How to avoid getting fired from your day job when you’re running a startup on the side

startup side business singapore

Depending on the stage of life they’re in, some founders may face difficulties in working full-time in their startups from the very beginning. Singapore is not exactly the cheapest place in the world to live in and while single founders may have no qualms about living on ramen noodles while getting their startups off the ground, founders with families and financial commitments probably will need a more consistent income stream during the early days of the startup.

Unfortunately, “moonlighting” in your day job can be a dicey proposition legally and you’ll probably want to avoid the situation where you inadvertently create a situation that jeopardizes your day job or worse still, create a self-imposed threat to your startup’s intellectual property.

If you’re considering building a startup on the side while working full-time, here’re some considerations to take note of before taking the plunge.

1). Read your employment contract carefully.

It’s time to dust off your employment agreement and to go through each provision line by line. Most employment agreements will have non-compete/non-solicitation clauses and may have invention assignment clauses (particularly in technology companies). While most employment agreements will not specifically forbid you from building a startup on the side, it’s important to know the exact details of your contract. It can also help to get explicit permission from your employer in writing, and to amend your current employment agreement with the company you’re working for.

2). Know your workplace’s policy on side-businesses.

There may be formal or informal policies on whether employees can create their own side projects. If your employment agreement doesn’t give you a proper indication (and you may want to hire a lawyer to look through your employment agreement to make certain), it doesn’t hurt to ask someone in Human Resources what the policy is like. A fair number of large companies are not adverse to their employees creating startups during their free time as long the startup doesn’t compete with the company, the employee declares it, and running the startup doesn’t affect the employee’s performance during working hours. Even if there’s a policy against running a side-business, it’s better to know this from the start before jumping head-first into your startup.

3). Don’t use any of your employer’s intellectual property.

This should be a given. Make sure you’re not infringing on your company’s trade marks, patents or utilizing any of their trade secrets. Intellectual property issues can get complicated quickly, and in a best-case scenario, your startup should be solving a problem in a completely different industry from your current employer.

4). Don’t work on your startup during working hours and don’t use any company resources.

You don’t need to have watched the second season of Silicon Valley to know that this is a pretty bad idea. I’m not one to preach but your employer pays you your salary to perform a certain role within the company. At the very minimum, you should avoid working on your startup during work hours.

In Silicon Valley, the protagonist nearly lost control of his startup’s app because his employment contract contained a provision stating that any work done using his employer’s equipment would become his employer’s property. While the protagonist in the show managed to sidestep this unfortunate situation on a technicality, this is a situation you’ll definitely want to avoid as well.

In line with this train of thought, it makes sense to work on your startup on a separate computer from your work computer, even if your work computer is a laptop provided for by your employer. Using your employer’s computer to work on your startup might possibly be construed as a breach of your employment contract.


If you’re concerned about your employment contract and would like to have a lawyer conduct a comprehensive review of it, get in touch with us here.