New year, new plans - as Habito scales and prepares to add to its existing product portfolio, how do the legal team prioritize to match this growth? We caught up with Rohan Paramesh, Habito’s General Counsel, to find out.
Welcome back Rohan 👋
Great to be back!
What’s new with Habito?
We’ve had many exciting developments as we try to improve the overall home-buying process. In addition to our mortgage-broking activities, Habito launched as a mortgage lender in the summer of 2019, and we recently went live with two new products and services; Habito Go and Habito Plus.
Habito Plus is essentially a complete service for every aspect of home-buying - we help customers with everything along the way, from making offers, to getting the best mortgage, to signing the contracts at the end. Habito Go includes all the benefits of Habito Plus with the offer of up-front financing if the customer needs to secure their dream home before the mortgage comes through.
Both Habito Go and Plus have been well-received. There’s a danger of creating new products and services because the business thinks it’s a good idea, but Habito has always excelled at prioritizing the customer. We delve deep into customer research and place customer reviews and feedback at the centre of our thinking in order to address their needs and pain-points.
What are the main priorities for the legal function this year?
I’m focusing more on scaling the legal team and our legal processes in preparation for upcoming launches. The challenge lies in scaling the team to stay ahead of growth without ‘over planning’ before new business activities have gained proper traction and momentum
Knowledge-sharing within the team - I think it’s essential to dedicate time to knowledge-sharing, especially as the team grows and gains more specialist skillsets which could theoretically operate quite independently from one another
It’s important to maintain a ‘startup mentality' despite the business becoming more complex and sophisticated, especially in relation to internal and external-facing operations.
"Even outside of business-related matters, it’s essential to normalize knowledge-sharing; how can we centralize that learning to become better lawyers?"
Habito’s launching these great products and services - how can the legal team prepare for this?
You hire for particular skillsets and expertise, whilst maintaining an unbreakable team culture. For example, we recently hired a fantastic property lawyer who is helping to shape customer propositions and offer specific insight. This additional skillset helps us provide for both Habito Plus and Habito Go, and highlights the importance of hiring for required expertise.
It’s also important to remain conscious of the balance between ‘business as usual’ legal work and planning ahead. You can’t let existing work stagnate but, at the same time, leaving key events and activities to the last minute is detrimental! The balance is important, and equally reflected in the wider business - it’s a challenge everyone faces, and is all about scaling and prioritization.
How do you strike that balance?
It’s an ever-evolving challenge that you can approach by using different facets of both your career and personality. Your previous experience, the way you communicate with people and your persona within the business all shape the way you manage this balance. Another important aspect is how you manage the workload amongst the team to ensure everyone’s on the same page and striving for the same balance. Collaboration is key, but pro-actively assigning responsibilities across the function can also make a big difference; it’s crucial that everyone knows what they are owning and thrives in taking that responsibility. It’s a constant learning curve and there isn’t a ‘silver bullet’ answer to this - I enjoy that aspect of my role!
You also mentioned knowledge-sharing as a priority - why’s this so important?
Knowledge-sharing revolves around broadening skillsets in the legal function. When I was initially sole counsel, I didn’t have to share my knowledge with anyone within the ‘legal function’ - I was the only person in the team! Then I hired paralegal initially, and the sharing was mainly one-sided, focused around imparting knowledge and helping to support their development.
Once the team grows and the depth of experience and skillsets increase, there’s a diversity of valuable experiences which don’t necessarily surface on a daily basis. I’m trying to encourage team sessions where we can share experiences with one another, tapping into key learnings and offering advice.
Even outside of business-related matters, it’s essential to normalize knowledge-sharing; how can we centralize our learning to become better lawyers? How can we tap into a wealth of knowledge and approach a situation with the combined weight of experience? We’re already in the habit of regular lunch-and-learns in the business, so taking that habit and distilling it within the legal function is important.
"It’s important to think of the legal function as a team before focusing on individual specialisms - the ‘team first, specialism second’ approach ties back to legal being more approachable, efficient and transparent"
Your third point is about keeping a startup mentality despite the business becoming more complex and sophisticated. Why is this important?
The sense of ‘team’ underpins this. We’re a legal team of four now, and the skillsets of the team are becoming deeper and more diverse. It’s important to grow as a complex, mature function, but also maintain that mentality as the team scales. This revolves around collaboration, helping each other out, and offering support - which also affects how the legal team works with other teams in the business. We want to be an approachable, dynamic force, and you need a strong level of proactivity in this fast-paced environment.
How can you hire for that mentality?
Hiring for that mentality implies that previous experience is required, but it’s not necessarily the case in my view. If they’ve been in a similar environment before, you have a higher degree of confidence, but candidates don’t need to have had that exact type of experience before. It’s more a personality trait, and often clearly visible in candidates. The process of discovering whether they have this mentality is more about culture fit, understanding the person and identifying what excites them. Candidates should show an enthusiasm for adopting a startup mentality and operating in this unique environment.
How does it have a positive impact on both internal and external-facing issues?
Internally, that mentality has less to do with the practise of law. It’s important to think of the legal function as a team before focusing on the individual specialisms - the ‘team first, specialism second’ approach ties back to legal being more approachable, efficient and transparent. We need to empathize and support each other. We need to step outside our comfort zones to help each other.
With customer-facing issues, Habito is dedicated towards simplifying an otherwise complex process, and the legal team needs to mobilize quickly and dive into specialist areas to provide support to the customer. This pitch-in mentality is essential, especially in situations where we need to report across the business and collaborate with other functions.
Are there any key learnings from 2019 that have influenced your approach to legal in 2020?
2019 has shown us the value of being able to move quickly and integrate new products in a fast-growing business. 2019 also highlighted the importance of striking a balance between the evolving and the existing legal tasks; maintaining growth for future plans, whilst also providing a hands-on, effective legal service on a daily basis. I’m glad we’re all conscious of it as we embark on a new year with the business having exciting new products and services to complement the existing selection.