GC Fireside

TechGC chats with Daniel Doktori, Chief of Staff & General Counsel of Credly, Inc.

Daniel Doktori
March 2, 2022

Tell us about your background as a General Counsel and current career status...

Credly is the leading platform for professional skill credentials. Our customers are large organizations that are employers, trainers, certifiers, schools, and professional associations that recognize people for workforce-relevant skills and achievements. Those organizations use Credly to issue portable, data-rich, machine-readable digital credentials (or “badges”) to individuals, and then use the resulting data to engage and retain employees and to inform hiring, staffing and promotion decisions. Today, Credly hosts the largest pool of verified talent in the world, making it a destination for employers and staffing agencies who want to hire qualified professionals in a variety of industries.

In a previous life, I served as the director of higher education for the New York State governor’s office. In that role, I was responsible for state-wide policy governing public and independent colleges. A key turning point came in 2012, when the New York Times published a special section titled “The Year of the MOOC,” referencing the newly popular Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The stories in those pages, in particular of the three courses offered free from Stanford University to the tune of 100,000+ signups each, foretold a bleak future for traditional higher education. While the sky did not in fact fall on college as it seemed then, the moment sparked within me a realization that in the future, people will cobble together their education from a variety of sources, and they will do so over the course of their lives. If that happens, people will face a new problem: how to communicate to others what they know.

Several years later, following law school and a few years as a law firm associate representing startup companies in a corporate transactional practice, I revisited that old challenge with an eye towards starting my own company. As I pursued the background research, I discovered there was a fledgling company called Credly, led by a CEO who seemed far more qualified to execute than was I. So I reached out cold and told him I loved what he was doing and would be pleased to help. A few months later, I joined the company as Chief of Staff and General Counsel and the fifth employee. The rest is history.

How does your industry help define your role as General Counsel?

Credly is a business-to-business, software-as-a-service company, and shares many of the challenges typical of B2B SaaS providers – navigating large company procurement; defining clear lines of data ownership; managing a high volume of contracts with limited staff.

Credly created a new category – digital credentials – and with any new concept, we have struggled to fit neatly into the preconceptions of our customers (and their legal departments). One of the most interesting legal questions that arises is “who owns a digital credential.” As we learned in 1L, property law is best understood as a “bundle of sticks.” When it comes to digital credentials, different sticks are owned by different parties. In our conception, the customer who designs and issues the credential owns the trademarks and copyrights that appear within the credential metadata; Credly owns the underlying software that hosts the credential; and the individual earning the credential owns the fact of their achievement. The shared tenancy model creates some novel questions for the bottom-line negotiations around “who owns the data.”

Further, Credly serves as both a data processor and data controller, using the GDPR concept. Our customers (the businesses) send Credly personal data to trigger notification to individuals of a newly-achieved credential (in doing so, Credly serves as a processor). However, once that individual creates an account on the Credly platform, Credly becomes the data controller, responding to the direction of the data subject (the individual), and no longer to the direction of our own customer. While occasionally challenging to convey to counterparty legal departments, the approach has fueled the growth of our business.

How do you feel the General Counsel should act as a business partner?

My role at Credly reflects its hybrid nature (I serve as both chief of staff and general counsel) and my longevity at the company (I am among the longest tenured team members). Accordingly, the work has evolved over the years. I describe my job generally as “doing whatever needs doing until we get a real professional to do it.” So that’s meant at different times, managing marketing (we now have a full-fledged marketing department), human resources (ditto), and leading a variety of one-off projects that, if they work, get staffed on a non-Daniel basis. It’s a nice mix and keeps me close to the pulse, which I like.

With respect to legal compliance in particular, we have leaned-in there from from the jump. Credly has been fortunate to secure many of the world’s most recognizable brands as customers. To do so, we have had to lead with compliance initiatives such as ISO Certifications, regular Pen Tests and the like to convey that though we may be small, we can meet enterprise-level customer expectations. Rather than being seen as a bottleneck, we’ve tried to position the legal team as a revenue machine.

How do you see the professional growth trajectory as a General Counsel?

The downside of joining a tiny company is that opportunities for mentorship are limited. The flipside of that coin is that there is no better learning experience than making the call yourself. Learning from my colleagues in the TechGC community has helped inform those tough decisions.

As far as the future goes, I’ve generally believed that if you work hard, opportunities present themselves. My plan is to keep putting positive energy out into the universe and keep the faith that it will return to me in one form or another.

What is the best advice you can give for In-House Counsel?

Tech law scholar Yochai Benkler says that lawyers are the engineers of the social sciences. To that end, nothing substitutes for knowing the product you’re selling as well, if not better, than the engineers themselves. Invest time in becoming well-versed on how the features work, where the data flows, what the customer can and can’t change, etc.

Facility with the details conveys confidence among your colleagues and to your negotiation counterparts. Your customer wants to know there is a “system” and it’s reliable. Your ability to communicate that system converts skeptics into customers.

How do you view the recent successful buyout from Pearson? Does this change your role within your current company? If so, what?

We are thrilled with the outcome. Pearson has been a long-time partner of Credly, having first invested in 2018, and sitting on our board since then. Pearson recently created a new division - Workforce Skills - that is focused on addressing precisely the challenges that Credly exists to solve.  The acquisition fuels progress towards our (shared) vision of a world where every person can achieve their full potential based on their verified skills. Together with Pearson, we think we can help organisations make better human capital decisions and build more equitable workforces using trusted information about what people know and can do.

Because of our shared history and Pearson’s belief in what we were doing, Credly will continue to operate as Credly, and I’ll stay on as General Counsel and Chief of Staff. Watch this space. "

Daniel Doktori
Daniel is the Chief of Staff and General Counsel at Credly, a software company serving organizations that recognize people's verified skills. In addition to his work at Credly, Daniel sits on the boards of directors of Open Secrets (a non-partisan, non-profit organization making available data on campaign finance) and Hypothekids (a non-profit providing underserved students with hands-on science and engineering educational and mentorship experiences). During and following the 2008 financial crisis, Daniel served as Director of Higher Education for the New York State Governor’s office. In that capacity, Daniel also served as executive director of a task force on Industry-University collaboration focused promoting entrepreneurship and technology transfer across New York State. Daniel and his Wife Sarah live in Minneapolis with their dog Charlie.