Hi Alex, good to meet you, can you start us off by introducing yourself to our readers?
My name is Alex, and I’m the Founder and CEO of Linkilaw.
Linkilaw is a legal platform for start-ups, SMEs and scale-ups. What we do is provide quality legal advice at an affordable cost. What struck me coming from the legal profession was how disconnected lawyers were from clients. It seemed like lawyers didn’t have a real understanding of what clients wanted from them, and because of that, clients were very frustrated with the legal industry in general and I think the high fees had a part to play in that.
I set out to democratise the legal industry about 5 years ago, and since, we’ve served over 4000 clients. What I’ve discovered is the people that we work with, in large majority entrepreneurs, want lawyers that are going to empower them, give them straight answers as opposed to the usual ‘blah-blah-blah’ that you hear, who are transparent and clear in terms of their charging structures and their rates, who deliver work fast, and who are commercially minded as well – with an understanding of your business, of start-ups and scale-ups, of what it is that you do, instead of just staying stuck in the legal part of it. Legal and commercial is very interrelated and so Linkilaw’s mission is to empower entrepreneurs through legal advice, as opposed to it being an additional problem for them.
Please can you talk about Linkilaw’s journey up until today, and what are the biggest take-aways from the last four years?
Well, my biggest takeaway is that it’s a constant learning process. I haven’t met anyone who is done with learning! (And certainly not me!) For me, entrepreneurship is about being able to balance learning with taking decisions; ensuring that there’s a right balance between action and reflection.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge so far, personally?
Well, I set up Linkilaw with no business background, I had a legal background, but I had no idea what it was like to run a business.
My biggest challenge has been to ensure that I stay good enough at my job to ensure that as Linkilaw grows, so do I, and that I learn and surround myself with the right people at the right time – so I know what to do and when, even if I’ve never done it before!
How big is Linkilaw at the moment?
Right now, we’re a team of 12, plus our lawyers who work with us as consultants – we have about 40 consultants – so it’s quite an organisation, from my inexperienced perspective!
You’ve worked with thousands of founders over the last 4 years, what are some of the biggest challenges that they face, that you solve?
Founders come to us when they need a contract or some legal work done, or when there’s a dispute and they need us to solve it. I found that the source of much dispute and much misunderstanding is communication.
First of all, entrepreneurs, just like most people, are not always aware of their emotions and how they function. Things like their impulsivity and where they’re coming from when they’re speaking, so, therefore, they may not necessarily have a complete awareness of the people that they’re speaking with and understanding where the other person is coming from.
When you understand yourself, it’s easier to understand other people. As very few people understand themselves, there is a constant conflict that happens with miscommunication, because people don’t always understand each other.
I guess if two people set up a business, they’ve got pressures from VC’s or investors, pressures from employees, pressures from sales, and where do they take that? It’s often on each other.
The whole foundation is wrong. Entrepreneurs, especially inexperienced ones, need the money and start begging investors to give them money.
They don’t do the work to see who the right investor for them is. You want to work with a cofounder, you find the right skill set, but then don’t spend the time to really get to know one another, like you would when you get married to someone for example, and so those red flags that are there from the start of the relationship appear later on because they haven’t been properly communicated or expressed earlier.
What are your thoughts on accelerator programs? For example, more often than not you find two Co-founders that have similar ideas – do you think those programs are positive or negative? Does that model work?
I think they’re wonderful, I like those programs, and who better to help you choose a Co-founder than an organisation that’s done it a million times, that knows what to ask and what not to ask. As long as it’s done right, it’s good and there has to be an understanding that there have to be the skills but also a culture fit.
The start-up industry is one where we’re conditioned to think that everything needs to happen as fast as possible. This means that entrepreneurs I speak to are honestly always in a rush and, often, they don’t even know what they’re rushing for.
What I would say is just “don’t rush to find a Co-founder… I know you need money in the bank but if this money from the investor is going to kill your business three years later, you can wait a couple of months and find somebody better”. Just slow down, take your time.
What do you think is most important when starting a business with someone else, other than communication?
Well, before communication, ask yourself if it’s what you really want. I would urge you to be honest about why you’re starting this business in the first place.
When entrepreneurs are really honest about that, the large majority are doing it because they think they should, or they have an idea about how it could be because they want to impress someone like their family. None of those reasons is going to keep you up when there are bad times. To be honest, you don’t have to do it, just make sure it aligns with what you really want as opposed to what you think you want.
What does Linkilaw do that differentiates itself from any competitors?
When you come into a company as lawyers people trust you, because you’re confident and a very intimate part of the business is being revealed very early on in the relationship, this allows us to go into a lot of depth in the business quickly, quicker than you’d have with typical consultants going in, for example.
In terms of what differentiates us, first of all, there aren’t many specialist start-ups or scale-up lawyers out there, ones that understand technology, how it’s advancing, different business models, SaaS or eCommerce or blockchain… most lawyers don’t understand that, they only know the legal perspective of it.
The benefit of having specialist lawyers who really understand the intricacies of your business model has a huge impact on the quality of your legal advice. They’re able to spot or think of issues that a lawyer who doesn’t have that understanding wouldn’t have.
The issues that only face a start-up but wouldn’t affect a larger corporate business?
Exactly. Even an SME is run differently, because they have different growth rates and different growth tactics and so forth, so that’s the first thing. The second thing is tied into the communication piece, as a lot of what we do is outside of just legal advice, but that value-add that helps entrepreneurs have this partner they can speak to who can sense-check things for them.
What we often do is probe & ask questions and whenever we see a potential red flag we’ll question and we’ll push entrepreneurs to get to the bottom their issues now, as opposed to just putting a band-aid on it, signing a contract and then dealing with the dispute of it 6 – 18 months from now.
Our priority is making things clear, that’s why we often say we’re entrepreneurs first and lawyers second because our real passion is growing businesses. Over 60% of our clients are returning, so we grow with our clients, we grow in the long-term with them and our interests are aligned.
We just want to help great businesses thrive, create employment, and make the world a better place. That’s our ultimate goal, and legal support is just a tool for us to do that.
Do you have a case study that you’re particularly proud of, in terms of a success story?
Well, we’re limited in terms of what we can say, but I have many.
Just last week, I had a client who faced a mediation and they had a dispute with their Co-founder. They were ready to move away from the business because they just weren’t getting along with their Co-founder and even though they were the one that had done most of the work, they were ready to lose it all.
I said ok, slow down, go into mediation. Mediation was held and they called me the day before and asked me for advice as they both decided to go in without lawyers. I said, “Yeah, just go with your heart, be honest, mediation works if you believe that it does, and so don’t go into the whole lawyer mode, just be honest, speak to them honestly”.
They called me after the mediation almost in tears and said “This was the best advice I’ve ever had, I can’t believe it….I never expected that to be the case, but just by being honest and opening up about it”. That was something I’m proud of, it makes my day!
Do you see common themes of what Founders typically fight about? Money, equity?
Well yes, equity, so we’ve developed an equity calculator to help Co-founders to decide how much of the business goes to who.
Honestly, it’s the time and attention to the business where one person works much harder than the other and that can be frustrating.
Surprisingly, there’s a lot of little things that just build up. Little things that are almost like between husband and wife especially when you spend so much time with each other and they start getting more and more frustrated with each other.
Almost like the honeymoon period in a marriage…
Exactly. It’s also there’s a lot of ego, and, normally, if you don’t have ego then there are fewer disputes in the workplace. You can discuss things openly, you can change your mind, you can be less stubborn about things, you don’t have to claim that you managed to get this or that. It creates a collaborative, co-creating and supportive environment.
That’s the ideal start-up environment.
I agree, ego is huge. I’ve seen companies where they’ve gone through 3–4 co-founders in a remarkably short space of time. What have you been proud of in the last 4 years?
My personal biggest pride is the culture that we’ve created at Linkilaw. It’s a place that is honest and where people can be themselves.
I saw confirmation this week, I had the results of an anonymous survey last week, that we held across the company and everybody is aligned with this. I wanted to create opportunities that people love and not feel pressured to feel a certain way and have freedom. Equally, we push for progress and learn more, and not to do so in a way that is denigrating but in a way that’s supportive and accepting of who you are right now.
I’m so proud of being able to provide an environment that allows people to do that.
Company culture is something that always comes up and it’s always interesting to hear different takes on creating a great one. What would be your one piece of advice for creating a great culture?
Culture is not something that you invent. Culture is something that’s already there and is the DNA of what you stand for.
I had one situation in Linkilaw’s early days where we didn’t have much money in the bank to cover our costs and we were struggling. As difficult as that was because you’re worried that half of your people are going to leave, I voiced it to everybody. They stuck together, and they trusted that I would have everybody’s backs.
I think people respect that and see that our number one value is HIT, honesty, integrity and transparency. I’ve upheld that, and it’s reflected in the people who work here.
The key thing in the culture is if you have someone who clearly does not match, let them go and let them go fast; that can be like a cancer that spreads. Hire on that too, I have turned down incredibly technical people in terms of their skill set as I knew they wouldn’t be a good culture fit.
Every hire is key hire wherever you are in your growth.