Eva Mobacker recently joined Planhat as VP Legal - the company’s first legal hire. She discusses planning, priorities, and having to run uphill from day one as sole counsel, in our latest interview.
Hi 👋 who are you?
I’m Eva Mobacker, recently appointed VP Legal of Planhat, a Swedish customer success SaaS company. I’ve been working as a lawyer since 2006, both in-house and in private practice.
You were sole counsel at Hero Gaming before you joined Planhat. How do you plan ahead so you can hit the ground running from day one?
Customer success as a concept is quite new to me and I've been busy learning about the industry and the Planhat product. You can’t effectively serve a business as the lawyer if you don’t understand the offering of your company and the space in which the business is operating.
I have plenty of experience in the high-velocity online gambling industry, so I’m used to hitting the ground running - but also used to continuous running after day one, often uphill and with a lot of sharp bends!
What are your top three priorities when joining a new company?
My priorities are to:
1. Learn as much as I could about the business
2. Get to grips with the legal challenges
3. Draft a one-year plan with the key stakeholders
I’ve also been working closely with our sales team to understand where legal elements of the onboarding might slow down the sales cycle. It’s important that I understand how legal can make sales contracts as clear as possible, both for our teams and for the customers. Our contracts should be succinct and intuitive - just like our product.
"At a previous employer I did everything I could to make the business self-sufficient. While that was fantastic and I was able to empower teams, it did push me further away from the customers ... Nowadays, I want to strike a balance"
What are the biggest challenges?
It’s always a challenge to get the legal function in order at a mature startup, where the business has (understandably) prioritized growth over the administrative work. It’s a common scenario you’ll hear from most in-house lawyers, especially if they’re the first legal hires. A lot of your work involves firefighting and building legal infrastructure from scratch, and at some point the “boring” processes become essential - as the business can’t continue to scale without them.
Having said that, the wider business at Planhat has done a fantastic job being on top of areas like data protection and security, so it is mostly a matter of structuring the completed work and taking it to the next level.
Building a legal infrastructure from scratch is not an easy task - how do you balance your time between that and other responsibilities?
I’m not a fan of processes and policies just for the sake of it. My view is that legal workflows need to develop naturally. After a while, you can see what works and what needs improvement, and you can start to codify it. Having that structure on paper and in an accessible location, with FAQs, is important for new starters but also for a business getting used to having a lawyer in the company.
How do you avoid getting buried under low-value work as the first legal hire at a business?
I don't avoid low-value work at all. At a previous employer I did everything I could to make the business self-sufficient - from making sure they had answers to every legal question in a set of FAQs, to creating alternate terms for contracts depending on the contract type and the nature of the transaction. While that was fantastic and I was able to empower teams, it did push me further away from the customers. I didn’t get to know the customers until the customer success team flagged a major issue or concern, for example - and at that point it was more difficult to build a rapport.
Nowadays, I want to strike a balance. I want to handle the “easy” questions, both from my colleagues and the customers, and build that trusting relationship, and have time to dedicate towards high-value strategy work. I’d much rather outsource the tasks I don’t know well enough than the tasks that I find uninteresting or repetitive. I enjoy the mix - sometimes it is nice to spend a few hours on repetitive work; your brain needs that monotony as well!
Being the sole counsel at a business, what do you turn to for resources and support?
I have many friends who are lawyers and trusted advisors in my network who are always happy to help when I need to bounce ideas off someone. I try to attend seminars at law firms on interesting topics, both to learn but also to network with lawyers in similar roles. In my previous role, I had access to many useful online resources that addressed the legal and regulatory side of the industry - and I hope to find similar resources for the B2B SaaS space too.
"It’s amazing to get to change people's minds about legal being a necessary evil! Instead I get to showcase legal’s value as a function that can make other teams’ jobs easier"
And when it comes to making sure the business knows that legal is approachable, transparent, and here to help - do you adopt any strategies to make a positive first impression?
Being approachable and helpful is the most important trait for a successful in-house lawyer! I’m quite service-minded by nature and I try to be really transparent in how I communicate with the business; for example, giving the business a heads up when I’m busy with a high-priority task, such as an M&A project or an unexpected audit. It’s important that everyone knows that legal doesn’t function in a bubble, and if I'm extremely busy and slow to reply, there’s a reason behind it.
Based on your experience as sole counsel at Hero Gaming, is there anything you’d approach differently in your new role at Planhat?
I’m going to try and make time for informal calls with my colleagues. I’ve accepted the fact that I will always be busy, quite often on my own focusing on a document, but if I never take the time to socialize with colleagues it will become quite a lonely work life - especially as I worked remotely for most of my time at Hero Gaming and will continue to do so at Planhat.
I will also try to improve the way in which I set time aside for focused work - but avoiding the constant distraction of Slack is easier said than done!
What’s the most rewarding part of your role?
I really love the buzz of closing a great deal. It’s also amazing to get to change people's minds about legal being a necessary evil! Instead I get to showcase legal’s value as a function that can make other teams’ jobs easier.
Eva Mobacker is VP Legal at Planhat. Want to hear more from the visionaries scaling in-house legal? Join our community of 400+ lawyers and legal ops teams.