Protect what’s yours. Protect your intellectual property with confidentiality agreements and by registering trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Just like your website domain name, your intellectual property should be registered early on, so that no one else can use it. In addition to your brand name, you might also want to consider registering trademarks for any special feature names and marketing slogans.
Asa part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Black Men In Tech,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Charley Moore
Charley is the Founder and CEO of online legal services platform Rocket Lawyer, which provides affordable and simple solutions for nearly any legal situation. Prior to the advent of Rocket Lawyer, Moore practiced as an attorney for Venture Law Group, where he participated in the early-stage representation of Yahoo! (pre-IPO), WebTV Networks (acquired by Microsoft) and Cerent Corporation (acquired by Cisco Systems). He completed his Juris Doctorate at University of California, Berkeley and served as a U.S. Naval Officer in the Gulf War.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Inmy Naval Academy days, I got into a car accident that wasn’t my fault — another driver had run a red light — and I was able to go to the Judge Advocate General at the Academy for assistance. It was surprisingly very easy to get a lawyer to help me out and at least understand the issues and potential claims. Often, it’s that very first starting point — people taking advantage of and finding protection in the legal system — that even middle-class people in the civilian world can’t afford.
Later, my experience as an attorney representing startups exposed me to the high cost and high value of great legal advice, and the number of people priced out of justice. I didn’t like seeing small companies work on innovative projects yet fall to the wayside because they were unable to obtain legal services. Based on my experience, I knew how easy it could be to gain access to legal documentation and advice — so I decided to start Rocket Lawyer to help those companies. Today, Rocket Lawyer is one of the most widely used legal services in the world, with operations in the United States, Mexico and Europe.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
At Rocket Lawyer, our mission is to bring down the cost of justice so that it is affordable to everybody. As the company has grown, it has been gratifying to see the fruits of our labor positively impact more and more people. I never expected it, but I did dream that someday millions of people would be able to put their affairs in writing and get help from an attorney when they needed it — if somebody did them wrong or if they needed to defend themselves in the legal system. And now, that happens everyday on Rocket Lawyer, the service that we invented about a decade ago. So people like Greg Lutes, who owns a restaurant called 3rd Cousin in San Francisco, could incorporate his business with us and run it through the years with simple and affordable contracts; so that Kathy Sabatino could make sure that a valued member of her team could navigate the complex and often frustrating immigration system to legally obtain a work visa. And on and on. Nothing is more gratifying to me than hearing from customers that they were able to use Rocket Lawyer in the way that we intended to bring value to their everyday lives, introducing less risk for their businesses and often more security for their loved ones.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I grew up working in a family business, so I’ve lived with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship since I was a kid. People say baseball “is a game of failure” because a hall of fame hitter only succeeds 30% of the time and fails 70% of the time, but in business you can fail almost all the time and still win in the end. In business, you only have to be right once–in your life–to create generational wealth. So yeah, I fail every day. With that in mind, it’s hard to pick out one particular moment of failure. However, I will say that the people who join you on the journey ultimately embody both your successes and your failures. And ultimately, what feels great is sharing the wins with a dedicated group of people who all worked hard to overcome the necessary failure that it took to end up winners.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
You’re right. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by supportive people. My mom was my earliest inspiration. She was a teacher with a love of learning that she passed on to her students and to me.
I’ve also had great mentors my entire life, and I know that I’m standing on their shoulders. In particular, African-American men have been tremendously positive role models. I could name so very many, but here I’ll shout out Harry Bremond, one of the first successful African-American attorneys in Silicon Valley, and Ken Coleman, a pioneer in technology company senior management. I could go on and on!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to those of understanding, nor favor to the skillful; But, time and chance happen to them all,” from the book of Ecclesiastes. You have to be committed. Most people quit long before they would be defeated by a competitor. Almost every success I’ve ever seen my customers or teams achieve came after one or more significant setbacks that would have caused someone else to give up.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
Well, I was a history major, and I still love to study the past. As such, from a historical perspective, this is certainly the best time in human history by almost any measure. Actually, in my opinion, the most pressing threat to humanity is climate change. Having said that, we certainly don’t live in a utopia. Systemic racism exists. I’ve experienced it myself.
But, we have to remember that a great Civil War was fought in the United States over slavery. We have to remember that for 100 years after that war, there were lynchings and racial terrorism, segregation, and countless other day-to-day assults on the humanity of African-Americans. There was a civil rights movement in which thousands marched, many were jailed, and some were killed. In relation to those times, again I repeat, we live in the best time in human history on almost every front.
Nevertheless, as Dr. King said, “the arc of the moral universe […] bends toward justice,” we just have to keep doing the work. In Silicon Valley, we’re inventors. I think we can invent something better with technology that helps move the arc of history toward equity for all people. That’s why I’m so proud of our team at Rocket Lawyer. After the martyrdom of Mr. Floyd in Minneapolis, our team got to work and we delivered something new that we hope will help stem the tide of police misconduct. We think that the Rocket Evidence feature of our Rocket Lawyer mobile app can help millions of people capture video evidence of injustice and use that video evidence to tip the scales of justice in the right direction.
I also think that entrepreneurs and inventors can roll up their sleeves to solve problems that have to do with recruiting and hiring a diverse workforce and eliminating the scourge of unconscious bias in the workplace.
The good news is: There are more people of good will who seek to unite to solve these problems, than ever before, and there are more African-Americans and people of color, women, and non-binary people who have the education and opportunity to make a positive impact on the world in so many ways, than ever before–so as a result, I am optimistic.
This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
Most businesses seek to serve customers from diverse backgrounds. Companies that do not understand or meet the needs of their customers almost always fail. Having a diverse team — at all levels — leads to more innovation and better decision-making by allowing for a wider range of perspectives and experiences.
Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. It’s hard to be satisfied with the status quo regarding Black Men In Tech leadership. What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
First, endowments, pension funds, and other institutions that invest in venture capital and private equity funds must hold their portfolio managers accountable for investing in diverse founders and they must operate inclusive workplaces themselves. Second, the pipeline of diverse talent from educational institutions, including historically Black colleges and universities, needs to be welcomed and supported, especially when it comes to racial and gender diversity in the STEM-related subjects.
We’d now love to learn a bit about your company. What is the main point that your company is helping to address?
At its core, Rocket Lawyer is a company dedicated to making the law affordable and simple for everyone. Too often, small businesses and the average person don’t have access to legal services. We’re changing that by offering personalized, digital documents, RocketSign® e-signatures and advice from licensed attorneys at a price that most can afford.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In line with our commitment to justice and innovation, Rocket Lawyer recently became the first national company authorized to practice law in the state of Utah. Recommended by the Utah Office of Legal Services Innovation and approved by the Utah Supreme Court, Rocket Lawyer is participating in a pilot program that will enable Utahns to access legal help in new ways, outside of traditional law firms. For years, Rocket Lawyer has followed a similar model in the United Kingdom — providing digital-first legal services with a combination of staff and independent lawyers — and we’re excited to do the same now in Utah and soon in other US states.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Currently, Rocket Lawyer is working on distributing a survey to small business owners who are starting businesses during the pandemic. The findings will help us understand why people are considering or deciding to start businesses now, what types of businesses they are starting, what steps they are taking to protect their ventures, and common concerns they may have. We’re looking forward to seeing the results and doing what we can do to continue to help businesses through the pandemic.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Focus on your customers. Start with understanding the value they need and provide it to them. Scale that.
Also, networking can be huge for renewing your energy. Burnout is so common these days, but by connecting with people you can help — especially those who can teach you something you don’t know — you may find renewed inspiration. So, say “yes” to as many of these opportunities as you can.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Remember that sales is a conversation. Be authentic. Learn who your customer is and what motivates them, then listen to what they have to say about the problem they need to solve. When you listen well and provide a delightful solution, customers will advocate for you and sell on your behalf.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
Again, the key is to know your customers. What questions do they have? Who do they turn to for answers? There are several tools available to help you understand what questions your customers might be typing directly into search engines. Answer those questions and become a resource to others who are addressing those questions, as well.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- Never lose sight of the problem that you are solving for the customer.
- Keep it simple.
3. Eliminate friction. If you can do all three of these things, you can steer clear of numerous customer experience pitfalls that keep good businesses from becoming great.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Keeping the right customers starts with data. You need to know what customer activities drive the most value and what factors lead to the most churn. If you increase engagement on activities where your users find the most value and decrease activities that trigger churn, you should end up with happier customers and healthier retention rates. Of course, it can take a lot of experimentation and optimization to determine what works best for your business.
Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are a few pointers:
- Build on the right foundation. The first step to protecting your business is to incorporate. This process separates you from your business as a legal entity, and can help to protect your personal assets in the event of a lawsuit or bankruptcy — the latter being especially relevant given the current impact of the pandemic. Once your company is legally formed, maintain your registered agent and file your compliance documents on time.
- Protect what’s yours. Protect your intellectual property with confidentiality agreements and by registering trademarks, patents, and copyrights. Just like your website domain name, your intellectual property should be registered early on, so that no one else can use it. In addition to your brand name, you might also want to consider registering trademarks for any special feature names and marketing slogans.
- Be a smart employer. Employment law can be complex. Be sure to classify employees and contractors properly, and leverage employment contracts, NDAs, and an employee handbook to set forth your expectations.
- Maintain enough insurance. Make sure that you’ll be covered in the event of the unexpected. General liability, umbrella, professional liability, natural disasters, human disasters/injury, and employment practice liability may all be worth your consideration.
- Record everything in writing and keep good counsel. Use written contracts; read everything before you sign; negotiate; and seek legal advice if you are unsure. A good business attorney can mean the difference between the success and failure of your company.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m all in on our mission at Rocket Lawyer to expand access to justice. If we can do that in my lifetime, it will certainly make a positive dent in the universe and will take people all over the world to be a part of it.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
David Blight. I just finished his masterful biography of Frederick Douglass. Would love to discuss all the underlines and highlights and notes in margins that I loved marking up in his phenomenal work about an extraordinary American.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!