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10x thinking: legal at Onfido

Francesca Porter, 9 September 2020

At a high-growth company, how can legal offer support that scales? Francesca Porter, GC at Onfido, explains the role of 10x thinking.

Hi 👋 who are you?

I’m Francesca Porter, I’m the general counsel at Onfido. Onfido’s an ID verification tech company that’s creating a new identity standard for the internet. We digitally prove people’s real identities using a photo ID and facial biometrics, so individuals can verify themselves anywhere, at any time.

What are the company values you live by at Onfido?

We have five values, each represented by an animal. These are: succeed together (penguin 🐧); take pride (lion 🦁); create customer buzz (bumble bee 🐝); find a better way (finch 🐦); and learn things, share them (chimpanzee 🐒). 

We also have core behaviours that underpin these company values. 10x thinking is a great behavioural value that helps us focus on scale in our day-to-day work. It’s a useful mindset to have at a high-growth company like Onfido. 

Sometimes a decision is more of an attractive “here and now” opportunity than something that will help us scale tenfold and achieve our goals. 10x thinking helps us to step back and stay focused so we don’t get drawn off into the woods

What does 10x thinking mean?

10x thinking is a mindset where you consider the future in everything you do. When you’re making a decision about a direction within the business or the team, 10x thinking encourages you to aim higher and plan for scale. For example, if you brought in a new system to automate a certain task, how can you ensure that this system will maximize efficiency in a year’s time when the volume of work is much bigger? Effectively, it’s about seeing further ahead than your regular ‘business as usual’ tasks, and instead considering how the changes you implement will positively impact the business you’ll be in the future.

How does 10x thinking work in Onfido’s legal team?

We’re aiming to make something 10 times better, instead of just aiming to improve by 10 per cent. Instead of trying to reactively resolve every single issue that comes our way, we focus on the data and prioritize accordingly in line with our company’s overarching strategy and business plan. Sometimes a decision is more of an attractive “here and now” opportunity than something that will help us scale tenfold and achieve our goals. 10x thinking helps us to step back and stay focused so we don’t get drawn off into the woods or submerged in reactive, firefighting tasks.

Can you give us an example of 10x thinking? 

Any legal function at a high-growth scaleup will have contract requests coming in from all sides of the business. It can be helpful, instead of dedicating legal time to each and every contract request, to analyse the data and drive a segmented approach. 

It starts from asking the right questions. For example, how many contract requests are mid-market, upper-mid market, or enterprise? How many contracts are Tier 1, Tier 2, or Tier 3? Where is the revenue coming from and what is the company’s focus? If you know the legal team is spending the majority of their time on mid-market contracts and that mid-market contracts make up 80 per cent of the customer base, but only bring in 20 per cent of the revenue, you know that the legal team’s time is misaligned with company benefit. 

Armed with this knowledge, a programme to automate mid-market contracts through self-service materials (such as cheat sheets and playbooks) can preserve legal time and set the team up for scale. This needs to be coupled with a behavioural change amongst the sales team. You need to empower them so that, for example, mid-market clients are not alienated in the process change - but rather, served a different way. 

In this way, a legal team can use data to drive business impact, increasing the effectiveness in the team multiple-fold instead of by marginal gains. It can be challenging to adopt a 10x thinking mindset without a clear granular analysis of the data. Tracking data will help you identify where you are now and where you need to be in the future, keeping you accountable on the journey.

How do you get that data? Why’s it important?

Pulling data manually is a job in and of itself, so it’s important that the legal team considers using tooling to track and log data. We’re fortunate in that we invested in a legal operations hire, who has been redefining our structures because he has the right skills and a full overview of the systems we have in place. With more insights, we can take more initiatives. 

The benefits of being data-driven are clear - if legal needs to build a business case, the request is much more compelling if there’s data to reinforce it. The data makes your request concrete and measurable, and helps the executive team steer strategy. 

What would an example of a legal team NOT implementing 10x thinking look like? 

The process would be much more reactive, focused around resolving the immediate problem instead of looking ahead to how legal can mitigate this problem in the future. A legal function that doesn’t adopt this mindset would consist of lawyers trying to keep their heads above water and avoid burnout as best they can, doing repetitive tasks and potentially a large amount of mundane work as well as strategic, high impact work. They’d work longer hours, with no real sense of achievement and actualisation.

As a lawyer, you end up getting busier on every front as the company grows, so it’s important to establish a legal process that serves the business in an effective, streamlined way without needing intensive legal resources each time.

How do you use 10x thinking to make sure legal can still support the business as it scales?

When you’re scaling fast, there’s always commercial work to be done - but into the mix comes corporate work, employment law, property law,  litigation, product counselling, and more. As a lawyer, you end up getting busier on every front as the company grows, so it’s important to establish a legal process that serves the business in an effective, streamlined way without needing intensive legal resources each time. Setting up legal safeguards and empowering other teams is an effective way to ensure legal supports the wider business as it continues to scale. 

What can GCs do to implement 10x thinking in everything they do? 

  1. Understand what you want to measure. Don’t try and go from 0-100 overnight. At Onfido we focused on keeping track of incoming legal tickets and automating our contracts - but other businesses might be more interested in reducing budget. Knowing what exactly you want to measure is a great place to start. What do you want to do, what data do you need and what changes do you need to make? Once you know this, you can frame KPIs and track them monthly. There are some great resources online to help you brainstorm this, like this article.

  2. Look at the tools you can use. Look at existing tools before branching out to alternative legal tech solutions. For example, if your business is already using Zendesk you may be able to leverage this existing system for legal requests. Identify the systems being used across the wider business, and understand what you need from technology before considering a new solution. It’s a long road, and integrating a new tool takes time, but it's also not going to be led by one function in the business. Make sure you don’t design systems in a vacuum - one tool should speak to another in a commercial automation ecosystem.

  3. Set up a team who can establish these changes in a non-isolated way. Once you have identified a new process or system that can drive efficiency, consider getting together a cross-functional team to roll it out in a collaborative way across the business. Failure to do this may result in setbacks in the future or low adoption. 10x thinking is a company-wide decision, after all. 

  4. Help teams help themselves. Create documented processes that enable the business to move away from individuals as 'information houses' or 'single points of failure'. An example of a process we helped to design and create is a New Country Roll-Out Plan that sets out the steps legal, finance, HR, marketing and property teams need to take every time an office is opened in a new country. This ensures we clearly allocate responsibilities without having to reinvent the wheel each time.

Adopting a 10x thinking mindset doesn’t happen overnight - every budgetary decision, every interaction, every growth decision needs to centre around setting us up for ten times the growth. But applying this mindset will result in a wealth of benefits; from a clear strategy, to a company-wide alignment, to a stronger focus on the tasks that will help you support the business as it scales tenfold. 

Thanks Francesca! 😊

Topics: Legal operations

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