1 March 2021
Tell us about LegalEdge and the work you do with Tech start-ups?
First things first, LegalEdge is not a law firm and is not trying to be. We are a group of in-house lawyers who have loads of experience working for growth companies. Generally speaking, we have all been there as part of the internal operational team supporting the company as it grows.
We now use that experience to support our tech and media start-up and scale-up clients who need in-house legal support but not on a full-time basis. Often the challenges they are facing are becoming more complex as they scale and maybe the work is not being done or being done by an already overstretched CFO or COO or being done by an expensive external law firm who helped with the last fundraising round.
None of those options are sustainable and our role is to provide our clients with the experience of having an in-house lawyer but without the permanent overhead.
Our focus is very much on helping our clients with their day to day challenges. These include, designing customer agreements, helping close customer deals quicker, dealing with suppliers, fundraising, protecting IP and brand, papering and managing employee relationships and making sure there is an appropriate data privacy programme in place.
We strongly believe that all fast growth companies should have a joined-up ops team which includes a proper legal strategy and budget, and with processes in place to scale faster and more efficiently. We help prioritise what needs to be in place so clients don’t waste time and money. We become a go-to part of the operational team and use our in-house mindset to bring a different approach to problem solving that you might not get from an external law firm.
You have worked in large corporates and Tech start-ups. What differences/similarities have you experienced?
If you ignore the common objective and pressure to grow revenue, all the organisations I have worked for want their product to be the best not second best. Both big and small attract great talent although transferring skills between large and small environments can be a challenge. Also on the whole nobody comes to work to do a bad job – people generally want to do their best.
As for differences, the main one is pace and the greater sense of urgency in a growth company. Generally speaking, growth companies know they are on a trajectory and timeline and don’t have time for long complex projects or protracted decisions. They have to do stuff even if less than perfect. People have to make quick decisions on multiple subjects even if out of their comfort zone.
Suffice to say there are great things to learn from both environments.
How does LegalEdge’s in-house mindset bring a different approach to an external law firm?
I don’t really like drawing comparisons because both have their strengths and place! We’re very different and do different jobs. My view is the law firms should fill a more specialist role. It’s like saying what’s the difference between an internal finance function and external accountants – we help our clients understand this so they can use the right resource for the right job to ensure their overall business objectives. Personally, I do think my in-house experience makes it easier for me to become part of the internal team rather than a ‘transactional’ external adviser. I’ve seen first-hand the growth pain points and what leadership teams do and do not worry about. This helps me ‘take a view’ for example when negotiating a customer agreement that I think is more difficult for a law firm to take.
We help our clients set up a cost-effective, efficient legal function for their businesses. And our experienced in-house lawyers offer a single point of contact to work as part of the operations team. Because we’ve been there many times before we analyse risk and prioritise what’s important, then manage and carry out the day to day legal work too, all to a set budget.
You have hands-on insight into how companies can align legal and compliance with revenue growth plans. What advice would you give to start-ups?
I’ve been on the buy and sell side of many investments and M&A transactions and the painful diligence processes that go with them. Things that can feel unnecessary in the start-up days can come back to bite you later on down the line. So in the early days, I would pick your battles but don’t ignore foundational items that can go to value.
Some basic examples: do keep your Cap Table clean – make sure you can get shares back from both good and bad leavers and there isn’t any historic unresolved sweat equity hanging around. Please get your share schemes right – don’t copy and paste as that can be a very expensive tax mistake. Paper your customer deals with T&Cs that work for your product – it’s actually relatively easy to give away your IP without meaning too. Make sure you have agreements with service providers and contractors that give you ownership of the IP they create for you. If you don’t, you won’t own your tech. Finally, make sure your brand is protected with some simple trademark registrations.
What has been your most challenging experience during the pandemic?
Like most, on a personal level it’s not being able to see friends and family during lockdown. On the business side, we are a virtual business already so we’re in a good position to handle the ‘new’ way of working. Happily most of our clients adapted well too and the tech and media growth market is busy!
What small change has made a big difference in your life?
Refusing to work with people whose behavioural compass I don’t appreciate. Life’s too short not to be kind to yourself and not to look after your own mental well-being.
Which Business Leaders do you respect and why?
On two different scales. David Craig now Group Head, Data & Analytics and CEO, Refinitiv at the London Stock Exchange Group. He helped Thomson Reuters sell Refinitiv to Blackstone in April 2018 for $20bn and then helped Blackstone to sell again for $27bn a couple of years later. Quite a good IRR I would say. David gave me my first opportunity at Thomson Reuters and placed a lot of trust in me to lead some major, non-legal workstreams for the firm that I had never done before. I will always appreciate that.
At the other end of the scale, Ralph Broadbent CEO of the scale-up The Greater Good Brewing Company. Hugely ambitious, very hard working and a great sense of ESG responsibility. Go for it Ralph!
What question are you asked more than any other?
“I need to get this deal done quickly – what’s the minimum I need to worry about?”