As the chief financial and legal officer at Hopin, Irene Liu helped the community engagement company expand its product offerings and grow from 250 to 1,100-plus employees in 40 countries.
In her prior position as SVP and general counsel at Checkr, Liu played an important role in the technology-driven background check’s company expansion from 60 to more than 600 employees.
During both of those legal chief roles that spanned a combined six years, Liu negotiated and closed more than 15 corporate transactions, including M&A deals, financings, secondaries and investments.
These transactions, she said, helped the companies grow and achieve multi-billion dollar valuations.
More recently, Liu decided to step back from holding a full-time legal chief role so she could launch a consultancy at the start of 2023 called Hypergrowth GC.
She said this new endeavor allows her to utilize her past scaling experience — which also includes in-house roles at Lookout and Blackberry — to advise GCs, CEOs and other C-level executives at rapidly expanding technology companies.
Liu recently spoke with Legal Dive about some of the key tips she offers to legal chiefs, the relevance of hypergrowth in the current economic climate and other ways in which she is engaging with executives about important legal topics.
Focus on sales
For GCs in companies that are not in highly regulated industries, Liu advises that their top priority should be spurring revenue and growth.
Along those lines, she said legal chiefs should take steps to ensure the legal department is not seen as blocking or slowing down the sales process.
“You don't want to stop the revenue engine, you want to be the propeller to the sales engine,” Liu said.
At a minimum, she recommends GCs review their Master Service Agreement (MSA) templates regularly to make sure that their terms are fair and include market terms. The goal of an exercise like that is to try to limit contracting redlines, Liu said.
“If you can eliminate or at least limit redlines, you can allow the sales team to run more independently, which in turn allows the company to capture revenue more quickly without engaging in prolonged negotiations between legal teams,” she said.
“In that same spirit, I’d recommend that commercial legal teams build out strong contract playbooks, easy-to-read customer email templates, cover letters, and FAQs to the MSA for both customers and sales teams,” Liu said.
Interact with regulators
As for legal chiefs in highly regulated industries, Liu recommends they consider proactively engaging with regulators.
But before they schedule or attend a government meeting, she said GCs need to make sure to get their ducks in order and fix any product compliance issues that might catch the eye of a regulator.
“Because, after all, you’re going to proactively meet with regulators so that you can introduce and showcase your company in a positive light,” Liu said.
As an example, Liu highlighted how Checkr met with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) during her time at the company to share that it was providing free background checks as part of its mission to help millions of Americans with criminal backgrounds find jobs.
She said Checkr desired to show its regulators the ways in which it was using its product to effect positive societal change. The CFPB, in turn, listed Checkr on its website with some information about its offerings.
“Sharing your company’s mission helps regulators understand your motivations and how it might align with theirs, which then helps them relate to your goals more successfully,” Liu said.
“When engagement is done early and proactively, it can also influence new policies and programs and protect the company's reputation,” she added.
Hypergrowth in this economy?
Meanwhile, Liu said some people have asked her whether the concept of a Hypergrowth GC and similar terminology have as much resonance in these uncertain economic times that have sparked legal department budget cuts.
While she called those types of questions valid, Liu said legal chiefs should still have a growth mindset even amid an economy that is not as strong.
However, she said it is important for GCs to remember hypergrowth can be pursued thoughtfully and efficiently.
“Often GCs become mired and too focused on risk to help spur the business forward,” Liu said. “But a GC oriented towards speed, growth, and scale can unlock growth, and CEOs and the businesses will love you for that.”
Other platforms for discussions
Beyond her consultancy, there are also other avenues in which Liu is engaging with GCs about their growth efforts and how they are handling pressing issues.
Liu’s show features her interviewing legal chiefs at a variety of technology companies about how they were able to help their businesses scale very quickly.
Additionally, Liu is the first “Executive in Residence” with UC Berkeley School of Law, her alma mater.
Liu is also hosting webinars with legal chiefs, other executives and lawmakers.
“I am incredibly excited about my role at Berkeley Law because I can share my professional experiences, amplify expert voices, and give back to practitioners and students through practical and relevant industry-focused thought leadership programs,” Liu said.