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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.