA, I don’t expend a lot of psychic energy worrying about.Then again, I don’t spend a lot of energy worrying about the Ts and Cs when signing up for a web site (when they make you ACCEPT their terms before activating your account).

  71. Jay Gibb

    I think of these NDAs the same way that I think of the “You must be this tall —>” sign at the amusement park.  They’re not intended for me but they serve an important purpose for others.There are probably a ton of people who walk past that reception desk who are less sophisticated than you (such as job applicants or an employee’s friends/family) where an NDA might just scare them a little into keeping their mouth shut about something they overheard or saw.It’s a reminder that what you see is private and you’re expected to keep it to yourself, and some people certainly need that reminder.That said, they could probably put a little asterisk beside “Fred Wilson” on the appointments calendar so that the receptionist treats you differently than the masses, but as you know, sometimes it’s pretty hard to make spontaneous exceptions like that.If I were you I wouldn’t take it personally.  I’d just laugh it off and sign it the same way that you jokingly check to make sure you’re tall enough for the roller coaster.

    1. fredwilson

      my son hated that you must be this tall sign so much when he was younger. his sisters got to take all the good rides

      1. Rohan

        happens to all boys at that age when all fancy-able girls of the same age seem to shoot up!

        1. Donna Brewington White

          Hey Rohan — off topic but you’ll know what I mean.  August 24  ;-)Speaking of age.

          1. Rohan

            love the coded language.. 😀

          2. Donna Brewington White

            So are you sending me a horoscope or something?

          3. Rohan

            Ask no questions and I will tell no lies! 😉 

  72. William Mougayar

    Seriously, did they know who you are? Was it another VC firm, a large tech firm or an investment banking type?I’ve always thought that VCs never sign NDA, at least not with startups.  That aside, did they end-up revealing something confidential to you, and was it explicitely prefaced by “Now we’re going to tell you something super secret”? Typically, NDAs specify that it’s the responsibility of the person disclosing the information to mark or specify what is considered confidential. So, I wonder if one could follow-up with an email saying: “I consider the NDA that I signed not applicable to our last meeting since you didn’t explicitely disclose or mark such confidential information to me.”  

  73. David Roman

    I really am beginning to despise NDA’s, so much so that i’ve just about completely discontinued requesting they be signed. It’s a shame that assuming distrust has become protocol.Whats even more interesting to me is there is no doubt that requesting and executing an NDA changes the dynamics of the relationship right off the bat, especially in the more intimate cases. With that being said, taking into consideration the slim chance that you will actually get burned- is it possible that the shift of dynamics in the relationship prove to be much more detrimental? Quite possibly. Is it worth it? No.If in your gut you legitimately feel that foul play could arise without an NDA- ask yourself, should you really be doing business with them? To refrain from requesting NDA’s, i’ve just been more selective with who I share certain things with. This to me is a more legitimate philosophy, especially in enterprise as this will encourage employees to simply be more selective with who is invited on campus which could ultimately work in the companies favor because at the end of the day if someone has the wrong intentions do you honestly think an NDA will hold them back? Let’s be real.

    1. David Roman

      PS – I posted this twice because I am playing around with the Disqus product and wanted to see something! My apologies!

  74. Mike Kijewski

    Do any of these company ever litigate using these documents? Has Google, Linkedin, or Facebook ever sued someone over the breach of a front-door NDA?

  75. Gorilla44

    This is very common for large medical device companies. Some medical device companies even make you give them your phone if it has a camera.

  76. jason wright

    If visiting Google I’d probably sign as Darth Vador.

  77. Robert Sanchez

    There is actually a strong reason why some companies require NDAs.  It has to do with the type of intellectual property that the company owns.  Trademark, copyright, and patents are protected by statutory regimes that require registration and notice.  If a competitor has knowledge of a protected asset, they still are prohibited by law from exploiting that knowledge. Trade secrets are quite different.  In most states, they are protected under common law/state law and there are requirements before any legal protection is extended to the IP owner.  The Uniform Trade Secrets Act has been enacted in different ways in different states, but most require affirmative steps by the company that further the protection of the secret (e.g. the email signature mentioned by a previous commenter, walking visitors through sensitive areas, non-compete and non-disclosure agreements for employees, fences surrounding property, etc.).  “The owner of a trade secret must take reasonable although not extravagant measures to protect its secrecy.”  Filter Corp. v. Morin, 108 A.D.2d 991 (1985).  In many states, the plaintiff seeking relief for misappropriation of a trade secret is required to show that it has taken reasonable steps to protect the secrecy of information.  Am. Red Cross v. Palm Beach Blood Bank, Inc., 143 F.3d 1407, 1410 (11th Cir. 1998).  An NDA is an inexpensive way to show that reasonable steps are being taken to protect a trade secret, while the lack of an NDA may actually work against a company.Judging from the responses here, there needs to be a better way of handling the reception desk NDA.  It can be as simple as an explanation from the receptionist about why it is required.  One thing to check to protect yourself is whether the NDA/non-compete has a time period listed.  You can write in a time limit (such as “on Nov. 29th, 2011”) before signing to indicate that you are only agreeing to the NDA for the limited period that you are in the offices.  If the company does choose to pursue you for violating an NDA and you can prove that you received information outside of the time period in which you were present at their offices, you should be covered.  Request a copy from the receptionist on the spot before continuing in to the offices.

    1. Austin Clements

      I’m not a fan of the NDA but I’m glad to see you posted the other side of this. The fact of the matter is most companies that are in the business of innovation has trade secrets, or at least proprietary knowledge/strategy they feel gives them an advantage.It is important that the company protects that, it just seems obvious that a vague blanket contract handed out at reception is not the way to go. My thought is if there are other measures are adequately being taken to protect the idea then the ‘signature upon entry’ approach is pretty much useless.

    2. LE

      “There is actually a strong reason why some companies require NDAs.”….. “Judging from the responses here, there needs to be a better way of handling the reception desk NDA.  It can be as simple as an explanation from the receptionist about why it is required. “I think most people know why the company feels it is required but that doesn’t make it that much less insulting. I think it’s great you’ve given the other perspective on this. But this is not solely a legal issue. It’s a legal and business and people issue. And  while it’s hard to argue against not doing something when there is a strong argument in the other direction of “safety” sometimes that needs to be done. (I didn’t want my daughter to travel to Israel during a particular period of unrest in the middle east. I felt it wasn’t safe. How can you argue with that?) In the case of Fred’s example one of the mitigating factors is the fact that it will piss someone like Fred off and that could cause a problem. Diplomats get treated differently. The legal argument doesn’t take any of that into account and in fact is one of the problems with having a legal point of view on something to the exclusion of other things that need to be considered.You know everyday we take credit card orders without a physicial signature. And all a customer has to do is say “boo” and the cc company will back out the charge or create a mountain of paperwork to make us justify the charge as legitimate. And the bottom line usually is “no signature to bad”. So of course we could always take the proper legal steps in advance to protect ourselves but we would not only loose business but we would create friction in the customer experience.  And what about orders by phone that many businesses take everyday with no backup whatsoever?  Or UPS leaving a package on your doorstep?The bottom line is the risk worth the benefit? That is the question that needs to be answered. And given Fred’s take on things that doesn’t appear to be the case. It appears to be a robo activity on the part of the company and ignorance on the part of the person that Fred was visiting to make sure this doesn’t happen (to him in this situation).The bottom line is legal needs to be taken into account but not to the exclusion of the total picture.

    3. fredwilson

      that’s great advice on the time limit robert. thanks

    4. Antone Johnson

      FWIW, I’ve been GC of an Internet company that makes >$200MM/yr. using its proprietary technology (eHarmony).  I never required reception-desk NDAs — and would have objected strenuously if some other member of senior management wanted to impose that practice.”Reasonable steps” to protect trade secrets means just that:  Reasonable.  With rare exceptions (such as defense contractors dealing with security clearances), companies shouldn’t have to waste time and resources, and insult or annoy huge numbers of guests and visitors on an ongoing basis, to guard against the remote possibility that someday they might get into a trade secret lawsuit and perhaps reap some modest gain from proving that they diligently followed this practice for every visitor.  The cost/benefit ration is just off the charts.  In fact, I think requiring every visitor to a company to sign an NDA is exactly the sort of “extravagant measures” the court referred to in Filter Corp. v. Morin as unnecessary.  (Requiring them case-by-case in limited circumstances, such as when interviewing a senior engineering or CFO candidate, is another story.)A little common sense is in order here.  IP litigation is incredibly expensive.  Trade secret cases are rare, and when they are pursued, it’s nearly always because a very senior engineer (or whole team) leaves the company for a competitor, allegedly taking highly valuable proprietary information with them.  A company would never choose to litigate lightly.  If it did, the NDA or lack thereof would hardly act as a deterrent.  If you’re in the position of defending a lawsuit that accuses you of stealing trade secrets from a company you visited, protesting “Hey! They didn’t make me sign an NDA!” is unlikely to cause the likes of Google or Facebook to call off its legal hounds.Either they view you (or your company) as a thief and illegal competitor or they don’t.  If the former, they’ll sink millions into litigation that will spend most defendants into bankruptcy (or more likely force a quick settlement).  If the latter, they’ll do nothing, or perhaps send a stern warning letter and leave it at that.  There are so many factors that go into the question of whether a company is taking reasonable steps to protect its trade secrets (unencrypted email, anyone?) that it’s hard to conceive of any court dismissing a suit on an early motion (i.e., cheaply for the defendant) for the sole reason that an NDA wasn’t signed.  If the case proceeds, the burn rate proceeds.

  78. Mark Gannon

    My opinion is that the attorneys  at one firm advocated it as way to show they were providing value and when other firms experienced it they picked up the practice so as to not seem deficient.  The easiest argument to make is that we should do xyz because other people do it.   The hardest thing to get people to agree to is something nobody else is doing, no matter how good the idea.  Receptionist NDAs are a shibboleth, but the argument to get an organization to stop the practice is to hard to make. Fortunately for Fred, this is a dynamic that supports the start up culture.  If you could get good ideas accpeted and funded at large companies, no one would need VCs.

  79. Ciaran

    It’s not just tech companies anymore.  I recently visited a hydroponic lettuce growing operation in the Santa Barbara area who asked me to sign one.  It was so unexpected I found it pretty amusing.

    1. ShanaC

      Lettuce, the new high tech

  80. Donna Brewington White

    I think you nailed this as a “hospitality” issue — at least in part.One thing that makes me feel older is that I am beginning to be more aware when a lack of “hospitality” is present in a business setting.  Same with customer service.  Personal peeve that these seem to be entering the “lost art” realm.  The other thing that is a pet peeve is when things are done without thought.  Just done because that’s what everyone else does.  Then stupid things become cultural norms. Even in business.  Maybe we need “stupidity” auditors to go through companies and get rid of the things that just don’t make any sense.  I love when I see a strong sense of intentionality in a business, where everything is done for a reason, and a good reason at that.  It is a thing of beauty.  Well, here is the 164th comment and still no one (except perhaps @lustartup:disqus  has come close to offering a justification for the reception room NDA).  PS.  Hate to admit this, but I am beginning to suspect that the East Coast may know more about hospitality than we do on the West Coast. And boomers can teach millennials something about this — as much as I am a fan and student of millennials these days.

    1. LE

      “The other thing that is a pet peeve is when things are done without thought.  Just done because that’s what everyone else does.  Then stupid things become cultural norms. Even in business.  Maybe we need “stupidity” auditors to go through companies and get rid of the things that just don’t make any sense.  “Couldn’t agree more.You are in the HR business? Have you found any correlation between demanding bosses (assholes?) – the ones who keep people on their toes and hold peoples feet to the flame all the time and how that behavior effects the organization in a *positive* way by ensuring excellent (at all possible costs)? By getting people to think (for fear of being embarrassed by some stupid policy or behavior)? As Steve Job’s apparently said something like “at vp level reasons no longer matter”.http://onproductmanagement….

      1. Donna Brewington White

        Hi LE — I am so sorry that I missed this comment and didn’t respond. Actually, I’m not really in the HR business — at least not in the sense that I work on the inside of a business in the HR department — I work on the outside as a consultant.From what I’ve seen, the type of behavior you are describing may produce excellence in the shorter term but in the longer term, the “costs” take over. It often baffled me that a company I refused to do business with because of the behavior of the CEO was extremely successful in spite of how poorly he treated his employees. The company recently faced a setback because of a multimillion dollar lawsuit that it initiated against a competitor and lost. Ironically, at the root of the lawsuit was probably a disregarded NDA that couldn’t be traced because of the extremely high turnover at this company (due to the owner’s behavior) — I imagine they suffer from a lot of idea leakage. And people just aren’t loyal beyond a false loyalty created by fear — which is no longer enforceable one the employee moves on.

        1. PhilipSugar

          Donna, I’ve always mused about that.I would like to think of myself as not an asshole at all.   Maybe too easygoing.Sometimes I wonder If I should sprinkle in some asshole behavior (not really) though because you see many super successful companies where the CEO is reported to be an asshole.  (there is no way I know) Apple, Amazon, Oracle come to mind.Therefore I wonder if it is cause or effect???   Because it is very easy to become an asshole once you are super successful.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  But I wonder does it take that push???

          1. Donna Brewington White

            Phil — I’ve seen some really great companies where the CEO is not an asshole. I’m sure you have too. For all I know, your company may be one of them. That would be my guess.In the companies where the CEO is an asshole there often seems to be some sort of fallout and dysfunction. I think there are a lot of ways to achieve that “push” without behavior that demoralizes employees. I’ve seen that push come from genius in some form or another, vision, passion and a strong personality. I’ve also seen it come from outstanding leadership that empowers. I’m not an expert on this, but this has been my observation, speaking very generally. I haven’t made a study of this, but I wonder if CEOs that behave badly experience a lot more turnover and therefore spend more than necessary on recruiting and hiring.

    2. PhilipSugar

      I agree.  I completely agree.  Somebody has made it a point to come to your office, and you agreed to host them. Host them, not treat them like shit.Can you at least ask how can I make you comfortable.  Do you need a water, coffee or a bio break before we start?Has it become in vogue to just sit people down and even worse when you are doing a day long meeting tell the person we’ll reconvene in an hour after lunch and leave them hanging (that happened to me on the West Coast last week)Really, really???  To me you can tell the respect which they have for partners/vendors.  If you come in early I will have Panera Bread snacks, coffee, and juice set out for you.  If its during lunch we’re going to lunch.Where did hospitality go?  Don’t you always treat guest better than anybody else?  At our casino clients when I’m asked what would you like and I say a water would be great, they ask me what kind??  Flavored, vitamin, sparkling, regular????

      1. LE

        “Where did hospitality go?”Some of this is age related, no doubt.

      2. fredwilson

        i totally agree with you and donna on this

        1. calabs

          I respectfully disagree with the analysis.This is not about hospitality, this is about the banality of evil as it applies to an ever more complicated world of information. It is the expression of a kind of faceless, dominating, brutal force that encumbers individuals with ever more unnecessary, potentially harmful, and one-sided entanglements. It is about corporations and their agents erring on the side of cautious domination, not only for risk aversion but also for job security for those who draw up such agreements and maintain them.This is a small example, but an important one. It is easy to see the contrast between ones expectations as a guest and the reality. Personally, I see within your experience a microcosm of so many other negative experiences which are no longer glaring, but should be. Opening software and being asked to agree to very long license agreements. Being forced to subject oneself to undue, difficult scrutiny in order to buy cell phone service (which is anonymous and easy in most other free countries in the world) or giving carte blanche to the issuer of consumer credit.The difference between East and West coast is simply that the West coast tends to set the fashions of technology (and technology business) and it takes some time for east-coast firms to mimic. And so the mindless, first-world brutality is propagated. 

      3. Donna Brewington White

        Love the passion in this comment, Phil.  And you are RIGHT!!!

  81. damiansen

    You are not asked to sign those in Copenhagen, so next time visit us instead 😉

  82. Adam Gering

    That reminds me of a non-compete agreement I was asked to sign for a nameless database company not far from Redmond. Reading it, I was basically agreeing never to work for Microsoft again. I made them change it. Several times. Before signing. I was being hired as a Web Apps developer, I wasn’t doing anything near their database software. But it was a boilerplate document for all employees to sign.For anything not involving a large monetary transaction, “sign it and sue me,” attitude seems to be only pragmatically useful stance to take. And have blind faith that the courts will throw out any agreement that is clearly one-sided and did not involve a meeting of the minds.You know, one of these Internet companies can ambush you; tell you all their great future product ideas and plans after you sign one of these; put you in a really bad position as a VC.

  83. Prokofy

    I’ve often found it ridiculous in my experiences in and around Second Life that I’d be asked to sign an NDA over nothing — over a conversation about a possible consulting job in a publicly-open server of SL. Linden Lab, makers of SL, would sometimes have customers come and do focus groups or sort of structured feedback sessions, and they’d all be asked to sign an NDA. That’s why I always refused to go to them because I believe in being able to publicly talk about a product, as to its shortcomings and advantages, on my blog.When I talk to my colleages on the East Coast, and talk about “NDA’d projects” of education or government or commerce in SL, they’d be puzzled. What does that acronym stand for?In my field, it’s common for people to have to sign confidentiality agreements for translations of famous authors, like government leaders, or consulting agreements, but this is not done on the way to the conversation, or during the conversation, leading up to an actual paid consulting agreement the way it is done on the East Coast. In NYC, since 9/11, we often have to pass through security desks and man-traps and show ID, but there’s never any NDA agreement!I wonder, though, the way Fred has structured this sentence, if it has to do with the confidence of old content-producing businesses (he happened to name all NY content industries!) versus new content-stealing businesses (I really can’t think of a more accurate description of them).”But when you visit News Corp, Time Warner, Goldman Sachs, WPP, Warner Music, or any other large NYC company, you never are asked to sign something like that. What do Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other large Internet companies have going on in their offices that is so different than what the big companies in NYC have going on in their offices?”What they have going on is the ever-new elaboration of new methods for signing up loads of free customers, scraping their data, and letting them upload stuff — without looking at the provenance or moving with any particular alacrity to remove infringing content — all the while serving ads for people to click on.Or maybe, as with the reasons Soviet scientists would be refused permission to emigrate and become “refuseniks,” the secret is…there is no secret.

    1. fredwilson

      how exactly does LinkedIn steal content?

      1. Prokofy

         Fred, you’re going to stand there, hand on heart, and say that LinkedIn isn’t scraping and holding for resale or exploitation the most valuable information in the universe, who is connected to whom by which means? Really? Just because it doesn’t have ads to click on and cat pictures doesn’t mean LinkedIn isn’t making use of our data. The service is free. We are the product.

        1. fredwilson

          you have a warped view of stealing. i’ve always known that but now i am sure of it

          1. Prokofy

            Oh, you mean I have a sense of morality and a sense of the individual’s right to privacy.You seem to think that the “trusted service” that you invest in gets to do this carte blanche merely because the service is free.But it doesn’t. And even your geek pals — especially your geek pals! — are screaming over things like “the rootkit of evil” over CarrierIQ — which turned out to be largely false. So what’s it really all about Fred, rules for some companies and not others?LinkedIn! What is the value of LinkedIn for the average person? An annoyance when somebody at work or looking for a job asks to “link” you. Raise your hand, everybody in this thread whoever got a job via LinkedIn! Ok, then. The value is largely to the platform owners who get all this interested connectivity information and how it will be mined. Do you really think its stock value is contained in its power as a service to customers, and not in its knowledge for data-miners?

  84. William Mougayar

    I wonder if at least there could be an exempt list. For e.g I would have expected that someone like Fred would be exempt from signing it. The host(ess) should be able make that call on the visitor.

  85. Jayem

    Let’s say you take a meeting with a company, inadvertently cometo acquire some of their confidential information, later disclose thatinformation and cause the company harm by doing so. Whether you sign an NDA (even with a phony signature) or notwill have no bearing on the legal action taken against you.  They’ll sueyou regardless!  The key is your actions with any information you gain andwhether you harm the other party if you disclose.That said, NDAs do have a purpose when they cover information directly relatedto your dealings with another party.  They codify what a prudent personwould expect from a counterparty: non-disclosure of information shared inconfidence.  NDAs for other purposes seem dubious at best.  The company’s true objective is to protect against harm causedby disclosure of confidential information. There are plenty of ways to do this (for example, external conferencerooms for meetings) that are more effective than insisting on an unnecessaryNDA. 

  86. NickDaney

    The idea is not everything. Its the team and the execution – when will people recognize this.Nick

    1. Xavier Faure

      Agreed.Idea is 1.Plan is 10.Execution is 100.



    1. Blsavini

      Or the ones, most apt to resort to theft, themselves

  88. Sara Chipps

    This is something I have said for a long time, and feel powerfully about it. If someone steals your idea, and does a better job, then they SHOULD. PERIOD. 



    1. LGBlueSky

      You should sign away — no way would these be enforceable against a dinosaur.  

    2. felixc

      Requiring an NDA is worse than not having coffee available. Sounds like an offense punishable by eating..

  90. ned

    which irony is richer:a. zuckerberg stole to idea for facebook, but wants people to sign NDAs; orb. facebooks settled with FTC over privacy issues, but wants people to sign NDAs

  91. LGBlueSky

    This reminds me of the incident a few years ago when Major League Baseball sued the 10 year old baseball team for calling themselves the Cubs.  I love lawyers (in fact I used to be one), but that, and this NDA business, is embarrassing. 

  92. Brian Park

    I agree that reception room NDA’s are tasteless. With that said, are we saying that NDA’s are practically and viably obsolete today? I’d love to hear some thoughts on it’s appropriate usage if it matters at all

  93. Pablo Silva

    You’ve got to wear a tie when you visit News Corp in NYC. That’s just as bad as a ‘desk NDA’.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t

    2. Antone Johnson

      Heh!  One more reason I’m glad not to work for them anymore.  😉

  94. Guvjg

    Why is it insulting?

  95. Paul Jacinto

    I read this article and the thread because I’m currently drafting a proposal and was asked to include an NDA.  I’m not sure if my background/exposure is relevant to the topic on hand, I’ve been in the executive search business for 7 years now and I often see NDAs around.  I guess the similarity between executive search and the tech industry is that our business relies mainly on what we know in terms of information or data, and not through some tangible/consumable product–and thus the feeling of being too overprotective of any info exchanges that occur either within or outside our office premises.  Especially in search, which requires some sort of relationship building and hence you tend to disclose sensitive info to 1. establish trust, and 2. establish credibility with what you know (not sure if this stands in a Western environment, since I work out of Singapore), NDAs I think are a necessity to ensure that the info exchange was done in confidence, similar to those of lawyers and doctors.However, reading through the thread I see the sense as to why a lot are against it.  My view is rather than having NDAs signed at the reception, it should be the prerogative of the “host” to decide whether to subject the visitor to an NDA or not, depending on the sensitivity of their meeting.  Especially nowadays where people are hesitant to sign everything (for there are now more reasons of being criminally liable for trivial matters), NDAs without justification is an outright turn-off.  Having it signed at the reception area is just plain wrong.

  96. Guest

    I guess they have never heard the expression “Keep you friends close, your enemies closer.” In the play Caesar and Cleopatra written by Shaw, Caesar gives free reign to a spy and keeps him around him all the time, stating it costs two soldiers to keep him in. 

  97. Little Respite

    Fred, Next time you are at one of these companies carry along a copy of a Mutual NDA from your end 🙂 Get them to sign it – what you might mention during the discussion is as much or mor e proprietary than anything they might mention or you might see there (and run out and copy :). Seems like this a herd mentality amongst the “new tech” companies. Bigger companies like Oracle do not require you to sign a NDA for just stepping on their campus – maybe there is no innovation going on there – ouch!

    1. fredwilson

      yup. great idea

  98. Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg

    I would comment, but you still haven’t returned the Comments NDA I sent you.

    1. Little Respite

      You mean in return for the NDA you signed for visiting this site 🙂

      1. Alex Urevick-Ackelsberg

        I cannot confirm (or deny) that I did (or did not) sign a meta-NDA about disclosing disclosures, which obviously (or not so obviously) precludes me from discussing (or not discussing) this hypothetical document.

  99. Sam Tresler

    As a developer, and now head of a small company that occasionally does tech work, we frequently get asked to sign them before a client will tell us what work they want us to do. We have a pretty standard policy:”We’ll happily sign your NDA, right after you pay the invoice we will forward you for the lawyer’s fee to review it, and make any alterations our lawyer suggests.”This has ALWAYS progressed in the same steps of the conversation.1) “Oh, it’s just a standard NDA.”2) “Then it shouldn’t cost much to review it, and alterations should be minimal.”3) “You can’t charge me for the initial meeting.”4) “We’re not. The meeting is free. Should I send this to my lawyer? We should be ready to meet within 2-3 weeks.”5) “Nevermind. Does Thursday work for you?”

  100. Lee Blaylock

    One prominent company does it and then other wanna b firms chime in.  All part of the silicon valley group think.  another thing to laugh at.  kind of like making a big deal of a cheese sandwich shop being the next new thing.  all this is great entertainment value!

  101. Ziliko

    Personally I get insulted. I feel the person has no confidence in me. When I was a VC, I never signed one. Entrepreneurs that were focused on protecting their ideas were not developing their business. They clearly have not understood that it is not about ideas but execution.

  102. Robin Wolaner

    Here’s a blast from the past on Time Warner (Time Inc. in those days, in their NY HQ).  They handed me an NDA to sign before a meeting requested to discuss my startup (Parenting Magazine).  It was unintelligible.  I zipped down 34 floors to the lobby (pre-cell phones) to call my lawyer (and angel investor) in San Francisco.  He said “I’d rather sell shares in a lawsuit against Time Inc. for stealing your idea, than in a magazine startup.”  I signed.  Then when I ran magazine development for Time I had it re-written in English. I’m happy to hear they’ve now dropped it altogether. Robin Wolaner

    1. LE

      “I’d rather sell shares in a lawsuit against Time Inc. for stealing your idea, than in a magazine startup.”That’s great. One of the best hedges that I have heard in a long time and especially coming from an attorney of all people.

    2. fredwilson

      nice story robin

  103. James Ferguson @kWIQly

    Hi FredSteaming privately is A) over-rated, B) unsustainable.This “let me close the door in your face” attitude smacks of bad landing pages – Sign up to our own proprietary list of spam-targets or go away.  I think it would be more constructive for these companies to put a BIG white board in reception, provide markers, chalk or whatever and call it their public suggestion box -You would certainly see action when the loo’s (rest-rooms) needed attention ! – In my company feed back is welcome – because solicited feedback is always more polite, direct and actionable than the alternative visitors might tweet or blog (outside their control) –  What would you write on their white-board next time they kindly “proffer” (… ) an NDA ?

  104. Eb

    These are nothing but bad-faith ambushes.  Anyone who wants me to sign something can circulate a copy to me in advance.  My responses, in order, are:  (1) I don’t sign NDAs.  (2) I’ll have my lawyer review it and get back to you.  (3) If it is that important, you would have circulated me a copy in advance.  (4) You’ll just have to proceed and not disclose sensitive information.I never have had anyone not back down because it is such abusive behavior.If they took it further, I would either (5) mark up the form on the spot, crossing out all of the objectionable language or (6) walk out leaving them with the clear understanding that they owed me an apology for wasting my time.

  105. LE

    From the journal of “Leg to stand on” comes this article today in the”According to his Manhattan federal-court filing, Makhnevich claims the comments violated a “mutual agreement to maintain privacy” she made him sign before treating him for a severe toothache last year at her office on the 69th floor of the Chrysler Building.”…

  106. Jay Steven Levin

    There’s no rationale for a behavior the function of which is psychological. Not operationally practical. What’s next . . . my local mechanic greeting me with an NDA to protect himself in the event I catch a glimpse of what’s under the hood of the car next to mine?

  107. baba12

    I think a lot of the NDA BS is for people thinking whatever they have to share is valuable in some way and the other person(s) could profit from it and don’t wish to be left out of the profiting. If wall street traders needed an NDA for every insider trading tip/deal they make on a hourly basis they would never be able to complete any trades.If there is money to be made then NDA or Chinese walls etc are no way to limit/stop it from happening.Maybe Mr.Wilson next time you could say you would share in the loot if you decided to do business with them, they would probably all fall inline right away.

  108. Daniel A. Mullen

    I remember walking into the reception area at Google and being given the little stylus to sign their seemingly endless scrolled NDA on the equally small LCD display: it felt like making a purchase at Whole Foods more than anything, and at least at Whole Foods I get a receipt!

  109. Eric Pratum

    I used to screen for an angel group, and the best piece of advice I feel I was ever given regarding NDAs was essentially, “If you don’t work for the company or have a contract with them, the only appropriate response to an NDA request starts with F and ends with U.”

    1. fredwilson

      best advice yet on this thread!

    2. Antone Johnson

      …and if you do work for the company or have a contract with them, you should already have confidentiality provisions in either your employment documents or the contract with your company, respectively, so it’s probably still redundant.

  110. CXT

    I’m curious if you ever see these NDAs include non-solicit provisions as well.

  111. Paul

    It’s not like you’ll see trade secrets or sensitive information in the hallways and general offices. Such things should be kept for certain vital sections or offices housing research and sensitive data. When your route takes you around such sections you get to sign the damned thing. 

  112. Alan Wilensky

    Fred, I would also like to comment on some major bullshit emanating from a popular API directory site – I wont name them here – for display advertising, they require the BUYER to supply a W9 – DEALBREAKER!What the hell am I supplying them with tax info if I am buying ads? Fred, I am justified in being put out? This particular site was acquired by Alcatel Lucent, which is no damn excuse, and the ad rep had no explanation as to why the parent company is demanding such a strange and invasive documentation request. I would really value  your opinion. BTW, we refused to advertise, I am not even sure it Legal for them to ask for tax ID information. 

  113. Gaurabh Mathure

    I worked with Nokia as a design consultant (vendor) for sometime. Everytime I met a new project manager who wanted to brief me about a new project, I was always asked to sign a contract before they even spoke to me. After sometime I begun to jokingly suggest that they have NDAs on the back of their business cards to save time and effort (and paper 🙂

  114. Antone Johnson

    “Large whiteboards in glass-walled conference rooms and wide-open office floors without divisional entry restrictions lead to a free flow of confidential information.”If that’s true, they should never have visitors in those areas, but rather meet with them in discrete conference room areas.  That’s simply reckless.

  115. Antone Johnson

    I think the most telling comment on this practice is that large law firms themselves don’t make people sign NDAs on their way in the door — and they handle thousands of clients’ confidential information every day.

  116. Carl J. Mistlebauer

    Way to go Dan!  I love the comments on NDA’s and the legaleze on emails!  I have seen lots of NDA’s and various other forms of what I call “management insecurity and paranoia” in the apparel industry.  You should see the licensing agreements in the apparel industry; those are contracts written by attorneys with way too much time on their hands!  Some of the requirements are not yet even humanly possible.

  117. Cam MacRae

    My personal favourites are the “Please think of the environment before printing this email” type notices which are invariably so long that they cause the email to be printed over two pages instead of one.

  118. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry


  119. fredwilson

    i didn’t want to make a stink