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I am a software developer, currently working at company X. Me and the rest of my team are spinning off to make a freelancer partnership (I think it's called an agency in other parts of the world). During our time at company X, we have worked for a number of clients, developing a number of software products for them.

In our spinoff company website, we have listed these projects in the Portfolio section. No details about client names, or anything that could infringe on intellectual property from our current company. Just a very general description of the problem area and an outline of what we delivered. I can't provide a link to the website for obvious reason (still working at X), but an example description would be:

"A client wanted to improve perfomance in a typical problem for our industry, by monitoring KPI y. Collaborating closely with this client, we have developed a dashboard with the appropriate filters, allowing the client to effectively monitor y and thus tackle their challenges."

A moral problem arises here. On the one hand, we have in fact worked with these (unnamed) clients and developed these products, on the other, we haven't done so as the new partnership, but as a team in X.

The purpose of the portfolio is to make sure potential clients understand what our areas of competence are, with examples that are more concrete than just listing competence areas. In case of contact with these potential clients, we actually disclose that we have worked on these projects as a team in X, and explain the rather peculiar situation.

My personal feeling is that there's nothing wrong with listing these projects as if we had worked on them as the partnership, as long as we don't disclose anything that could damage X or its clients, including infringement of NDAs or intellectual property (which we have not), and as long as we clarify with potential clients that these projects are part of our experience as a team, but done under X.

On the other hand, enough smart people near me have raised concerns about the moral and legal standing of listing these projects in our Portfolio, that I have to consider being (possibly very) wrong about it.

Is this immoral? Is this illegal?

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    IMHO, you should revisit NonCompete clause in your contract if there is one. – Strader Oct 19 '18 at 20:07
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    I understand your concern @Strader, but the contract doesn't say anything about competition AFTER the termination of employment at X. That is, I can't work for somebody else during employment at X, but I am not and I am not going to. After I leave X, the contract doesn't pose any limitation. – J. Nay Oct 19 '18 at 21:46
  • then, i dont see the legal issue. As for ethical one, when you finish your current position, these project are still your creations and have a full right to be in your portfolio – Strader Oct 20 '18 at 15:33
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I would advise against your current approach and instead emphasize your background and expertise in a different way.

The problem with your current approach is that you imply that your company has expertise in providing clients with solutions. However, depending on the size of your team and the size of potential clients, there are may aspects to providing customer solutions beyond just the technical collaboration and delivery, and your company does not have this expertise. You need to enter into an appropriate legal agreement covering the expected deliverables, any liability or associated warranty with the deliverables, compliance with relevant law and so on. You need to collaborate with relevant stakeholders (product managers, project managers, architects, business analysis, IT security specialists, IT operations experts, QA staff, end users, etc) within the customer to make sure your delivery meets all their requirements (functional and non-functional). Then you need to handle technical delivery. During delivery, you may need to go through various tollgate / stagegate / checkpoints requiring you to produce supporting documentation and evidence. To go live, you may need to work with operations teams, QA teams, operations and IT security teams to get final approval. You may also need some kind of aftercare like account managers, support staff, maintenance and support agreements, support service level agreements, and so on to ensure successful onboarding and operation of your solution.

What I would suggest is a combination of an "About Us" section and a "Solutions" section, which is what most companies do in your position.

The "About Us" section typcally lists:

  • Core values of the company
  • High-level background of the company
  • Bios and specific areas of expertise of key employees in the company.

This is the area where it is relevant to say things like:

Company Z was founded by a group of like-minded professionals looking to address key challenges in industry Y. Our company has over X (X is the sum of your years experience in the industry) years of experience in solving critical challenges in industry Y. We have a strong track record of close collaboration with clients to ensure successful solution delivery. Our philosophy is to give customers the tools they need to reduce cost and increase efficiency.

The "Solutions" section inverts the more traditional "Products" section and instead starts with common problems in an industry and then suggests how the company can help solve them. So, if you have created a dashboard application, you would start with:

Solutions for typical problem for your industry

Take control of your performance through KPI dashboards. Company Z can help you identify the most relevant KPIs for your business and then put a dashboard system in place to monitor these in real-time. Through powerful filtering and alerting features, you can focus on the the most relevant information without missing early indicators of problems.

  • Thanks Eric for your comprehensive argument, I think it makes a lot of sense. I'll present it to my partners. – J. Nay Oct 20 '18 at 20:39
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Personally, I think it is better to be safe then sorry, so don't include them right now. However, take my opinion with a grain of salt as I haven't ever started a company

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Is this immoral? Is this illegal?

You and your team get to decide what your "corporate morals" will be.

I personally don't see anything wrong with the way you wrote, but your company should come to a consensus on the issue and follow that. Make sure everyone in your "freelance partnership" is comfortable with the conclusion. Your team chemistry is more important than these testimonials.

Many new companies offer project work at a discount if the client provides a good testimonial upon completion. If you do that, perhaps your bit of puffery will only be temporary.

It is not illegal in my part of the world. Consult a local attorney if you aren't familiar with your local laws.

  • I would have a problem with the way it is written. It's not clear that this in the new company handled the full commercial lifecycle of delivering the solution but the description implied that they did. Instead, I would emphasize the background and experience of the new company team in an about us section. – Eric Oct 20 '18 at 13:00

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