In our latest 60-second interview, Moonbug Entertainment’s general counsel Karine Ahton talks to The Lawyer about working in a startup environment, building a legal function from scratch and thinking in grey.
What attracted you to working in a startup environment?
I was general counsel of a Formula E racing team (Envision Virgin Racing) prior to joining Moonbug Entertainment, I enjoy working in a competitive, fast paced environment. Moonbug Entertainment is a high growth global start up with private equity backing and has grown from scratch to now being the most viewed digital kid media company in the world – only 2,5 years later. Being part of the management team of such an amazing company is exciting.
What does it take for a lawyer to be successful working for a startup?
You need to be hard working. It helps to be business-conscious and quick minded. A good sense of humour is always useful.
For most business and their lawyers, 2020 was about survival and crisis management. For you, it meant helping create an international media group. What were your main challenges in achieving this, given the current environment?
2020 was probably a bit different for us than for most, as we spent most of lock-down successfully completing a $120million funding round and the acquisition of two of the biggest global properties in children’s entertainment which in itself was a legal feat. All the while we still had to align the legal function with the global strategy of a high growth start up, increasing the pace and keeping the team’s spirit up in the middle of a pandemic. It was hard to strengthen relationships across the company when we could not meet face to face and there were always new people as we were (and still are) growing. Thankfully, I was assisted by a brilliant team, so we managed very well.
You are the first General Counsel for your current company; what does starting a legal function from scratch look like in practice?
It is the second time I am building a legal function from scratch. I enjoy the challenge as each company is different. I get to choose the best team and custom build a high functioning legal environment for the company. You have to look at everything across the entire group and it is about setting up the backbone of the company globally (corporate structure, data protection & compliance, tax, contract management systems, relationship with external law firms, templates, legal guidelines, policies, CSR, procurement, insurance, HR etc).
What is your advice to someone looking to take on a newly created General Counsel role within a startup?
Be a problem-solver. Be used to work with a hierarchically diverse workforce and be prepared to work long hours. When you create something no one has done before, you have to be able to ‘think in grey’ and be creative.
What is your vision for the legal department you’ve been building for the last year and a half?
It is important for me that we have a high performing team that also has fun. Our lawyers need to be focused, resilient, quick and nimble. The work is fast paced, global and result-driven. The team needs to be multi-skilled so that they can step in for each other at a moment’s notice. We are very client focused even though we are in-house.
What has been your experience with hiring and building a team during lockdown?
Interviewing lawyers remotely and integrating new lawyers into our team has been much easier than anticipated. We interviewed via Google Hangout and we have meetings online regularly. I put a great emphasis on personality fit and we have been lucky in getting high performing friendly lawyers. Lawyers in our team have a growth mindset and are invested in self-development whether it is legal or personal; I like ambitious people.
How do you create a team culture, when most of them have yet to meet face to face?
We have an online team meeting once a week, a team coffee and sometimes even a team cocktail hour, which helps. We keep regularly in touch directly throughout the day via Slack. We all get along rather well and that is important. We work a bit like a sports team passing the baton to one another which I think is a plus in a fast-paced environment.
Who has been the biggest influence in your career?
My father. He taught me about the importance of hard work, and he used to say that it’s a marathon not a race.
What do you like most about being a lawyer?
I enjoy the challenge, the problem solving and being part of making things happen.
What advice would you give the new entrants to the legal industry?
It’s a marathon not a race.