By South Florida entrepreneurs, for South Florida entrepreneurs. All things tech in the sunny Silicon Tropic.
Kevin Levy is an expert when it comes to the legal considerations entrepreneurs must pay attention to when launching, growing, and selling a startup. His expertise comes from years of experience with both Fortune 500 companies and startups. GrayRobinson is also a law firm you should know in the South Florida scene, as it employs some of the smartest movers and shakers in the legal world, and representation you would only stand to benefit from. Tagged by me, because I thought our readers could use some practical legal advice from a lawyer who is in an excellent position to deliver.
Who are you? “Kevin Levy. I was born in New Jersey, but I grew up North Carolina.”
Tell us about the GrayRobinson technology practice’s focus on startups. “For a technology business, we are a one-stop shop. The firm works with startups, midsize companies and Fortune 500 clients. We counsel clients on everything from incorporation to IP protection, from licensing and service agreements to hiring and incentivizing employees, and from raising funds to tax planning. Our practice group includes attorneys with a wide array of backgrounds, experiences and training, which enables us to provide a comprehensive resource for our clients. By way of example, some of our attorneys have founded our worked as in-house counsel for software development companies, and have experienced first-hand the need for understanding not only the basic legal issues facing a growing startup, but also the related business decisions that drive the growth of the company. With our experience, we can help an entrepreneur make practical decisions on how to maximize their focus on addressing the important issues.”
Tag an entrepreneur to be interviewed: “Brian Breslin from Refresh Miami. Brian started Refresh America 9 years ago, and now there are close to ten thousand local software developers active in the organization, which provides an opportunity for these programmers to meet, collaborate attend programming sessions and compete in an annual Demo Day.”
Tell us about one of your interesting startup clients. “I have a few healthcare tech startups that I work with. Healthcare tech has existed in South Florida because we historically and currently have a huge healthcare industry here. Given the rise of the IT industry in South Florida, a merger of healthcare and IT in this region works well. One healthcare ITstartup I work with that is on the cutting edge is Care Angel. Care Angel uses artificial intelligence to check on elderly customers to ensure they are feeling well, taking their medicine and are not experiencing any health related issues. It is literally a “care angel”.
What stage of growth are the majority of your startup clients? “I have an eclectic group of clients, at various stages and in various technology sectors. Some are software developers, some are hardware manufacturers and some sell goods and services through e-commerce. I also represent a number of scale-ups, which have received one or more rounds of funding and have momentum to continue moving forward. In addition to startups and scale-ups, I represent a lot of mid-size, large international, and Fortune 500 companies.”
One piece of general legal advice to startups: “From a broader perspective, get a good knowledgeable attorney involved early. It is important for a startup to acknowledge that there are many pieces to the puzzle of building a successful company and no one person can do it all. They need to rely on their team, which includes outside advisors like attorneys, accountants and mentors. More specifically, preparing or reviewing contracts (regardless if the contract generates revenue), you need to focus on at least these three critically important sections:
Because at the end of the day, if something goes wrong, and these provisions do not fit the transaction and your needs, then you may be on the hook for for a lot more than you realize or the other party may have less of an obligation to resolve the problem (such as a breach of data) than you thought.”
Are there any free or inexpensive resources you’d recommend our readers should take advantage of? “This might sound odd coming from a lawyer, but Google is a good STARTING resource. Knowledge is power, and if you have an issue, Google it and educate yourself about the issue before you speak with an expert to address the details and work with you on a solution. This will help your expert identify the issue and counsel you on a way address the issue. For example, understanding the issues related to a co-founder leaving the company and clawing-back the co-founder’s interests will help you explain to your counsel what you are trying to accomplish, which will enable the attorney to talk you through the finer details related to that strategy and ultimately to draft the provision which best reflects your intended goal.”
Most common legal mistake startups make: “People race forward without listening to people who have relevant expertise or experience. No one person knows it all. I admire the drive and belief that all entrepreneurs have to build a company to solve a problem, but the greatest entrepreneurs know it takes a team of diverse talent to grow a company and make it all that it can be.”
A key provision for an NDA: “I’ve seen scenarios where large companies give startups a Non-disclosure Agreement and signing it in its current form is not in the startup’s best interest. For instance, make sure there is prevailing party attorney’s fees provision. As a startup, you’re the small party, and you don’t want to be in a situation where the larger company can either sue you or dare you to sue them knowing you cannot recover your attorney’s fees even if you win. A prevailing party attorney’s fees provision can eliminate the larger company’s leverage and create a level playing field for both parties to act fairly and in good faith.”
Many people say that the law is reactionary as opposed to proactive. Where is the law failing to provide guidance on certain tech issues? “Because technology is one of, if not the most, innovative industries, laws addressing technology are and will likely always be behind technology. One of the ways it was behind, although in Florida we recently addressed it, is providing a civil remedy for unauthorized access of electronic data by a former employee while the person was an employee and had access, but did so with an unauthorized intent. The current federal law does not provide a complete remedy for this scenario, because it was not envisioned at the time the law was created, and the ‘business’ of making laws is both time consuming and political in nature.”
What are your thoughts on automated legal services (such as IronClad): “While I believe technology provides a tremendous opportunity to reduce costs and time, you need to consider that automated technology is only as good as the information that is put into the algorithm and the questions used to collect information, which often cannot address every foreseeable legal issue nevertheless provide comprehensive solutions.”
Favorite gadgets or productivity apps you think other people need to know about: “I use Uber to go to meetings so I do not waste time finding parking.”
What do you think Miami needs to become the next startup hub? “More professional investors (like VC firms) need to take notice of the growing startup community in South Florida. A number of VCs and incubator organizations have recently started or moved to Miami, like Medina Capital, Krillion Ventures and Scout Ventures, which is a huge step in the right direction, but we need more to recruit and encourage more to follow their lead.”
What has been the biggest challenge for your startups in Miami? “People used to say that it was getting talent. I think what they’ve started to learn that there is talent here. For instance, FIU is the 3rd largest computer engineering school in the country, the University of Miami has a small, but very well-regarded technology department and Miami-Dade College has embraced the startup and technology community. Our local high schools have also added a number of entrepreneur and technology courses and magnet programs for students.”
What opportunities should startups take advantage of at this point in the city’s growth? “The enthusiasm this community has for entrepreneurs. In the past, we may have called them small businesses, but entrepreneur-led businesses built Miami. With the county and city government, as well as the Knight Foundation, providing a significant amount of programming for local entrepreneurs, there are plenty of opportunities to use this enthusiasm to start and grow a startup in Miami. Entrepreneurs should get involved with eMerge Americas, Miami Tech Week, and the plethora of local hackathons, as well as drop by the growing number of accelerators and incubators in our community.”
Name a service for Miami startups that our readers should use: “Legal Services of Miami has a great new program for startups.”
Best cocktail in Miami: “The Bullfighter at Bulla.”
To get in touch directly with Kevin, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.