Dangers of Moonlighting II

It’s with great excitement that I’m writing this follow up article. Over the last week we have been in close communication with the CEO of my former employer, and I’m pleased to announce that we have negotiated a fair and equitable settlement to our dispute over who owns my startup’s intellectual property. I chronicled the contest in my first piece, “The Dangers of Moonlighting”:http://www.foundread.com/view/the-dangers-of.

As the founder, getting this matter resolved without an exhaustive and expensive legal fight is extremely positive. And I can now move forward and build a successful company, unencumbered by any outside claims to PromoterForce, or it’s related IP.

Starting from where I left off in “Chapter I”::http://www.foundread.com/view/the-dangers-of, let’s look at how the situation got resolved, Blow-by-Blow.

*The Letter*
A few weeks after being let go, I received a formal letter from the law firm representing my ex-employer. The letter demanded that I assign ownership of the “PromoterForce.com”:http://www.promoterforce.com/ domain and all related IP to my former boss’s company. The letter included a very short term timeline to comply, and was written to sound authoritative and tough. But after reviewing the details of the letter with my lawyer and some friends in the startup community, it became clear that it was meant to be inflamatory: dates were set deliberatlely close in order to light a fire of fear under me; and there were many extraneous claims, I suspect to make me feel like I had done something far worse than merely found a startup and post to my blog during work hours.

*Direct Negotiation*
After resolving the minor issues outlined in the letter and formally engaging legal representation of my own, I called my former boss _directly_ to discuss alternatives for resolving this matter. I was pleasantly surprised by his willingness to discuss the issues in an objective way and we made excellent progress towards an alternate outcome to prolonged litigation.

Over the next two weeks were able craft an agreement that seems to serve both of our needs. He will get some work from me via a consulting agreement I recently signed, which makes him feel he has been compensated for any unintended encroachment by me of “company time.” I get this resolved quickly and can move ahead with PromoterForce’s IP, free and clear,of any further dangerous distractions so I can focus on the challenges of building an amazing company.

*Lessons Learned*

*1) (Even a little) Time Heals Fresh Wounds*
Don’t respond in haste to any requests. Be responsive but let some time pass for engaging in negotiations. The simmering down of emotions is of great benefit to both parties. Taking a step back from your immediate emotional reactions, lets you clear your head and respond in a rational and objective manner.

*2) Negotiate Directly with the Boss*
As my lawyer thoughtfully pointed out, “lawyers tend to get in the way…try to reach out to your boss with a thoughtful proposal to resolve the issue.” (He earned his fee with this advice!) While it is true that you need a good lawyer, do try to resolve the matter directly before you have a professional representative fire back on your behalf. This not only reduces the costs involved, but it gives you an opportunity to hear the other party’s concerns and to be heard yourself without an intermediary to confuse things. Letters from lawyers are carefully crafted and can raise all kinds of unproductive, even emotional, responses. But talking one-on-one without attorneys reduces the emotional friction and saves you time, pain and money.

*3) Think About the Situation from All Angles*
As an early stage entrepreneur, all your energy should be focused on building a great product, getting it to market, and earning revenue. Everything else is a distraction. The point of all your efforts is to build a successful company. Some day soon you may find yourself in a similar situation, except next time you’ll be the employer. Thinking about my PromoterForce situation from a my ex-employers perspective really helped me craft a proposal that addressed both his needs, and mine, which got the negotiation process moving in a positive direction.

*4) Always Be Gracious*
Life comes at you fast, if you get mired down by minor set backs, or loose your cool, you’ll end up bitter and battered. As I embark on my most exciting professional adventure yet, it’s important to acknowledge the stepping stones that I crossed to get to this point in my life. I never would have imagined that my relationship with my previous employer could end on such a sour note; I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to former teammates there for any harm I may have caused them, or the company. After all, the diverse range of experiences I had there, and the many people I worked with and learned from there, all contributed to my confidence and desire to start “PromoterForce”:http://www.promoterforce.com/. Thank you.

My ultimate lesson: *Learn from the bad experiences, replicate the successes, and always, always be gracious.*

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