DKLM are a Law Firm started in 2004 in Shoreditch by 4 partners with a diverse range of interests and a strong presence in India, China and Africa. “Our differences are our strengths”, they say and so it should come as no surprise that 2 of the firm’s team, Jessica Jia Shin Leau and Kushal Morzeria decided to found #TechLawHub, a free to attend series of monthly meet-ups exploring how law firms and professionals across all industries can build closer ties with their entrepreneurial Tech City startup neighbours.
Managing Partner Alan Dixon contributed the opening remarks to what was an entertaining, useful evening; DKLM bought their offices just off Old Street’s “Silicon Roundabout” over a decade ago, survived the global financial crisis of 2008, acquired 2 more floors shortly afterwards and branched out into China in 2012 via a strategic partnership with a Chinese law firm.
In short, Dixon and the other three partners have been there, done that, but still retain a healthy entrepreneurial streak; remember, Dixon told the 50 or so attendees, these 4 things about being a startup; cashflow is king; don’t be afraid to take risks; be open to new opportunities and try to maintain a diverse collection of staff. Wise words.
The evening’s first speaker, Patrick Gilmour, also of DKLM has 25 years’ experience working mainly for entrepreneurs in a commercial capacity and views the world of tech startups with a fascination tempered by having experienced some of the more negative sides of founding a tech heavy business.
Recently he was approached by a woman who had founded a business, the value of which was tied up in the tech she had had built by a co-founder and developer by trade. Having raised funding via the 3 F’s – “family, friends and fools” she was surprised when her co-founder suddenly decided to quit the business, demanding that he be compensated for the work done. With only a limited understanding of what her business partner had built this woman struggled to properly evaluate the value of the tech platform, let alone operate it in his absence, eventually finding herself forced to agree to his valuation.
After taking advice from Gilmour she walked away from the business rather than pay her partner the six figure sum he was demanding for the rights to the platform. She did pay the price, in Gilmour’s view, of giving her business partner “the keys to the cabinet” too early. The legal costs associated with litigating an issue like this can easily run into 6 figures.
On a lighter note, Gilmour loves tech, in particular a Japanese robot that can swordfight a Samurai Warrior, and win. Although he cautions against taking a tech concept too far without seeking advice. Jokingly, he mentioned a device known as the “baby pod” which can be inserted into the womb to allow parents to communicate with their children before the baby has taken its first breath of fresh air. This potentially throws up all kinds of legal challenges, not least, the possibility of a lawsuit against any parents daring to play their unborn children music of dubious taste. In the wrong hands, tech can be problematic indeed!
Paul Dowling of Dreamstake, a virtual accelerator and startup platform that allows startups to evaluate their progress as well as attend a series of real life Dreamstake Academy events helping them prepare for “investment readiness”, gave a presentation on “Why Tech, Why London, Why Now?” Ever entertaining and knowledgeable (there are 1,500 startups listed on Dreamstake and Dowling has met most, if not all of them) he compared the current tech revolution to a “4th Industrial Revolution”, arguing that as the Tech City scene matures, we are seeing more and more “deep tech” firms take centre stage which can only be a good thing as the novelty of drinking and dating apps wears off.
Health Tech, genome research, the blockchain and Dowling’s favourite material, graphene are all the kinds of bets investors want to be making alongside genuine entrepreneurs – the age of the “me too” app is dying a natural death as founders realise that real knowledge and passion are the qualities investors ultimately reward.
Why London? Tax efficient schemes such as EIS, SEIS and VCT, a fantastic collaborative ecosystem and the emergence of co-working spaces (WeWork has opened 10 in the past 2 years and there many more besides) has helped a new generation of entrepreneurs literally live, work and breathe startups.
And for angel investors, yes of course there are risks but the evidence is finally here that startups can work, “scale-up” and become “unicorns” in the shape of companies like JustEat or Transferwise, and provide lucrative exits as Swiftkey and DeepMind have both done recently, having been acquired by Google. No investment yields quite like a successful startup and few things are as exciting as watching, and helping, a new company led by brainy founders grow.
Finally, David Simpson, a Senior Researcher at Nominet the domain registration company gave us a whistle stop tour of the Internet of Things. People talk a lot of twaddle about IoT and it is hard to drown out the noise and focus on what is truly innovative about talking fridges and autonomous vehicles. Simpson has heard IoT described as having a potential future worth of $7.1 trillion, and, depending on who you listen to, there will be either 26, 50, 200 or 212 billion connected “things” by 2020.
It’s fair to say nobody can predict with any real accuracy what will happen with IoT so a good path to follow is the one Simpson has taken, getting out there and experimenting for himself. He has built flood measurement systems in Oxford, so good they changed the name of the enterprise from Oxford Flood Network to simply Flood Network (in anticipation of global domination?), digitally mapped car parks, and helped develop a versatile connected device whose use cases range from a child’s educational toy to a system of alarms and reminders that can help dementia sufferers cope with everyday tasks and activities. He even bought some of these prototypes with him, small blue flashing humps that looked like they belonged on top of a 1970’s French police car. Simpson also brought along the BBC Microbit which is a pocket-sized codeable computer which is to be given free to every 12 year old child across the UK. The BBC Microbit aims to encourage digital creativity from a very young age.
It’s all fascinating stuff, “simple, safe, engaging, and educational” as Simpson puts it. I would add another. Useful.
It’s always worth getting out to after-hours events around the Silicon Roundabout (or anywhere for that matter), and not least for the networking. I met lawyers (natch), accountants, startup founders and investors, and left pockets bulging with business cards. The beer and pizza weren’t bad either.
Kudos to Kushal and Jessica for organising the event and DKLM for the loan of their offices also; #TechLawHub takes place on the last Tuesday of every month. I’d recommend it.To find out more about #TechLawHub, follow them on twitter at www.twitter.com/techlawhub.