The Workchop Conversations is an ongoing series of conversations with different players in both the law, tech & justice tech space, sharing about their work and innovative role within the space, promoting access to justice in Africa.
This week, we have Ifeoluwa Awodein, an astute lawyer exploring diverse options with the view to craft apt legal solutions suitable for clients’ needs. Her interest spans through Finance Law, corporate commercial law, Intellectual Property Law, Media and Technology.
Tell us about your journey into the tech ecosystem and how you got to where you are today.
My journey into the tech ecosystem started unofficially in 2016 when I worked as a legal research intern and one of my numerous research assignments during the internship program was centered around the principles of cashless policy in Nigeria. This really piqued my interest at the time, and I was curious on how e-payment system works behind the scenes and the regulations behind these transactions. In 2019, I got a job offer in one of the largest and leading financial technology solutions providers in Nigeria as a legal and compliance associate and I started this amazing journey.
What does your role as Legal & Compliance Associate at Future Africa entail? What is it about the role that excites you the most?
In plain terms, I ensure regulatory compliance, draft, and review legal documents just like every other lawyer, I advise on fund formation and other company secretarial functions. Generally, I research and evaluate different risk factors regarding the Company’s business decisions and operations and apply effective risk management techniques and offer proactive advice on possible legal issues that may arise. Update the company on applicable regulations and how it affects the business. Part of my function is also assisting founders in their formation and documentation process. The goal is for them to get it right from the start, so we put in place standard pre and post formation documents and checklists that will serve as a guide to founders. I think this encapsulates what my role entails.
The most exciting part of my role is assisting founders from the early stages of their formation. I see it as being involved in the growth of a child and seeing the child become successful. Nothing makes a parent prouder.
Any advice for lawyers looking to get into Venture Capital? Are there any resources or communities you can recommend?
I’ll start off by saying sometimes you never really know you like a thing until you start doing it. The secret of staying relevant in the business is to continue to update yourself. Once you understand the dynamics it becomes easier. It is okay to make mistakes and be ready to learn and unlearn whenever the need arises.
There are materials to read, and you may need to get a mentor. For starters and active lawyers in the field, I will recommend:
a. Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer and Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson
b. Startup Company Lawyer – a great resource put together by an experienced corporate partner at Wilson Sonsini.
c. Cooley Go – A document generator and information and resources from a Silicon Valley law firm, Cooley.
Another thing I do is check out active people in the space on LinkedIn and Twitter or other platforms and connect with them. Ask them questions and read their articles or publications (if any).
What was your biggest challenge in the role and how did you solve it?
Lots of challenges arise every day, but in order to navigate them, you need to understand that we are constantly learning everyday and be easy on yourself. However, figuring how to provide excellent legal services and being cognizant with changes in the law (Not just Nigerian law) has been a major challenge for me so far. Notwithstanding the fact that I studied in Nigeria, I need to be conversant with laws in other jurisdictions (it is non-negotiable).
I have only been able to overcome these challenges by asking questions and doing more of personal research.
In your opinion, what do you think startup founders overlook when raising funds?
Fundraising is one of the most challenging parts of being a Founder and its far more complex than it appears. Founders are more particular about the funds but fail to understand the mechanics of equity for startup founders. Founders overlook quite a number of things when raising funds, but I will try to summarize all.
First, founders tend to overlook the importance of a lawyer and due diligence in their transactions. A number of them get overly excited and sometimes desperate and tend to just sign off on agreements without giving their lawyers to review. The role of a lawyer cannot be overemphasized.
Founders fail to provide answers to the question of “what do I do after I raise funds?” No proper planning in place which eventually leads to gross mismanagement, or poor work ethics which can kill a startup before it’s even out the gate. I see founders often times trying to over value their company in their fund-raising efforts without understanding the implications of over raising or under raising. The best approach would be to raise just enough and raise at fair valuations.
What do you spend time doing asides work?
Disturbing somebody’s son *wink* (that was on a lighter note) I watch movies, play games and live the baby girl life.
What gadgets do you rely on to get work done?
My laptop and phone with fast internet.
Funny question, if you could, would you travel to the past or future and why?
Hmmm, I would like to go to the future and see what is about to happen and what to plan for or against. I want an “expo” to the future.
The Workchop Conversations is an ongoing series of conversations with different players in both the law, tech & justice tech space, sharing about their work and innovative role within the space, promoting access to justice in Africa.
This week, we have Adebukola Ibirogba, a trained lawyer and product designer with a specific interest in designing practical, user-centered solutions. In addition, she is a self-taught digital artistic and content designer. Adebukola has a passion for art, tech and everything in between. When she’s not designing tech solutions, you can find her watching tech reviews or listening to her favorite podcasts.
Tell us briefly about your transition from law to product design. What challenges did you have to overcome?
Tech has always fascinated me. I was so fascinated by tech that my final-year long essay at the University of Ibadan was focused on how the law could be used in safeguarding the rights of software developers.
As a law student, I had explored Art as a side hustle during my days as an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan, it was my first love and I consistently explored ways to make more out of it. I practiced Law during my year-long NYSC service in Enugu and felt I would practice once I moved back to Lagos. After I returned to Lagos, finding a job was not as easy as I thought. I decided that I was going to explore content design and digital art.
It was during my internship at Webcoupers Consultancy; a digital agency, that I heard about Product Design for the first time. I remember reading about it and experiencing a lightbulb moment. I had finally found a path that merged my passion for art and tech.
My transition from Law to Product Design has not been the smoothest. I had quite a few detours and stops along the way. The most prominent challenge was the fact that I had zero knowledge of product design beforehand. I’ve had to do quite a lot of learning, re-learning and unlearning to gain as much traction in as little time as possible.
Walk us through a typical workday as a product designer. What does the role entail?
If I had to explain what a typical workday of a product designer looks like, I’d say that there is no such thing as a “typical” day. As a designer, your schedule highly depends on the projects you are working on and the phases they are in. Based on this, there are a lot of days I might overwork while other days can be quite relaxing.
7 am: Resume at my workspace (a cosy corner in my living room) after prayers, a quick shower and a large cup of water. 8 am: Get ready for the day; catch up with some of my emails from the previous day and make a to-do list for the day. I also note down the progress of the past projects to know how I will manage my daily schedule. 9 am – 10 am: Join team stand-up meetings to report on the progress of the projects I’m working on, the challenges being faced and my schedule for the week. 11 am : Start working on different designs and projects. 12 pm : Take a break of 10-15 minutes, stretch my legs and get lunch. I check my phone for any pending messages and get back to work. I utilize this hour to gather inspiration, apply my knowledge, brainstorm ideas and create baselines. 1 – 2 pm : Focus on minute details of the design. 3 pm : Share the designs with my team and collaborate where necessary 4 pm : Take notes from my team and extend the work. 5-9 pm : Implement the suggestions given by my team and colleagues to my designs. 10 pm : Wind up my work around 10 pm and submit everything to my teams.
By now, you can see that the life of a UX designer can be pretty challenging and hectic. It’s ever-changing, based on collaborations and it’s all about learning and re-learning.
What would you wish to have done differently in your journey?
I wish I had ventured into tech early enough, probably during my undergraduate days.
Any advice for legal professionals looking to get into tech full-time? For newbie product designers, what books or videos will you recommend?
Research endlessly. Don’t be intimidated by the monolith that tech seems to be. If you think you deserve a seat at the tech table, you probably do. There are a lot of new non-code roles opening up everyday and there is definitely something for everybody.
For newbie product designers, being a newbie myself, I’ve found YouTube very helpful in learning new design trends and honing my skills. I’ve also found some Instagram accounts that have pushed me to try new things.
If you’re working on building your portfolio, look for projects that you can contribute to or look for a problem that needs a practical solution and design a solution that meets that need.
What would you never be caught doing on a weekend?
Traipsing all over Lagos. My week is always so busy and my weekends are often reserved for rest and movies.
Funny question, you are a new addition to the crayon box, what colour would you be?
Mayowa Adegoke, Esq., AICMC is a lawyer and chartered mediator. In addition, he is a startup founder, self-taught programmer and strategist who has built several prototyped and released consumer applications. Mayowa generally has passion for activities that revolve around art, technology, music, space exploration and business. He also loves to write on tech, digital privacy and regulations, and is a published writer of foreign publications such as The Capital and DataSeries. In his spare time, he watches football and casually reads on a wide range of topics that may not be connected to his core interests.
Could you introduce yourself, explain a bit of your journey and how you got to where you are today. Was studying Law a choice of yours?
I am currently a lawyer, with several tech projects under the belt, but it wasn’t always like this. While my journey into law was deliberate from day one, my traverse of the tech space started as an accident. When kids write JAMB, WAEC and NECO in Nigeria, after exams are over, there’s usually this 3 to 6 months that kids wait for before results are out. During this period, I got my first phone (a cheap Nokia) that could browse the internet with the popular Opera Mini browser at the time. This also meant that for the first time, I could get answers to several tens of stuff that I was curious about on a daily basis. I probably did around 40 to 60 web searches everyday, asking all manner of questions.
Some time while on my question-asking expenditure, I discovered that Facebook actually earned from ads, not the sums we spent on data subscription. This got me superior curious about the company’s business model, revenue, mode of operations etc. Soon enough, I got wind of another company called “Snapchat”. And during this period, I learnt that Facebook was ready to pay Snapchat $3bn for some app. I got even more curious about what exactly was going on. I basically learnt more and more and more until my 200L in uni when I felt confident enough to want to build my own thing. I really have to credit the internet — Quora, Reddit, TechCrunch etc for educating me up to this level about how things work in tech.
Studying law for me was a choice — I loved the whole idea of human rights lawyering. But as I grew older, I became more interested in solving problems at scale than being purely focused on a particular method (e.g. law or even tech) as the sole means of solving problems. Currently, tech remains the most efficient method of solving problems at scale. As a lawyer, at best, from now till I’m 60 or 65, I can directly impact in the lives of 15,000 or 20,000 people. But as a techie, I can touch the lives of billions. If tech becomes less efficient and scalable in the future, you can be sure that I’d develop interest and “jump ship” to the next field that allows for more efficient problem-solving.
From being a Lawyer to a founder, what spurred the change? How was the journey like? Being a lawyer, has it made your role as a founder easier? Which would you say requires more attention?
Initially, I tried to keep my law and tech lives separate. It meant a lot of context switching — I would literally be Tech Clark Kent on some days and Legal Superman on other days. But, later on, I became better at moulding both sides into one — I use my legal knowledge during negotiations or tech contracts and I use my tech efficiency side when trying to cut down on cost of building projects. I “switched” from just being the legal compliance guy to being an active part of the founding team because of how I got into tech law. My tech law journey started with me as a founder before becoming a lawyer and eventually merging both.
It’s, as such, difficult for me to entirely ignore that founder side — so if I’m in a meeting with product managers, I can’t just sit there and only concern myself with discussions on what the law says about some feature being built. I would rather discuss the applicable regulation, as well as how the product itself can be made better to generate more revenue, scale more etc whilst requiring the least amount of regulatory overheads possible. Attention-wise, law currently takes most of my time at the moment because my day job is being a lawyer. But in terms of love for both fields, I’d say I love tech and law equally.
Given, it is not so easy to run a sustainable startup in Nigeria, you not only run one but two startups, what was your motivation behind HelpTalk Technologies and Sky Music or was it something you have always had an interest in?
It is definitely not easy to run a startup in Nigeria. And being a lawyer, I can see firsthand the amount of regulatory and compliance headaches involved, even outside fund raising, user acquisition and retention etc.
Sky Music was my first shot at creating a tech project from the scratch. Before then, I mostly built and ran websites and blogs that used existing backends like WordPress. When I built Sky with my cofounder, I was really interested in music at the time and felt I could introduce a badly-needed social layer for music. We have a social layer for photos and videos, but none for music, despite music being a huge part of our lives. Utimately, the project failed, not because the idea was bad (I still plan to revive it at some point later), but because we didn’t have a team strong enough to build a solid product in the pretty competitive music space. Because we had literally zero cash, we also couldn’t directly broker deals with artists to have their songs on the platform. We had to rely on users directly uploading songs while we sort of tracked songs behind the scenes for payment to right holders down the line.
Downloading and uploading song made sense for the years up until year 2010, not now that we’re in the golden age of streaming.
HelpTalk, on the other hand, was built as a charity project. On my way back from work after I won a hackathon with a different project, I heard people discussing domestic violence over the radio. I don’t know why that conversation stuck with me, but it did and I got motivated to build a product that could provide more practical solutions to the problem instead of just discussing it like everyone. While sketching out the idea on my way home, I discovered that the idea could be expanded to cover more than just domestic violence.. and HelpTalk was built to cover domestic violence and about 30 or so other areas.
I’m currently building mLaw, a pretty cool education app for lawyers. I’ve hope to have this out some time in July or, at most, August 2021.
Was there any point people were skeptical about having a lawyer as the founder/employer? How was that like? How is funding for these companies?
I haven’t really had issues with skepticisms because the way things work with me, my eye is always on the prize.
When I’m building a tech project, I wouldn’t build it “the way it has been built” or “the way lawyers build it”. Rather, I would build it “the way I believe it should be built”. As such, there’s usually very little focus on my background/profession. The focus is more on what exactly is being built.
Funding has been interesting. For my first startup, I was interested in funding, but I had no idea how to go about it. So I tried getting a volunteer cofounder to join me and get equity stake in the business first, believing that after it gets built, I can shop the product to investors for investment. In hindsight, I should probably have raised funds first.
For my subsequent startups, I’m more knowledgeable about how funding works… How it isn’t as glamorous as the media paints it. As a result, I’m really more into bootstrapping than raising funds now. Nonetheless, when I really need to raise money, I would, on great terms.
To build these companies, was learning to code a necessity or a longtime interest for you? Would you advise law students/lawyers to do same?
Learning to code was never an interest. I learnt the basics of how coding worked because I needed to understand what exactly these engineers were doing under the hood. It is easier to negotiate, set deadlines etc, when you know exactly the work to be done. So it’s really more of a necessity.
I don’t think lawyers need to know how to code. For a lawyer who just wants to do compliance, no need to know how to code. But for a lawyer who wants to create a company, if he or she doesn’t know how to code, then he or she needs a get trusted technical person who can efficiently run the coding side. But when a lawyer can code, it makes any kind of work that he needs to do a lot easier and backed with confidence. Imagine writing 15-page documents about APIs when you can’t even identify an API if you see one.
Where would you have intensified your efforts as regards your company if you had fore knowledge of the challenges you have encountered? What do you believe founders lose sight of while starting out?
I can’t really say I made grave mistakes in my early journey as a founder, even in hindsight. But I think if I was lucky enough in some areas, I would have had it easier. Early on, I had no safety net. It meant that I had to be very cautious about risk taking. And I was just a uni kid with middle class parents and no source of income outside pocket money.
Now, it’s a bit easier because I have options. My experience during & after the law school really opened my eyes into how things worked outside the whole “Silicon Valley perfect founders’ world” that TechCrunch paints. Currently, I think founders focus too much on solving problems “as they have always been done”. No one questions fundamentals. Today, open any iOS app and you see the same 4 or 5 tabs at the bottom. No one questions why those tabs must be used in the first place… Everyone just use it.
Why did Snapchat open straight into the camera instead of just doing what everybody did at the time to open to feed first before the user can tap some button to open camera or post editor? But that’s not even that main issue — I think the major distraction for founders today is the extreme focus on the hype — announcing fundraising etc — than the substance — how much of the company do you have left if you’ve raised $10m at $15m valuation? Do you even still own the company at all, when you have just 5% of the company after Series B? How many users are really using the product, and how many are you literally paying/burning cash on ads for to get them to use the product?
These are the hard questions founders don’t ponder about. And investors have no incentives to help founders focus on that. As long as you continually need their investment (which means more stake in the business for them) and someone else is continually willing, due to the hype, to pay a higher price for the shares, then that’s awesome for the investor.
What major problem/problems would you like to solve? What app/solution are you surprised, it hasn’t been built yet?
The two biggest problems I want to solve before I retire have nothing to do with apps. Like I hinted earlier, for me, apps, tech, law etc are just means to the end. The end is the actual problem being solved.
First, I want to solve the problem of hunger in the world. I still find it weird that we waste food when some others don’t even have food. Why does food expire at all? Why is it so expensive to grow food. In answering these questions in the affirmative and building technologies to get these issues fixes, I think I can, with a great team, solve the problem of hunger in the world.
Second, I want to put Nigeria on the map in space exploration. We’re currently very very very very bad at it. And we shouldn’t be. The future is humans becoming multi-planetary. We cannot be a third world country on earth and still go ahead to continue being a third world country even in Mars when humans finally colonize that planet. That would be double jeopardy. We have the opportunity to be at the forefront of this colonization and planets thingy, since everyone, including the U.S. etc, are still figuring it out too.
For lawyers looking to build their own startups, what should they expect and what is your advice to them?
Lawyers are not used to being scrappy. It is not unexpected for a lawyer to spend 3, 4 months writing a 50-page business plan even when a single line of code hasn’t been written for the product itself. A lawyer that wants to succeed in tech needs to drop habits like that. Lawyers need to focus on core tech stuff like an MVP (minimum viable product) first and be willing to manage resources including time. Of course, everyone’s reality is different, so a lawyer that has rich parents or investors or even personal savings of N400m or N500m can build cool stuff, without being scrappy.
But for the average lawyer, I think we have to drop the formality and focus more on the practicality of what is being built.
Lawyers should generally expect having to deal with more than just compliance as usual. As a startup founder, one has to consider the product, capital, legal compliance, marketing, user satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS), product roadmap, competitive threats and advantages etc. This may be too much for a lawyer who is used to just compliance work, but I think it can be done if the lawyer is truly interested in the problem being solved.
As a shortcut, a lawyer who still remains only good at regulatory compliance can negotiate to bring in other persons who are good at the other areas. This would usually come at the cost of extra salaries for those persons or/and even precious equity.
I came across this tweet and it caught my attention with respect to the trend of Non-fungible Tokens or what you also know as NFTs. Is it another quick cash scheme or something stronger?
Okay, let’s start from the beginning. An NFT is a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, or videos. The assets are bought and sold online mostly with cryptocurrency. It is unique and easily verifiable so fake collectables cannot be created or sold because each item can be traced back to the original issuer, and your sale can make you rich.
If you are a frequent user of social media, especially Twitter (before the ban), you may have come across the memes of Osita Iheme, popularly known as Pawpaw and maybe used them as a means of expression. Anyways, the gist is PawPaw has decided to sell his works (memes) on the internet as NFTs. Memes for sale, money for bag 🙂
Back to my tweet, asides from the craze of NFT, let’s bring it home to legal technology. It occurred to me how my question in the tweet also applied to the attitude of law firms to legal technology. Is there no craze or no interest in legal tech, because they don’t understand it or they just don’t care. Is it Ignorance or Indifference or a mix of both?
Q & A with Faith Obafemi on Space Law & Blockchain
We had an interesting conversation with Faith Obafemi, the Blockchain lawyer who is also a Tech Policy Associate at the Tony BlairInstitute for Global Change.
Q: You have always been the go-to person for anything on Blockchain law, so what sparked your interest in Space Law
A: I’m still into Blockchain. I haven’t abandoned it. My main interest is actually emerging technologies and since there is more than one emerging technology, I decided to gain competence one at a time. Now that I have a foothold in Blockchain, my next area of interest is Space technologies and I got interested in it because of its futuristic potential. I’m the kind of person that likes to ensure my career stays future proof because history has shown us that humans are naturally curious and love exploring. Even now that we have finished exploring the earth, the next logical place would be the galaxy. I want to be at the frontier when things are happening, that’s the kind of person I am. When breaking into a new space, I like to link the new knowledge to an area that I am already familiar with, that way I don’t start from scratch. In this context of knowledge, I get to link my knowledge of Blockchain with Space Technology. read more on our conversation…
Problem: I saw another tweet that caught my interest. It is hard for legal beneficiaries to claim the funds of deceased parents/children in Nigerian banks. How do we make this process simpler and easier?
Solution: This is where I actually ask you what you think? Do you know anybody solving this? I would like to talk to them.
Meet Q-Soft Denovo Court Recording System, the product that converts speech to text with 90% accuracy built from a collaboration between the Federal Ministry of Justice and the firm of Funmilayo Quadri & Co
LegalTech Unicorn, Clio acquires CalendarRules, a product that automates calendaring of court deadlines.
This has been a long time coming and finally, we are here. We now have a Youtube channel (actually, we have always had it, we just did not have any video up, but now we do and we will be having videos up on the channel every week).
Is there anything you would like us to talk about or questions you want us to answer, share with us by sending a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
For justice to be done in a democratic society, legal information is considered as one of its essential ingredients. Legal information is empowering for poor clients seeking access to justice, in their relationships to opponents, to lawyers and to judges. It helps clients to take control and can enhance their bargaining position and Streetlawyer Naija is working to make this possible for Nigerians.
Generally, people tend to fear what they don’t understand and that also applies to the laws of the country as well. A lot of Nigerians perceive the law as confusing and would rather not attend any court proceedings. People seem to perceive the law as confusing and would rather not have anything to do with the court, and StreetLawyer Naija is working to change that perception, as the more people understand their rights, the more the legal system gets better.
StreetLawyer Naija is a platform that started out in 2019 with the aim of enlightening and educating Nigerians of their rights in the most simplified words. The platform covers content on topics that revolve around Business Law, Cyber Law, Laws on Election, Property Law, Wills, etc
Onyinyechi Ezeoke started the platform by reaching out to lawyers within her network who wanted to be a part of the team with her. Two years down the line, StreetLawyer Naija has grown to a team of 11 lawyers who, although in active practice, are dedicated to contributing content to the platform. Currently, all lawyers on the team work as volunteers and interestingly, the team has had applications from other people that want to be a part of the team, and even on a volunteer basis. This has given a certain validation to what the team is trying to do.
On the side of feedback, the team has gotten quite a good number of positive feedback from their readers, as they get answers to their questions through the content on the platform. For instance, a good number of Nigerians do not know that there is something called the breach of promise to marry and that there are legal consequences to such breach. You cannot just promise to marry someone and then change your mind like NEPA (If you know, you know). This is not just a law in theory and StreetLawyer Naija wrote about it.
Monetization of Information…
From the beginning, the plan was never to monetize access to legal information on the platform but rather to make it a free for all. Recently, the team was able to get google adsense on the platform. With increased reach and engagement on the platform, Onyinye believes that lawyers working for StreetLawyer Naija will be able to get compensated.
StreetLawyer Naija has been on for 2 years now and in that time, the platform has been able to help answer the legal questions of a lot of Nigerians. ‘We are working on an app for StreetLawyer Naija and we intend to launch before the end of this year’, says Onyinyechi. The app will have features where users can access the services of a lawyer closest to them. The long term plan is to become the go-to platform for Nigerians to get answers to all their legal related questions around any topic.
People need to remove that idea that the law does not work. Granted that there are times when things in the system don’t go as planned, but that doesn’t invalidate the other times that the law does work. With Streetlawyer Naija, knowledge of your legal rights is going to be a click away.