So you’ve got an idea. Maybe The Idea. You need to do it, and you need to start now, maybe you already did. Here is a list of things to do, or at least keep in mind before you get too far. They mostly won’t slow you down, but in the event your project actually takes off, I guarantee this will pay off in the long run in terms of saving money and time and avoiding hassle and heartbreak.
Many of these steps (especially the early ones) apply to any business or project, but my experience lies mostly in software so this list is tailored to that.
Note: This is a living post, in that I intend to come back and update it when there is more to add, so be sure to bookmark it somewhere!
Step 0: Clear It!
If you are a knowledge worker or work for a company big enough to have HR or lawyers, you probably had to sign something when you got hired that assigns ownership of inventions/copyright/patents/etc. to the company while you are an employee there. If your thing ever becomes valuable, that will matter. Do not rely solely on the fact that your state has laws about this or that you think management is reasonable. Write up your idea in a reasonable amount of detail and get a waiver in writing from the company. Most good employers will have no problem with this if it’s not related to their interest and the better employers will even encourage this as a way for you to grow and hopefully bring some energy and new experiences back to your job.
Do not do anything until you have this in place. Don’t write code, don’t register domains, don’t collaborate with others about business models, nothing that could come back and see your efforts snatched in a lawsuit. The bigger your company, the more important this is as they have broader interests and more lawyers.
Step 1: Name It
Names have power. If your idea doesn’t have a name, it will struggle for attention and likely wither away. Your name doesn’t have to be permanent, you can give it a codename, but name it something.
If you think this might turn into a real thing someday, align your name with your domain. It doesn’t have to be a perfect match, but close enough. Even if you’re not planning on building a website (e.g. an app, etsy store, etc.), you’re likely to build one eventually or at least want an email address for it.
If you can’t get the .com domain because a possible competitor has it, pick a new name, not a different TLD (e.g. .net, .io, etc.)
Codenames have a knack for survival. They will be around in some form for the life of your project, in documents, emails, code comments, and so on. Don’t call your new project something embarrassing or offensive because “we’ll change it later”. You’re better off picking something meaningless and common like “Green Tea” or “Fortitude” if you can’t come up with something better.
Once you’ve got a name and a domain, set up whatever social media accounts/pages/handles you think are relevant. They don’t have to be perfect matches, but the closer the better. You don’t want someone else to do it for you, as it can be impossible or expensive to get it back.
Step 2: Register It
If you’re in the US, and you think your project will generate any revenue or expenses this year, you’re better off to get it set up as a business as soon as possible. It’s pretty easy and cheap to do so.
If you’re doing this with other people, you’ll want to set up a partnership/LLC/Corporation. Even if it’s family, get this taken care of now to avoid tears later.
If you’re doing this by yourself, go to your city/town hall and register as a DBA. There generally isn’t a penalty for not doing this, but it may come in handy later when setting up things like bank accounts or making commitments like contracts or commitments.
Once your entity exists, go get a tax ID. As a sole proprietor this isn’t required, but it’s free to do it and will keep things better separated down the line.
More to Come…
I’ll add more to this list later, but if you can get those steps above done before you invest too much, you can proceed with far more confidence that you’re not forgetting something important.