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Background

For the last couple of months I have been discussing with my boss about a "sketch" idea that he have about creating a new technology startup.

The initial concept was defined by him , but I am the only one that has been making contributions to how develop this idea and how to develop all the infrastructure (from front end to back end). My employer has zero technical skills. I've gone so far as to spend time at home creating some sample code, and demonstrating to him that the idea has real merit.

Now, the problem is that I am working for him in another position that has nothing to do with the new company he wants to open. He now wants to move me to open a new company, and have me write all the software that will actually put it in business, while keeping the same wage.

The issue I have is that I feel that he is going to take advantage of the situation to build a new company and keep me at basically minimum wage (I'll be the only developer).

The Idea

This idea for a new company is not unique to him - there are other companies that offer the same service (such as, for example, youtube streams video, but is not the only one)

My Dilemma

The way I see it, I could accept to work in his new company as the only employee, and hope for better things to come, or I could strike out on my own and open this new business for myself. I do not feel that this is "stealing" the idea, as it is only a general concept, and all the technical implementation ideas are my own anyway.

The Question

Leaving aside the moral aspects of the situation, what are some pros and cons of my staying at this company, or striking out on my own? What should I consider in each situation?

closed as off-topic by Justin Cave, keshlam, Dawny33, gnat, Lilienthal Nov 18 '15 at 11:01

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    From your description it doesn't sound like the proposal is that you start your own company. It sounds like the boss is proposing that he start the new company and you go work there, still as his employee. Is that correct? In any event, new company + only developer + low pay is supposed to mean that you get offered a generous chunk of equity for putting up with the low pay. So you should either ask for a raise, or for a significant stake (like perhaps as high as 15% if you're the first and only dev) in the new venture. – aroth Nov 18 '15 at 5:12
  • @aroth That point you make is the general idea I had.Something like sharing the profits.But in general I feel that he is not willing to accept those terms and that he just wants to use me to build a company while keeping all the profits and keep paying me the initial wage. – Yei Nov 18 '15 at 5:20
  • In that case, why would you go along with it? If you have the skills to make a business successful as the only developer, there should be plenty of people willing to pay you more than "basically minimum wage". I'd say look elsewhere, or start your own shop if you have the resources (and desire) to do so. One caveat though; you probably can't start your own shop around the idea that you've already discussed with your boss. That may lead to a dispute over IP. – aroth Nov 18 '15 at 5:27
  • @aroth Even if he had the initial idea , what I generally don´t understand is how someone can own an idea that is being developed by more than one person. He had the initial point , but right now the sketch is a product that I've been building in my own time. – Yei Nov 18 '15 at 5:33
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    You're correct, Youtube can't say they own the general idea of ad-supported video streaming without a patent (if anything the idea came from general ad-supported broadcasting). But if the founders of Youtube had been discussing their idea and producing designs, and one of them had taken the designs and used them to create their own company, they'd likely get in trouble. So it's not necessarily that you can't pursue the same general idea, but you'd have to do so independently (and possibly, prove that independence in court), without the sketch or anything else that was shown to your boss. – aroth Nov 18 '15 at 6:08
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I can't answer for what you should do, but the way you say "take advantage of" and "basically minimum wage" says you already are annoyed at the idea, and wouldn't be happy if you accepted with those terms.

There is risk with starting a new company - putting up the initial time and money - and work to be done sorting out accounts, marketing, sales, taking payments, legal concerns. Can you sort them out? Would you want to? Can your boss leverage the brand and customers of their existing company to jump-start this new business in a way you couldn't?

If you don't do it, what will your boss do? Would they easily find someone else or do you have particularly valuable knowledge of the industry/technology/idea, or a particularly good working relationship with your boss, or a track record of completing hard projects?

If you did it alone, do you know you can make money? What happens to you if you can't - how risky is it for your finances? Your family? Your career? Would it be a good skills building experience?

What happens if the new business fails? How much risk are you taking?

  • Do you get paid anyway?
  • For how many months, before the new business decides to close?
  • Do you get your original job back? At the same Salary? Or better? (Will someone else have taken it?)

What happens if the new business succeeds and expands and needs more people?

  • Would you build it for a time, go back to your original job, and new people would take over?
  • Would you stay on working there, and have people hired to be above you?
  • Would you expect to be promoted, and new people brought in to work in a team which you lead and train? Does your boss agree with you on this?

What happens during the initial build?

  • Would your boss be micromanaging you? Leaving you alone? Calling you to ask you about your previous work and whether you can "just" do some more of it?
  • Do you both have matching, clear ideas about exactly what you would be building, and how long it would take?
  • How much does your boss understand software development and the time it takes, and how much do they trust your expertise on it? If they were expecting a result in two months and four months has gone by, what happens and can you deal with it?

My simple answer is that you shouldn't do it for just the same salary, especially if the salary is "basically minimum wage" and in the new position you would be designing, building, maintaining and taking responsibility for a new company's complete technology stack.

But then, if the plan is that your boss funds "more of the technology stack you use at your current company", that's less of a responsible position for you to be in, and so has less value.

If you are a 'minimum wage' employee, easily replaceable and with no bargaining power, it might boil down to "would you rather build new things from scratch for this salary or keep your current job at the same salary?".

What would you ideally want? Would you want to do it alone? Would you want part-ownership? Would you do it for a fixed salary - but a higher one? Would you do it for the same salary if you got a percentage of monthly profits after one year? Are you in a position to convince your boss to go with any of these?

Personally, I would want to work with someone else with proven experience at starting/running a business, so I could focus on the technology - but only if I was getting something I felt was a fair reward.

  • Agreed. Deleted my original answer as I think the situation isn't black and white. Good advice. – Michael A Nov 18 '15 at 4:58
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    In general , I feel that I am working for someone who does not know about software , nor the time it takes to develop it. This person is also seeking to make profits without making the investment. In all terms he never offered me a new position, he just expects that I accept it and that I coordinate it with my current position, and that really annoys me. I accepted the initial position and the wage because I was okay with the terms , but I do not feel that I should maintain the terms if this second responsibility would be that demanding. – Yei Nov 18 '15 at 5:14
  • It's just business. Any boss seeks to maximise staff productivity and minimise their cost. Whether or not it's right for you, it isn't personal. – Simon Hoare Nov 18 '15 at 5:40
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That's a tricky situation you're in, @Yei.

Let's put aside the ethical aspect of the question, which is highly subjective, and requires a lot more details to judge, and look at the practical aspects:

1. Ability

It does seem that you might get away with "stealing" this idea, but ask yourself this: do you have what it takes to actually grow that idea into a successful business?

I don't just mean the technical skills, or even an understanding of business in general, but maybe of that business in particular, and the connections to get it all off the ground.

2. Resources

Can you afford to be potentially unemployed while developing this idea? Could you afford to defend yourself in court against your boss? Also consider that depending on where in the world you live physical violence might also be a danger.

Keep in mind that your boss will probably hire some other developers to implement those ideas if you leave, so could you get that business off the ground faster than him?

3. Perspective

I know you're upset at your boss for using you, but consider the benefits if you join this new company he is opening:

  • You become his #1 resource, and as such, gain some leverage
  • You will gain new experience which may be used to get a better job down the line
  • By learning how to implement this idea for him you might be able to one day implement it even more successfully for yourself (as you said, this idea is not unique and many companies offer similar services)

Conclusion

If you think you think you can handle the consequences of going into business for yourself, by all means, go with it - although you may want to get some legal counsel first.

If, however, this is your anger talking, then maybe go to your boss and ask for both a new title, and a significant raise. Keep in mind, however, that no one is irreplaceable (especially after giving him all your ideas) and he may just hire some other person to work for minimum wage.

Good luck!

  • This last point "may just hire some other person to work for minimum wage. " is clearly one of the main concerns I have. – Yei Nov 18 '15 at 5:56
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    @Yes - unfortunately there's no way to guarantee that he will not do that when you ask for more $$$. It will all depend on how you approach him, and on how much he values your knowledge. That is very unique to your situation, and difficult to advise on. Be respectful and confident when you speak to him. Say that you feel you'very been a big part of the project and feel that you deserve more compensation going forward - and then explain exactly WHY. Get anything you agree on in writing. There's no perfect solution. Be ready to look for a new job depending on his attitude and answer :-S – AndreiROM Nov 18 '15 at 13:50
  • I went to talk with him , his response? "I can only give you some small bonus if the company succeed". So in other words, build me the company and we'll see. – Yei Nov 20 '15 at 4:12
  • @Yei - The situation stands as follows: your boss wants to get this other idea off the ground, but doesn't have the resources to do anything about it - except you, and your ideas. Personally, I don't think I'd want to get involved because all the responsibility falls on your shoulders. If the venture works, he's rich, but you only get a "small bonus". If it fails, you're fired, and he doesn't lose anything. All the pressure is on you, and for what? Literally working to make him rich? I'd consider finding a new job and building this thing for yourself if you can. – AndreiROM Nov 20 '15 at 4:39
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    @Yei - 10% share and 90% of the workload, eh? LoL. Your boss is a funny guy. – AndreiROM Dec 17 '15 at 5:47

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