While I was working on Gust Launch, we released a feature called the founder IP assignment workflow. This was a workflow where a startup founder would be led through the process of assigning all the intellectual property they had already created and would continue to create to their new venture. For early-stage startups, assigning their IP correctly is a critical step for the company to clearly establish that all the intellectual property is truly owned by that company. Not getting this correct can cost a startup time and money down the road and in some cases could make the company unable to receive outside investment.
We decided to prioritize this feature from our product roadmap because it was an early-stage startup document that we did not provide and one that several customers had been requesting. Additionally, we had prioritized engagement on the platform after a company finishes incorporating and forming. This agreement was the obvious choice to provide more value to our customers.
Before we could get started on designing the workflow, I had to re-acquaint myself with some of the basics of intellectual property law. I have always known just enough about IP law to know I don’t know much. So in order to make sure our users wouldn’t find themselves in the same situation, I decided to go back to my roots and do more traditional legal research.
The best materials to learn about legal concepts are generally from services that charge hefty subscription fees to access those materials. Luckily, since I am a member of the New York City Bar Association, I have access to these services through their law library. I never thought I would ever say it again, but I actually looked forward to the idea of doing traditional legal research. It gave me a sense of law school nostalgia.
The questions I wanted more clarity on for this workflow were around:
- The broad categories of intellectual property;
- What regulations or procedures there were in transferring intellectual property between parties; and
- The general difference between IP assignment and IP license agreements
Next, I collected several examples of template agreements that startup founders will use to transfer relevant IP into their new companies. I did this to identify what information we needed to collect in the workflow. A general idea of the information requirements would make it easier to communicate the general scope of this workflow to the UX designer. Once I completed my initial research, I wrote up my findings in an information outline and started to collaborate with the design team on building out the UX structure and wireframes.
As we were going through building out the wireframes for the workflow, we encountered a novel requirement. For our founder IP assignment we needed to find a way to allow a founder to specifically exclude IP that they may have created but was not a part of the startup they were currently working on. This is called an exclusion of IP from the agreement. The document template that we were using to construct this agreement provided the exclusion through an attachment that would be referenced alongside the agreement. Up until this point, none of the legal document workflows we had built needed to produce the document in this way.
To solve this, I had to work with engineering to figure out a way to merge two of our markdown files in the same final .pdf while still keeping the structural integrity of the agreement—i.e. making sure the signature block for the agreement came before the attachment markdown file and including a page break for the attachment. We did this to make sure that it resembled a traditional legal agreement. Thankfully, our dev team was able to incorporate this into the architecture without increasing the project’s scope too much.
Another aspect that was fun about this feature was creating the educational content within the workflow. Like I mentioned before, if a founder needs to exclude certain IP from their new company, they need to state that in the exclusion attachment. The challenging aspect though was providing the right contextual education for how a startup founder (a non-lawyer) could do that with the correct specificity to not potentially be over/under inclusive of what they intended to assign. Ultimately, we settled on general examples to illuminate how many of the most common exclusions are phrased.
Once we had all those interesting quirks figured out, we were ready to hand it over to the dev team to implement it. Thankfully, this feature went pretty smoothly and we were able to ship it pretty quickly after the designs were finished.
So here is the final result. This feature quickly became one of our most used non-incorporation agreements in Gust Launch. It provided a quick and seamless way for the founding team to properly account for and assign all their IP interests in their new company. Additionally, it also was placed into a higher-tier package and was a consistent reason for people choosing to upgrade.
This was probably my favorite feature that we shipped while I was with Gust Launch. What I liked most about building this feature was it was a fairly simple workflow that produced better product engagement and upgrades. It was a lesson that your most valuable features are not always the most complex ones. Sometimes all you need to do is make a seemingly rudimentary process even easier.