Legally Lean: 4 Tips for Counseling Lean Startup Clients


What is a Lean Startup?

Lean Startup is a business approach first developed by Eric Ries which advocates that startups take a scientific approach to the development and deployment of their products and services. The key is quick iterations and validated learning. Ries’ book ‘The Lean Startup’ is a New York Times best seller and widely regarded as a must read book for anyone looking to form a startup.

Lean Startup has also become an adjective for certain startups, who pride themselves on being dynamic, cost conscious and ready to pivot their model based on early feedback. This can be appealing to both prospective employees and investors; as it’s a chance to be involved with a company which is fast moving, fiscally resourceful, responsive to customer feedback and (if you believe the tenets espoused in ‘The Lean Startup’) more likely to hit the acclaimed unicorn status. See: What is a Unicorn? 

Tips for Counseling Lean Startup Clients

Your Lean Startup clients are going to want to move fast, and they will want their lawyer to do the same. Tailoring your counsel accordingly will help you and your Lean Startup clients succeed. Here are 4 tips for counseling Lean Startup clients:

1. Provide quick and timely turn around of any work product

With all clients, it is safe to assume that they want work product as soon as possible. For Lean Startup clients, this is even more imperative as delays are detrimental to the Lean Startup methodology. When counseling Lean Startup clients, lawyers should ensure that they provide all work product when promised and be upfront as to when work product will be ready.

2. Provide a useful tailored NDA

One of the key agreements Lean Startup clients need is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), particularly one that is lean yet broadly protective, admittedly a tough order. Resist the urge to provide the standard long form NDA as many Lean Startup clients face push back from prospective customers and partners who may be put off by lengthy legal documents at such a preliminary stage in the business relationship. Take the time to tailor the purpose clause and protective provisions. Walk through with your Lean Startup clients how the NDA works and the process they should go through to have third parties sign the NDA.

3. Pick up the phone and limit round trip turns of legal agreements via email

So much of business nowadays is conducted via email and through the electronic exchange of marked up agreements, but for Lean Startup clients, this can cause unnecessary delays waiting for schedules to be synced and lawyers to find the time to markup agreements. Maximize efficiency by picking up the phone to discuss lengthy markups or to answer questions your Lean Startup clients may have.

4. Counsel Lean Startup clients to get key terms in writing

Your Lean Startup clients are busy doing exciting things and the legal formalities are surely the last thing on their minds. Protect your client’s interests and make your job easier when the time comes to draft a formal agreement by counseling Lean Startup clients to get all key deal terms in writing. Although it may be quicker to verbally agree on terms, encourage your Lean Startup clients to get all key deal terms in writing, even if it’s informal bullet points on a back of a napkin. This will help to avoid unnecessary disputes between the parties when the formal agreement is prepared and help your Lean Startup clients quickly move on to the next step in their ever evolving business plan.

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