Episode 20: Scaling Legal in a fast-growing SaaS company with Eva Mobacker

"Get to know the product and understand our unique selling points" - Today we're joined in the studio by Eva Mobacker, VP of Legal at Planhat. Listen in as she and Openli CEO Stine Tornmark discuss the ins and outs of scaling the legal clockwork at a (fast) growing company.

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Stine: My name is Stine and I'm your host. Today, I'm joined by Eva Mobacker.

She's going to introduce herself in a second. But Eva has a really strong background, having worked both at a law firm, then moved in-house, now scaling a team and being a part of a company that is growing not just fast, they're going super fast. So today, we're going to have a conversation about working in-house at a fast-growing company, scaling your team and how you do that.

So, Eva, welcome.

Eva: Thank you, Stine. Thank you for having me.

Stine: Sleep-deprived, new mother on maternity leave. Well, Eva, I'm impressed by the kind of energy that you're having. And people will know exactly why that is in a second.

Maybe, Eva, you can introduce yourself.

Eva: Yeah, of course. Yeah, so like Stine said, I've been a lawyer for a long time. I think it's coming up on ,  years now, which is just crazy. And I've worked primarily in-house, but a bit in private practice as well.

And in companies of all sizes, like everything from small startups to the huge international multimillion companies. So I've seen a lot throughout the years. Definitely. I've been primarily in the gambling industry, which has been very interesting from a legal perspective.

Albeit a bit controversial, of course, but I worked a lot with compliance matters in the gambling industry. But currently, a fast-growing SaaS company. Yeah, so that's where I'm at now.

So for those who don't know you and from what I know about you,you've been working at a law firm where you let their privacy group sink. There you won secondment for AWS, then moved in-house to Hero Gaming and furthering on now to Planette, where you are VP of Legal. 

Stine: Eva, could you maybe just take people through that journey of like having gone from working at the law firm to then going on secondment? 

Very similar to my own journey, which was why when I met you first time, I was kind of like, wow, I love your background. But I think it could be super interesting to people like to maybe hear a little bit about what your journey has been, what it has been about, but also maybe some of the things that you've picked up along the way. 

Eva: Yeah, of course. I think, Stine, that was just like the last five years or so. So you have like another  years to come for before that, where I've done a bit of everything.

But definitely like most other lawyers, I think I started in private practice back in , . I actually started working in London as a paralegal, which was a very interesting start of my career. 

And through that, I got a job at White & Casey in Stockholm. So that's where I started like my actual career as a lawyer, working a lot with M&A during very intense times. But I always felt like super interested in the actual business and being in private practice. You feel a bit like, you know, you become an expert at things, but you have to jump in and out very quickly from different companies. 

You never kind of, well, you can have a client over a long time, of course, but you never really see the day to day and, you know, take the strategic decisions, which is what I enjoy.

So quite early on, I identified that I would probably be better suited to work in-house. So that's what I've done most of my career, even though I've had like smaller stints back at law firms as well throughout. And yeah, as I said before, I've worked in companies from, you know, now when I joined PlanPass a year and a half ago, we were  people. 

And as you mentioned, I've been at AWS with, you know, I don't know how many employees, but it's very interesting to see, you know, the different ways of working as well. 

At AWS, like you had very limited freedom as a lawyer. I mean, I was also like an external lawyer, so probably even less freedom, but there were fallback clauses for everything. And it was very kind of like almost mathematical, you know, this deal is worth this much. And maybe use this fallback clause so you can't even change a word without having, you know, approval from Boston or what have you.

And some people thrive in that environment. I didn't. I'm more, you know, I want to have the bird's eye perspective. I want to think about strategic things. I don't want to go too deep on details that perhaps don't matter from, you know, a larger risk based perspective. So it's very interesting.

I think I needed to do all these different things to identify, you know, who I was as a lawyer, what I wanted to do. Some people are probably lucky and maybe, you know, their first job, they think this is it. You know, I love this. This is exactly what I need to do.

And I think for me, it's been I didn't get that, but it was also, you know, throughout life, different things were interesting to me. And, you know, different workloads perhaps suited my that season of life, so to say. So. So, yeah, I'm very happy with with all my experiences, but I really feel like now I'm in my element.

Building the legal team at PlanHappen and working with all those brilliant minds in kind of a smaller setting, but with a lot of freedom for the team. So when you joined PlanHappen, you said that there were  people and you were their first legal hire.

And I know from a lot of our listeners out there, they're sitting with that exact, let's say, opportunity right now, coming in as the first legal hire, but also then having to not only build the legal foundation, but also to get the organization to understand the value of what it is that you as a legal person can bring to the table.

Stine: How have you gone about that? Could you maybe share some of your experiences and maybe also some of your wins so that if the listeners out there are sitting with that, they could maybe get a few ideas? 

Eva: Yeah, definitely. I think for me, it was a big relief coming from the gambling industry where, you know, the work of the legal team, legal and compliance team is very much focused on regulatory matters. And, you know, being unfortunately quite often a blocker for the business, like where, you know, they have to jump through the hoops or stand in the way for what the business wants to do.

So going from that to like, you know, a BB platform where, you know, obviously we do have some compliance matters, but primarily it's about like facilitating the sales process and making sure that, you know, our customers are happy and that we don't spend too much time negotiating our standard terms and so on.

That was quite a relief for me because it's always easier to be on the same side as the rest of the company. Right. So for me, it's been like what I did first was obviously, I think, you know, a lot of listeners would have done the same looking at the current standard terms, improving them and so on.

But also, and this was very important, I think, for the growth of the company from, you know, speed in negotiation perspective, identifying all the friction points. So I took three months, like really noting what are the customers actually negotiating and what matters.

Like because we were negotiating a lot of silly clauses that really didn't matter to us. So like taking this risk based approach early on and looking at the contract and removing all the friction points that you can remove.

So you focus on discussing matters that actually are of importance to both you and the customer. And I think that kind of built, or I hope that built trust in the organization because the sales team saw that, you know, I'm part of the sales process, so it's just as important that the customer is comfortable with the discussions they have with me as with the rest of the team. And also they hopefully noted that the negotiation process became shorter and it was easier and they didn't have to freestyle themselves.

So I think that, and also we standardized everything we got in like a contract management system where they have like all the paid clauses they can use and so on. So I think, you know, just also like the basic things like moving from having, you know, Word, Google Doc, PDF, emails going back and forth, having everything in one system was quite important as well for, you know, we want to be a modern company.

Obviously we need to have a modern process when it comes to negotiating contracts as well. So that was really important. But then also like getting to know the product and understanding what our unique selling points are. Because again, like you're part of the sales process, so you need to be able to also, when you discuss your contract terms with the customer's counsel who might not really understand what it is that the customer is buying, they're just looking at it from like, okay, I'm going to negotiate this indemnity clause because that's what I do.

And then being able to like explain to them, you know, where the risks actually are and that, you know, convince them that they don't need to worry about this and that because, you know, we have the security level or what have you. That has been really helpful as well.

So I think taking that time initially to really understand the product is super important as well. So, yeah, I think those two things have been like my main priority initially. A lot of people might be sitting there and you're the first legal hire. And so the company has now felt that they've already invested a lot.

Like they've hired somebody legal. And when you're then coming as the next step, either asking for more headcounts or you're asking for systems, as you said, you've got a contract management system. 

Stine: How did you persuade the business? Like what were your internal selling points to get those? 

Because I also know that that's something that people could be sitting with and struggling in these days and ages where financial crises may be a talking point at some of these companies. 

Eva: Yeah, I mean, first of all, obviously, like you can't be tone deaf.

You have to listen in to like what the company is doing in other areas. Like, you know, if we're cutting down in sales, we're not going to hire more people. Like that just doesn't make sense. So it has to kind of tally with what the business is doing in general. I think, again, I'm going to circle back to the fact that we're actually assisting in the help in the sales process.

And I think that's you know, it was pretty obvious for the business that we needed someone in the US, for example, because I was actually sleeping like at least six, seven hours a day. And, you know, towards the end of the quarter where you need to close deals fast,

I think, you know, it was it was actually probably more the sales team than me that argued that we needed someone in the US. So that was quite easy from that perspective. You know, we're closing deals faster. You know, the sales team have less friction and easier to book times and so on.

So I think that was really important. Also, I mean, it did help that we had our serious A six months after I joined. So obviously, we're scaling fast. And like if the rest of the business is scaling, it makes sense that we're scaling legal as well. But having said that, like I'm not going to I would never and I think the business trusts that I would never argue that, you know,

OK, we need an assistant for the team or, you know, we we do as much as we can ourselves. So and there's no question like mundane costs or anything like that. 

So, again, I think, you know, the business needs to get to know you and understand that, you know, if you say that you need this resource, you probably do. And also you have to kind of I think you have to be a bit gutsy, especially in this climate where there are a lot of payoffs and so on. Like if you want to take this opportunity and grow and if you have the funds for it, then I think it's super important to kind of look at and my CFO always says this, look six months ahead. Like where where do we expect to be six months ahead and hire for that? Don't hire for today, which is obviously a bit, you know, gutsy in this environment.

Stine: But I think that's what you have to do to be able to keep up the pace. Those who don't know Plan D, sorry, Plan H and your journey, so you when you joined, you were  people and now you're over . And that is what in one and a half years or something.

Eva: Yeah, I think it's slightly below . I'm not sure.

Again, like I'm on maternity leave, so I don't know the exact number, but I think the last number I saw was ,  or something. Yeah. So we've grown like crazy in all markets and Plan H is remote first. So so we can grow really fast since we hire more or less everywhere, which is also very interesting.

So we're I think we're one of the few companies in the tech space hiring at the moment as well. So that's obviously like a challenge, just keeping up with who's doing what, who's responsible for what. But I think it has helped that we have a very non-hierarchical organization. So it doesn't really like I don't really care who is contacting me.

It doesn't matter. It can be someone who just started in sales. Sales there, you know, I'm happy for them to approach me. There are no layers in that way. So so that way you get to know a lot of people. But obviously, like going from  to , there are a lot more questions.

So we try to automate things. Like I said, we brought in the CLM system. We did that quite early as well because, you know, we did that maybe when we were  people. If we were going to do it now, it would be much more difficult and it would have been so messy along the way.

So, again, like planning from a tools perspective as well, planning for where you want to be and automating like a lot of, you know, legal requests on Slack and stuff like that. So spending a lot of time on legal operations, even though it sometimes feels like, you know, not top priority. I think you benefit from that later on to set those processes early on.

Stine: So when you're sitting and looking back and saying, OK. The company has grown and the legal team has grown with that. 

Can you just give a few tips and tricks on what you've been focusing on in addition, as you said, you came in and you really focused on understanding the product, looking at the terms, kind of like weaving out the ones that were causing the most friction. 

What else have you been focusing on, like small wins or other areas of ways to protect and maybe also support the business? [: - :]

Eva: Yeah, so I mean, obviously, when I joined, we were starting to think about the first funding round of the company.

So that took a big chunk of my time. But that was kind of, you know, that helped organically with everything else as well, because it forced me to do this inventory and like all the company processes and policies and so on and make sure that everything was in place. We also have like these different certifications like SOC  and so on. So that's all sort of focus, like it forces you to go through and make sure that you have everything in place that you need to have in place to be successful operationally. So that took a lot of time and was a big focus. 

But besides from that, I think, you know, again, getting to know the product and also also getting to know how the other parts of the organization works. So like, because it's not always obvious where legal can help, right. And I think coming from the gambling background, for example, like working like really closely to the marketing teams in gambling, because they were so important, like how you market your product in different jurisdictions and so on. 

Whereas here, like the marketing team barely knows I exist. So you have to kind of like, sometimes you just have to raise your hand as well and say, hey, you know, I have some input here, like we need to think about, you know, whatever, like privacy tick boxes when people join webinars or what have you. And just kind of try to promote the legal function in that way so that people understand what you can actually contribute with and that you're there because sometimes you become this kind of anonymous person just sitting there with your, turning your papers over. 

And it's important to me that people understand that I can contribute strategically and that I have worked in a lot of different businesses and it's not like legal doesn't exist. So I think that's a really important thing to think about, to silo the part of the organization, we can contribute in areas where you might not expect. So, and that's helped with the resources as well, getting resources if you can kind of sell your team to the rest of the business in that way. 

Stine: So how do you do that when it's remote first? 

Like normally in the, let's call it old days, I'm making quotation marks which you can't see, right. But when you're thinking about it, like normally you would go around to the different offices or you would knock on like the room next door, or like go into a meeting room and have a chat. So when it's remote first, how do you do it?

Eva: Yeah, that's a really good question and it's not easy. My plan initially was to travel a lot more but then you know, COVID came between and also pregnancy, so I haven't been able to like visit our various, we have hubs all over the world. And ideally, I'd like to travel around and meet people in person a lot. 

And hopefully I will be able to when my baby gets a bit older. But definitely like it's a lot about just being, you know, being there in the Slack groups and just kind of jumping into conversations maybe where no one asked you but just like raising your hand like, okay, this might be a privacy issue. Can you tell me more about this? And just following what's going on and not sitting passively waiting for people to come to you with questions. 

So kind of being visible in that way and then, you know, obviously being, you know, in senior management, it's easier, you have the all hands meeting, you have something to say and people see that you're there and so on. 

So you kind of get that natural way of presenting yourself. But it's definitely not easy and I try to, it's difficult when you're busy as well, but I try to have conversations like actual phone conversations with video as much as possible, rather than just like sending Slack messages back and forth. 

But yeah, it's difficult, you don't always feel like you have the time for that. And with different time zones as well, it's even more of a struggle to get to know people. So I don't think I have like the quick fix for that, unfortunately. It's something we're struggling a bit with being a woman at first. You do like, just thinking out loud, you do kind of like do internal updates for the organization about what's going on in legal or let's call it privacy training or whatever it might be. 

Stine: Is there some kind of like way that you're trying to get people to understand what you do and why it matters? 

Eva: Yeah, I mean, we have intro sessions whenever someone joins. So there are always those sessions and anyone is free to join those sessions as well. So if someone feels that they need a refresher on something, they're welcome to join. So there's that. And I think we do that, or at least before I went on maternity leave, we did it once a month. 

So that's quite often because we recruited so much, it was needed. And then again, we have like the Slack channels, like a legal channel and so on. But I don't do, it's actually a good idea, but we don't do like a newsletter or anything like that. It's more based on, you know, okay, so now we have this new CLM system. 

Okay, we're going to roll it out and we do a training session or we write bits about it on the internet or what have you. So it's more based on doing it when things actually happen that we need to talk about. ‘

Stine: So if you're sitting and listening to this conversation you and I have and you're sitting and saying, I can hear that Eva is a part of the senior management group. 

She's been a part of this fast growing company and she's been recruiting and what do you think have been your kind of like recipe for success? 

Eva: For success in the legal team, I guess. Well, again, I think it's about, you know, ultimately what pays our salaries is obviously that we get customers in and that they are happy with our product. 

And it's a bit meta because our product is a customer success platform, right? So we're helping our customers with their customers. And if they're thriving, we're thriving because we don't, we charge per customer managed in our platform rather than per seat, which is quite unique as well. But that's a side track. But I think the recipe for success, again, has been like facilitating the sales process, making that as friction free as possible. 

And always, you know, trying to be available. I tell my team, like, it's always number one priority, unless we get sued for something really big and it's super urgent. Our top priority is always, always going to be our customer negotiations, closing deals. Like it doesn't matter if you're working on updating a template or policy or whatever, like you always drop that.

We're there for our customers. So we will look at ourselves as a sales team. I'd like to think that that has contributed a bit. I'd like to think our, I mean, our customers are very security focused, very privacy focused and being there and, you know, being able to make them comfortable with the platform. 

I'd like to think that we actually closed a few deals thanks to the legal team being able to do that and answer their questions from our perspective, because usually it is the lawyers asking these questions. So, so, yeah, I'd like to think that, you know, both as a legal team to be successful internally, but also helping the company be successful. That was definitely the most important thing.

Stine: When you're talking a lot about sales and impacting that process in a positive way. 

Have you been measuring, for example, or reporting internally on the success of the legal team and how they, or how you have been helping sales close deals? Or has it been more sales telling the rest of the organization, thanks to legal, because they've been so amazing?

Eva: Yeah, it's the latter. So we have this ring the bell channel where all the deals are announced. And sometimes I feel like it's a bit almost like a child, you know, I get so happy when someone in our team is mentioned and when they, you know, highlight our contribution to the deal, which they often do. 

Stine: And that's amazing. And again, coming from, you know, an industry, the gambling industry, which is super interesting from a legal and compliance perspective, but where you're a bit more of a blocker, you're not seen as a facilitator of the business growing. It gives me such pleasure to get that grateful response from the business. So, so usually we don't have to kind of highlight our contribution ourselves. Other people do that for us, which is great. People are sitting there and listening and thinking, wow, Eva has really done something that I am inspired by.  You might be sitting there and thinking, well, I've been inspired by somebody else. 

So I just want to hear, is there anybody that you want to highlight for being inspirational where you get your inspiration from? 

Eva: Yeah, I'd like to, he'll probably be embarrassed now, but I'd like to highlight Eric, our CFO, who was probably like the main contact I had when I was hired for PlanHas. I was very skeptical initially, like this was a company I never heard about. And I was quite comfortable in my TLO position at my previous job and so on.

But he, and he's  years younger than me, which is just starting there. It's so impressive. And he came from the VC space, having worked with private equity. And, and just like his, he's obviously a financial guy, but he knows so much about everything. And he's so calm when he speaks. And, and he, you know, just kind of like following his chain of thought. Sometimes I feel like I don't know where you're going to end up. Like you're, this is really sidetracked, but then he circles back and he just ties it together and it's super impressive. 

So, so yeah, and I've, I've been very lucky. I've had very good managers throughout my career. So I have like probably some wisdom words from all my different managers that I tried to live by. So, so yeah, I think draw inspiration from the people around you, where you work, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a lawyer. 

Stine: Because often you, you kind of grow more if you try to, if you try to draw from the experience of people in other fields. So on that note, summarizing maybe. Get to know the business. Be focused on supporting sales. Because if you're successful there, you're most likely successful otherwhere in regards to the organization, but also the legal teams. 

Understanding and appreciation. And then getting inspiration from others that aren't in legal. 

Eva: Yeah. Yeah, I think that's a good summary, Stine. And I'd like to add as well, to not micromanage your team.

Like, and I think everybody says this, but it's easier said than done. And trying to spend that time training people and, you know, get them to understand how you want to build the team and what kind of people we should be in the organization, so to say. And getting that baseline. It can take a while initially, but you always kind of, it's, you always save time by doing that early on. 

And then just, I mean, like our US lawyer, she's quite junior. She'd worked for maybe two or three years in a law firm in the US. But I just, I felt like, you know, I'm going to throw her in the deep end. She, she gets it. She understands, you know, what we want to do here.

So she negotiated one of the biggest contracts, like her first month, and she did brilliantly. And that, you know, that made me so proud and comfortable as well, knowing that, you know, I can, I can really take a step back and just let them come to me with questions when needed. But there's no need for me to kind of check in all the time and see how they're doing with things because they're going to, they're going to run with it.There are people who run with it. 

Stine: So, yeah. So on that note, Eva, thank you so much for joining. If people want to follow you on LinkedIn, are you posting there sometimes? Not right now, because I know you have a lot of other things going on, but otherwise, could they follow you there? 

Eva: Yeah, of course. I wouldn't call myself a LinkedIn influencer, but there's been the occasional post, so of course, feel free. And maybe when I go back to work, I'll be a bit more active. So, of course.

Stine: Well, thank you so much for listening in. And thank you, Eva, for joining.

Eva: Thank you, Stine.

Stine: Have a wonderful maternity and take care.

Thank you so much for listening to Inspiring Legal. Remember to subscribe and if you want more information, you can always go to openli.com/community.