How's your Legal? An Interview with Skillcrush CEO, Adda Birnir

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By Valerie Pinkerton

Adda Skillcrush

“It just brings down all that friction, and when the friction’s gone, I can just do the work I need to do.”

- Adda Birnir, CEO and founder of Skillcrush, on working with Priori Legal.

 

I am the customer community manager here at Priori Legal, and I love reducing the barriers startups face to accessing excellent legal counsel. I will be speaking with some of the incredible entrepreneurs we have paired with attorneys in our network. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Adda Birnir, the CEO and founder of Skillcrush, about her experience with Priori.

Skillcrush is a new way to learn digital skills and take control of your career. Their creative approach to online learning combines the most in-demand digital job skills with real world application and a supportive community of instructors and peers. They give you the skills, you can change your career. Adda and I discussed some of the legal pitfalls of starting a business,  her advice for other entrepreneurs, as well as why she loves working with Priori.

skillcrush logo

If you could go back and change one legal decision you made in Skillcrush’s first year, what would it be?

I think that it’s really important that everyone who signs a document agrees and understands what they’re signing. We went through a whole legal process in our second year in business, where one founder left. I learned the hard way that a contract is only as good as your ability to enforce it, and if someone doesn’t want to abide by it, especially as small business, when you don’t make a lot of money and you’re just trying to get off of the ground, they can do a lot to make life difficult even when you have good documents in place.

It’s an interesting experience because you have to protect yourself. It could have been worse, but even if you take all of the measures to protect yourself, shit can go down.The takeaway there is everyone needs to be a really invested participant in the legal process. 

What have been some of your biggest legal challenges and what kinds of problems did you face before you started working with Priori?

The biggest one to start out with, I had run a different company before. It had been an LLC. When we started Skillcrush we were a part ofan incubator; we took some money through the incubator and they took equity.

That whole process was a big learning curve in terms of what kind of company structure to create, why an LLC would not work, what our options were, and why one option was preferable to another. We did like 100 rounds with various lawyers and advisors, and it turned out that the answer was very straightforward:if you’re ever going to raise institutional investment, you have to be a C-corp.

It took a really long time before someone explained that to us. You’re in this position where you don’t know the answer, and then you’re kind of like - a lawyer is a lawyer, right? They all know the same stuff, right?

Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case.

How did you handle your legal needs before working with Priori?

When I started off with my old company, I didn’t have Priori and there was no easy way to find a good lawyer, and I remember, first we didn’t use a lawyer and just everything ourselves and consulted  all through word of mouth. At one point we were recommended a lawyer who we met with, but it was just hard because you don’t have endless amounts of time to do that. It’s totally new to you, and a very specialized thing. You just have to put so much trust in your lawyer and believe you are choosing the right lawyer!

Then, we ended up with a lawyer in Philadelphia. She was the sister of a friend of mine. We were desperate. They ended up connecting us for C-corp stuff with a big law firm, a big name law firm in Philadelphia, to work with us, which I think it was the best option we had at the time.

How has going through Priori compared to your previous experiences with lawyers?

What I appreciate about the situation now is that, to me, the best situation is to work directly with a really good lawyer who ideally doesn’t work for a really big firm, so you feel your needs are really being taken care of, they’re really smart, and you’re not a little charity project they’re doing.

That’s how we felt with the lawyer in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, though, when it came to establishing Skillcrush they were not as well versed in the high tech space, so they looked for a bigger law firm to work with.

The big law firm had a lot of experience in our space so the whole incorporation was a very simple process for them. That was good, but we didn’t get any of that kind of personal attention like, it was just really kind of dry and like here’s the document, here are the shares, etc.

It’s really nice for me now to be working with someone through Priori. I have worked with two lawyers who are really nice, and its a great fit for me. I like the legal stuff; It’s interesting; I want to know a lot about it, to be invested in the process.

How have you used Priori and what kinds of legal matters have been important to your work?

Priori was really really useful to me. I’ve worked with the same lawyer to do all kinds of employment contracts. I have a remote team which includes an American working for me in Finland, so I had to look into Finnish employment law.

For the really specific stuff that comes out, stock options, convertible notes, etc., It’s really important to not only have a lawyer you trust, who is really smart, but who can do a little bit of everything, a little bit of what you’ll need, or have access to someone who knows.

Through Priori, I know that if I need a lawyer with a specific specialty, I will always have access to that. The fees are super reasonable. They get deducted automatically. It’s really easy for me.

How has working with an attorney through Priori changed your business?

It’s just made me more proactive on the legal front, brought the barrier of getting things done down. When you’re a small business, it’s a little bit like going and getting your teeth cleaned. It’s not at the top of your list, but it’s important, even if it’s not the most fun part of your job. It’s common to let it go by the wayside, because people don’t always have an easy system set up.

It’s really nice to have a stable, ongoing relationship with a lawyer that I can email whenever I need something and I know is getting paid. It just brings down all that friction, and when the friction’s gone, I can just do the work I need to do.

What is your favorite part of addressing your legal needs through Priori?

I think just the quality of the services. I really like my lawyer. I like him as a person. I like talking to him. He’s funny, interesting; I always learn a lot.

What advice do you give to Skillcrush’s students in terms of legal to-dos as they begin freelancing and establishing their careers?

So when we talk to them about legal issues, obviously we have to be careful; we’re not a legal organization, but we tell them when working with clients, get everything out on paper. Write it all down, talk to them about dangers about putting things on the internet, that kind of thing. We talk to them about when it’s worth it to invest money, and to make sure you’re set up and taken care of legally.

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