Do you remember that feeling of going to a playground and not knowing anybody or the rules? You do not know how to use things, and are not sure who is in charge? Sweaty hands, and panting aside, as an adult, you are aware that everything has a solution. Ana-Maria Udriste has made it her life challenge to help others untangle “legalese”. She is in pursuit of using the law to do good for entrepreneurs in the tech ecosystem.
Based in Bucharest, Romania, the lawyer-entrepreneur co-founded the lawtech Avocatoo, a digital platform connecting lawyers with people in need of one, in 2016. She wanted to educate as many business men and women about their legal rights and responsibilities. And continues to find solutions that can maximize results with minimum risks for over 500 entrepreneurs weekly.
Focused on tech startups and specializing in litigation, tax law, and antitrust matters, to name a few, Avocatoo’s Ana-Maria Udriste shares her women in tech journey in the digital law playground, what should founders know about the fretful GDPR compliance, and how should they protect themselves in the local tech startup ecosystem.
The Recursive: What made you apply to law school?
Ana-Maria Udriste, founder of Avocatoo: When I was young, I knew I liked to solve puzzles. Law for me was solving riddles for people. I wanted to do good, but not in a manner that implies justice.
Even now, I believe that making justice is a field reserved for judges. As a lawyer, I provide the best solution to my client, which can lead to maximum results with minimum risks.
How have your 20s goals changed now in your early 30s?
My mission remains the same, what is different is how I am doing it. I always knew I would not follow a classic way to become a lawyer or that I will become a classic lawyer. I just felt it. So, when I had the opportunity to do things aligned with my scope and objective, I took the chance and followed it.
I am the first lawyer who went all in online.
As opposed to many other people, I am not an online influencer, but an online educator. At the end of the day, I’m doing the same things, but only on a larger scale, so many more entrepreneurs can benefit from what I know.
Why the online world?
I strongly believe that there is enough space for digital in the law sector. If I might say, in Romania, there is no digital in the law sector.
My career journey started when I had to go on my own after I finished my apprenticeship and was in a black-or-white situation. I did not have anywhere to go. I did not like the interaction with all the other law firms I was accepted to and no family members or acquaintances that worked in the legal field. Therefore, I asked myself:
What if I were to do things differently? What would happen if I would go all in with the education sector in the legal field? Moreover, what would happen if I would do this online?
I started exploring each opportunity, whether we are talking about Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, podcasts, newsletters, and blogs. You need to take your time and be patient to find what you like and where you deliver the best content.
What do you like most about the digital world?
The fact that you can learn a lot of things about your customers and all the interaction that takes place, which could not happen in the real world. Take our legal community as an example. We interact with more than 500 entrepreneurs weekly.
You could not possibly have done this kind of project in the physical world.
However, since the digital world is always changing, I have had projects that needed to be shifted to deliver the maximum results. One example is the legal community which was focused on entrepreneurs and students.
After we launched it, my partner decided to quit the project unannounced. I was alone and faced the fact that I needed to also deliver my partner’s job and duties. Which I couldn’t do.
When I decided to pause this project, I realized that the concepts of legal community were not exactly what people were looking for. Now, we are looking to make it even better and will launch again in the autumn.
What inspired the launch of lawtech company Avocatoo in 2016?
It was my deepest desire to do things differently, to offer students the opportunity to make their voice heard, to teach them to become the best professionals they can be. And of course, to explain legalese in plain language for all the people that do not understand and do not need to understand the legal language.
What can you share with me about the challenges of being a female entrepreneur, as well as a lawyer? What do you like most about each “hat”?
Both roles have the same challenges. Each hat comes with advantages and disadvantages – but I must admit that I love both of them.
There is a strange feeling when you are young, female, and you want to do things. In the legal field, there is this misconception that unless you have gray hair, you are not a good lawyer. Thankfully for me, I have had gray hair since I was 19. So, people thought I was bright.
Joke aside, the legal field for females is demanding. I have to go the extra mile to say “Hey, I can do this”. And if you’re asking, yes, I lost pitches, and clients because I was a woman or “too young”.
On the other hand, as a female entrepreneur, my legal expertise was seen as an advantage. People would listen to me even in non-legal discussions, simply because I was a lawyer and had expertise in a certain field.
The efforts I put in the legal field, going that extra mile, helped me in the entrepreneurship area. This was lucky because I did not have to do the job of convincing people twice.
What is the role of GDPR for entrepreneurs?
The role of GDPR is to make sure that the entrepreneurs are responsible for the data they process. It is a moment to stay and reflect on their responsibility.
As an entrepreneur, I would look at GDPR as an opportunity to assess my processes and try to implement digitization as much as I can. People are not aware of the benefits automatization can bring to their organization.
If I were to start a business nowadays, I would go with privacy by design and ask myself at each corner: “How can I be more responsible for the data I process about my people, customers, and all the other connections?”.
How can entrepreneurs make sure GDPR is applied correctly?
GDPR does not come with a checklist. There is no such thing as 100% GDPR compliance, and nobody can tell you if you have applied it correctly or not.
The beauty of GDPR is that it is so complex and can be adapted to each situation. I strongly believe that the person who coordinates the compliance of GDPR needs to work closely with the stakeholders to implement the right decisions regarding the business model.
Are you keeping an eye on the tech startup scene, what verticals are you interested in?
I am always close to the startup scene and we are working with many startups. To be honest, we are focused on startups. We are interested in e-Commerce, education, and automation.
When should startup founders get a lawyer on board and what are some of the risks of not doing this?
Startup founders should get a lawyer they can trust as soon as they have an MVP. I know that the financial side can be somewhat challenging for startup founders, but I believe they can find a solution with the lawyers that they are looking forward to working with.
From my experience, their biggest risk is to have their business exposed. Then, there are poor decisions regarding the investments, not protecting their business when talking about investments, and having their projects sold for peanuts. Not mentioning all those legal aspects when talking about employees, collaborators, partners, and so on.
People often tend to leave the legal field behind or in the last phase, but then it’s just too late. I have had many startups come to me and ask me to work with them and I was sad because I could not do anything to save their business. The cost of working with a good lawyer will pay off when you want to scale.
How should startup founders protect themselves when thinking about onboarding Angel Investors to their precious ship?
Here there is a gray line because we do not have investment knowledge. Startup founders do not understand exactly what an investor can do to help them and how they can benefit from this expertise. On the other hand, Angel Investors, most of the time, just want to invest without getting involved.
The relationship between an investor and the startup is a very good example of a love-hate relationship or a marriage. You might not always like it, but you stay there for the greater good. Both parties need to understand that they have to make some compromises to make the relationship work.
One cannot expect the other party to do everything.
If you are a startup founder, I would advise looking for the kind of investor you would like to build a business with. Are you looking for money, connections, and expertise? Two out of three? How much would you like to rely on this help?
After this point, you can go to a lawyer and set up the framework in which you would like to take that investor in your company. In my opinion, the startup needs to come with the framework and not expect the investor to come with it. It is all about negotiation and force.