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I'm just getting started in Android development and am working on a few small "practice" apps. As an example, one is a live wallpaper. The others are similar in terms of development effort. When these apps are done I would like to list them in the market. I may list them for free (or maybe not), and they're simple apps, but if things go smoothly I may try to build and sell larger and more ambitious projects in the future.

My question is is it wise to sell apps in the Android Market under my own name? Looking around in the market, it seems almost everyone is selling under a company name, even if they're only a 1-2 man shop. I can definitely see the advantage of creating a company to sell my apps if they were big apps involving a team of people. But it seems like overkill to create a company, even if just in name and identity, just to list something like a live wallpaper. On the other hand, I don't want to expose myself to legal liability or other potential problems that I haven't foreseen. What's the best course of action here?

For purposes of legal jurisdiction, I am in the United States. I understand that you are not my lawyer and answers are not legal advice.

Edit for clarification:

Just to be clear, what I want to ask is less about the advantages of forming a company, and more about potential dangers of not forming one. In other words, are there likely to be situations where I'm beating myself up and saying "Oh, if only I had formed a company instead of listing this is as a personal project!".

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FWIW, here are a few people apparently succesfully selling under their real name: link link link link –  Joshua Carmody Jun 9 '11 at 18:07
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5 Answers

up vote 38 down vote accepted
  1. Selling as a company gives your protection for your private assets from your disgruntled customers, competitors and anyone else who wants to try you out

  2. Selling under a company name helps develop a brand. Real name is boring. Come up with something creative and make the name known.

  3. Depending on your particular real name and its origin some people may have certain negative associations or ideas and decide they just don't like your name to engage in any sort of a dealing with you (might not give you as little as $0.99 or even take your app for free). A company name protects you from phobic people.

  4. Having a brand will help you in gaining recognition for your new apps. If you throw in another "Advanced Notes" app it has good chances of going unnoticed. If you name it "CoolComp Notes" it will ignite an interest if your name is associated with great apps.

  5. A brand will help you in naming your apps easily and consistently. Instead of struggling to invent yet another name for your next app like "Super Notes", "Personal Finances Plus" and so on you could simple make them "CoolComp Notes", "CoolComp Finances". Much easier and creates a portfolio.

  6. A brand is easier to sell later and at a higher price than a collection of random apps from some guy named "Joshua Carmody".

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I thought #1 was only true if you incorporated? Sole-proprietorships might have a different name than the individual that owns them, but don't provide that "corporate shield", right? –  Joshua Carmody Jun 9 '11 at 17:35
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I'm not an expert on US law but I thought an LLC would just do the trick. Anyway a visit to a lawyer cannot be avoided. –  user8685 Jun 9 '11 at 17:37
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@Developer Art Indeed, an LLC will protect you legally. A corporation in the US is considered a separate legal entity. You will have to pay taxes twice in the end, but you as an individual/shareholder/etc are protected from having your personal assets taken. –  Glenn Nelson Jun 9 '11 at 17:45
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There's limited liability corporations, which give you protection, and Doing Business As declarations. The latter is probably a matter of filing a form with a fee and finding a cheap newspaper of record to put a want ad in, but it does leave you personally liable. –  David Thornley Jun 9 '11 at 18:13
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@Martin: By the way, you're really not correct in your explanation above. A "shareholder" does not need to own stock. The benefits of an LLC apply whether you're public or private. Your personal liability, legal or credit, cannot extend beyond your share in the corporation. See limited liability. –  Aaronaught Jun 9 '11 at 19:47
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A lot of good points have been raised here, but I don't think you've really explained your motivation for writing and selling the apps.

  1. It's a hobby, you want to sharpen your skills and think you can add something to the Android marketplace, and you don't expect to market yourself professionally as an Android developer.

    • In this case, you don't have much at stake, personally or professionally. It wouldn't be a bad idea to include a Terms of Service screen the first time the app is launched to remind users that your wallpaper is not FDA-certified for use during heart surgery, etc.
  2. A hobby, but a hope that it could turn into your job.

    • Adopt a brand name, and the email addresses, etc., as suggested by @mattnz. If you are in the job market and your apps are successful, you can always include "creator of the successful line of CoolApp Android apps with over 6 trillion downloads". If they don't take off as you wish, you don't need to bring them up.
  3. You are serious about this as your bread and butter.

    • Get a lawyer and an accountant to advise you on how to set up your company properly.

Good luck!

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It's #2. Thanks. –  Joshua Carmody Jun 10 '11 at 4:03
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Adding to above -Sales and Marketing (When you sell larger and bigger apps). Two apps, similar features, similar price, one is from "ACME Software Corporation" the other from "John Blogs, Nevada". Which one does the customer buy?

Contacts should not be a persons name. "Sales@acme.com, Support@acme.com, Accounts@acme.com makes your organization look "bigger" and more reputable than "joe.blogs@isp.com". joe.blogs@support.acme.com makes you look small and vulnerable (What if Joe gets run down by a disgruntled customer), who provides support?).

After initial contact, giving your name and email address makes it more personal. Once they realize it's a one man band, you have them hooked, all you need to do is not loose them, a much easier sales proposition than the initial contact.

If you start with your name as the brand, you have to re-brand later. If you exit strategy is to sell to Google for millions, do you really want to sell your name? At best (with a few exceptions, mostly in the fashion world), it devalues the brand using a persons name.

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Thanks for the answer. I understand your point. I guess what I'm thinking is: I write 2 or 3 simple apps as I'm learning and list them in the Android Market under my own name. Then when I'm ready to create a much bigger project, and "get serious" about it, I create a company identity and list future apps under the company's name. Bad idea? –  Joshua Carmody Jun 9 '11 at 22:32
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@Joshua, have your company "buy out" the old apps. Then it looks like you're being successful when you get more serious. –  Tim Williscroft Jun 9 '11 at 23:01
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The potential dangers that I can see

  • As Developer Art points out, there may be legal implications. No one is likely to sue you over a free live wallpaper app, but that may change depending on the type of apps you build. Having a LLC or other corporate form to shield your personal assets may be beneficial.
  • There may be tax consequences as well. If you generate any revenue from these apps, having a corporation around them may let you write off certain expenses that you as an individual cannot. If you're not making much off the apps, this is probably moot, but if you're successful, it may save you some money.
  • You may want to control your Google profile and to avoid having potentially basic Android apps showing up prominently when potential employers search for your name. A well-done simple application may end up with a relatively mediocre rating and have its share of negative reviews just based on bad luck. And even a well-done basic app may give some employers a false impression of your skillset. For employers that are looking for mobile app developers, you would obviously want to point out your experience with these apps. If you're applying to be an enterprise Java developer for a conservative company, on the other hand, having a 3-star rated live wallpaper app show up in the first page of results when they Google your name may be a negative.
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When I was doing business as an individual (in the US), I wrote off a lot of expenses. I don't know what more something like Thornleyware, Inc. could have written off. Also, if you don't make much money, you may be able to call it hobby income and avoid paying certain payroll taxes on it. (I'm neither a lawyer nor accountant. Talk to one or the other for reliable information.) –  David Thornley Jun 9 '11 at 22:02
    
@David - It absolutely depends on the amount of income and should be discussed with an accountant. There are cases where it makes sense for the company to purchase and own an asset like a computer rather than the individual purchasing that same computer assuming there is a legitimate business need for the asset. –  Justin Cave Jun 9 '11 at 22:09
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Using an organization name to sell Android apps is a good idea for the same reasons it's a good idea to use public interfaces when programming instead of directly exposing private data:

  • It looks more stable. (A one-man organization has no ties other than to its task of providing apps; a person's name is tied to a person and inherits all their interpersonal ties)
  • It decouples the app (the interface) from the creator (the implementation). (For instance, if someone else contributes to the app, they can be considered a member of the group, but not a member of the person.)
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I love your second point, it is so much software developer thinking... but so true. +1 –  Nils Schmidt Jun 9 '11 at 21:28
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