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Help- my company wants to do my side project in house
12 points by silvyas 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 27 comments
I’ve been working on a side project and recently shared it with colleagues at work. They loved it and spread it around the company all the way up to the VP. The VP is very excited and wants me to help prepare a pitch to the CEO about doing this in-house.

I feel like this is messy and I want to keep my side project separate from work. For both personal (we don’t need more competitors) and legal (plausible deniability) reasons. They’ve been nice and haven’t asked for the code base or anything, so I’m not sure how to handle this. This VP is directly responsible for my future promotions at the company.

How do I say no respectfully? Am I thinking about this the right way?

(Btw I’ve been to a lawyer and they were pretty vague. No I haven’t worked on company equipment and always in my spare time. Live in CA so non-compete/company ownership law is not enforceable as I gather. Big tech company.)






Would you consider selling it ? If you don't have customers it probably isn't worth much other than it protects them from future lawsuits initiated by you. As a side note, my buddy sold his side project to his employer for $350,000 but granted he had customers. But he also worked on it shamelessly while on the clock and using company equipment and using a sales guy who worked at the company. I sh*t you not.

If you do ask for money you should be embarrassed about how much you ask for or you are doing it wrong. They might not appreciate that but they will respect you.


Upvoted for: "you should be embarrassed about how much you ask for or you are doing it wrong."

> But he also worked on it shamelessly while on the clock and using company equipment and using a sales guy who worked at the company. I sh*t you not.

Don't we all? In Minecraft, of course. The part about using the company's sales guy is great though -- I've never heard that one before.


Absolutely, selling would be ideal. Basically I want more time to build it out and get customers and be in a stronger position to ask for a larger sum. At that point I could sell or raise. But I definitely don’t want to kick start an internal competing project.

If you enjoy building it why not ask if you can do it full time backed by your employer?

Personally I'd ask for a share of future profits or for a leadership role if any future team built around the product. Definitely don't give it away, but I'm sure there is a win-win arrangement here.


I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, yadda yadda.

> I’ve been to a lawyer and they were pretty vague.

Find a better lawyer. You're definitely not the first person who has been in this situation.

> No I haven’t worked on company equipment and always in my spare time.

May not be relevant. Your employment agreement may have a clause that says the company has a claim, even if you worked on your own equipment and in your own time, if the project is reasonably connected with the company's usual business. You can challenge it, of course, but do you want to get in a legal kerfuffle with a "Big tech company"?

> Live in CA so non-compete/company ownership law is not enforceable as I gather.

This is not a non-compete issue; that's when the company tries to stop you from working for their competitor after you quit. Important to get the concepts straight. IP ownership issues like this are a different ballgame.

You've got several scenarios:

1. You say no, company wants to go ahead and do it themselves: you're now competing on the side with your employer. Very bad scene.

2. You say no, company says okay we won't do it. VP probably not happy; company still knows you're working on it and can claim ownership and land you in legal hot water if it takes off as your side project.

3. You say yes, company goes ahead: no longer a side project, so you won't see as much upside if it succeeds, but it might have a better shot of success with the company's resources behind it.

4. You say yes, company decides not to proceed: this may actually be your best outcome, if you can get the company to put in writing that they're not interested in the idea and you're cleared to go work on it on your own.

(EDIT: of course you may also be able to ask the company for clearance in situation (2), but they may be less inclined than in situation (4) where you've at least shown the willingness to work with them.)


> This is not a non-compete issue; that's when the company tries to stop you from working for their competitor after you quit.

This is a non-compete issue. Because it's in CA, OP can quit the company right away and start a competing business (presumably the big tech company will start doing something similar) without worrying about non-complete. (This is not legal advice)


"> I’ve been to a lawyer and they were pretty vague.

Find a better lawyer. You're definitely not the first person who has been in this situation."

With my recent experiences with the legal system, this is good advice. There are so many people who work in the legal system that are grossly incompetent (lawyers, cops, judges). Not saying that specific lawyer is, but it doesn't look like a good sign if they specialize in IP law.


The already own it. Anything you develop is owned by your employer regardless of whether it was done during work hours or not.

Just keep in mind that you worked on this side project on your own time. To then let the employer just take it means you've just given them free labor without them paying for the time you've put in.

Personally I would keep it as a side project, or like others have said, tell them you're willing to sell it for an amount you are comfortable with.

Either way, make sure you're rewarded in some way. Don't let them guilt you into giving it to them. Stay strong!


Is this the product? https://igloo.chat/

I would make sure to protect the idea.

In France there is a old fashioned way to have a proof that you got the idea first : you can send a letter describing your idea to a specific state agency (INPI https://www.inpi.fr/fr/proteger-vos-creations/lenveloppe-sol... ). You may have something similar or better in California.


First: Check your contract.

Many companies include clauses about owning work you do whilst employed by the company, not simply work you do in relation to your employment at the company, or on company time. Whether that's enforceable or not in your case I don't know - your best bet is to seek solid legal advice before moving forward, whatever path you choose. If the lawyer you've spoken to can't provide clarity, find another lawyer.

Second: Stop working on it until you have clarity. Back everything up, secure it all.

You've already opened the Pandora's box; your company is most likely expecting you to play ball with their plans, for better or worse. Don't make your situation more complicated by continuing to work on this until you know what's coming. Protect what you've got, and don't make things harder for yourself by implementing new IP / ideas / features whilst this is all up in the air.

Third: Exploit your leverage.

You have something they want. Use it to your advantage. Be nice, but firm. It's your baby, and you want it to be treated right. Whether it goes forward under your own steam, or in-house at your company; weigh up the pros and cons of each and make the situation work for you rather than against you.


Working on your hobby at work is the dream so long as it’s not stolen from you and bastardized.

The greatest protection is a hyper restrictive license like AGPLv3.

One thing a company can do to lock it up is to extend the application in a novel way and then slap an interim patent application on it while investing an actual patent application. The only protection from this is to ensure new features are disclosed outside the company, but be careful not to violate a confidentiality clause with your employer.

Keep the source control outside your employer. If they want to extend the application internally they need to clone it to a different repository. Do not delete or abandon that original external source control.


What was your goal with your side project?

If your goal was to create a company and sell your product, maybe you have a great opportunity here.

Maybe you can tell your VP: “I am building this tool, if you are interested, you can be my first customer. I give you the tool for free, and i can stay on as part time freelancer to integrate the product into your workflow while slowly phasing out my work here”.

Hopefully they understand it’s a win-win situation as it allows you to start a company while keeping some revenue, and for them they get a product they don’t build and get to keep you for a few more months/years.

Now they may also be greedy and try to screw you over, and honestly if they do want to screw you, they will. Big time.


Tell them you're thinking if you want to do it or not... see what their response is.

After that you need to be willing to explain that "I appreciate your interest, but I want to keep my side project separate from work" and take whatever comes next (if anything).

Beyond saying that I wouldn't engage in discussing any details beyond politely declining without talking to the lawyer again.


Thanks all- btw I'm looking for stories from people who've been in similar situations. I want to settle this with soft skills first.

For more context: yes the goal is to sell it to said big tech company (or quit and raise VC). We have some traction but we want a lot more users so we can ask for more $$.

I don't think the company will make this a new product and make me VP. It's a risky bet and big tech doesn't move that fast.

Thanks for the "get a lawyer" advice- that's a clear course of action I know how to pursue. I'm looking for real stories of how other people have handled this w/o legal.

I think there are other options available and I want to understand them. Thanks!


It's been very open to this ending badly, the more you wish to pursue it. However, if you truly feel like you can reach an optimal outcome, you'll go for it anyway.

Know what you want. Do you want to get paid? Do you want to run it? Do you want to participate in the upside? It's only when you know what you want, can you determine if the deal is fair.

Before opening up the kimono, if you are interested in protecting yourself, you should try to get an NDA in place. It probably won't work, but it's worth a shot. It's also very likely this entire process will sour them on you and you on them. Best of luck!


dude why did you tell them?

Label it and emphasize on timing, dependence and legal part. People is always thinking of cost saving while they need a reminder of cost enlarger.

What's you side project? Maybe you can get enough traction from Hacker news and leave your company to work on your project full time.

It sounds like you did a consultation with a lawyer. You need to hire one to get actual legal advice.

Sounds like an opportunity to ask to be made VP of your new product line with a compensation package either making up for your lost external client options or a commission is your company is selling it.

That's what I thought at first too. But it's a new/fun product and it's way too risky for them to do that.

Story: I learned recently we're "doubling down" and "going hard" on a space. What that meant was 4 years of internal discussions to finally decide to commit to building a feature Facebook has had for 5 years already.

No way they're going to move fast enough or commit hard enough to make a team out of this. At best VP wants to advance their own career by showing up with interesting ideas.


Well, it'd be a good way to show you are serious and committed while essentially making them be the ones to say no.

What inspired you to share the details of your side project? Just curious.

I shared it with close colleagues bc it's a fun product to use for happy hours and game nights. And the direct user feedback was invaluable. It's fun/silly and doesn't fit with big tech vibe so I didn't expect anybody high up to care about it.

NPS was really high and it spread around the company naturally. Was all fine until this one VP made a big deal of it and now my entire management chain knows.




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