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Friday, May 02, 2014

Point of View: Josh Horowitz '10 Talks Startups and Flip-Flops

General counsel of Crowdtilt talks about what it's like to have "a seat on the rocket ship."
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Josh Horowitz '10, general counsel at Crowdtilt.

Josh Horowitz ’10 works as general counsel for San Francisco startup Crowdtilt, which provides online fundraising solutions for everything from a camping trip, to a mayoral campaign, to reward-based crowdfunding.

After becoming an attorney in the Bay Area’s booming tech scene, Horowitz worked on a startup of his own and also began giving back to UC Hastings by helping create the Institute for Innovation Law. We asked him about working in the startup scene and where UC Hastings fits into that world.

How did you start out on this path?
I came into law school wanting to be a private attorney servicing international transactions. It wasn’t until I heard that UC Hastings started an intellectual property concentration that a longtime interest of mine around innovation and the startup industry was rekindled. I changed my plans immediately; I mean that second. I then completed the concentration in my third year, and took a number of venture capital law, corporate law, and entrepreneurship-related courses.

What inspired you to help start the Institute for Innovation Law?
UC Hastings has a reputation for training attorneys who graduate ready to hit the ground running. But the school hadn’t developed real-world experience opportunities for transactional law or startups. So in my third year of law school, I invested roughly 150 hours researching how to start and operate a transactional legal clinic for startups. Along the way, I crossed paths with Professor Robin Feldman, who was doing something similar with life science companies. After sharing notes, we decided to work together to build out a transactional program for UC Hastings students. Our effort with the Law and Bioscience (LAB) Project grew into what is now the Institute for Innovation Law.

Tell us how you started at Crowdtilt and what you do.
After my first attempt at a startup failed, I launched my own legal practice, called EmCom Law. It stands for Emerging Company Law. Over time, I serviced a number of Y Combinator companies. Through a chance encounter, I met Crowdtilt. After working with both co-founders and various employees there, I was offered an in-house position, a seat on the rocket ship.
I view my role as enabling the company to grow as quickly as possible, while informing management of the legal and operational risks involved with their decisions. As we launch new or improved products, and enter new markets, I help keep the organization running compliantly and evolve its legal approaches.

How is the startup culture different?
When I worked as a summer associate at a large firm, I wore a button-down shirt and slacks. I had a nice office, and I ate lunch at my desk. My colleagues were all attorneys, and you could ask them for help for free. The culture couldn’t be more different at a startup.

At Crowdtilt, none of my colleagues is an attorney. When I have a legal question, I either research it on my own, refer to summarizing publications from firms, talk to colleagues, or pay for outside counsel. In terms of attire, I sit right next to our growth team, and I’m in jeans, a T-shirt, and sometimes flip-flops, just like them. I report to our CEO, who is in his 20s, like me, but work directly with all leaders at the company.

Do you think working in the startup world has allowed you to advance your career faster?
People who work at a startup early in their career will get more exposure and experience than they would in a traditional corporate law firm. A startup exposes you to everything that is happening and gives you management authority over it all. In a traditional corporate law firm, the type of work assigned to a new associate is sometimes important, but it can be repetitive.

What skills are important to the new breed of startup attorney?
Relevant skills include management, negotiation, judgment, and financial literacy skills. Having a background relevant to the industry in which you are working can be seen as required or merely helpful, depending on your role on the legal team. Lastly, a critical factor involves attitude and character. Fundamentals include integrity, being positive, a problem-solving mentality, and being passionate about what you and your client do.

Read more from UC Hastings magazine, The Enterprise Issue, here.

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