George Nemphos, lawyer and founding member of Nemphos Braue Law, has seen it happen at least a hundred times.
During the early days of startup life, an entrepreneur barely has enough time to sleep, much less create a detailed legal blueprint for the future. And so, laser-focused on the product, living in the here and now, many entrepreneurs resort to using templated contracts for securing client work, partnerships and stakeholder relationships.
Alas, contracts are like legal pads. The ink always leaves an impression on the next page.
“When you’re developing products and plans, you don’t always have time to think about how that will affect your next move down the road,” said Nemphos. “You need to be careful in these early deals. You don’t want to give away your product or intelligence. You want to be proactive, not reactive. It’s a dance.”
As a startup founder once himself, Nemphos specializes in the legal needs of entrepreneurs, startups, emerging and mature companies, as well as venture capital and private equity funds. His approach to working with entrepreneurs is to set them up so that they never risk, as he says, “giving up the keys to their kingdom,” such as accidentally transferring too much power to stakeholders or inadvertently giving away intellectual property.
Having bootstrapped his way through his own early years, Balti Virtual founder and CEO Will Gee, realized it was time to step it up when his VR/AR experience company graduated to working with much bigger clients like Under Armour and Hallmark.
“We had gotten into a wrestling match with some big companies over IP rights,” said Gee. “Suddenly all of those contract nuances were crucially important. An advisor of ours said, ‘You guys need to level up. It’s time to move onto the next phase, get ready for the future.’”
After being introduced to Nemphos, Gee said he quickly realized all of the wasted efforts he would have avoided if he’d brought the lawyer on board from the get go.
“The biggest thing George has done for us has been creating our entire operating agreement,” Gee continued. “We went from using a LegalZoom, boilerplate, back-of-the-napkin style template to a fully fleshed out, living document that we can grow with and use to take on bigger partners.”
Gee had worked with a legal team before, but he said he felt Nemphos had a better understanding of what it took to be a small, highly-skilled but scrappy team on the entrepreneurial journey. This became especially helpful when Gee’s team suddenly outgrew its office space and needed to negotiate a daunting lease.
“We know tech and computer science,” said Gee. “To us, this lease was in another language. George came in and distilled it down into the five most important things we needed to know.
“In the past we’d worked with legal teams whose goals were to show us their nuanced mastery of law. George’s goal has always been to break it down and keep us moving, but in a way that protects us for years down the road.”
Nemphos is also keen on finding opportunities for his clients through his vast professional network. When the American Heart Association (AHA) hosted its annual Heart Ball, Nemphos thought it could be an opportunity to showcase Balti Virtual’s technology. After introducing Gee to the AHA, the Balti Virtual team was asked to create an event showpiece that engaged over one thousand attendees.
“We feel taken care of with George’s team. It’s like having a safety net while you’re walking the entrepreneurial highwire,” said Gee. “There’s a plan if some terrible, unforeseen event occurs, and there’s one if we’re more successful than we ever thought possible.”
No matter what stage a company is at, Nemphos said he strives to meet clients where they are and point them in the direction of where they can realize (or exceed) their potential.
“Entrepreneurs need to do a lot of planning,” said Nemphos. “What path do you want to take with your product? How should you structure your intellectual property so that you don’t give anything away? Who are your likely partners, customers?
“You want to keep your doors open as much as possible to the next opportunity. Our role is to provide you with as much flexibility as possible, so that you can move down any path you want.”
Want even deeper insight from Nemphos and Gee in person? Check out the “Technologies of the Future” panel on Wednesday, Oct. 9, at Harbor Designs (1100 Wicomico St.) in Baltimore from 2:45 to 3:45 p.m. As part of Baltimore Innovation Week, Nemphos will be moderating a panel featuring Gee, Eric Solender from Mindstand and Michael Kelleher from Maryland MEP discussing advancements in AI, AR, VR and beyond. Find more details about the event and register here.