In working with startups / early-stage ventures, I’ve noticed a terrifying trend: complete lack of control over their own intellectual property. Examples included:
- Lack of controls over passwords and certificates
- Lack of knowledge about the location of servers and hosting
- Lack of access to source code / source control
- Lack of knowledge of build processes / technical operations
Some of these companies don’t even have definitive ownership over their own logos and branding! In each recent case, a relationship went bad (employee, agency, or contractor) and I was called in to assess. These were small but profitable and growing businesses. In each case, management / ownership had at most a chain of emails documenting any of the above assets.
It’s easy to discard these technical assets as something for your development team to own. If that team is offshore, for example, you could be looking at a very expensive, if viable, legal process to recover them. If all information is held by a single individual, you are at risk of the proverbial “hit by a bus” issue, whereby if that individual becomes inaccessible, you many run significant business continuity risk.
Steps to protect your investment include:
- A member of the management / ownership team should create all initial accounts on cloud services.
- All accounts should be established with a company email address.
- Certificates, passwords, and similar credentials should be stored in a shared password keeper.
- All accounts should be created using company payment instruments.
- All legal contracts need language establishing your ownership over your assets and a path to reclaim any under the physical control of contractors. (Consult your lawyer for specifics)
Intellectual property assets like source code are at the heart of your business, treat them as such.