While sound business acumen is a major quality that entrepreneurs must possess to run successful enterprises, they equally need to understand the main laws that surround their entrepreneurial venture.
Many established entrepreneurs seek legal knowledge to make good decisions and steer their businesses in the right direction. However, due to the high cost of legal services, founders of small or new enterprises may shy away from this important aspect of business operation.
This challenge is what Sonia Mavouna, Founder of African Legal Factory is solving across the Francophone region of the African continent. Sonia is a Parisian born to Comorran parents.
She started off her career as a corporate and private equity lawyer at Clifford Chance, a multinational law firm headquartered in London.
She’s also worked with governments, corporates and international organizations across Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, and Senegal among other French-speaking countries in Africa.
In an interview with techbuild.africa, Sonia shares her knowledge of the law and how startup founders can empower themselves with legal knowledge, thereby positioning themselves to secure funds.
What inspired you to launch African Legal Factory?
I noticed that startups in Africa needed help on the legal aspects but were not able to find lawyers who understand what they need and give them assistance at an accessible price.
I resigned from my job as a corporate lawyer at an international law firm at the age of 28 and took seven sabbatical months, traveling around Kenya in order to understand what the African ecosystem was like.
I also traveled to the US Silicon Valley, California, and other cities in Europe in order to meet entrepreneurs and understand the legal needs of those startups.
I discovered two things: one, entrepreneurs think that the legal side of a business is too complicated for them. Two, legal charges are too high and this makes legal services inaccessible.
Since this is an issue that we have all over Africa, I got the idea for African Legal factory and decided to launch it as the first online legal platform dedicated to African entrepreneurs.
Basically, what inspired me is my freedom, the need in the market for entrepreneurs, and the idea of starting something amazing with other women.
Can you explain the mission of African Legal Factory?
What we are doing is quite simple. We are organizing collective legal training so that entrepreneurs are able to understand the process of fundraising, the main clauses they have to fight for against investors, and how they can protect their brand.
We are teaching them how to negotiate with their clients which are sometimes big companies. We are helping entrepreneurs to understand how to deal legally with data because data will be key in Africa over the next years.
We are giving legal skills to entrepreneurs so that they never fear negotiating anything. We organize collective training, in order to provide our services at an accessible price.
Very soon, we’ll launch an e-learning platform so that we can reduce further the price of the legal training. Also, our goal is to make automated contracts accessible to all African entrepreneurs, where they can get freelance contracts at a very low price. They’ll be able to protect their businesses legally almost at no cost.
I’m curious about the concept of new technologies law. What does it mean?
The term is legal tech and the concept is to digitalize legal services. Usually, a traditional lawyer uses a book and pen and the only moment when he’s dealing with technology is when he’s drafting the contract and his computer.
By incorporating technology in law, the price of legal services can be reduced for clients. Rather than spend hours drafting contracts manually, automated contracts can be created using AI.
More lawyers are now using AI in their practice. For instance, if a lawyer is going to court and would like to understand the decision that a particular judge would take on a particular subject, AI will make a search on the precedent’s decisions that the judge took and make predictions about the outcome. The lawyer will then draft their conclusion for the trial taking into account AI’s prediction.
The last aspect of legal tech is platforms. Lots of startups are developing platforms connecting lawyers to clients online. One platform can connect all the available lawyers in a country, depending on their sector, to clients.
The three main activities that are successful in legal tech all over the world are the automatization of contracts; platforms connecting clients to lawyers; and legal training platforms.
How would you describe the Francophone Africa tech ecosystem?
Although it’s less mature than the Anglophone ecosystem, it’s becoming really interesting. In the Francophone startup ecosystem, the number of incubators or accelerators, and also investors is low compared to the Anglophone area.
The amount of funds raised by the Anglophone area and the Francophone area is not the same if you are watching the numbers in countries like Nigeria, Egypt, and South Africa, and others.
In the French part of West Africa, a lot of fintech startups are raising lots of funding. Also in North Africa, things are now stricter and this was not the case 10 years ago.
The number of accelerators, incubators is increasing, and investors are coming now. I’m super optimistic regarding the region, I’m sure that things will become really interesting over the next few years.
With your background in venture capital, what do think startup founders need to know about fundraising
Well, they have to know first of all, that they have to prepare their startups legally, before raising funds.
Prepare your company and make sure that all your contracts are compliant with the applicable law. Know your figures and make sure your key matrix is in place.
Prepare all your commercial /marketing documentation, pitch deck, business plan. Designate just one captain for the fundraising so that the rest of the team is staying at the office, keep working, because success in fundraising is not automatic.
You should know what you have in terms of capital for your startups and never start fundraising like two months before you run out of money. You might go bankrupt. Since fundraising in Africa takes between six to nine months, if you have only two months to survive, it’s too late.
Start the fundraising, when it is clear that you have capital that can last for six months Otherwise it’s you might run out of funds too late, and accept very bad terms out of desperation.
More importantly, be sure that you know what the main terms of the term sheet are and understand your shareholder’s agreements. You should be able to negotiate if, for instance, you don’t have money to pay a lawyer. And even if you have money to pay a lawyer, you know your business better.
This is why we are organizing legal training regarding fundraising aspects regularly because there is a need for entrepreneurs to learn a lot about negotiation and investment during this training.
How are you contributing to the empowerment of women founders?
When I have a female entrepreneur that needs legal advice but cannot pay, I do it for free. I want to help them to grow and I’m sure they’ll find a way to pay us back later. If not the case, it’s totally fine as I’m a strong believer in paying it forward.
On a regular basis, I participate in mentorship programs in Europe and Africa. I work with global organizations that are empowering women in Africa. Last year, I did two free legal trainings, one on IP law and the other on fundraising for all the women that connected during the 12 weeks program.
I am a member of an organization called the African Woman for FinTech in the Francophone area. I handle all the legal aspects of this organization. Our goal is to empower women in FinTech across Francophone Africa.
At our trainings, we usually have 95% of men, and only 5% of women. and when it’s question time, ladies don’t raise their hand, they are afraid or too shy. And I don’t like that. We should be everywhere. I want to see more women in business. In September, I plan to organize more trainings dedicated only to women in all legal aspects.
Ensuring people have access to legal knowledge is something that really important for me. This is why I became a lawyer.
For me, it’s a big achievement when entrepreneurs I’ve trained tell me about the funds they’ve raised, and how they’ve protected their brand and refused to be put in an exclusivity clause by investors. Having entrepreneurs becoming their own lawyers is a big win for me.
What’s your definition of success?
Recently, I found in my email, a note that I wrote in 2017 when I was still a lawyer working in a big law firm. Back then, I wrote that I’d do something for entrepreneurs and build a platform for Africa. Today, I’ve realized that goal. So, for me, success is achieving your dream and goals. It is execution and winning. Success is freedom.
Featured Image: Sonia Mavouna, Founder of African Legal Factory
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