Tell us about yourself.
I’m Anthony Rose, founder and CEO of SeedLegals. I used to head up BBC iPlayer, then I left the BBC, built a startup, sold it, built another startup, sold it, invested in a few, got tired of paying lawyers, met my co-founder, Laurent Laffy, at a party, and we decided to change the game.
We started the idea of SeedLegals in 2016, so that people, at least in funding rounds and a range of other things, did not need to go to a lawyer. We’ve reinvented the entire space with a platform that’s on all the time, gives you data and solutions to the common things (and the complicated things) that companies need.
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
A few lessons
Number one: you need to love making decisions, and not making decisions is not an option. When you work for a large company, if something isn’t working, sales are not right, or you’ve got a problem, you can always go to somebody else. But in a startup between you and your co-founder, if you have one, there is no other person to ask. You can’t call somebody and say, “God, business is tanking.” “What should I do? ” You have to figure it out for yourself.
The second thing is that you have to be a leader. You need to inspire your team to follow you and join the company. You need to inspire investors to want to give you money. And you want to inspire customers to use your platform. Once you get traction, it’s much easier, but in the early days you have to inspire people to trust you. At SeedLegals, you start on day one and people go: ‘We’ve been using law firms; why should we do this thing on the internet? Why should we trust you? Do you have insurance? How many rounds have you done?’ When your answer is, “You’re number three,” that’s tough. When you go ‘it’s 3000 and one in four of all early stage rounds in the UK is now on SeedLegals’, it’s much easier.
Thirdly, as a founder, you have to constantly reinvent yourself. So when you are a team of five people, it’s different to being a team of 50 or 250, and that constant invention is a challenge. For example, I love products. I love designing things. But as the team grows, you spend less time doing that and more time managing. So you have to figure out how to reinvent yourself and also how you get outside your comfort zone; to present, to be on stage, to lead, when you might have been a geek, an INTJ, an introvert. That all needs to change.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I’m fortunate because I’ve done a few startups, so I won’t go back to the start of SeedLegals. I’ll go back a bit further.
The most important piece of advice for any founder is that you think the problem is building something. You raise money, you get a team, you spend months, and ultimately years, building something, and only then do you realise that what you built nobody wants. You begin waking up in a cold sweat going, “Oh, my gosh, we’ve built all this stuff, we’ve got investors to give us money, we’ve got people to give up their day jobs to work for us, and now nobody wants what we’ve built.” You begin to realise that what you built nobody wants. You begin waking up in a cold sweat going, “Oh, my gosh, we’ve built all this stuff, we’ve got investors to give us money, we’ve got people to give up their day jobs to work for us, and now nobody wants what we’ve built.” It’s a truly terrifying experience.
So the first and most important thing is: before you build anything, before you get people to follow you and start something new, you really take the time to validate that what you’re building is not just a vanity thing, something that people tell you ‘we love what you do, we absolutely want it’ but that people really stop using what they’ve got and pay for your product or service. Without that validation, you can spend time, money, and effort building something, and then it turns out that nobody wants it, and the whole thing comes to a halt.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
I have to say I’m probably the worst person to ask as my colleagues know that I’ll routinely be slacking and emailing at 2 a.m. and even later!
The important thing is that you think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. I think too often people put in an insane number of hours and then get burned out. If you can find the right work-life balance so that you love what you do, the challenge is that there’s an endless number of things that need to be done. Often the difference between the company moving ahead, at least in the early days before you get a larger team, and not, is you doing stuff. If you decide the 40-hour work week is for you and you want to chill, everything is going to be on the go slow. When you’re not building things, your competitors are building things, so really you need to be super fixated on making the business a success.
That means you really have to like what you’re doing. Most of the things you do you’re probably going to love, like designing products and so on. Some things are just plain boring, like having to set up a bank account or sorting the annual returns. Some things are negative. Not all team members work out. Sometimes you’ve hired the wrong person.
If you can get the balance in 75 to 80% of the things you love doing, then the amount of time is less important. Of course, it helps to have a spouse who might have a similar work-life balance, so you don’t have one person going “honey, where are you?” while the other one is going “wait, I’ll see you in a few hours’ time. If you can both get in sync, then I think you’ve got the basis of something that’s going to be workable and enjoyable.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
I think one of the wonderful things about SeedLegals is that we’re just not a company that people use. We’re a company that powers a good fraction of all UK startups. The data, the insight, and the empowerment that we provide have fundamentally changed the way UK startups can grow, raise money, and build their businesses. We’re immensely proud of that.
I think one of the really interesting things is that when we started the business, we thought what people wanted were legals. We realised quite quickly that, actually, nobody wants just legals. People want a solution to a problem. It could be: ‘An investor wants to give me money. What should I do next?’ My co-founder has left. “What should I do?” “I want to hire somebody. How can I do that? ” ‘How many options should I give a new joiner?’
We realised that people wanted to talk to a human. They want advice. They want explainer articles. They want data. They want something that’s on 24/7, so on a rainy Sunday you can hop on your computer and you can raise money. Almost incidentally, they want a legal document that goes with it.
When I think about our competitors, law firms, their output, their deliverable, is a legal document. Ours is the solution to the customer’s needs, which also happens to include the legal documents to go with them. We give the customer what they really want. We’re now spending a lot of time on data. Having done so many funding rounds, we can now show at a glance: ‘for your size of round, this is what your investors are probably going to want.’ That takes a tremendous amount of friction out of closing any deal.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
I love this question because, very much like the previous one, I think our competitors see their deliverables as legal documents. I see our deliverable as a solution.
I like to think of it in two stages. You might think about almost any company or any business in two stages. Stage one is: don’t get ahead of yourself, just be a utility. Figure out what your customer is looking for and just build that. It doesn’t have a blockchain, it doesn’t have bitcoin, it doesn’t have a distributed ledger. It doesn’t have all sorts of random stuff. It’s just ‘give me a great solution to what I want’.
When you’ve got a lot of customers, you can start changing the playing field. You can reinvent things. You can provide solutions that nobody knew they really wanted. And the thing I love most about what we’ve done at SeedLegals is agile fundraising.
In the past, when people had to do a funding round, they spent months trying to line up investors, figure out the valuation, and then they had to give away a big chunk of equity in the business because they had to raise enough to last for 12–18 months. But why did it have to be that way? We didn’t invent the concept of an advance subscription agreement or a deed of adherence, but we productised it and we showed how what was seen as a failure in the past could be a feature in the future.
With agile fundraising at SeedLegals, you can raise money before, during, and after a round and top it off seamlessly. I’m hugely proud to say that there’s more money now raised outside of funding rounds than in a funding round, all in the space of four years. Something that we early developed from scratch at a time when others were going’meh, this will never work’. It just shows that once you’ve developed a utility that people want, you can create new things that people didn’t even know they wanted, and that is where the magic really is.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you are just starting out?
I’m very pleased to say that sales have been excellent right from the start. But perhaps one of the key lessons for any founder is that the first salesperson in the company is one of the founders.
I remember at SeedLegals, sitting on a bean bag in the corridor outside of our tiny office on Skype calls with customers. The beauty is that by talking to customers directly, you figure out very quickly what they’re really looking for.
That’s super important because founders, if you’re not talking to your customers daily, you end up living on this little island, and you think you know what people want, and you go and build stuff that turns out they never wanted. You spend way too much time building features nobody wants, and you fail to build the features that people are looking for.
As a founder, you need to be the first salesperson for several reasons. First, to discover what your customers really want. Two, to find out who the real customers are. Thirdly, because you couldn’t afford a specialist salesperson at that point. The key lesson is that the founder, or founders, are first salespeople, and then, once you have found product-market fit, you need to work to rapidly get out of the sales business. Get real salespeople who are probably going to do a much better job than you, and you can then focus on other things.
What do you think are the advantages of operating your business in London?
London is the best place in the world to run a business. Why is that? It’s because, firstly, UK company law is fantastic. There are contracts. They don’t need notaries, unlike in Germany, which is just insane. You can start a company on Companies House for £12 in under 30 minutes.
In London, you can walk between meetings. Or it’s a couple of tube stops if you don’t want to walk. Everything is within a couple of miles, and yet it’s not so claustrophobic as New York. You can find a huge pool of talent. You can walk to your investor meetings. It’s just wonderful.
I think London is a fantastic place to do business, and, of course, it has got the critical mass of investors and startups to create an entire ecosystem. Once you have a critical mass, then you also have the advantages of real-life physical events. startup events, parties, investor events, and so on.
Whether you’re in the scene or whether you merely want to attend a free startup event to meet co-founders, it’s that networking that is possible in London, combined with a huge amount of capital. Something like 70% of all UK investment is in London and its surrounds. The UK is also by far the largest source of funding in Europe. Put it together and you definitely want to be in London.
Are there any issues with having a London-based business? Have you experienced these?
No, London is excellent. Of course, salaries are higher in London. But these days, it sort of doesn’t really matter where people are. SeedLegals are completely hybrid. If you want to come into the office, come into the office. If you don’t, that’s no problem. You can work from home.
I still endeavour to hire people who plausibly could be in the office, but it’s not by all means required. Our latest hire is in the far north of Scotland, probably a third of the way to Iceland, and that’s just fine. Overall, I can’t think of any particular disadvantage to London.
How has the higher than UK average cost of living impacted your ability to work and live in London, and how has this also impacted your ability as an employer?
As a founder who’s had exits from previous startups, I’m in the fortunate position that I was able to buy a house in Australia many years ago. I sold that house, moved to London and bought an apartment here, so I’m in the fortunate position that I’m able to afford to live in central London. I recognise that’s fortunate and that it’s by no means standard.
It is tough when you’ve got junior employees. How do people live in London on £30,000 a year? It’s hard. I can certainly see people wanting to live outside of London for that very reason. But people can live anywhere, and the company can still be headquartered in London.
When COVID started, my perception was that it was going to be much harder to work in a remote or hybrid way. And actually, I’ve changed 180 degrees. I now prefer to do a Zoom call with a Figma or Miro whiteboard session than to get in the office and sit with a physical whiteboard with some people dialling in and some people in the office. The online tools that have evolved during COVID have revolutionised the way you can now work and collaborate remotely, and I really love that.
London is known to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the true definition of a ‘cosmopolitan city’. Has this had any impact on your business?
We have a hugely diverse team. From people’s names that start with A to the five or six that start with Z. It’s just fantastic.
When you sometimes hop on a call with the UK angel investment groups and you discover a room full of white middle-aged males with grey hair, it’s a reminder of how different things used to be. It is just so nice to have a completely diverse team, speaking a number of languages from all around the world. I think once you live in such a world, you wouldn’t have it any other way.
If you had to relocate your business to another city in the UK, which one would it be and why?
Why would you have to relocate? Because London doesn’t exist?! Because the rising tide meant it was underwater?!
I came from Cape Town, South Africa, and then I moved when I was 20 to Sydney, Australia, before I moved to London 15 years ago. Each time I moved, I noticed which things changed and which things didn’t. You start to identify who you are and what your surroundings are. I’ve been happy and productive in all of them, so I think the location isn’t that important.
There are a few things that are necessary. You need quiet, you need light, you need to be able to work, you need to be able to sleep, you need to be able to meet people. This can be done in many different places. Each has its advantages.
If you go travelling and you go into the countryside, there’s beautiful scenery, it’s quiet, it smells of nature, but nothing happens. When you get back to London, it’s slightly smelly, it’s so polluted, and it’s noisy, but everything happens there. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was another location in my life, but right now London is excellent.
How has Brexit impacted your business (if at all)?
I don’t think it’s had a large effect. Our business is online; there are no queues at Dover that impact the business. As a founder, you are, and this isn’t a political statement, your goal is to identify other people’s challenges or problems and make them your opportunity.
Whether it’s COVID, Brexit or anything else, creating a solution that people use in changing times is an advantage. In fact, it’s the culture of an entrepreneur. If you think that Brexit is going to make it harder for people to move to the UK, can you create an online platform that lets you hire people and give them share options in other countries? Can you make it easier to raise investment from people in other countries? So someone else’s problem, if you can make it your solution, has turned what is a general problem into an advantage for you.
That’s not a general statement to say that Brexit is good or bad. I merely say that if you can try to figure out how your company can create an advantage for a product or service from Brexit, COVID, and any other perturbation, that that is something that you’d be wise to do.
What is your vision for your company in the next 5 years?
One of the delights of our business is that we’re the startup that powers all startups.
I like to think about Reid Hoffman’s (co-founder of LinkedIn) phrase: first build a utility, and then build a network. At SeedLegals, we started by just building a utility—a better way to close your funding round, raise investment, hire people, manage your shareholders, and give share options to your team. It’s just a platform that does this better.
But when you’ve got 40,000+ companies on the platform and tens of thousands of investors, you can look to the next step, which is to build a network. That’s exactly what we’re doing now. We’re building a product for investors. We’re building a product that matches investors and startups to create a marketplace.
We’re global, and in the future, in the same way that Wise (previously TransferWise) brought you borderless banking, imagine borderless legals. Changing hundreds of years of local laws in each country with a platform-based approach where you’re negotiating deal terms. I can see it in English and you could see it in French. We can negotiate things and close a round. Then I can see my documents in English and you can see them in French.
This will completely change the liquidity that’s available. The ability for people to find talent, raise investment, and run their businesses in a new global way is the SeedLegal vision over the coming years.
And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?
Check out our website, https://seedlegals.com/, or follow us on LinkedIn.