Possible To Sell Product To Current Employer?


I have an idea for productivity software that would be very beneficial to my current company (and to me in my current role). My current role involves no software development at all (I'm working for a retail chain) so I'm not sure that they can claim rights over my product (if I develop it on my own time and equipment). The only thing is I can't see them actually buying a license to my product because I work for them and would benefit directly from using the product (conflict of interest). Is there a way around that? Should I just accept that I probably won't sell to my current company but then use them as an example of a company that uses my product when trying to sell to other companies (it would definitely be more of a B2B software product).

I hope I've been clear and given enough info, if not, I'll gladly add more.

Based on some of the answers so far I thought I would share a little more info:

  • I was recently promoted to my current job, which is where I found my idea and where it would really benefit the company. During this promotion (which happened less than a month ago) my current manager (and her boss) really fought HR for me and got me the best that they can. Because of that, I feel that if I up and left it would be almost a slap in the face.
  • I know I'm not ready to start working for myself full time. That will be a goal of mine in the future, but at this point in my life, it isn't feasible (and I'm fine with that)
  • Thank you to all those who have already answered, you have given me valuable insights into what I should do and it is much appreciated.

    Sales Software Licensing

    asked Apr 27 '11 at 00:22
    289 points
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    5 Answers


    Why don't you try to sell it to your current company before you build it. Tell them that if they like the idea, you'll leave to work on it and they'll be the first customer. Ask them to make a deposit that is enough to fund development of the first version--enough to pay your living expenses for however long it would take you to get a workable prototype. Make sure it's clear that you plan to own this product outright, but as your flagship customer, they will have early access.

    That way there is no conflict of interest and your current company won't have any reason to worry about you "moonlighting."

    If you can't sell it to your current company, well, there may be something wrong with the idea. This is a good time to find out!

    answered Apr 27 '11 at 00:39
    Joel Spolsky
    13,482 points
    • Thanks for the response Joel, I added an edit in the original question to add more details which relate to what you said. – Jetti 13 years ago


    Good question Jetti.

    Terms of employment contract... one thing to check with your HR people is whether you are allowed to do work on the side. Some employment contracts don't allow you to spend any significant time doing other paid work. Also there can be a conflict of interest if you intend on taking the product to your competitors. The best thing to do is be open with your employers. On the other hand if you don't tell them you are doing this you'll be fine - however you'll always have the risk if you decide to tell them (so you can sell it to them).

    What is the current process... is a question you need to ask - for implementing efficiency and productivity software at your company? Most companies will already have a process for implementing productivity software - the remit may lie with IT or Finance. Be careful that this doesn't step on any toes - especially if you already have an in-house software team that could implement this idea if they had the specifications.

    A product for the masses... is a different proposition to writing a system for a single company. If you are writing a system that fits the workflow of a single company you can tailor it to fit exactly the processes they use. If however you are creating software to be sold into multiple companies and organisations you will need to offer a certain level of flexibility and customisation. The two software products are very different things and something you should consider early on. A system you want to sell to the masses needs to be more polished and well supported.

    answered Apr 27 '11 at 00:41
    2,333 points
    • Thanks for the response edralph. The way I'm planning for it to be highly-customizable as the nature of the product definitely demand that, so I'm very certain that other companies would be able to use it. I will definitely check with HR to see their policies. – Jetti 13 years ago


    Focus more on testing your product in the market. Set up a simple landing web page with your product features and advertise to potential customers. When they visit your website, make sure to ask them for their email address so they can be notified when the product is launched. You should get a minimum number of potential customers (3-10) before I'd even talk to the company I work for. This will give you more leverage and confidence when you approach your manager or HR. Once you start the talks with them, just know that they might not act favorable to your extra activities during non business hours and they might make you sign non compete contracts or even demand a share of the product profits. Bottom line is test out your product ideas to other potential customers first and if your current company doesn't like it or reacts negatively, you should be in a position to walk out on them.

    answered Apr 27 '11 at 07:45
    Yusuf Abdi
    1 point


    If this is truly a product that would work in the marketplace, I would develop it with someone and would set up a company to handle it. Then I'd treat your employer just like any other customer. I'd let my business partner be the contact person with your current company so that it doesn't create awkwardness/issues.

    answered Apr 27 '11 at 08:04
    1,747 points


    The only thing is I can't see them actually buying a license to my product because I work for them and would benefit directly from using the product (conflict of interest).

    I am not sure, but if you are not the one that decides to buy the product, then it does not sound like conflict of interest to me.
    answered Apr 27 '11 at 00:26
    Sylvain Peyronnet
    371 points
    • Thanks for the response. So, in your eyes, would it be as simple as just letting my manager know about it and letting it go from there (while disclosing that I wrote the software)? – Jetti 13 years ago

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