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Ask HN: Did you start a company whilst employed?
155 points by GFuller on June 9, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 107 comments
I'd like to learn about entrepreneurs who successfully started companies whilst employed.

- What type of company did you start? - How did your employer take it when you left? - Where is the company at now? - And any helpful advice you could offer someone trying to do the same thing?




I started my first company while employed as a project manager at a web design shop. I started a (smaller) web design shop.

While employed, I spent some evenings and weekends trying to find clients. I quit my job when I got my first paying client.

The company I started isn't around anymore -- but here I am 18 years later still happily self-employed and doing well. So I'd say it was a success.

Edit: Last month I gave a convocation address at Syracuse University graduation where I talk about how I got started as an entrepreneur:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5RJAN5mNhA


I like the concept of telling personal stories instead of advices.

Thank you! (Great talk, and nice dash of humour)

And I also like the "advice" of being prolific, rather to "focus" like we hear often on Hacker News.

What has worked for me in the past (here comes a story, not an advice) is trying many personal projects until I found one that worked on many aspects (financial / personal lifestyle choices / meaning / etc...).

Having too many projects at the same time was very stressful to me, so I found that I could work on one main project and a new side project every month at the same time.

In the end, it is one of the side projects that started to work better than the others.

This week, I am going to be working full-time on it and I am happy about it :)


Thanks, I was hoping for some personal stories.

I'm at a stage where I've worked for a significant amount of time on one project outside work that hasn't really been successful. I'm now working on a few things and trying to validate the ideas with customers before building them out properly.


I love the personal stories approach as well but I've found that some people end up thinking I'm a narcissist for it. Maybe my delivery just sucks?


I'm not sure if your reason for quitting—waking up whenever you wanted—was in jest or not, but it sure resonates with me. It's the little things like that, having a bit of extra freedom, that make a big difference. If you have any employees, I hope they get the same benefits. Thanks for sharing!


That was a nice talk.

Why am I getting the Jobs stanford speech vibe in your talk.


Heheh, was wondering if I was the only one who felt that!

That said, great talk, found it pretty inspirational as a jaded 30 year old, so doubtless those kids would have taken away some of your 'stories' and filed them under advice!

pud, you mentioned having been bought out a few times. Did you not have to stick around 'under new management' at any of the places?


I think it's the format. Three stories from their life.


I graduated from the iSchool this May and got a chance to hear your speech live. Easily the best speech of graduation weekend!


I started my first company while employed as a Consultant at Accenture/UBS. I did not tell anyone at work that I was doing so, nor did I work on the business while at the office.

Vocalix was a tech startup, aiming to "put voice on the web". I'll spare you the details, but I worked on it from 4am to 7am every day, mostly thanks to the wond'rous benefits of Modafinil, after which I would take a one hour nap and then go to work. I did that for 9 months straight. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone starting a startup. I made numerous mistakes, slips, mismanagements, bad technical choices, etc, because I was constantly exhausted, and because Modafinil affected my lateral thinking (though it's great for getting through a task list).

Vocalix was effectively dead on arrival, and within 3 months of me quitting my job we decided it wasn't going to work. Ouch.

My advice: if you're going to start a startup, do it properly. Reduce your costs, learn about startups and obvious mistakes, save up some money - all while still employed. Then when you're ready make the jump cleanly.

Some further thoughts about it here: http://swombat.com/2011/12/15/startup-escape-path


Just curious, did you take Modafinil continuously for 9 months straight as well?


Yes, mostly.


I started BuySellAds (http://buysellads.com) while employed full-time at HubSpot (http://hubspot.com). A few years after leaving, my company ended up on the Inc 500 (http://www.inc.com/profile/buysellads) and we're still doing quite well.

- I had the project specifically spelled out in my employment agreement with them since I had already been working on it for a while. I started working for them because I genuinely believed in their mission, and there was a certain allure of a steady paycheck after freelancing for a while. I made the decision to leave after about a year of trying to juggle both.

- By the time I left HubSpot was 50 people and they had plenty of funding, so while perhaps they would have liked for me to stick around, there's nothing I did that has ultimately contributed to them becoming the billion dollar company they are today (a nice humbling lesson for the youngster I was back then...).

- I actually think doing this (as long as you can keep it clean legally and actually own what you're building in your spare time) far outweighs quitting your job before starting a company. I wrote a post on Quora about this in a little more detail (http://www.quora.com/I-plan-to-quit-my-job-at-a-software-com...)


Oddly enough, in 2011 I was employed by BeaconAds, which licensed BuySellAds' technology, while I built a student news aggregator startup (I know, I know).

It didn't pan out very well.


You gave it a shot and probably learned some things, don't feel too bad!


I launched WonderProxy ( https://wonderproxy.com ) while employed. I actually launched it to solve a problem a co-worker was having. He was a friend, and kept having to stay late to try and test aspects of our website using various free web proxies.

I bought a few VPS in different countries, gave him the password, and it was an instant hit.

They were my first customer, and are still a customer several years later. I launched with like 13 servers. We've got 127 now in 65 different countries.


As it appears to be the case with most people here, I did the same thing - started while still employed.

I started a cloud and security solutions company that mostly targets the government market, but also commercial to a degree.

My employer was supportive. The government market is a little different, though, so if you work for a large company they sometimes see you as an opportunity to work on contracts that are targeted only for small business. For example, you can get these special "small business only" contracts and bring them to your (former) employer to work on as a subcontractor. You both win in this case.

The company is currently growing steadily after about 9 months in operation. We're in this for the long term, so steady is better than a rapid ascent. We have about 5-6 employees and are generating enough to pay myself a large percentage of what I was making working for other employers (which was fairly substantial).

My advice is don't burn bridges - meaning don't let your startup work impact your "day job" while you are doing both. Your employer can be a gateway to your first customers, so don't upset them. Also, there is no "ideal" time to make the leap, but when things are noticeably starting to take off (a couple solid, stable clients on decent-paying contracts) and you can pay yourself about 30-50% of what you were making in your full-time job it would be a good sign.


That sounds like a huge conflict of interest. At my company we have to sign a COI form to promise we don't engage in such behavior.


Similarly every company makes you sign non-poaching agreements, and then asks you to poach your former colleagues.


Poaching employees is a purely private matter though. When a company contracted by the government agrees to subcontract to smaller "disadvantaged" companies, but then hires it's own employee's firm, that may borderline on fraud from the taxpayer's perspective.


It has nothing to do with hiring staff, and you can't be an employee subcontracting an employer, that doesn't make sense. I don't think I clearly explained that you bring work to your FORMER employer, whom you leverage as a relationship. You can't carry on as an employee while you have contracts to your name, that isn't allowed. But you can work on some of the relationship building while you are employed and make the leap once you are ready to get work.


Depends on what you are doing to "relationship build": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darleen_Druyun#United_States_Ai...

As a result, my company now does ethics training every year. "Relationship building" before changing ships is prohibited and can result in jail time.


Yes, I started http://visualwebsiteoptimizer.com/ when I was employed as R&D engineer. I told them way before and the business interests wasn't competing. The company is doing quite well.

My advice would be to say upfront and declare what you're doing, and if possible get in writing that this is something you'll own (and not them).


Cool, I am a paid subscriber of VMO! One of our issues is that our customers view a product page multiple times before buying, but if we run a VMO split test they see multiple versions. How do we set it so a person only see's one version of the split test?


Not sure if it is the right place to answer, but VWO does use cookies to make sure visitors on repeat visits see the same version. So what you describe ideally shouldn't happen. Can you get in touch with our support team - support@wingify.com


I agree with paraschopra. Many places I have worked have included a clause in the employment contract that says something along the lines of "Anything you create whilst working for us, including in your own time, will become property of our company"


I can't believe some companies include such clause, I would never sign such bullshit agreement. I can understand a clause against creating something that can be a competition to your employer products, but other than that - stay away from my free time.


Its the way Anglo Saxon employment law has developed over century's one of the key acts is the "Masters and Servants Act".

Employment law heavily favours the employer hint we are the "servants" here


You may also never work for some of these awesome companies. Pact with the devil, etc.


It seems that many professional programmers like to program on their spare time, maybe in order to use other technologies or something else. And yet companies like these want to be able to enforce that they can take over all that code produced in your free time... what the hell? Apparently they want to stifle people's creativity and discourage people who want to hone their craft outside of their job. Looks like a lose-lose, to me.

Maybe the company and the programmer doesn't care when the code produced is toy-programs/educational code, but it seems like a deal-breaker if the programmer wants to make some open-source code, or maybe even some code to produce some extra income. (I don't see a problem with the latter if it's in another domain than what the programmer is employed as.)


There's doubt if such clauses are even legal. Depending on the wording of the clause it could be considered restraint of trade. I would also never sign such a contract. I would strike the clause and see what they say. If they try and defend the 'your own time' part, I would take that as meaning they actively intend to steal my personal work.


I have signed contracts like this to but normally they are explicit to that industry, which I think is kind of fair.


Do you know of any other way around this, other than going to your employer explicitly ?


I think the laws are different depending on the state but most of those overly broad agreements are not enforceable. Usually it has to be something that you could have only created with proprietary knowledge gained from your employer or access to customers gained during the course of business. So just because you are a web developer by day, your employers do not own the Minecraft forum you maintain by night.

I'm not a lawyer, so this is just my fuzzy recollection of what my lawyers told me. If you've got something serious on the line, a good lawyer's time is a cheap investment that will pay dividends in the long run.


Yes, I too was explained this by a lawyer. The defence is the Restraint Of Trade doctrine.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restraint_of_trade


@paraschopra can you share some more insight on: 1) How do you manage time, split between employer and your personal work?


I started a b2b SaaS company while employed and quit when we got our first paying customers. I always built software in my off hours for fun, but when I decided to try and solve other people's problems I realized it could be a business rather than just a hobby. I don't think my employer knew or cared what I was going to do after I left.

Currently we are in the process of being acquired by a larger company. I've seen a few folks try to do a start a company this way and they almost always underestimate how much work it's going to be. Everything takes 3 times longer than you think it will and requires 10 times more effort.

I tried to raise seed funding and VC money but failed on both counts, so I can't really give any useful advice on how to do that. I raise this because I spent a lot of time in meetings with potential investors and gathering information for them. Since that ended up being largely unproductive time, now I wish I had just focused on my customers instead.

I'd be interested to hear how other people decide which investor meetings to take and which ones to ignore.


VCs and angels are always looking for that big return, a lot of bootstrapped saas businesses aren't 10-15x for them.

I've raised from angels and micro-vcs, it's frustrating and time consuming. Focus on revenue, keeping headcount low, and and bootstrap yourself to success!


Re the employer's possible ownership of the employee's idea: A few years ao I posted an annotated flow chart explaining how (U.S.) law works in this regard -- see http://www.oncontracts.com/docs/Who-owns-an-employee-inventi...


A question that I have also posed to lawyers, but never heard a clear answer:

What does "invention" here mean? Is it limited to things that meet patentability criteria? If so, is there a chart for other types of intellectual property like copyrights (most applicable to software, and hardware too), trademarks, etc.

California for example has specific clauses about ownership of inventions, with no clarification on what "invention" means.


> What does "invention" here mean? Is it limited to things that meet patentability criteria?

I can't think of a case citation offhand, but my guess is that most (U.S.) judges would apply essentially the same principles to unpatentable "inventions" -- defined in 35 USC 101 as any "process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, ... [or] improvement thereof" [1] --- that qualified as confidential information of the employer.

(If an invention is unpatentable AND is public information, then normally it's fair game for anyone to use, at least in the U.S. --- EXCEPT that that (A) an employee has an implied duty not to compete with his employer while still employed there, and (B) the employee might be bound by a contractual covenant not to compete for a limited time after leaving employment, which might or might not be enforceable depending on the jurisdiction [California being a well-known case in point].)

----------

> is there a chart for other types of intellectual property like copyrights (most applicable to software, and hardware too)

I can't think of how copyright might apply to hardware, at least not to functional aspects of it. I suppose that aesthetic-design features of hardware might qualify as a "sculpture," which under 17 USC 102 (a)(5) would be eligible for copyright protection [2] But under 17 USC 102(b), that protection wouldn't cover functional aspects: "In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work." [2]

As to software, that depends on (A) whether the software counts as a "work made for hire," which in this context means that it was created by an employee within the scope of employment [3], and (B) if not, whether the employee signed an agreement giving the employer rights to the copyrighted work. [4]

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> ... trademarks, etc.

In the U.S., trademark rights arise from use of the mark in providing goods or services. (You can file an application to register a mark in the USPTO based on a bona fide intent to use the mark "in commerce that may lawfully be regulated by Congress," but the registration won't be issued unless and until the applicant shows that he / she /it has actually begun using the mark in Congress.)

That's not to say that an employer might not try to claim that a confidential idea for a particularly-good trademark belonged to the employer, e.g., because the employee who came up with the idea was working on a company project when she did so.

[1] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/35/101

[2] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/102

[3] http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf (scroll down to "Agency Law")

[4] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/201


Thanks for a detailed reply. I read it a few times, and still have a few follow-up comments/questions:

A.

[1] Defines inventions as '(a) The term "invention" means invention or discovery.', which means the normal English meaning applies. That clearly means for example that exceptions like California section 2870 [2] do not help employees for software side-projects (since software is subject to copyrights, not necessarily inventions unless some invention is involved in the developed software).

This clearly means an employment agreement could make all software belong to the employer if developed while being employed, even if the clauses applicable to inventions in [2] like "developed in employee's own time" are satisfied.

And that means that people with software side-projects while being employed elsewhere most likely in a software company may be having an issue since majority sign employment contracts without reading (and are surprised when I tell them about these things). I have commonly seen employment contracts stating "any invention, whether patentable or not, ... works of authorship, whether copyrightable or not, ... developed during the course of the employment ... are a property of the employer ... with the exceptions noted California code 2870 ..." (which as I now know, does not cover software by itself).

Please let me know if my understanding above is not correct. :-)

B.

Hardware copyrights: Hardware, as you would know, has extensive design documents and blueprints that include circuit schematics, layouts, digital logic specified in hardware description languages (just like software), all of which involve creative expression. These then result in the actual hardware embodying these design blueprints that I guess would be a "tangible medium of expression" [3]. Integrated circuit layouts for example carry a nearly verbatim copy of the layout of the design, just like a printout of the same layout would.

I now understand that "functional" aspects would not be copyrightable. I am surprised to see "system" listed in [3] though, which I thought could be considered a tangible medium of expression. From a scientific standpoint, a CD-ROM for example can readily be described as a "system". So would be a piece of paper. As I am reading [3], a CD-ROM carrying a software would not be subject to copyrights if the CD-ROM could be considered to be a system. I am wondering now if there is a formal definition of that is a "system". :-)

I understand the remarks you made about trademarks fully. Thanks for noting the specific details there too!

C.

What does "compete" with the employer mean? :-) If someone is developing an iPad app (software) while working for a company that makes enterprise software and does not have any current or anticipated line of business making mobile apps, would that be competing? I am guessing 'yes'. Now what happens if a company is making CR-ROMs for a software they sell. Would someone making music CDs and selling those be in competition? I have been guessing that if the employee's business is within the same trademark code of the employer's current or anticipated line of business, that could be considered competing. If and only if so, all computer/electronics related stuff seems to fall in the same trademark code [4], which means clear trouble for all the people having technology side-projects.

[1] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/35/100

[2] http://law.onecle.com/california/labor/2870.html

[3] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/17/102

[4] http://www.tmweb.com/trademark_classes.asp#9


Alok --

1. Many of the things you're asking would likely be very sensitive to the specific facts of the situation, and probably at least somewhat unpredictable in outcome. That includes, for example:

+ the scope of copyright protection (see my summary of Oracle v. Google below);

+ the meaning of "compete" with an employer.

Consider the Oracle v. Google case, for example: A highly-regarded federal trial judge in the Bay Area held that Google had not infringed any protectable copyright interest in the Java API. But then a federal appellate court in Washington DC ruled that the trial judge had used the wrong analytical approach to determine what was protectable and what wasn't [1].

2. If you're asking these questions because of your specific situation, be very careful what you disclose publicly, because you might be jeopardizing your attorney-client privilege by doing so.

(Also, for clarity, I'm not acting as your lawyer here, and you shouldn't rely on what I say on HN as legal advice about your specific situation.)

3. I haven't researched the California employee-invention statute recently, and don't remember offhand how courts have interpreted the term "invention" as used there. A quick Google search revealed a published law-student paper, which I haven't read but it looks as though it might be useful [2].

4. As to IC layouts, take a look at the Semiconductor Chip Protection Act [3], which protects mask works.

NOTES:

[1] Oracle v. Google: http://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=1233342363690832...

[2] Employee inventions: See Parker A. Howell, Whose Invention is it Anyway? Employee Invention-Assignment Agreements and Their Limits, Cite as: 8 WASH. J.L. TECH. & ARTS 79 (2012), http://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handl...

[3] SCPA: http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ100.pdf


Thanks again for detailed answers. I'll be reading reference 2 you cited in more detail.

I indeed do not see this discussion as a substitute for legal advice, and these questions have not been specifically my case. However, many entrepreneurs I have met in person or through HN do have such issues without realizing, possibly including some who have posted here itself [1] about the side businesses they created while being employed.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=7867603


What is employers time if you're on salary?


> What is employers time if you're on salary?

If someone is on salary, "employer's time" is likely to be treated as a shorthand expression; the real issue is whether the employee was acting "within the scope of employment," which takes into account a variety of different factors. See http://www.copyright.gov/circs/circ09.pdf (scroll down to "Agency Law") for a general discussion.


I did start a company while still employed.. Here is what I did:

- Was upfront with my employer. (having established such a trust-based relationship for a long-time did really help)

- Told him that while I was using my spare time for my 'business'. If it would start getting more of my time, I was willing to negotiate a part-time position (hey, be honest, and if you are really valuable to your employer, there is nothing you should be worried of)

Believe me, people quit their jobs all the time - what employers do not like is getting caught off-guard. Just give them sufficient time in advance before leaving your job -- that will be appreciated most of the time.


> and no -- I will not mentioned the name/link nor the industry, please stop self promotion for once

I don't think there's anything wrong with the self promotion! We do have Show HN, and a question like this is just begging for it.

Not only that but I personally like to see what kind of things people can produce in their spare time. It gives me a good impression of what's possible, and perhaps a few tips as well.

EDIT: Well I'll leave the comment here, but this is what I get for leaving the comments page open whilst I do something else and then coming back to comment.


It is your prerogative to not link to your company, but in this thread it is perfectly acceptable in welcome. It is relevant context to the story each person is trying to tell.


You are right -- changed it.. Thanks..


Beware the due diligence issues.

If you start a company whilst employed/contracted elsewhere you will need to have your IP ownership and origin well-documented.

If you cannot get a document from your employer acknowledging that they have no claim to any IP in your company, then you will need to consider providing warranties to the new company that you accept liability for any subsequent claim, etc.

Basically, go speak to a lawyer, but you want to make sure that you don't act in a way now that gives your employer some claim on the company you are starting.

Do no actual work, whilst still employed, until this is resolved.


I started a small party rental service in college. It was sold after 2 years, but I made enough for rent, and most of the people I delivered to were extremely cool and sometimes let me hang out at their parties.

I was working as a statistician in LA overnight, from 9pm to 3am, and would work my delivery service from 4pm - 9pm and go to college in the afternoons. I was a broke student with no cash from home, so I made the best of it.

After college, I sold my rentals and client list to a friendly competitor (we would refer clients back and forth if we couldn't do the job) for a fair price. I quit my overnight job at about the same time. My employer took my quitting OK, and the company ended up paying me for another 2 months to be on standby and to train the replacement they hired. Just be cool, and straight forward, I guess. I was very clear at the start of my stat job that I was in college and wanted to keep this gig with those particular hours. I rejected a promotion offer they made because I planned to leave and told them so. My boss and I got along well, so to quit was bittersweet.

No regrets, I am successful still, in a completely different space.

Once you have to go out and kill your own meat for dinner.... food just never tastes the same from anywhere else.

I haven't worked a fulltime job for someone else in 5 years.


If you don't mind me asking, what do you do now for a living?


I invented an herb grinder 4 years ago, and founded the V. Syndicate. V. Syndicate is heavily engaged in B2B and B2C marketing, manufacturing and licensing in the cannabis/cannabis adjacent space.

Currently, I am devoting my attention to LookSee/LookSea, a B2B mobile app.


I was 1 of 4 co-founders of https://www.ordoro.com that we started just as I got a job at http://www.bazaarvoice.com. Both companies are B2B but we're in totally different spaces and market sizes.

I was very upfront about my startup with Bazaarvoice. They were genuinely very excited about my potential success. I was often asked by directors or C-levels how things were going. I recently bumped into the CEO Brett Hurt and he asked me how my startup was doing. I wouldn't have been able to work as hard as I did on Ordoro without all the great support.

I think a big part of starting up while being employed is doing well at your day job. You need to make sure you're doing well there so they can be supportive. If they're having to pick up your slack, they won't be so happy about your new venture.

Good luck!


I know one of the developers that works at your company. I went to undergrad with them.


In answer to the question, no. A similar question might be have you ever worked on developing a new relationship while you were in an existing relationship? Strangely a lot of the same hazards exist :-)

Besides the legal challenges, there are the IP challenges, and if you're honest with yourself you probably aren't doing your best work on one of the two jobs (and likely the one paying the bills) and so you are putting your reputation as an employee at risk as well.

The simple answer is, coming up with ideas? Great to do while you're working. Always be on the lookout for the next big thing. Due diligence on what has been done so far? Also fair game. Developing an itemized list of things you'd have to have done before you were 'up and running', also a reasonable thing. But once you pull the trigger and you're "starting a company", my experience suggests you will be much more successful if you are doing that 'full time' rather than 'nights and weekends.' If only to minimize the cognitive load of things not related to your new company.

Also if you treat your current employer well, which is to say you leave when you get serious about this new company. If it goes to hell they might take you back, if it goes well they might invest, and if you're just looking for mentors you may find them there. If you treat your employer poorly you will not have a chance at those benefits.


I started up HandHQ.com (sells electronic goods) while employed. I was in my first job as a software developer and just learning about web dev on the job so started working on Hand HQ in the evenings to help speed up my learning.

I remember clearly the day the first automated sale came through, back in 2007. I had just finished integrating PayPal and fully automating the whole order process the evening before and I got an email saying that a $400 sale had been made. I thought it was my system not working until the PayPal payment email came through moments later. I watched in amazement as my little program noticed the order, pulled the relevant poker hands (this is what the site sold) out of the database, zipped and uploaded them and then emailed the customer that they were ready. I didn't have to do _anything_ and I'd just made more than I was to make all day in my job. This was awesome.

I continued to run the site while employed for a while and then quit to do it full time once it was making more per month than I was making in a year at work. I didn't tell my employer why I was leaving.

I found that I was as productive while working on my business while employed as when I quit to work on it full time. You can get _alot_ done in a couple of hours in the evenings once you've spend a bit of your day during the day-job thinking about what needs to be done that evening. I also found having a day-job very motivational to work hard in the evenings so that I could quit. Once I did quit that motivation wasn't there.


Thanks for asking this, I've wondered the same thing. I actually just launched http://www.SoSoSwift.com 5 days ago. It certainly isn't a company yet but I hope it might grow into one. If not SoSoSwift, I will certainly keep building startups on my nights and weekends. I work for a big tech company. I know we have one of those crazy agreements about them owning everything I make. But, like I've read I don't believe those overly-broad agreements stand up well in court. Basically, I feel that if I get to the point at which someone starts suing me, then I've accomplished something already. I would be astonished if a court awarded my company to my employer. I suppose a more realistic outcome might be some percentage of ownership or damages? I know it isn't the ideal stance to take but I don't have the savings to first quit my job and then start a project. Anyway, I've enjoyed reading comments from people that have actually started successful companies in this scenario. It seems to be the road less traveled in the startup world, or at least the road less talked about.


The real risk with IP agreements isn't that you'll get sued, it's that acquirers and investors usually won't touch you unless you can prove you cleanly own all IP.


I've written a bit about this elsewhere, and on the off-chance of boring people here with the repetition:

- Software consultancy business;

- actively supported me

- still alive in it's 5th re-incarnation or so (or should I say 'pivot'?)

- Helpful advice (well, if it is helpful or not time will tell):

If you feel you can trust your boss then be open about it.

Make sure you show that post 'quitting' time you're still available to hold up your end if need be, offer them a (small) discount over your regular rates.

Build relationships, that starts when you're still employed and will carry over into the future when you're acting for your own shop. Deliver quality, don't lower your price in order to get jobs, know your value. Work harder than your competitors, charge the same and show your work.

Under no circumstance should you compete with your former employer for customers they already had while you were working there.

Be sure to stay in contact with the industry you left, including your old firm, stop by for a cup of coffee without being on the lookout to score jobs.

Be honorable. It may take a bit longer to 'get there' but it is a lot more sure than cutting corners and making money over other peoples misfortune.

best of luck!


1 1/2 years ago I started my company http://cutterslounge.de I didn't quit my job and started working on my company, I've already built a prototype of my product whilst being employed. This gave me the huge advantage of not starting from scratch. It was easier for me to convince my now co-founder to join me and quit his job.

After I quit my job, I had still a good relationship with them, which made it possible for me to work freelance for them from time to time. This means there was cash flow from the very first days.

Now, a 1 1/2 years later, our product has become passive income with almost no effort now. My co-founder and me worked as consultants/freelancers while we developed our product. Showing off our product gained us trust and some local fame, which lead to many really cool jobs and investments (right now we ware working on a quite cool project, where we are invested in as well).

I'm happy :-)


Very cool site, congratulations! Will you be expanding to other countries/markets too?

Seems like most hair salons could benefit from this - it's so hectic in those places.


First time, no. I struck out on my own and failed rapidly.

This time, yes. I'm dropping a day a week of salary, and working (with my main job's blessing) on a new venture with some colleagues and others. For the others they feel there's enough spare time to pull it off, but for myself I don't have enough energy left after spending the time I think I ought to with my family, so would rather take the monetary hit to make the time for it.

Too early to say much else, except that I strongly recommend getting formal written approval for what you're doing - and especially so if you're taking co-workers with you.


I am still currently employed and working on two online applications. Before that, I failed twice mostly because my partners and I were all employed full-time and we did not have enough time to dedicate to our side-project.

This time,I met with some investors who agreed to let me use their resources (dev, design). This allows me to be sure that someone is working hard on the development of the apps since they are paid for that.

I spend 30 minutes in the morning on the "social" aspect of the business, 2 hours at night on management of "my" team (review of the day, planning for the next day, testing), and my Saturday is devoted to tasks which are more time-consuming.

Sunday is the rest day which I keep free from my family.

As I am a C.F.O. by day, my applications are related to my field of expertise:

500Assets (Depreciation Software for accountants): (http://500assets.com/) and rKruiter (Recruitment Management for H.R. practitioners): (http://www.rkruiter.com/)

Being employed allows me to think about growing the company before getting a salary for myself. My employer is fine with that as long as it does not interfere with my job.


I wrote a bug tracker called Bugrocket and convinced the owners of my employer to switch us over to it from Bugzilla.

After a while of using it and improving it based on real-world usage, I pitched launching it as a company. Drew up all the paperwork and incorporated as co-founders. I didn't leave the company, we just all did it on the side.

That was 2009. It's still kicking, but growing really slowly (who knew, bug tracking isn't very sexy :)).

Advice... that's trickier. Every situation is different. I think starting with an MVP and dogfooding is really important. But generally just go for it and see what happens. It will take up a lot of your free time, more than you think, so be prepared for that.

I also agree with a lot of the other advice in here about bringing it up with your boss - I don't think Bugrocket would be a company today if I hadn't 'pitched it' to my employer. Then again, in 2012 I started CourseCraft (an ecourse platform) with my wife and we've been bootstrapping it on the side. It's doing even better than Bugrocket. Like I said every situation is different :)

That original employer was later acquired and I have since left, but it wasn't because-of or related to the stuff on the side.


Codenvy was started while I was employed at another company, Exo Platform. In this case, I was an advisor to the board, generating recommendations on strategic directions for the company. They had a product at the time called exo ide that had decent traffic, but was a distraction to their core business related to social enterprise portals. The original plan had been to shut down the garage product itself, but we got permission from the board to explore alternatives.

This gave us the freedom to look at alternative financing options, and to pursue any avenue that could lead to continued operation of the site. We eventually found investors, a new board, and a management team - that allowed us to incorporate Codenvy, bring the IP over, the engineering team, and get started. We did all of this while employed and receiving salaries from the original parent venture.

Now the company has raised $9M and we just crossed our 50th employee last week.

In our case, the helpful advice was that we were pursuing something that was in the interests of the parent company. They wanted this side project to succeed, but couldn't see a runway that made sense for them. By doing what was right for the company, we stayed committed to this project, and it just turned out that the best outcome was the formation of a new venture. That venture had allegiances and alignment to the parent that made sense for all, and it turned out to be an easy incorporation, and strongly backed by the parent. There wasn't any need for subterfuge, but these circumstances were unique. Net - you never know what the needs are of your employer, so if there is a business that helps the employer out, they may be willing to extend special arrangements to you during the incubation period.


I tired to create a couple of products while I was still employed. They were not successful but I learned a lot just by deciding to do it. And in the end it gave me confidence enough to leave the job and go into consulting with which fortunately I have had success.

Any way, whether or not you tell your employee about your startup depends upon how well you know him/her, how comfortable are you with him/her and what your contract says.

Can you convince your boss that the duration for which you work in his organization would be as productive as it were before? Can you convince him that you are not just gathering funds just so you can leave and work full time on your own stuff when you are ready? Even if you have the very best of intentions it is hard to convince others of the fact.

At least my thinking is that there is no need to say anything to anyone in your organization unless you absolutely need to. During the early stages of your startup I suppose even you are not sure if you can be successful with it. Keep it under the wraps see how far you can go with it and then take a decision.


Thanks, this is along the lines of what I've been thinking. Although some have said to be upfront with your employer. My current employment is in an unrelated industry. I'm sure nothing good could come from letting my employers know that I'm working on something in my spare time. Especially when I can't be sure what I start will work.


"Although some have said to be upfront with your employer."

Actually, almost all said to be upfront with your employer. And I really advice you to do so too! If you don't dare to tell him (for whatever reason), that's probably a sign of a not so very healthy relationship with your current employer.

Most employers (especially in the IT industry) are quite supportive about their employees pursuing their dreams. And they should be.


I actually agree with everyone saying to be upfront with your employer. But in my own situation I don't think it is required. I work in the oil & gas industry as an engineer but build web apps on the side. My employers simply wouldn't see any real value to them in what I'm doing. Also my contract does not make any claims to ownership of things I build in my own time.


Exactly. What good it will do to either your employer or yourself? Try your ideas out. See if they have any weight. After which assess your situation and have a heart to heart with your employer.


Yes, I founded https://hiburo.com and had the idea while being employed and started building an early prototype on weekends/evenings.

However after I left the company, we changed the design and did a complete rewrite (switched from PHP/Kohana to Python/Django). Now it is up and running for a few months and growing slowly but steadily.


> switched from PHP/Kohana to Python/Django

Would you mind if I ask why you switched?

BTW, nice design on your home page.


Thanks.

Kohana was slowly dying at the time and the development had almost stopped (currently the framework is completely dead). But really I just wanted to try a new stack and Django looked promising. Also had prior Python experience.

In the next project [0] we went from Python/Django to Scala/Play :)

[0] - http://datazenit.com/


Interesting to see how your sites have evolved but I guess you found the right tools based on their applications. Both sites look good. Just two comments: - Datazenit blog: Font size seems a bit smaller - Hiburo: Mediakit link is broken (dropbox access?)

Good luck with both!


Thanks for your feedback. Hiburo Media kit link seems to working from here (tried from Incognito). Did it load at all for you?

And your are right about the right tool for the right task. Datazenit naturally evolved into what it is now. Customer feedback and feature requests initiated the switch to Scala.

Thanks!


I agree on the font size. A bit bigger would help a lot.


I did. I'm actually on my last week of dayjobbing (next to last week, actually - they asked me to stay on another week to help with transition). I've put in over a year of developing the idea (it's had one significant pivot), learning technologies I didn't know before (particularly front end), learning how to run a proper business, and ultimately, just talking my spouse into accepting the risk and radical change to our lives.

So, so excited to go full time! But once I do... I promised my spouse (and myself) revenue in six months, so I don't think life is going to get any easier or less stressful. On the other hand, I'll be doing what I feel like I should be doing. After 20 years of corporate life, I'll finally take full control of my fate.

The kind of company? It's a product for diffing system configurations, across security boundaries and along the entire timeline of the system. Think CMDB for the rest of us - easy to implement, affordable, and creating immediate daily value by reducing debugging times and cross-organization friction. This is a nontrivial thing to implement, though...

How did my employer take it? They're sad to lose me, of course, but a lot of people are envious as well. Maybe they can envy my cold sweats too.

Many people have observed that the only emotions founders get are elation and terror. Once I committed to it, though, I started feeling them both at the same time. I don't think that's going to change, not for a while.

As for advice... the only good advice I have is figure out your runway. How long can you go without getting paid? And what's your fallback plan? Get your business plan roughly laid out so you know what you intend to do, and what you'll do if it isn't working. And if you're married, do your best to make it work with your spouse.


I started a software development company while employed as tech support for another software development company. I later quit my job to develop my company. My boss didn't mind. I was 23 and I didn't really play it smart. Things got tough and I hit a few roadblocks. I had to work some smaller jobs just to get by and keep working on my company. Eventually, it started to pick up and the project started to bring enough of an income to sustain myself.

It's been 2 years since things stabilized. I've moved around from city to city, country to country. It's been an amazing experience working on what I like and embracing the freedom of self-employment. Despite the volatile journey, I do not regret my general choices (though some decisions could've been executed better, in hindsight). I've learned so much!

I am now on the verge of releasing a new version of my software that should propel my company to new heights. Exciting times!

My advice is to never give up :P


I am starting my own company ( a saas app ) while im still employed. I changed 5 day workweek to 3 day work week so I have more time for my side project. The salary cut is worth it. I rather spend some time in the weekend to rest and preventing burning out. I can survive as well with my current salary so I lower the risk for not having any income.


I started Satago and raised my first money for it on Seedrs while I was still employed at Rocket Internet. I don't think it was in my contract that I could not start a company (it is in many) but I did have to get an IP waiver from Rocket before Seedrs would release the investment - just in case. I then built most of the MVP (with a contractor) whilst employed, which was very difficult.

Main advice would be to save as much money as you can before you take the plunge. I did not have enough spare money. Also play with timezones if you can. My contractor is in Russia, which meant I could work with him in the mornings if I got up early before starting my day job.

Here is where we are now: http://www.satago.co.uk Got in to the Seedcamp accelerator and raised $1M announced the other day. Going quite well. First employee starting tomorrow. :)


How was the first day with employee #1?


It seemed to go quite well thanks. Obviously lots for him to pick up as quick as possible. Hopefully he start seeing the fruits of his labour soon!


I wrote and contributed important code in an area (Computer Systems Integration) after seeing it lacking for years (https://github.com/mqsiuser/Generic-ESQL-Utilities). I just saw that I could do it and I figured out how and thought intensly about everything (putting in a lot of effort) and... how to benefit from it. Now the software business is not so easy: The right thing: Open Source (Almost) Everything. The problem: How to create income.

Next http://www.use-the-tree.com

Same problem. It isn't easy to monetize in IT. There are paved ways though and I'll certainly be back on a freelance consulting project soon :)

I lost my last one because I was too occupied by my side project (nevermind, the project wasn't really worth it)


Started working on https://nota.io while employed as full stack dev. The idea actually came from my day to day workflow.

Quickly I found that I had trouble focusing on the job that was actually paying me and all i wanted to do is build my app. So I quit (my employer totally understood my motivations). That was 6 months ago.

Now I've launched a few week ago and I am realising that I planed a bit short budget wise, so soon I am afraid I'll have to go back job hunting. I wish i had plan for more slack.

The lesson that i've taken form that is that if you want to build a software that you are passionate about soon enough it will take all your focus. So do plan on that. Validate and plan as much as possible while keeping your day job and when you are as ready as you possibly can just take the dive! Good luck.


I went to school and worked part time while starting a business on the side. Looking back, it's interesting to note that one may go through a progression from freelancer, to contractor, to consultant and beyond.

Regardless of what you want to do, some lessons are waiting for us in every decision we make, regardless of the direction.

Entrepreneurship, at a small level, teaches taught me real business skills. There is a huge value in building something small before something big. The difference is sufficient enough that the "go hard or go home" mantra neatly seems to divide the folks who solved any problem of value to others, vs trying to channel their inner Steve Jobs, or doing as others are.

The most valuable thing I have today is the realization that I"m going to do this for a very long time and I will not accept anyone telling me to go home.


I started https://filespin.io when employed. We are doing well in enterprise space. Getting ready to release for developers.

One advice I could have used when I started: It is unnecessary to worry about your current employer. The truth is: "current employer" is a blanket name for only a handful of people and most often they don't care very much as long as what you do isn't affecting them adversely. Have non-compete agreements sorted out and always be honest and upfront about your venture.

Do what's best for your customers and for yourself. Ultimately, that's the only thing that matters.

Btw, my then boss was very supportive and we are now doing business with each other.


Change your color scheme on the content, that is hard text to read! Greenish background with orange text is bad. Awesome product though. :)


Here's a thread I started the day I quit my job to go full-time on my startup. It's fun to look back at what I wrote. I was so excited and terrified at the time. I shared some of my feelings and those of coworkers here.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=1347464

We've pivoted a bit and grown over the years. Our company IActionable is a "gamification/engagement" platform. We focus on corporate/enterprise solutions that allow employees and managers to track company specific goals, achievements, performance, sales, etc. - http://IActionable.com


In simplistic terms, doing a startup whilst employed elsewhere is probably a bad idea on a number of levels. That said, i'm doing it; though I'm working on 'projects', not startups. (I've also formed a ltd (llc) umbrella company with it's own bank account so I can properly account for savings I invest in my ideas)

My first project is Octopus (http://www.theoctopusapp.com) whilst I've also just started my second, Solarshell. I'm not sure one can do more than two projects at any-time but then again, the likes of Musk and others seem to make multiple things work.


I did, sort of. I was working as "The tech guy" at a business to business consulting firm. It was good varied experience.

Through word of mouth; I took on my first consulting client in my "spare" time.

About a year later; I left the full time job and did consulting full time and I have been doing that as my primary source of income for 14 years now.

I gave a presentation about my various business mishaps at a conference called 360|Stack. I called it How to Fail Fantastically.

http://vimeopro.com/360conferences/360stack-2013/video/72773...


I work a full 8-5 salaried job, have a side job from 6-whenever I sleep, and am starting a consulting gig with a friend of mine.

All bootstrapped, all while still having security. Things are still in their infancy, but we have 5 clients between two people, so things may pick up a bit soon.

I wouldn't do this any other way though. It may take a little bit longer to set everything up, but I have security. If everything fails tomorrow, my worst case scenario is I get back up and go back to work in the morning.


What do you consult?


A lot.

We'll pretty much take care of whatever a company needs as long as it isn't .net. We're predominately a PHP shop that deals with Magento and Drupal dev, but we also do full app development from scratch on Symfony2 or Yii, whatever fits the task the best.

We get requests for doing maint on clients old sites, migrations to new setups, and sometimes just build off little glue apps that makes peoples' lives easier around their respective offices. It's small but getting there.


I started MASSOLIT (www.massolit.co.uk) when I was still employed as a strategy consultant. MASSOLIT provide video lectures in the arts and humanities, though we are changing things slightly at the moment. Anyway, you can get a lot of market research done while still doing a job, e.g. e-mailing lots of people. The idea developed significantly while I was still working, and I only left when we had positive noises about the product we were making.


Is your site name a reference to "The Master and Margarita" ?


But aren't you risking to get sued by doing that?

I think almost all job contracts include a clause stating that any paid work outside the company is allowed with written permission only (or, worse, everything produced belongs to the company). I don't think any employer would support that.

Of course, starting a start up is not exactly 'paid' work in a casual way, but I my common sense says that it's quite clearly 'paid work', or at least intended to be paid.


A word of warning. Many companies include a contractual obligation inside your employment contract that requires you to declare any company directorships, whether you see you new startup as a conflict of interest or not.

I got fired from a well known PC manufacturer for not declaring such a directorship. A web development consultancy was not a conflict of interest but I broke the contract so it was a hard but valid lesson learned.


I started Visidraft (www.visidraft.com) while still full time active duty military. Surprisingly enough I built it to solve a pain point I had while doing construction project management which is outside the scope of my formal job title. I am hoping the success of Visidraft will allow me to transition out of the military with minimal impact on my family.

We launch in August and given our Beta test results expect great growth.


I started a company and was hired by my first customer for a year. While there, I got to work on http://vidpresso.com while maintaining the IP. It was awesome.


hi there and congrats on taking your first step towards founding! i am currently in the midst of several projects so i can provide some "in process" advice; hopefully it will help to give you some perspective about the daily grind and about “what it takes” to get to where you want!

- my "day job”: i’m a manager at a medical device company (run training department along with driving self-guided data mining projects that improve training & engineering efficiency)

- tech startups: i do biz dev and provide data science guidance as a co-founder for two tech startups (one is an offshoot of a school project, one is a social monitoring service specifically aimed at the utilities sector)

- non-tech startup: i also have a product i’m in the process of bringing to market that will make the men’s necktie a much more useful item. a little random? yes. it’s one of those ideas that just happened to come along and so far i’ve been able to [successfully] run with it!

- part time MBA: i also am working towards an MBA on a part-time basis in NYC. i’ve been able to adjust my specializations so they’re “tech focused” and I’ve met some really awesome people in the data science/startup community in NYC as a result.

how is it possible to do all of this? they key [for me] has been alignment. i began by finding issues at my 9-5 that both captured my attention AND presented the opportunity to be spun off into separate projects (if i played my cards right and made sure there wouldn’t be IP issues down the road). i then started aligning my 9-5 projects with my school related projects, thus turning work into school and vise-versa. a year and a half later i’m heavily involved with many ventures that i thoroughly enjoy, and while i put in a lot of time and effort each day, it’s work that i enjoy so burnout hasn’t been a concern (so far).

i wrote a motivational piece about how juggle everything and stay sane on my non-tech startup’s website: http://www.takeiteasythursday.com/liox/2014/5/2/3-startups-o...

if you have any q’s you can reach me via the contact page on the website! best of luck!


i started https://getsdone.io this is not a company per se, it's a web application, worked mostly during late nights and some weekends, though having a wife and kid meant my weekends weren't really that available for stints of coding.

there's no traction for the site as i haven't really had time to make the myriad fixes/features, but i am stopping most of the web development after getting feedback from various users that a mobile app would be ideal, mobile first, sort of.


Has anyone ever worked at a company that effectively banned side businesses or asked to pre-approve all side businesses?


Maybe this should have been a poll.


Me and my partner are in the process of setting up http://SalesZip.com.

We are working on it from January Last year. Both of us were working in the business development. We decided to take few clients externally. After working with them for six month we had saved enough. Both of us resigned from our jobs. Employers were fortune 50 companies. They were not too bothered. As company we are at place where we can choose the path we would like to take.

Advice : Find people who are in need of your services and ready to pay. Also check with your lawyer to avoid legal issues.


I started my current B2B sales company while employed. It was just me 2 years ago. I stayed employed because it offered me some security/funding. But, my employer eventually let me go (a disaster of a project. I was replaced by an overseas worker for 1/3 my salary. This is what the boss told me when he let me go).

I now have 2 other partners and an employee and the business pays all of our bills.

Working while having a startup can work, but it will be hell on your social life (and family life).




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