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I'm currently an engineer and am thinking about starting up my own business on the side (still an idea but in the process of creating the MVP). My business would bring zero competition to my current company and would not interfere with my current job. All time spent would be off work hours.

Is it ethical to reach out to the president/business/marketing team to work with them and learn how a business is ran? The company is a 200+mil$ company with huge networks and 40+ years of experience.

I'm wanting to learn how to run a business from people who are running a business. The president is extremely personable, but he is a business man. Should I tread lightly or not ask for experience where I work?

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It would be unethical to waste company time, but you could ask them out to dinner or make an appointment outside of work.

It would definitely be unethical to walk over to the Marketing Department and start asking questions about how to market your new business. They are being paid by the company, and they should be working on things that will help the company to make money.

Would you feel comfortable asking them to get together outside work? You might suggest getting together for a drink, or a coffee, or a meal. Make sure that you are upfront about your new business and your desire to pick their brains. Assuming you have a good relationship with the person, he/she will likely be happy to sit down with you to answer some questions.

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  • I feel like person to person he (he's one of four brothers who own the company. He's the brother who does the marketing side of things) would have no problems sitting down to answer questions I have. He would probably go out of his way to help and see me succeed. He knows who I am by name in a 600 person company but I've never had a real conversation with him. My wife is very against the idea of talking to my job about a personal business. – Luke Mar 6 '18 at 23:21
  • Your first line is a great point. – Luke Mar 6 '18 at 23:27
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Keep your private business to yourself. Any information you do get may not be relevant, there is a huge difference between a company with 600 employees and a sole trader in a different industry, and you're basically telling your employers that you're not concentrating fully on their stuff.

There is no upside, irrelevant information or info that can easily be had by doing a bit of research isn't worth much and may harm you.

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  • Definitely. The idea that I'm not focusing on my current job is what worried me the most about asking if the first place. Obviously I"m going to focus on my job while at work, but just like everyone else, I have a life outside of work. But I was afraid of that becoming a conflict of interest. – Luke Mar 7 '18 at 15:01
  • Whether it does or doesn't in practical terms is immaterial, it's your employers perception of the matter that counts. – Kilisi Mar 8 '18 at 11:28
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Consider starting your company together with someone who has experience that complements your own (e.g. marketing, sales, or organisational skills). It's difficult to replicate years of learning without devoting years to it.

Some companies (particularly tech firms) impose restrictions on the ownership of ideas that are generated whilst you work at the company so check first to make sure the MVP doesn't belong to your employer already!

Is it ethical to reach out to the president/business/marketing team to work with them and learn how a business is ran?

If learning how a business is run benefits you in your current position, yes.

If you are reaching out in your private time and asking the individuals to assist you in their private time, yes.

If your employer is supportive of personal development even when this doesn't benefit them directly, yes.

If you want your employer to pay you to learn things that don't help the company and will lead to you leaving, no.

Should I tread lightly or not ask for experience where I work?

If you give the impression that what you are asking for may lead to you leaving your current job then expect the people you reach out to to be conflicted.

An alternative approach would be to look for a secondment or apply internally for a job in that department in order to learn by doing. If you can make a case for how you can contribute then this benefits both you and your employer. Note that this could still be interpreted as an early sign that you may leave, so it is your read of the culture at you workplace that is key.

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  • The MVP is most definitely not even in the same genre of business. Q1 - learning how a business is run would not help my current position. Q2. I was expecting all time spent to be off hours/private time. Q3. From what I know and see how they run the company, yes they would be supportive. Q4. I don't expect any pay for this. If anything, I was considering working for free or would love to sit in on some business strategy meetings. Q5. The main purpose for the second business is entirely a second source of money flow, nor do I expect it to. – Luke Mar 6 '18 at 23:25
  • I have zero intentions of leaving. The second business is more of a hobby/new project I've been wanting to do for a few years. – Luke Mar 6 '18 at 23:25
  • It sounds like you will be fine reaching out then. Some people may still think that a second job could detract from what you are doing now, but it sounds like you don't think that would be the case here. Go for it - fortune favours the bold! – JonathanS Mar 8 '18 at 19:28
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I would leave it alone, you don't want the wrong person to know you were asking the marketing team non-work related questions, or that you are spending time talking about your own business, because others may exploit that as an issue with conflict of interests.

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