Q&A with Michael Sears, VP Customer Operations at Aumni
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Aumni's VP Customer Operations, Michael Sears, who leads the team that onboards our client documents and ensures that the information in each document is recorded correctly, especially concerning legal provisions or financial positions. In his role at Aumni, he spends most of his time guiding the workflow for a very busy team responsible for the data entry and validation process, in concert with the A.I. processes that assist in the completion and quality of that work.
Michael is an experienced attorney, who has practiced law with Stoel Rives, helps manage the SLC Angels, and is on the board at VentureCapital.org (formerly Wayne Brown Institute), where he coaches founders on their fundraising efforts. In the Q&A below, he shares his unique perspectives on the benefits of technology in venture law as well as his take on the intersection of legal and financial data that Aumni leverages to differentiate itself from the competition.
Q: How did you find yourself at Aumni?
I initially met Tony (Lewis, Aumni’s CEO) at law school – we both attended Boston University School of Law and spent much of our 3L year in business courses at BU’s Graduate School of Management. After law school, I focused on building companies and advising entrepreneurs about the intricacies of the capital raise process, which has helped me learn more about this field from a founder perspective -- seeing what worked and what didn't work in the startup side of the space. Later in my career, I practiced law at a boutique corporate firm located in Palo Alto and at Stoel Rives LLP in Salt Lake City. Upon the formation of Aumni, I was first involved solely in an advisory capacity until a few months ago, when I officially joined the team as VP of Customer Operations.
Q: What has been most surprising to customers as they go through Aumni's onboarding process? What types of feedback do you hear?
Aumni’s first interactions with customers are centered on the collection and entry of legal data at the highest level of completion and fidelity possible. It’s during this document and data entry audit that we are given the first opportunity to provide a unique and valuable set of interactions before launching customers on the application. In the process of collecting and recording each customer’s term sheets and related contracts, we can uncover issues that are missed by both busy legal counsel and their busy clients -- some of these are small issues or omissions and some are more material to the transaction.
This audit alone is a very valuable service to investors who want to fully understand the economics of each transaction and protect their interests. Detecting errors is vital because they can be calling into question, creating a hurdle, or outright squandering legal and economic treatment that could otherwise be captured for investors. Thanks to the dedicated review of contracts that precedes the full deployment of Aumni data analytics technology, customers can avoid a potentially sizeable loss at the time of exit. Customers are thrilled that our process is thorough and transparent; we give them clarity and confidence before they encounter the insights provided by Aumni’s proprietary data analytics engine.
Q: Knowing the power of the insights provided, what excites you most about Aumni's technology and how it helps customers?
What excites me most about Aumni is more conceptual and broad. I’m thrilled at the prospect of vertically integrating the private capital market from Saudi Arabia to Sandhill Road, from the largest limited partners in the world to founders holding common stock for the first time in their lives. Aumni is bringing greater transparency and visibility to every transacting party in the private capital market. Those transactions – whether an original issuance, where a corporation sells its stock to investors or a secondary sale of a corporation’s stock being sold by an earlier investor or founder to a later purchaser, are currently very bespoke and difficult to scale. It's often a handshake world where parties lack transparency and certainty. There’s a formula and process to due diligence, but nothing like what we have in the public markets. We simply lack that visibility. Aumni is changing that environment for the better.
Q: As an attorney, can you comment on how Aumni helps venture attorneys?
The private capital space has historically been a black box with many asymmetries of information. Given that, one way that Aumni benefits venture attorneys is by being a source of truth for settling disputes that would otherwise require additional resources to resolve. Aumni can be extremely useful in enabling review of legal terms and documentation as well as providing real visibility into current “market” standards in the private capital markets. When aggregate data cited from deals in a given market or geography can streamline negotiations, there’s upside for all parties. Ultimately, information accuracy can improve the efficiency and efficacy of capital allocation. We believe that helps attorneys and their clients alike.
Q: Are you seeing more venture attorneys becoming open to leveraging technology than they were in the past?
In terms of the traditional customer adoption technology lifecycle, I would classify attorneys as “late adopters.” That being said, there are a handful of cutting-edge firms that recognize the power of automation and data. Those are overwhelmingly in the Bay Area and other large major markets, but I see growing evidence that the trend is making its way into mid-market firms as well.
Q: Are you growing your team presently or looking to do so soon? If so, what do you look for in a job candidate?
Yes, we are always looking for intellectually curious individuals who are willing to rise to unique challenges, inspire others on the team, and those who seek a personally meaningful work environment. In customer operations, we have a lean team reviewing some of the toughest questions. We seek those who are willing to put in the work: no shortcuts, just elbow grease and ingenuity. And as for any kind of legal expertise or background -- it is not required. We do have many attorneys and paralegals who understand the documents deeply on the team, but we also have team members who do not have direct experience in venture capital law or any law generally. As long as a candidate is willing to learn and remains curious and hardworking, we provide excellent training and an encouraging team of leaders and colleagues to share the journey. We share our full list of current job openings at https://www.aumni.fund/careers.