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A few years ago I did 2 consecutive summer internships at a company. The company has a core system X which is used for many ‘events’ (I don’t want to give too much away about the companies involved etc). X is a fairly complicated system, which could be implemented in many ways. I have not seen/heard etc how it works exactly.

When I started my internship we had a piece of software that was a long way from being finished, but had core functionality, and needed to be finished and released to a paying customer. Over the 2 summers I was pretty much the only person working on this software.

After I finished my internship I left and have been freelancing since. During my freelancing work I have been developing a lot of web/cloud based software, and recently it struck me that their software would benefit massively from this approach. A chunk of what they have would be salvageable (although probably not a good idea).

How would I go about pitching this to them, or even should I both? I know they have 1 developer working on this software full time already. As it is nothing groundbreaking in anyway (“Take your software and make it web based”), so what’s to stop them from just taking the idea and doing it themselves? As well as making it cloud based there are other massive improvements that could be done at the same time, making a cheap(er) and more useful solution to what they currently offer, however I feel I am blocked in doing this on my own as they have a patent on system X and whilst I have not looked at it as I stated earlier and could develop something similar, I feel this is asking for trouble.

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(in yoda voice:)

Skimpy, the details are.

Little software is patentable. I'd check that fact for myself if I were you. Smart businesses, with no disrespect to you at all, do not put interns close to that kind of work.

Now. The other part of my response has to do with your idea of putting things in the cloud. What goes into the cloud? Data? Application? Network? Support? Telephones? You're playing for high stakes by walking in with a CEO if all you have is an idea. Since your idea is not patentable, you're going to have to bring a lot more to the table as to why your plan should win out over your average frustrated Joe Middle Manager can present to the boss.

If you walk into a meeting with no leverage (WHYYYYYYYYYY should they spend any money on you????) you may as well take all that money you spend driving there, fancy suit, phone calls, and emails, and just burn it.

Flipping back, if the product's not truly patentable then you might roll your own product. But you're still going to have to figure out how to sell it -- a skill many developers, admittedly or not, do NOT have.

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First off, how marketable is the product? Is it something that someone else would pay to use? If no one else in the world could use it, don't waste your time if you have other paying customers.

If you are in the position to do the cloud work, and do it well, then I would suggest meeting with your old manager, and asking the question. Mention that the cloud offers benefits X Y and Z over the traditional model, it can save the company (or their client(s)) a lot of money, etc. The big part to realize though, is money matters. If it's a product for just one client, it's doubtful they would pull any more resources in for it. If it's a product that they want to sell worldwide, then it's worth their time. Make that distinction.

Now, could they just take your idea and run? Absolutely! But it's a risk you'll need to take. If you are paranoid that it could net you thousands of dollars in revenue, then I would do some work on it as a side project, well before introducing it to them. If they haven't thought of it by then, then you'll have the upper hand and be able to sell it first.

Finally, are there any NDA or NCC agreements (Non-Compete Contract) in place, saying you can't contact their customers? This may make it tricky to do on your own. Double check everything first with any contracts you had with this client.

Now, let's say they bring you on, and love the idea! What now?

If you took my advice about starting the work as a side project first, you'll have a good framework. Combine that with the work they currently have, and you'll be finished in no time! But, as always, make sure you can complete the project, and that the cloud is the best way to deploy it. If it's highly specialized, it may require additional considerations for it to function, depending on what it is.

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