"The man who saved the BBC" talks about the future of technology.

April 13, 2021

Anthony Rose is the CEO and founder of Seedlegals. A serial entrepreneur and technology visionary, he was named by Wired magazine as “the man who saved the BBC” for his role in the development and deployment of the iPlayer.

Having worked in the industry for so long, disrupting traditional sectors, his insight into where we’re heading is as informed as anyone can be! We chat about the sector, funding and leadership (amongst other skills) as the first series of “In Conversation With…” comes to an end.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

And welcome to this evening's event. My name's David Savage. I'm the group technology evangelist at the Harvey Nash group.

This series has been called "In Conversation With" and tonight I am in conversation with Anthony Rose, the CEO of SeedLegals, founder and CEO, I should say. And also according to Wired, "The Man Who Saved The BBC." So thank you for joining us, Anthony.

Thank you for having me.

Before we dive into SeedLegals and the interview itself, whilst this part of the evening is in a fairly traditional set up, you know, Zoom go-to webinar, teams, everyone's been used to this kind of thing for the last year.

After half an hour, 40 minutes or so, we're gonna be joined by Paul from vTogether, who will explain how we can jump into a virtual networking session where you will find a world that is representative of the Harvey Nash group and of the guests that we've had on this series over the last four weeks. So please do stick around for that. It's a bit different.

You'll be able to walk up to people, virtually walk up to people and have a conversation with them. So it'd be great if you could join us for that afterwards.

But look, let's dive into the conversation. Anthony, first of all, before we get into anything else, who are SeedLegals?

So SeedLegals is a one-stop platform for doing a funding round. For giving share options to your team, for growing your team. So in the past, used to go to a law firm, that's changed.

There's now technology, get on SeedLegals, design your round, send up your term sheet, close your round faster, and importantly, welcome to agile fundraising.

So we've seen people always struggle to fill up the round. How do we find 500,000 pounds of investment?

But now you don't need to do that. You can raise before a round, to a round, top up a round. So welcome to the future of fundraising.

And I suppose it's the perfect company for the last year. You were kind of digital first. You've been ready for what's happened over the last, over the course of this pandemic before it happened.

Well, that's exactly it. So when the pandemic started, we like every other company wondered, would the floor fall out? Would business stop? Would no one be investing anymore? What would happen to our business? But it was clear actually, after a short lull, where everyone assessed what would life be?

The fastest and smartest founders who happened to be in the right space, Ed Tech, Med Tech, were back fundraising and the smartest investors who want to be part of the best rounds, were back as well. And then of course, we had a competitive advantage.

You didn't need to visit a law firm. Everything is e-signed, everything is, you know, web chat. So I think the takeaway point is how, as a founder, you can always take advantage of, or try to take advantage of whatever perturbations in the system around.

So to be able to do that you've got to have a certain amount of vision. And you've been at various companies, each at differing stages of technology adoption. How do you articulate that vision in away that gets people excited about what you're doing?

It's a really good point and actually think about legal tech. Most legal tech companies are started by I think, disaffected lawyers who don't want to do the same thing again and again.

So they create propositions that are essentially for law firms, but I think the key to it, it's not about the tech that you're building and people are, founders are often obsessed about the tech. It's solving a problem that a user really has.

So when I look at a website and the website explains we use blockchain and we do this and we do, none of that is solving my problem.

And I must say, I realized that probably a little way into SeedLegals, where one day I woke up and realized that the website messaging was speaking about contract automation and document templating but there are zero people in the world who wake up and go, "I'm looking for document automation." So we redid the site to say the fastest way to close your round. And I think this is really the problem with many startups.

At the founders perceive the problem is building stuff but really the problem is having people want what you've built. And whenever I see a pitch deck that explains all the things the company's building, the founders I think are thinking "This is impressive to woo the investors" but I think it's actually the opposite.

Your goal is to build the least amount of things to entice users to want and use and purchase your services.

It's interesting that you're talking about what users want. We referenced the fact that you were kind of described as the man who saved the BBC, you were instrumental in the iPlayer, you see that's been proven to be something that customers want.

Steve Jobs as a founder was someone who decided what people wanted before they even knew what they wanted. So how do you define successes as a founder? Because it's quite a complicated thing. Quite a lot of intangibles there to deal with.

Well, one of the nice things about defining success is a bit like Russian history. You can revise it as you go along and change history.

But I think for a founder, you know there's certain things that turn them on. For me, what I love doing is going from an idea to execution. It's that that really drives me. The people side, the money side, others is less interesting. It's that creating something from nothing but as a founder, that means you need to surround yourself with co-founders, team members that cover the other things.

But for me, ultimately success, and I think the thing, you know, once upon a time I was in music then with the BBC it was video, broadcast and then social and now legal. They're all very different. But I think the key thing that I love doing is I love the drag of waking up in the morning and finding people using your product and being dependent on it.

And I think that's, to me spurs me to spend insane amounts of time, building something and creating and helping mentor a team that customer you know, solving their problems and being awesome is really key to everything we do. And that then means that no matter really what the space you're in, it's that coming up with something that people want, that will help them, you know, do whatever it is that they want to do more efficiently.

But you've referenced there that you've worked in a number of different industries, you know broadcaster, music, now legal. I was watching "Margin Call" the other day and it's got this bizarres cene with Jeremy Irons looking out over New York and saying that as CEO his job is literally to hear whether or not the music's playing.

And at the minute, he's just heard that the music has stopped. And a lot of people worries that the music was gonna stop and investment was gonna dry up. And you've said that didn't happen.

So why do you think that didn't happen? What did investors look for? What were they looking for to continue to invest in businesses as they did?

So it's a fantastic question. I don't know the answer but I look to perhaps, what are the drivers? Why did investors invest? And once you see that then I think it actually becomes clear. So firstly, there's no one class of investor.

There are range of investors. There are angel investors, angel investors drive the vast amount of early stage UK fundraising and angel investors are often investing. They want their SCIS. So regardless, they've got too much income for that tax year. And they're looking for something to invest in before April the fifth which is in a few days time and is super busy at the moment.

Others are on a mission. They want to change the world. And maybe this gives them new opportunities to change the world.

Others are looking for return on investments and there'll be looking for companies that have pivoted, that are taking advantage of whether it be Brexit, COVID or anything else. It's changed aperturbation in the system. And they're gonna find those and be in sooner than others. Others perhaps want to have fun.

For them, 10,000, 20,000 pounds investment is nice, but can you hang out with the founders doing fun things? And now they've got more time than they're at home. There's more time to look at things but those are your angel investors. Separately, you've got funds and funds have raised a hundred million pounds and have to spend it.

Not spending it is a fail for the fund. So for them, what they're gonna look at is the people coming their way. They can be more picky than before. And they're gonna pick businesses that are either, fortunately in the right space or can present themselves or pivot to be in the right space.

And I think that's how the magic between, you know founders pivoting or showing that they pivoting or showing that they take advantage of changes and investors. If you've got money to spend or want to be part of it, the music continues.

Hello. You've been involved in the industry for some time and SeedLegals works with thousands of startups and SMEs. And you obviously have the, have the network to be able to talk to a lot of people across the industry.

There's been a lot of speculation, especially now as we're beginning to come, hopefully towards the end of this experience and people potentially returning to the physical working environment.

There's been a lot of questions about what the impact has been on the technology sector. In your opinion, what do you think the impact of the pandemic has been?

I don't think there really has been much impact. And I think one reason is that founders by their nature are setting out to do things that either haven't been done before or they've got some passion or they want to change things.

And I think as a founder, you don't rely on the state or other things. Otherwise you'd have a job at a big bank or something like that.

You're in fact, embracing turmoil in a sense and everything is an opportunity. And so as a result, I think founders after a few weeks of trying to figure out what was going on, by the thousands, everyone in their small way try to pick the things that they would find their way through things.

So legal's initially, I mean it probably a really good example is when the government announced furlough but the 18thperson who had contacted us it's illegals to say, what do we do with furlough? Our mantra is use technology to put ourselves out of business.

Every problem we think about, how we can use technology to solve it scalably. So we thought, well, if thousands of people are gonna start messaging us it's not gonna work. So can we write articles? So we had our legal team write articles.

We created a product and within 48 hours we had a furlough scheme on SeedLegals and thousands of companies use it and we gave it away for free 'cause that wasn't the right thing to profit from.

So, you know, in our tiny part, in our little sphere, we innovated quickly to solve a problem. But you know, one of my favorite examples is a company called Charged Up.

So Charged Up, makes mobile phone charges that sort of tube stations and so on. So in five minutes you put your phone as you wait, it charges it, no one's going anywhere at the moment. So they were kind of out of business. So they pivoted into Cleaned Up and they repurposed their stations which are metal platforms, put all the hand sanitizers in the top and sold them by the tens of thousands. And suddenly we're having income or revenue of, you know I think millions literally a month.

So that's probably the high point of a company going this business isn't working but wait with a little bit of ingenuity, this one is. And I think, you know, across the board you see founders doing that. And I think that is the bit that collectively means that there wasn't a great change because people innovated. Of course, if you're in a gym or a restaurant life is gonna be difficult, right? So how far can you move outside of your space?

So luck always plays a big part in these things too.

It's interesting 'cause listening to you talk there, one of the questions we thought about asking you was, is the UK's tech sector primes to bounce back, you know especially kind of with the knowledge that the, you know according to the chancellor, the economy's down by 3% on where it should have been without COVID. But you said nothing's changed. You've given examples there of innovation.

You talked about agile at the top of the interview. It doesn't sound like we really need to bounce back from anything. If anything, there are greater opportunities to push further forward.

Well, as I was talking, I realized of course, I might be living in a bubble. And so when you talk to optimistic founders who raising, who've got bright ideas to change the world, they're investors, you may perceive that that's everyone in the world but then you walk down the high street and you see lots of shut shops.

And I think it's unfair for me to say that, you know everything is fantastic, obviously it's not but specifically in the techsector, I haven't seen the downers and I have seen a lot of companies are coming up and actually leveraging it.

They might be saying, for example nobody's gonna be buying our products anytime soon. We have audio guides for museums.

No one's going to museums. So instead we're gonna double down our efforts on our app development. Our money will go further because we're not marketing but we're now pitching to investors that come June the first, when things open or whenever it will be, we're gonna be ahead of others.

So for a founder, again, it's always trying to figure out what we can do faster and smarter than anyone else.

So the UK in the past has been accused of selling out to American counterparts too early, not nurturing talent. Maybe wrap two questions here into one. First of all, do you agree with that commentary? And then how can we ensure the UK remains an attractive place to work post-COVID, post-Brexit?

Well, I don't think I've got a value judgment on it but I think it's as follows, which is the problem in the UK is that investors have a certain risk profile. I think investors in any country, you look at the size of that perhaps local market and see a natural limit for companies in that space.

So you see that companies moved to the UK from Italy, you know, other countries, likewise in the UK, the natural exit is Silicon Valley. And it always sort of riles me that you see companies of a similar profile to UK ones in the US who raising 10 times the amount to 10times the valuation.

And when you look now on Twitter and you follow VCs you know, companies raising tens of millions at hundreds of millions valuation, and you know they don't have much more web traffic than you, or, you know, your UK counterparts.

So, of course, in that model companies at some point when they outgrow the local funding landscape or want global ambitions, they're going to move further. But I don't think it's so much, I mean from a country's perspective, in a sense it's bad.

But if you look at a startup that starts in Bristol maybe they moved to London and then at some point they outgrow London, go elsewhere, the question is, do you see it as a problem? And what do you do about it?

And it may turn out that a UK company being sold for hundreds of millions, yes, they exit or maybe they stay here, but a lot of money flows into the ecosystem and that money goes to investors that then invest in other companies.

So I don't think it is a net loss, but I think also if you do want it to change, then of course, valuations and investment amounts and risk profiles here need to match the US or we also need to amp it up compared to other countries who we want to steal their startups from to move here.

Now, when we think about talent and I suppose the global talent market your company's hiring pretty much every week as I understand it. So what are the skills shortages that you're seeing in the industry right now?

Yeah, so actually we were hiring. We had four new starters today and we've been hiring a person. We've sort of doubled in size over the last year and we'd have more people who will fit in our office.

So it certainly presents a problem for the going back to the office. But in terms of shortages, interestingly our data on SeedLegals showed that perhaps around September last year, we saw a dip in salaries, as you might expect, but only for some sectors.

So customer support, marketing and so on seem to have a salary dip. The tech, design, product had salary increases. So this seems to confirm that companies were doubling down on core developments, optimistic for the future when they would open their doors and be back for business and cutting back on things where obviously there weren't people buying right now.

So I think there was a period when tech was much more available, tech hires were much more available. They're always the most difficult people to find. I'm not sure that that seller side became a buyer side that much.

I think it is easier to hire now than pre-pandemic but I don't know how long that'll last.

Just out of interest, you said that that you've hired more than you have office space for. Does that worry you at all or not really?

It means that one of two things, either I need to get a bigger office soon, or actually, we always are just going to have a different way of working. And I think that's fascinating 'cause I've always looked to create a team that works and plays together.

It's fine if the boiler breaks or something, take the day off but my goal has been everyone in the office together. And so it was, with quite some trepidation that we all went online but actually it worked really well.

But what we saw ultimately is maybe a third of the team would love to be back in the office. A third of the team would like to never leave home. And a third of the team will be opportunistically in the office if enough other people are in the office.

So from that, should I, now, when things reopen try to push everyone to being back in the office, should I push everyone to work remotely.

I think the worst of all worlds is where you're trying to do meetings where some people on Zoom with the TV and the, you know, the hands-free speaker and other people at home. I think that's a disaster. I totally don't know any more than anyone else.

But I think actually as a CEO and always a leader this is one of the challenges that people have because you know, I think I fancy myself as reasonably knowledgeable in terms of products now, legal tech and things like that.

But one day you wake up and your team's looking for you going, "Oh, wise one, what do we do about office life and other things?" And you go, "Haven't, you can't go. Haven't the slightest idea. You can't go, yes, this is the answer on this date, we're all gonna do that," 'cause nobody knows.

So how do you find the right level of optimism, leadership without, you know obviously making it up too much as you go along? And so today our team standup was about most likely most of us being in the office from June.

And in fact, I was gonna tear out at a third of the desks and put sofas in. 'Cause I think the new office life is gonna be people coming in to meet with each other.

We see some fraction of our team coming in already. And that may be, two or three days a week, you're in the office, but you construct it so that your team is gonna socialize, and you're gonna go to the chill out zones that, you know what, we're gonna wing it and see how we go.

Look, just going down that route of answering questions that no one can possibly answer or know the answer to, sorry to put you on the spot.

So maybe this is a quick one, but according to the Harvey Nash CIO survey, two thirds of, oh sorry two fifths of tech professionals think that the pandemic is permanently accelerated digital transformation and the adoption of emerging technologies.

So what, which emerging technologies excite you the most or think might have the biggest impact on the industry in terms of employment opportunities over the next five or 10 years?

Well, one thing it certainly saved a small fortune on it's business cards. I don't know if I'm ever going to buy a business card again.

I did always enjoy running across London to meet people in person. You know, the wonderful thing about London is it's a couple of tube stops or 15 minutes' walk and you cover Mayfair through to Hoban and Clark and well and so on.

But actually, life is much more efficient without that. So, you know, we found our teamwork great on Slack Notion, HubSpot, Zoom, e-signing.

Why would you ever want to sign anything in person again? When have you ever written something? So I think we've taken somewhat seamlessly to this. And the question is, do people yearn for in-person meetings? I must say, when I've gone into the office periodically to meet with new starters, I've been giving them the computer and say, I tell you what, let's get back on Zoom and follow this up with a Zoom call.

'Cause I must say I actually prefer meeting on Zoom now than in person. Now once everyone's vaccinated, maybe that will change.

But I suspect we will be most of the way back to the way we were before, 'cause humanity kind of got to that because that's the way we like to work.

But perhaps there are a whole bunch of taboos, like you have to meet your VC in person. You have to do certain things in person which are now broken. And it's much easier now to go, I'm not gonna shake hands. I am gonna do a Zoom call when it would have been terribly rude before.

Now, your business takes previously manual processes and digitize them making legal paperwork quicker and cheaper. We've already talked about the fact you're a bit of a visionary. So what other industries do you think are ripe for disruption?

Well, having applied or tried to apply to get my vaccination, I wrote two emails, my local NHS place, got no reply. Email them again. Got no reply. Got sent a slightly snarky email, got a reply saying, "We're way too busy to reply. Please call us." I called them and was on hold for 15 minutes before I gave up.

And I was thinking, "This is insane. At SeedLegals, we've got web chat. Our median response time is five minutes. We use HubSpot. We use Notion. Guys, you need a CRM system. Why am I emailing in the first place? Why do you have to send me a reply? Why haven't I got my magic number yet? It's nonsense technology. All of that needs to change."

You know, the way you set up bank accounts is totally slow. So, I mean, I don't know any more than anyone else but I do love the, by the tens of thousands startup founders looking to change in their small way, the way they do things.

We certainly have a lot more food delivered, frozen food, fresh groceries, whatever it is, than before. So maybe that's one thing that's not going backwards.

Maybe people have to buy much more fridges because you can keep a lot more in the fridge. I don't know. So the little robot does the cleaning at home. So, yes.

I quite fancy one of them. That sounds good. If we think about the kind of the evolution of technology over the last few years, we had moved really fast and break things. And then that was widely shunned in favor of tech for good.

This year has seen a huge, I suppose to borrow government phrase, but leveling up in terms of the adoption of digital tech. When you look across kind of older generations in particular, there's been a surge in adoption when it's been been a necessity for people with regards to shopping and so on. And so technology has impacted so many people's lives to a greater extent.

And I suppose this question is a little bit about regulation, a little bit around about ethics but where does the responsibility lie, when it comes to considering the impact of technology on society? There's a lot of founders out there who are creating new tech but we don't have effective regulation.

And to be perfectly blunt the government doesn't seem to be particularly good when it comes to regulating or managing it actually.

So it's a fascinating question and problem and I think it goes something like this. When you start a new venture, the ethics or the regulatory things are the last of your concerns.

It's actually building something that anyone's gonna want in the world at all. So at SeedLegals I think we're a very nice use case because what happens is initially, your problems are entirely tech-based. And then as your traction increases and you have more people using it you begin to find the social responsibility because the systems you create will affect thousands. So initially on SeedLegals, boy, if we could to help someone do a funding round, that was amazing.

Whatever you want, we'll make it work. We don't have to think about, we don't have time to think about anything else. But now there are 15,000 plus companies on the platform. One in six of all UK funding rounds is on SeedLegals. And we've noticed the power of the default. If we make an option available, thousands of companies will possibly go with that option.

So actually life is much more complicated because instead of just thinking as a, most tech founders this is a purely tech problem. Am I using Java? Am I using Angular? How do I make this thing work? Can I make the website render a document in three seconds or less?

My conversation today was actually about the team wanting to put an option in, to extend the, allow a company to extend the probation period of its employee at the company's behest. But by doing that, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people will have employment contracts created with this as a company option.

So I feel that in fact, suddenly you've now got this sort of social responsibility and it feels wrong. I wouldn't do that to my employees. So I don't think we should offer to others. So in a sort of rare case, I said to our team, "I don't think we should offer this."

And I felt that I was suddenly thrust into the moral dimension to quote yes, Prime Minister, that and maybe when you see the Facebooks and the Googles and so on, I think the problem is any large company is inevitably thrown into that space, for founders who often are totally unprepared and often have the wrong temperament for it. So step one is just build it and hope someone comes.

Step two is aware that you are playing God in a certain you know, set with your defaults and your users. And then maybe step three is when the regulator comes along and goes, "

Actually, we need to have a view 'cause you can't be trusted." And the question is, "Can founders work out the right mix of growth responsibility, playing God for quite complicated things versus actually at some point they just get it wrong so many times that inevitably a regulator steps in?" I don't know the answer.

I wanted to ask you one final question that hopefully there are few of the leaders of businesses watching or aspiring leaders, but what mistakes have you learned from that have really helped shape the person that I'm chatting to today?

I don't know if my team will concur that I've learned from them, but I think a few things. I think one is, I think when you, as a founder initially in the early stage of the business you can do everything yourself. Why? 'Cause you have to do everything yourself.

And the question is how you grow your team and stop micromanaging. And I think micromanaging has never been a knotting. It has never been my strong point. So how do you grow the team? Even though you can do something yourself better than somebody else, how do you not do it and mentor them to do it in your stead?

Otherwise it will never scale. How do you get past different stages of company growth? So I think what happens is you build an initial fabulous team of six or 10 people and you go maybe like parents, who've got a child at two years old.

They go, "This is perfect. Can we just freeze it right there?" But of course you can't change the world if you want to grow larger without growing larger. So then you get to like 30 people and you go, "That's amazing. I remember everyone's name. Can we just freeze it there?"

But no, if you want to change the world you have to keep going. And how do you reinvent yourself? And also maybe the key thing for a founder is the things you need to do as a founder when you're a five-person-company is different to 50 and it's different to 500.

And actually for me, that's also going to be a journey. 'Cause if I like to build stuff and I like to design stuff and I like to ship stuff, is that what a founder of a 500-person-company is doing?

And then the problem is either I have to go off and keep doing new, smaller startups and exit or I need to learn how to reinvent myself. But it's not just the founders, It's in fact, the CTOs, theCLOs, everyone in the team needs to reinvent themselves, if they're an early joiner, if they still want to be there later.

And as I say to the team if you want your effects on the world to be profound then it has to be part of a larger company. And then you don't have an option.

You have to reinvent yourself to work within that larger structure, even though it may not have appealed to you once upon a time.

Look, Anthony, I want to thank you for taking half an hour out of the end of this beautifully sunny day, when restrictions are beginning to be lifted slightly to chat to me, hopefully will now join us as we jump into this virtual world. Just to explain to everyone watching.

So Paul's gonna join us from vTogether and explain how this is gonna happen. But if we were sitting in an auditorium watching a panel event this is now the bit where we walk out and go into the bar is rather boringly as alcohol free.

But hopefully it's gonna be quite an informal session where you can actually wander around and go up to someone you haven'tmet and talk to them in a way that you probably haven't done in months.

So Anthony, thanks for your time. Hopefully you can join us. Paul, you will now explain what's gonna happen. And hopefully ifeveryone checks their chats, they will also get the link to see how this happens next as well.

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