Leaving employer to create competitor – tips and pitfalls
February 6, 2014 12:12 PM Subscribe
A colleague and I are considering forming our own company in competition with our employer. We're currently researching our idea and working up a full business plan. How do we do this legally and ethically, and avoid getting fired until we're ready to jump?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A colleague and I are considering forming our own company in competition with our current employer. While we put together our detailed business plan and investigate whether it's truly a good idea to jump ship, what should we do to make sure we do this in a smart way?
We want to protect ourselves form getting fired until we leave and from the risk of legal action afterwards, and do it all as ethically as possible. We both like our immediate boss and know he'll take this personally; we won't be able to avoid that but want to minimise his pain.
1. We both work for a big company and the project is a start-up subsidiary.
2. We will only do this if the GM of the subsidiary agrees to come with us and plan to put the idea to him on an upcoming visit – we think there's a good chance he'll go for it and if not we don't think he would expose us, both because we have a close relationship with him and can't see what he would gain.
3. If the GM agrees we would want to poach a few staff from the subsidiary but wouldn't say anything to them or anyone else until we had completely worked up the business plan and were close to handing in our resignations. These staff wouldn't be critical to the plan but would help a lot.
4. The project is now being run by someone else apart from one sub-project that I have oversight of. This means that we can hand over our responsibilities on this project and focus on others, which helps with avoiding a conflict of interest. I would continue to work on the sub-project and do that properly – I'd make sure they couldn't accuse me of sabotaging it.
5. We would, however, use this time to find out useful information from other people in the company and collect helpful materials.
6. The reason we're considering this is the project is being taken over by someone who doesn't really know what she's doing but is closer to our CEO, and as a result it's going in a very different direction from the one we believe in (as the people closest to it). As our company has turned down the chance to work with our strategy, we don't feel that we're holding back on sharing something that we've developed on company time/money. From now on we wouldn't share our ideas but we are no longer in charge of strategy. We could make suggestions if we wanted to but I don't think we have a moral obligation to do so.
To avoid raising suspicion and creating a paper trail we've set some ground rules:
1. No corridor conversations – only talk about it off-site or in meeting rooms.
2. No using company computers or texting on company phones.
3. We are printing out useful documents that we have created ourselves but only one or two a day and they could all be used in our jobs.
4. Only ask colleagues research questions that could we could plausibly ask anyway.
My specific questions are:
1. What potential legal action could our current employer take against us? We are in the UK and the sub is in Asia. We will be adopting a similar business model and while there are some elements that are somewhat different to our competitors (elements that the current employer doesn't seem too interested in right now, except for the sub-project that I'm leading) I don't think there's any intellectual property that someone could protect, such as a patentable process.
2. What should we be doing to protect ourselves now against any legal action – both now and after we resign (if we do)?
3. Any tips on how to avoid getting found out and losing our jobs?
4. Any advice on when to jump? We'd like to maximise our time with salaries and progress our business plan to a stage that we felt confident enough to go, but there will come a point when it's too risky to stay, e.g. we couldn't start negotiating with suppliers.
5. Has anyone else done this before and how did it go?
6. Any tips to improve our chances of success?