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Lawyer #1: Handling uncertainty during a crisis

Rohan Paramesh, 17 September 2020

While we were all watching Tiger King and baking, Habito’s legal team managed to complete a funding round and get B Corp certification during lockdown. How?!

Welcome back, Rohan!

Thank you!

You previously told us your top three priorities for 2020 were knowledge-sharing, scaling the legal team and legal process; and maintaining a startup mentality. In light of 2020, have those goals changed?

They’re still the same, and as important as ever. In the current environment where everyone’s working remotely, knowledge-sharing is essential - you need to find ways to maintain the rhythm and unity, and work as effectively as possible. 

Scaling the legal team and legal processes - you can’t really leave that behind, especially when you work at a high-growth company. You hope the industry rebounds well at a macro level and, if it does, you’ll come out the other side busier than ever, so you need to ensure you haven’t forgotten about scaling and positioning yourself as well as possible for that.

And the companies that can react quickly and maintain that agile startup mentality will find a way to thrive in all this uncertainty. As a legal team, you need to learn to feel comfortable letting go of the plans you had, refocusing, and reprioritizing to make a really valuable impact on the business. 

So what’s new with Habito? 

We’ve had a busy few months since lockdown - we spent the initial few weeks figuring out how lockdown would affect the business; we’re tech-driven, so remote working wasn’t an issue, but there was a lot of uncertainty around the housing market generally. We had to refocus our key priorities to manage the upcoming months. 

And as lockdown lifted, we worked closely with the government steering group on how to safely reopen the housing market. It was a hectic return back to normal, but all good problems to have! We were certainly glad to have dedicated some time to adapting our strategy and positioning ourselves as well as possible to serve the market as and when it rebounded. 

Funding rounds are uncertain by nature; any business completing a funding round at this time will have experienced more headwinds born out of this uncertainty

Talk about your series C funding - what was the process like during lockdown?

It was an ongoing process with an intense combination of reactive and proactive legal work. The fact that everyone was working remotely didn’t affect us too badly - our new and existing investors are international, so the geographical spread would’ve resulted in video calls anyway. 

But there was a lot more uncertainty in the broader environment, which was challenging to manage - there’s the health impact of COVID-19, regionalized uncertainty of the pandemic’s impact and, even more specifically, the economic impacts on each particular sector. On top of that, funding rounds are uncertain by nature; any business completing a funding round at this time will have experienced more headwinds born out of this uncertainty. 

For us, this meant an extra focus on potential scenarios as we looked to forecast the easing of lockdown and return of the market, which led to questions from investors trying to understand that outlook more broadly. The housing market took a huge hit during lockdown so the onus was on us to demonstrate our vast experience of the market and its previous cycles, and bring that to bear when analysing how we thought this situation would evolve. 

Looking back, a situation like this really does allow you to maximise your strengths and really collaborate in new ways; I am proud of how we managed the situation and struck that balance between proactive and reactive.

How did you minimize that uncertainty?

You can only respond to something in front of you, I think this period of time has shown me that if you remain totally open minded, reactive and flexible to situations you’re in the best possible place to prosper - which ties back to the importance of having an agile, startup mentality.

Early on, we prepared a detailed analysis of COVID-19 to understand the impact of the pandemic on our business. We modelled various scenarios and detailed possibilities, and investors were impressed by the speed of reaction. It’s more about reacting quickly to the challenges, instead of proclaiming to know everything - you can’t mitigate the uncertainty from the pandemic, but we had contingency plans in place that helped us navigate the environment. 

You can’t just create a contingency plan in week one and rely on that same analysis three weeks later. We had to continuously update with information as we received it, and share this context as transparently as possible with everyone in the business 

How did you create those contingency plans?

We’re a data-driven business, and also in various industry groups - so we had a wealth of knowledge and expertise to tap into, and we brought it all together so we could constantly update our analysis and keep the entire business aligned. That was the most important part; you can’t just create a contingency plan in week one and rely on that same analysis three weeks later. We had to continuously iterate and update with information as we received it, and share this context as transparently as possible with everyone in the business. 

The legal team was distributed during this massive project - how did you all maintain that efficiency and unity without being in an office together?

We had to be really thoughtful about this and I felt strongly about having processes embedded in our day-to-day so we could replicate those office interactions as best as possible. 

From the first day working remotely we had a virtual team catch up every morning. Our discussions were sometimes related to work, sometimes not, but having that time anchored in our calendars was useful, so we could replicate the little chats you have around the office. We are still doing it to this day.

Everyone misses those unplanned, serendipitous chats at the coffee machine or over the desk, so you have to go out of your way to create those. It also made it easier to share knowledge and resources on upcoming projects, so we were always aligned and working efficiently. 

We didn’t see each project as a huge meteor heading towards us, but rather an opportunity to sink our teeth into something new and work closely together

Habito also recently became an accredited B corporation - tell us about that! What does this mean for the business?

Becoming a B Corporation was something we really set our hearts on and meant a huge amount to us - it’s a way of understanding, measuring and vocalizing the impact Habito has in the community around us, and amongst stakeholders, which include customers, colleagues, partners and investors. In our industry, we think it’s a massive deal and plays a significant part in people’s lives; we’re impacting how people buy homes, which is a tangible thing that many people can relate to. Home is your safe space, so B Corp accreditation really helps us visualise and validate the footprint we’re leaving - and want to continue leaving - in our environment. Becoming a B Corp is just the start of a journey for us; we can’t wait to develop our plans and thinking to try to make a lasting impact as a business.

Any advice to legal teams preparing for major projects during lockdown?

It’s more a mindset you need to adopt than a list of preparation you need to complete - though that is also important! We didn’t see each project as a huge meteor heading towards us, but rather an opportunity to sink our teeth into something new and work closely together. 

You need to be willing to learn about new things, and remain flexible with the tasks ahead. It’s about buying into and caring about the mission of the wider business, so when you’re faced with major projects and initiatives, they don’t side-swipe you altogether and you can take it in your stride. 

I mentioned earlier about the importance of keeping a startup mentality and it’s particularly true here - I think it speaks volumes to the general dynamic and rhythm of the legal team and how well you can adapt to and accommodate new tasks as the business grows. 

Thanks, Rohan! Speak soon. 👋

Topics: Legal operations

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