Are you considering buying an Internet business?
You’re not alone! According to Nasdaq, it’s estimated that 95% of purchases will be through eCommerce by 2040. That means individual investors are seriously looking at internet businesses to jump into the eCommerce boom.
Like all investments, purchasing a website carries certain risks. Not all deals are as good as they may seem. It’s unwise to jump into the eCommerce market without performing due diligence. The following contains detailed steps you should take to maximize your investment and protect yourself from lawsuits.
1. It’s practical to use a broker to meet sellers, but don’t use their forms!
Using an internet business broker is a great way to find motivated sellers and potential opportunities when buying an Internet business. Some of these brokers will even offer in-house legal forms to help you during the purchase of a website.
Buyer beware! Because most of these business contracts are not written by lawyers, and even worse, they are not written with your best interests in mind. There is no way to ensure you are adequately protected when you use broker-provided forms — unless you have an experienced business and technology attorney review the contracts for you.
2. Don’t makes the same mistakes as Microsoft and Alibaba investors
Even tech giants make mistakes. When Microsoft purchased LinkedIn, they purchased an online business with a disastrous financial model. Ultimately, they paid 7x Linkedin’s annual revenues (not profits!) to close the deal. While they may have had a legitimate interest in Linkedin’s data and platform, their valuation did not make good business sense and they took a huge loss on the purchase. Microsoft may have had the funds to bail out an unprofitable venture, but as a solopreneur you probably won’t have as much financial wiggle-room.
Another huge eCommerce investment blunder was the Alibaba.com initial public offering. While the company’s founder, the Chinese government, and Wall Street underwriters benefited from the IPO, unsuspecting investors set themselves up for failure.
Because the Chinese government restricts foreign ownership in technology companies, investors were only able to purchase equity in an offshore shell corporation that exists only on paper. The problem with this is that Alibaba is under no obligation to actually disclose or transfer profits to the shell corporation. Even worse, the shareholder contracts are only enforceable as long as the Chinese government agrees that they are. Basically, shareholders have no way of ensuring that they ever see any profits; they spent $93/share on a virtually worthless piece of paper.
As discussed below, it’s on you as a potential buyer to perform your due diligence before signing any contracts.
3. Perform a legal diagnostic on the website before purchasing
An experienced Internet attorney can help you perform a legal diagnostic of any website you’re considering purchasing to identify legal risks that may exist on a seller’s website. You don’t want to take ownership of a website only to find out the previous owner infringed on another’s intellectual property. You are looking for an investment when buying an online business, not a lawsuit!
4. Prepare a non-binding letter of intent before entering any contracts
When you first start negotiations with a website seller, you will want to protect yourself legally before you ever enter a legally enforceable contract. With a well-written non-binding letter of intent, you can maintain your ability to walk away if you discover any information that makes the potential deal unattractive.
5. Ensure your legal documents address dispute resolution
Sometimes deals go sour. The best way to protect yourself is to outline what you will do if a dispute occurs long before the dispute arises. Internet Business Attorney Mike Young suggests including alternative dispute provisions like mediation and arbitration that will help you work out the dispute without the need to go to court (saving you time and money). However, you will want to create an exception for intellectual property infringement and non-compete disputes so you can head straight to court if either of these issues arise.
6. Know what you’re actually purchasing
Last, but not least, make sure you know what you’re purchasing. Make sure you will have ownership over all intellectual property and ensure the previous owner legally owned all images and content. The last thing you want to find out is that the website you’ve purchased has stolen content or that the seller retains ownership over the content they created.
Do You Need Help Buying An Internet Business?
If you’d like legal help buying an Internet business, schedule a phone consultation with Attorney Mike Young today.