Over the past few years I have been developing an e-commerce website for a business idea I want to establish in the future however can not right now for a multitude of reasons. However my current employer is in need of full fledged e-commerce website as they are using Shopify and it is causing more problems than it solves simply because of its limitation.

My employer is unaware that I have been working on an e-commerce website in my free time however I am willing to make a proposal to them to sell them my e-commerce website source code. The website is production ready however it is not being utilized and is sitting dormant on my computer. As the frustration over Shopify grows the more I think they will be willing to listen to my proposal.

I have put countless hours into this personal project of mine over the years and I would safely say that I have put over 1000 hours in it and that is a conservative figure. Why so much time? This project has been a fantastic learning experience and because I want my business to succeed I have spent the time to make it as perfect as possible.

Some notable features of the website are;

  • Extensive 3D product configurator,
  • User tested UI,
  • Consistent and appealing design,
  • Real time postage tracking,
  • Cloud based user friendly backend,
  • Firebase utilisation,
  • Moltin integration,
  • Stripe integration,
  • Slack integration,
  • Online live chat support,
  • Indepth user accounts,
  • Extensive Redmine wiki and documentation,
  • Mobile friendly,
  • Targeted email advertising,
  • A+ security, etc.

I have been with this employer for almost 2 years and can safely say that my website will work just as well for them as it will for me. Obviously I will need to change the style and API keys etc however I know the code to this website like the back of my hand and could easily change it for them within a month. In fact they could do it just as fast with the Redmine wiki.

The business I work for turns over ~$13Million a year so I know they could afford a decent figure but I am just unsure how much I should initially charge or how high or how low I should go. I have never done freelance work and many sources just charge an hourly rate and use cookie cutter websites to speed up production time but I built this website from the ground up with heavily modified angular and personally designed assets.

I don't want to approach them without a figure. Or if there is a better way to approach them with maybe a monthly cost or just not to approach them at all. All input is appreciated.

NOTE: My business idea and the business I work for are very different in what they do so I am not afraid of competition. It is merely a coincidence we can utilize a similar website. And I hope I can make a quick buck off their problem.

More information to clear some things up

  • This is in Australia, all figures are in AUD.
  • My contract allows me to work on personal projects and are not the intellectual property of my employer. Unless, obviously, I grant it.
  • I am not selling an established website. My website is sitting in a folder on my computer waiting to be used. I am wishing to sell the code to my employer to use as they wish. The wiki was made so that I could die tomorrow and a 5-year-old could figure out how to maintain, update, develop and grow the website.
  • Again! This wiki I made is filled with videos, screenshots, step by step instructions and documentation about almost every single line of code. And thanks to Redmine, navigating it is easy and understandable.
  • Shopify is used because our IT department is only 2 people (me and one other) and we need a quick and easy way to start selling online.
  • This business is as old as I and the majority of orders are over $1,000,000 so meetings and factory tours are common and deals are done in person with pen and paper contracts.
  • This business's product was once niche. The product was typically bought by large corporations and government departments. Now we are seeing an influx in smaller orders from anything from primary schools, small businesses, and even bars. Since meetings and special dinners cost money they are reserved for the big spenders however we want to cater to the smaller guys in the most logical way possible, online.
  • I plan on leaving this business in 5 years to do what I want. So I would rather an outcome that leaves me free to do what I want and still use the code I developed for my own personal use.
  • Large payout or monthly installments are both fine aslong as I am not forever tied in growing their website and not my own soon to be business.
  • 1
    Do you want to sell the entire license for the product to them, so that they own the product? And then continue to work on the software, except now they decide how the product grows? (And are you sure that's a good idea..? It won't be your project anymore and working on it against your own ideas might be pretty demoralizing) – Erik Jul 31 '18 at 5:23
  • @Erik I would be fine with them developing and growing it how they like. I am not selling them the website, I am selling them the source code. The website itself isn't the product, It is just a platform to sell products that they manufacture. I mostly want a no strings attached agreement. I know I am going to leave this business in the next 5 years. I don't want to be forever maintaining this website hence the extensive documentation and wiki. It might be software engineer thing but its cool see what other people do with your code. – Moms Jul 31 '18 at 5:43
  • 1
    What does your employment contract say? In which jurisdiction are you located? Are you sure your employer doesn't already own what you developed by virtue of your contract? In any case, why should they buy something when there are perfectly free open source solutions available? – Stephan Branczyk Jul 31 '18 at 6:06
  • Are you proposing to sell the source code (which would mean they'd get the copyright) or just give them a license that lets them use it as they like? There's a big difference there. – David Thornley Jul 31 '18 at 14:40
  • @DavidThornley you can sell source code without handing over the copyright, just like you can sell a book without handing over copyright. – Phueal Jul 31 '18 at 22:22

The first thing to say is that there will be no way for us to put a price on the website: there are too many variables (your geography, the size of your employer's business, their market position, etc.), however you know these things and so we may be able to help guide you to a figure.

As with any transaction the value of the website is a negotiation. If you are living on the bread line you may be willing to sell it for peanuts (so to speak); if their leading competitor has a killer website and your employer's business is drying up as a result they may be willing to pay a small fortune to avoid collapse. So the price is simply a balance between its value to you and its value to them. Luckily you are in a good position to know both those things!

Some factors for you to consider when trying to determine a suitable price are:

  1. Will you be competitively priced compared to Shopify? You don't have to beat their price if your product is better, but your employer is unlikely to consider paying many multiples more.
  2. How much money will your solution save your employer?
  3. How much of its employees' time will it save them?
  4. How much increased revenue will it generate for them?
  5. If they pay for Shopify monthly, they may not have a strong apetite for making a large one-off payment for source code. Particularly if there are additional costs they will now incur for hosting, maintenance, etc.. Companies generally prefer to pay for services rather than capital, hence the success of cloud pricing models. Have you considered licensing the code rather than selling it?
  6. This would make you invaluable to them. You may have thought of this, but they definitely will. Will you hold them over a barrell in future to demand a doubling of your salary or other changes to your employment contract? You may need to make commitments on this front as well.
  7. What costs will you have? Unless you are an expert in this area you will need a commercial and/or legal expert to assist in drawing up the contract.

One other consideration: in revealing the existence of this website you will need to be very careful to ensure you are not vulnerable to an assertion that you may have used any company time at all or any company asset at all during the development of the website. You'll need to protect your IP.

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You need to maintain a healthy relationship, so the 2 bounds are:

  • Enough that you don't feel cheated.
  • Not so much that you feel you cheated them.

Extra advice: Let them make the first offer. If it's way lower than your lower bound, ask for a better offer. You should have a number in mind, but you shouldn't tell the number unless absolutely necessary.

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  • Anecdotal: I once worked with a contract specialist that firmly believed that the first person to give a number always lost. :) – UnhandledExcepSean Jul 31 '18 at 14:03

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