How to build a startup and exit to a big coporate

January 26, 2023

In this episode, Legislate meets Ben Wright, Head of Flexible Office Solutions at SquareFoot and Founder of Upsuite. Ben shares his story of building a successful startup and exiting to a big corporate and tips for navigating key contracts as an entrepreneur.

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Charles Brecque: Welcome to the Legislate podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property technology, business, building, and contract drafting. Today, I'm excited to have Ben Wright on the show, founder and CEO of up suite, an online B2B marketplace that makes it easy for teams to find the best coworking spaces.

Ben, thank you for being on the show. Would you like to introduce yourself and share a bit of background about.

The story behind UpSuite

Ben Wright: Yeah, thank you, Charles. And one of the things I'd say is I'm also the head of flexible office solutions for SquareFoot. SquareFoot acquired UpSuite last spring. And so although I have a lot in common with your audience in terms of being a multiple time founder.

I now work for a New York based large tech power brokerage. But yeah, great to be here. I'll say a little bit about what we do. We enable people to connect in person anywhere. And usually what that means is having flexibility in your real estate decisions. We're focused very much in North America. And what flexibility means is short-term furnished wifi enabled space and we partner with about 2,500 different locations across the U S and Canada to supply that to the market.

Charles Brecque: Congratulations on the exit. How have you found the transition from startup to big corporate so far?

Ben Wright: I think I have a lot of mentors. I went through a program that many of your listeners may know called Techstars. And developed a lot of mentor relationships there as well as previously. And basically you'll always get a lot of advice about being acquired. And what I'd say is most of it, if not, all of it is true to the experience of the person giving the advice. And I think, a couple of things that really stand out is very rapid revenue growth. I think that's what you want from being acquired and that has happened. And I think the integration process is somewhat unpredictable.

And it's really interesting to navigate different elements of the acquiring company and in our case, Our business touches about everything that square-foot does. So I've gotten to know literally everybody at the company and that's been really interesting and different people move at different paces, but we're working really hard and about nine months in, and I think we're probably on schedule in terms of the acquisition, but certainly the revenue has been phenomenal.

What's been your favourite moment so far?

Charles Brecque: well done again. And so now you have this new experience with square foot before that UpSuite, what's been your favourite moment so far in your journey as an entrepreneur.

Ben Wright: Favourite moment? What a great question. So we launched our product in may of 2018. We were in Denver, I guess I'll give two favourite moments. We were about to launch our product and we signed up a global agreement with WeWork and we were just a small group in Denver only at that time. And that felt like a huge win, I think the second greatest moment that founders, I think will relate to, is learning that we are 1 of 10 companies in the world to get selected for the Collier's PropTech accelerator powered by Techstars. And that meant we were going to move the company to Toronto for three months and really accelerate it.

That was a really big moment. And both of those moments happened within the first nine months of starting the company. So both of those were really exciting.

Charles Brecque: I wish I had that level of success in the first nine months of Legislate.

Ben Wright: Yeah. It's been a lot of work, so I don't want to, I don't want to make it sound too simple, but I can relate.

What do you wish you'd known before starting UpSuite?

Charles Brecque: Of course. So I guess my follow on question is what do you wish you had known before starting UpSuite?

Ben Wright: I've mentored a lot of entrepreneurs and I've started three companies. And what I always like to say is. You have to have a learning mindset as a founder or an entrepreneur. And most importantly, you're going to learn the things that you probably want to learn the least.

Because as a founder you're going to see yourself reflected in the team and reflected in the company. And sometimes that's good and sometimes that's bad and really good founders can take the bat and work. And approve it. And usually that's an improvement in themselves.

So some of the things that I wish that I had learned, or I sought to learn was understanding of the financing landscape and the venture landscape. That was something that I learned really after. I had bootstrapped companies before. So I learned a lot mostly by having hundreds

of failed meetings with investors. So I learned a bunch of that. Would have been nice to maybe have 50 failed meetings instead of 200. So I'd say that's probably the biggest thing. And then I think co-founders slash co-founder relationships and really early relationships with people I've just reiterated that it's really challenging to find that team that you're going to go through the company with and yeah, I think that's a lifelong learning as well. So those are probably two things I wish I knew a little bit more about before I started.

Charles Brecque: Great insight. So to take a step back you mentioned you were fortunate to negotiate a deal with WeWork. What type of contracts would your company enter with these office spaces? What type of agreements do you need in place to offer your B2B marketplace to users?

Ben Wright: Yeah. So the types of contracts that we have with operators are different from the types of contracts your listeners might have. And we can talk about both. Our contracts are really quite simple, which is functionally. They enable us to take the risk of generating demand for a space and cover our risk.

Once we introduce that potential member to an operator then we can reliably get paid. Should they sign an agreement? So the basic structure that's the first bit, is defining those terms and defining certain conditions and ways for an operator to reject an introduction if they want to or accept it and laying out payment terms. The second one has been really important to our business. And it was something that, remember when we put it into the contract, we didn't know how important it would be, but we had an inkling and that was, they have a requirement to share and update their pricing and availability with us on a regular basis.

That lets us build really the highest quality, most accurate database of coworking operators and pricing and availability that exists today. And that started with a, oh, maybe we'll use this clause in a contract and maybe we won't. But now that we're, four years in and having been acquired, that data asset has turned into something that is really valuable and useful. And there are a couple key clauses in it. One is a commitment on behalf of the operator to share their information on a certain frequency. But the other is the express ability for us to share that anonymised data with various third-party sites of our choosing.

So those were clauses. This latter half of what I'm saying were things we didn't know that would be important. We thought they could be, but they've ended up being quite important.

Charles Brecque: So you would agree then that data is the new oil?

Ben Wright: I would argue I'm a recovering economist early in my career. I was an economist and back then, there was a certain insight that, that there's data, which I would argue is not the new oil that, that might be the crude oil sitting in the ground. But then there's the, what does the data mean?

Which is and those insights can be useful, but then the real oil or the real useful thing that's combustible and valuable is what does the data mean for a particular business or person? So creating real meaning and context out of data is probably the new oil. Data itself is just that black stuff in the ground.

What are the key agreements you interact with the most as an entrepreneur?

Charles Brecque: Of course. And as a startup founder and serial entrepreneur what are the key contracts that you've interacted with to help build your business and hire people.

Ben Wright: Yeah. I'd say really that the basic contracts that have driven our business, we've talked about the agreements we have with operators who are our suppliers.

We have a privacy policy slash terms of use for folks, that use our platform and interact with us. Those are folks like the founders that you have in your audience. So we have a contract for that. We've negotiated. Partnership contracts with multiple billion dollar companies who we do business with are quite important as well.

Our contracts with investors that really govern their rights and how they're able to exercise those rights have been really important. The purchase agreement that we signed to be acquired was imported. The employment agreements. And I hate to sound like a complete advocate for your business, Charles, but these are all the real contracts we have even as a four year old company.

And even referral agreements. We're launching new partnerships now that are mostly around referrals and how we share business back and forth. Those contracts are really important and last but not least the employment agreements that we have for all the staff that we have.

So that's a lot of contracts. And I was fortunate enough. I had been an entrepreneur before. I'd also been in banking before in investment banking so long contracts or things that I had some knowledge of before I started the business. But but we have a lot of contracts.

Charles Brecque: I can imagine. And a lot of those agreements, Legislate does offer, but we're definitely in the process of adding more niche agreements. Because ultimately what we're trying to do is make sure that a founder using Legislate can create everything they need to create on Legislate. But we're not yet in the U S we'll be there one day. And with those contracts, are there any common objections or challenges or areas of friction that you've had to overcome

Ben Wright: With some of our operator contracts beyond the first transaction, meaning for renewals have been something that we've needed to work out quite a bit so I'd say that's really important. I think with investor contracts, many of the folks listening will know.

There are different rights depending on different triggers within a company's life. So for example, one of the things that before I could sell the company I needed to get the agreement of a certain percentage of preferred shareholders. Then there are also common shareholders. And so investor rights became very central.

When we were looking at selling the company, also taking on new investment, that became something that was really important. Our terms of use, as I mentioned before occasionally some of our users will say, why did you introduce me to a coworking operator? I was just shopping and our answer is well it's in our terms of use, by using our site you authorise us to do that.

So those are three examples of key terms within contracts that I think have created questions I'll be at, that last one, we've only got that question once out of thousands and thousands of users.

If you were to sign a contract today, what would impress you?

Charles Brecque: There's always that one user who reads everything. But you have to be prepared. So I'm conscious that we've already taken a lot of your time. Ben. So I'm going to ask the closing question we ask all our guests: if you were being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?

Ben Wright: Yeah. So I just went through refinancing a house and I was shocked to find out that the title company showed up with a 50 page 50 signature paper contract. And honestly, I almost got carpal tunnel signing my own refinance. So I'm a huge advocate for digital contracts.

 So I assume that should be how contracts are signed today. So I have a base level of expectation there. What would make it a surprise or really valuable would be almost that you could have a back and forth almost as in a Google doc, but within that contract to incorporate changes and agree to changes digitally, that's something that at least my version of DocuSign or hello sign does not have. And so I'd be thrilled if the platform I was using had that.

Charles Brecque: Yeah. at Legislate, we definitely offer a lot more flexibility than DocuSign and HelloSign. In the sense that you can remove and replace clauses, et cetera, by changing your answers to the questions.

But I think one key thing that we do is we make sure that any changes that our user can make are legally valid. Because obviously we don't want people to DIY their templates and end up with a template which can't be enforced legally. We then make that contract easily accessible for management purposes and extracting insights from contracts.

Thank you, Ben, for being on the show. Best of luck with the remainder of the integration with square-foot and and hopefully we can have you on the show again.

Ben Wright: Yeah. Thank you so much, Charles.

Charles Brecque: Thank you.


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