Hopin, founded in 2019, is a SaaS company that offers an all-in-one events management platform. When the pandemic hit, the demand for virtual events shot through the roof, and Hopin’s growth exploded. That’s when Sue So joined Hopin.
“When I first joined, Irene, our CLO, told me, ‘Make sure revenue stays on track.’ Hopin’s growth was already on a fast upward trajectory, and keeping revenue on track was my primary goal as the Head of Commercial.”
Sue’s career trajectory at Hopin speaks volumes about how well a job she has done with what she was given - she went from being a Senior Counsel to the Head of Legal within a span of 2 years, garnering four promotions along the way - that’s a promotion every six months! Needless to say, we were excited about the opportunity to interview her and share learnings from her experience.
In this article, we dive deep into how she built a foolproof commercial contract management process, along with other tips for in-house lawyers at hypergrowth startups.
#1 Make it as easy as possible for people to give you their money
The first thing that Sue worked on was what she calls the “perfect paper” - the core commercial contract for Hopin.
“Before I joined, almost every sales contract would get negotiated because nothing was standardized, slowing down deals and leading to long, drawn-out sales cycles.”
Once she and her colleague, Leslie Chen, were done revamping the contract, though, 80% of deals went through without getting negotiated or needing to involve legal. Here’s the exact process she followed to arrive at the perfect SaaS contract for Hopin.
Drafting balanced SaaS contracts that rarely get negotiated
According to Sue, once a deal enters the contracting stage, there are three key stakeholders/teams you need to convince:
“You must ensure that all three pillars are addressed in your contracts and documentation. You have to be able to speak to these people's concerns ahead of time and try to educate and pre-negotiate so you don't end up in a long sales cycle - you want to make it as easy as possible for people to give you their money.”
You also need to communicate with key internal stakeholders constantly to identify knowledge gaps and blockers that are slowing down deals. Sue spoke to these teams primarily to identify knowledge gaps:
- Product Support
- Customer Success
Finally, it’s important to hear directly from customers - and to do this, Sue jumped on key customer meetings - pre, during, and post-sales - to hear about customers’ biggest concerns, and gather the most commonly asked legal questions.
“Try to glean as much info about what causes friction as possible. Your biggest wins will come from addressing these knowledge gaps or hesitancies that are blocking/slowing deals.”
After gathering all the necessary information from these sources, Sue baked it into a set of terms and conditions that were easily understandable and addressed all parties’ concerns.
In addition to working on the core SaaS contract, she set up comprehensive documentation for FAQs regarding legal, data privacy, and security - all of which helped move deals faster.
#2 Enable sellers to negotiate contracts themselves
Once they standardized the contracts, Sue and her team kept in touch with the sellers to keep a pulse on what clauses were getting negotiated the most. They then drafted fallback positions for each of these clauses and shared them with the sellers.
“Once we came up with fallback positions and enabled sellers with them, the number of contracts coming to legal for negotiation reduced further. Obviously, we were very, very careful about what changes the sellers were allowed to make and anything beyond that still comes to us.”
#3 Prioritize wisely: Focus on where the risk and the revenue are
When you join a new org just building out its legal department, it’s important not to be tempted to buy a bunch of tools.
Tools are expensive - not only do they cost a lot of money, but at times, custom tools come with long implementation cycles and consume many of your team's resources - resources that could have otherwise been spent helping the company grow.
“It's good for a SaaS lawyer to be tech-savvy because it helps to know what tools are at your disposal and how to use them best. Go to the people who know how to use these tools well and ask them if it's possible to set up the workflows/automations you want within them.”
Sue and her team leveraged the tools they already had access to at Hopin to build out small workflows to support their requirements.
“Our sellers live and die in Salesforce, so we built our legal ticketing system within Salesforce.”
Once they built out a legal ticketing system, their sellers could reach out to them for help easily. They were also able to track things via this system and look at the metrics that were important to them.
Finally, Sue and her team set up automation on slack - slack integrations, workflows, and automated responses - all of this gave them more control and transparency over the entire contracting process and helped them save time to focus on high-value projects.
#4 Have 1:1s with cross-functional teams regularly
Collaboration with cross-functional teams is key to setting up a smooth commercial contracting process. Sue and her team meet regularly with leaders from the following teams:
Product Support & Customer Success
Since they hear the customer feedback directly - they know exactly what problems and questions customers have. And while they may pass this feedback on to some teams, they certainly don't think "we should contact legal about this."
That's because the things they come across may not be disputes, so they think legal is not needed. But since Legal is trying to head off disputes, being proactive about these things helps smoothen the entire customer journey end-to-end.
It’s important to keep in touch with the security team to get their take on where they think the risks are. A data breach is obviously a risk for most SaaS companies, but what does that mean in the context of your business?
“I tried to find out where they thought most of our vulnerabilities lie, and whether we needed to do more enablement internally to mitigate these risks.”
It's important to work with revenue teams to lubricate the deals and clear all the blockers from a legal pov. This is supposed to be an ongoing process, not a one-off thing, so it’s helpful to have recurring 1:1s with the revenue leaders.
“One of the revenue leaders I worked with told me, "Time kills all deals; you gotta close deals fast," and I keep this in mind every time I’m pulled into a sales deal.”
This is probably one of the most important teams to stay in touch with, especially if you operate in a highly-regulated market. To identify any issues about data privacy upfront, it’s important to be in lockstep with the GTM team - you need to think ahead of time and involve key stakeholders before they start building a feature or product.
“Half of being a really good commercial lawyer is just having great soft skills.”
As a commercial lawyer, you negotiate internally and externally all the time. The thing to ask yourself is - can you engender trust from the customer? Especially in SaaS businesses with a subscription model - there are resells and upsells all the time, and if the lawyer on the other side of the deal trusts you, the deals will go through faster.
“You have to make yourself approachable - you shouldn’t be the lawyer ‘that tells people what to do’ - instead, try being the lawyer that works with people to solve problems.”
A lot of this involves just meeting people and getting to know them - often, you learn that they are great at some things that their job title won’t suggest - and you’ll then know whom to call upon when you inevitably end up needing help with their area of expertise.