September 27, 2012
After a three-month struggle, I recently converted my iOS Developer Program enrollment from my own name to an LLC. Here are some lessons learned for anyone trying to distribute iOS apps under a company name, whether you’re enrolling from scratch or converting your individual account to a company account.1
For more background, listen to Marco Arment’s experience with this on Build and Analyze episode 93 (from about 21:00 to 39:00).
Step 1: Make sure you actually want a company account
To distribute iOS apps through the App Store, you need a $99/year iOS Developer Program account in one of two flavors:
Individual. For individuals or sole proprietor/single person companies. Your own name appears as the “seller” for your apps in the App Store.
Company. For companies (including LLCs), non-profit organizations, joint ventures, partnerships, and government organizations. Your legal entity name appears as the “seller” for your apps in the App Store.
There are other Apple Developer Programs meant for distributing apps elsewhere, such as enterprise iOS apps solely within your company or Mac apps via the Mac App Store. Much of this should apply to those situations, but I’m focusing on the iOS Developer Program and specifically how to enroll for a company account.2
Step 2: Have a company and legal authority to sign for it
I assume you already have a company, as well as the legal authority to bind it to Apple Developer Program legal agreements. If not, consult an expert for advice on the appropriate legal structure and procedures for creating your company.
In my case, I went with a single-member LLC. I used LegalZoom to help with the paperwork and was generally happy with that decision. Their Economy LLC package costs $99, plus any additional state fees (about $200 for me). You can save a little money by using LegalZoom’s own discount code “LZSAVE” at checkout. Registering my LLC took one month.
Step 3: Obtain a DUNS number for your company, if you don’t have one
To get a company account, you need a DUNS number assigned to your company as a legal entity.3 DUNS numbers used to only be required for the iOS Developer Enterprise Program, but now every company account needs one.
DUNS numbers are free to obtain from Dun & Bradstreet (D&B), and it normally takes about one month. If you like, you can pay for an expedited DUNS number or other services, and D&B might try to sell you these optional add-ons by phone before they process your request. They aren’t necessary if you simply want a DUNS number to enroll your company in the iOS Developer Program.
Once you receive your DUNS number, it may take up to 14 business days — yes, business days — for Apple to receive this data from D&B.
Step 4: Sign up for a company account or ask Apple to convert your individual account to a company account
If you don’t have an individual account, enroll for an iOS Developer Program company account from scratch. (Consider yourself lucky.)
But if you do have an individual account, you’ll need to contact Apple Developer Program support either online or by phone. Tell them you want to convert your individual account to a company account. Apple support will send you the link to a web page where you can try converting your account.
Warning: Once you ask Apple to start the conversion process, your individual account is put in a limbo state where you can’t use iTunes Connect or the iOS Provisioning Portal, submit updates to your apps, download iOS betas, browse the beta section of the developer forums, etc. Don’t attempt this conversion during a crucial time for your apps. Also, be sure you have a DUNS number before requesting the conversion.
Step 5: Convince Apple that your company is a legal entity, if your DUNS number record seems to be incomplete
Many people, including me, hit a problem when Apple attempts to pull in DUNS numbers from the D&B database. You get a DUNS number and you wait 14 business days, but Apple says the data is incomplete. My missing data field, which seems most common, was my LLC’s legal entity status. The enrollment stalled at the following error:
This organization could not be verified as a legal entity.
This organization is either listed in the D&B database with a different legal status (e.g., sole proprietorship), or its legal status has not been verified.
If you are a sole proprietorship/single person company, please enroll as an individual. If you believe your business should be listed as a legal entity, have your business registration documents ready and contact D&B. Please mention that you are an Apple developer.
As instructed by this error message, contact D&B and ask them to add the missing information to your DUNS record. For me, this didn’t accomplish anything. D&B simply confirmed that my company was an LLC and told me to call Apple support again. However, much like every tech support call begins by asking you to “unplug it and plug it back in,” contact D&B just in case.
If and when you talk to Apple support again, they will either:
Push their magic button to override the missing DUNS number information and let you finish enrolling your company account.
Ask you to fax documents to Apple verifying the missing information, such as your company’s legal entity status. Be sure that you fax them a certified copy (and notarized if requested). They may also consult with a support team that specializes in these DUNS number problems. You may have to wait up to 14 business days again. In the end, they’ll probably still have to push their magic button.
I had to fax my LLC documents twice, because I am extremely clever and didn’t think to provide the certified copy of my documents the first time.
It took me another two months from getting my DUNS number until Apple let me convert my enrollment to a company account. I hope things go more smoothly for you.
I’m not a lawyer or CPA, I have no affiliation with the companies mentioned here, and some things may be different for people living outside the United States. I’m just a guy who wants to sell iOS apps under the name of my LLC. ↩
I’ll say “company” for the rest of the post, but this account also includes other types of organizations. ↩
Officially, this nine-digit identifier is called the D-U-N-S® Number, which stands for Data Universal Numbering System. Although the DUNS number is D&B’s “copyrighted, proprietary means of identifying business entities on a location-specific basis,” all you need to know is that getting one is free. ↩