LEGALZOOM & BRYANT STIBEL
A Partnership about People and Potential
The first time LegalZoom CEO Emeritus John Suh met Jeff Stibel was in Atlanta over a decade ago, when Stibel served as CEO at Web.com (NASDAQ: WWWW). Suh wasn’t exactly sure what Jeff looked like. But, he was really impressed with a young man who made an immediate impact with his candid understanding of content, his strength/weakness analysis, and his obvious knowledge of the subject matter.
Suh recalls saying to himself, “Wow, this guy knows a lot!”
That’s when it struck him. “Oh… you’re not the assistant, you’re the CEO!”
Luckily, after a quick laugh about the confusion behind their first meeting, they hit it off immediately. Their relationship flourished from there. Not only would Suh and Stibel collaborate at Web.com, but again years later at Dun and Bradstreet Credibility Corp.
Cut to 2014, when it came time to evaluate CEOs that could be on the LegalZoom board. Suh was looking for “a great operator that really understood our business – because it’s not enterprise, it’s not consumer, it’s SMB… and that’s kind of where Jeff lived. He understood subscription, which is where we were moving to.”
Oh yes, and there was also his track record. “I think in the internet, when you meet talented people, you figure out a way to keep them in your life,” confesses Suh.
Hence, the latest chapter in the book of Stibel and Suh: Bryant Stibel and LegalZoom.
Some Things You Can’t Put a Value On
Five years later, the Bryant Stibel team has been instrumental in the growth of LegalZoom – as a partner and an investor – where Bryant Stibel remains one of the top five investors in the company.
The two companies have teamed up for a slew of business wins that have “added massive value to the company in terms of revenue and EBITDA,” according to former CMO Laura Goldberg. These wins have happened in the areas of microsegmentation, pricing and how Bryant Stibel has helped LegalZoom rethink their call center, sales compensation, and commission and reporting structures, amongst other strategies.
But, as Suh describes, this strategic investment isn’t about just business – it’s about people, a partnership and a unique bond that has formed over the years between board meetings, off sites, and, of course, all those spur of the moment phone calls in between.
Through it all, it’s hard to quantify the true value behind what Bryant Stibel brings to LegalZoom, according to Suh. “They are not consultants and they’re not investors, they are both. I view the Bryant Stibel team as an extension of my C-team.”
The Role of Office of the Chairman
Brian Lee, co-founder of LegalZoom (and subsequently a CEO/Co-Founder at The Honest Company and most recently, Art of Sport), echoes Suh’s sentiment about Bryant Stibel being so much more than just an investor, calling them “a part of our business” while praising their unique skills and abilities. He applauds the team’s laser-like ability to home in on the areas that will make a company better.
“I think Office of the Chairman is extremely unique for an investment firm. I’ve never seen it done quite like this where they will come in with a team of experts and analyze your business, dissect it, spend time as if they are running your business basically, but in a non-disruptive manner where they get deep in the weeds and almost understand your business better than you.”
Peter Oey, current CFO at LegalZoom, agrees.
“Their function as Office of the Chairman was to push the company in areas or opportunities that we may have had blinders on,” says Oey. “I found that they really dug deep to understand the workings of the company. The fact that they were like ‘part of the family’ made it so they didn’t seem threatening because they were willing to go to bat for us at the same time.”
Oey believes that having access to a team of seasoned operators with extensive experience in internet businesses has added value throughout the company.
“Of the things Jeff and his group imparted on us, the most impactful and accretive was implementing microsegmentation around pricing, product marketing and packaging,” Oey reflects. “They really understand the economics of internet – from customer acquisition through the funnel (the unit economics, acquisition costs, and how that works) to the whole concept of lifetime value. That is a really critical piece in our business, and the fact that they really understand it back-to-front is very important.”
At The End of the Day, It’s About Trust
Elevating each other’s game is about two things: teamwork and trust. It’s also about finding the sweet spots where you can work together as a team.
Suh puts it into a sports analogy.
“They understand the deep distinction between being a coach and being a player. A coach never steps on the court to take that shot; they understand that’s for players to do. But they arm the players with the system, the capability, with coaching, all before the game is done or during the game to help them execute better.”
But the players have to trust the coach. That’s where the Suh/Stibel connection thrives.
“I believe our friendship comes first because when you have total trust as friends, you have tremendous credibility in business because you can talk about anything and no one takes it personally. You can handle the most difficult issues head on, without pretext.” As Suh concludes, “Courtesy is for strangers, family is unvarnished.”
In October of 2019, Suh passed the baton to former Intuit executive Dan Wernikoff in an effort transition from day to day responsibilities as CEO. “There were other ventures I wanted to launch, and I wanted to spend more time with my family,” said Suh. “It wasn’t until Dan agreed to join LegalZoom that I felt confident handing over the reins of this extraordinary company.” Suh will continue in a senior advisory role as CEO Emeritus.
Dan joined LegalZoom as CEO from Intuit where he was most recently the EVP and General Manager of Intuit’s Consumer Group (TurboTax & Mint) and the Small Business Group. “I looked at close to 100 opportunities before jumping at the opportunity to join LegalZoom. It’s very rare to find a category leader in a market that is still forming. This is an incredibly healthy company with an incredible foundation to build off of.” Dan has over 20 years of experience, chiefly in financial software for small businesses and consumers, and a deep understanding of how to help SaaS business scale and evolve. Suh was excited to welcome Dan to the LegalZoom staff, reminding them of the comparisons drawn to LegalZoom and Intuit. “In our early days, we were dubbed the Intuit of legal. Dan’s experience at Intuit is in a totally adjacent industry, and I know he will use that experience to propel LegalZoom to new heights. There are so many parallels between tax and legal. I think Dan’s familiarity with the customer and his expertise in product will take us to the next level.”