GC Fireside

A Co-Founder’s Perspective of Legal and the Value of General Counsel

Sander Daniels
September 17, 2020

One of the most important considerations for GC's when beginning a new role is understanding how the business values legal within the organization. To get a Co-Founder's persepctive, we are speaking with Sander Daniels of Thumbtack who is currently hiring a General Counsel to lead the next leg of growth for the company.

How does legal add value?

We have long seen legal as a chief business partner to our executive team and our broader 40+ person leadership team. Most decisions we make are questions of risk vs. reward, and the legal function is the best positioned to help coach us through those tradeoffs. What we love most in a senior legal partner is someone who can help build the business alongside us, engage with us strategically on every major question we face, and bring their unique experience to bear on what lies ahead. Each of us on the leadership team is an expert in our particular domain. However we’re all equals when we’re in the Boardroom or with the leadership team hashing out our three year plan, what to focus on next in building our team culture, thinking about our future financing plans -- or whatever other question of the day arises.

Legal’s value has always been profound but particularly so during 2020! Legal led us through many of the ups and downs through the year, from the initial move to work from home to restructuring of the team when our outlook for the year seemed bleak to being point on public company readiness since the business has come roaring back. It turns out that home is now more important than ever and homeowners are spending a record amount on home maintenance. This has given us a tailwind behind our underlying business growth -- and legal is a core partner in helping us work towards this next stage of our company. I’m on the phone with legal almost every day working through questions on employee matters or culture building or product strategy or potential future financing.

How does legal partner with the business?

We’re lucky to have a legal function that since the beginning has been led by attorneys who see themselves as partners in building the business vs. reactive independent contributors who see their job as providing a yes/no. I myself practiced law for 14 months as a junior attorney at Sullivan & Cromwell in Washington DC -- at that stage my only job was to do legal research and come back with my best answer to a basic question on corporate law. At Thumbtack today, however, the job of a senior attorney is totally different. Our best attorneys embed themselves in our Ops, Marketing, Product and Engineering teams to get to know their plans and personalities. They participate in quarterly planning sessions across the company. They understand the technology and data behind the decisions we make as a company. They have thoughtful opinions that offer both the legal perspective and business judgment and strategy for growth. We really see the best in-house attorneys as strategic thinkers and consultants as well as experts in legal matters.

Should a GC always report to the CEO?

In our case and for this role the individual will report to my co-founder, Marco, who is our CEO. The GC has long been part of our core executive team at Thumbtack and seen by all executives as a partner among equals. Whether the GC should always report to the CEO depends in part on the backgrounds and experiences of the GC, CFO, and CEO. Reporting lines are just one among a constellation of factors that play into the influence of a particular leader at a company and we’ve always privileged legal no matter what the reporting line. That said, at this point in our company’s life cycle we’ve all decided it’s right for the GC to report to our CEO.

You are currently hiring for a General Counsel.  What is great about working for Thumbtack and who is your ideal candidate?

There are three reasons people come to work at Thumbtack:

  1. Our mission. We’re a very mission-driven company. We’re proud of the work that we do to put money in the pockets of small businesses and build a path to a middle class career for local professionals around the country, particularly in a time when that path is being eroded.
  2. Our culture. Since we founded the company, we’ve taken a very long-term approach to the business. What do we need to focus on to build this company over decades? The #1 answer to that for us has always been people, culture, and values. Employees describe our culture as down to earth, pragmatic, humble, with a high sense of inclusion and belonging. 
  3. Our growth opportunity. We are at a unique stage where we are both mature on all dimensions while also being very early with regards to the potential opportunity ahead of us. The market we’re going after is gigantic, and the sky is the limit for our future growth.

Our ideal candidate has experience in a senior legal role in-house at a public company and has expertise in aligning a company and exec team operationally against public company filing requirements. Expertise in trust & safety, privacy law, and payments are a bonus. The role can be done remotely for the next year while we are remote-first, but will require at least part-time in our SF office once we return.

Sander Daniels
Sander Daniels is a co-founder of Thumbtack, a destination for getting done house remodeling, event planning, music lessons, and more. Prior to Thumbtack, he worked at Sullivan & Cromwell LLP and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP holding positions as associate.