SAN FRANCISCO — Lora Blum, incoming general counsel at SurveyMonkey Inc., became enchanted with in-house counsel life during the dot-com boom of the late ’90s.
“When I first came out of law school, I wanted to do corporate work because I wanted to go in-house,” Blum said. “In 1999, I thought that meant getting options.”
Fitting that, more than 15 years later, Blum will head the legal department of one of the era’s surviving stalwarts. And Blum said she’s learned there’s a lot more to in-house life than equity.
Blum comes to SurveyMonkey from LinkedIn Corp., where she served as vice president of corporate legal since 2010. In the past six years, Blum worked on the company’s initial public offering and every acquisition thereafter, she said, along with follow-on offerings, debt deals and the mammoth sale to Microsoft Corp. for $26.2 billion, which closed December 2016.
In 2009, when Blum served as outside counsel to LinkedIn as a partner at Jones Day, the Mountain View-based company’s then-GC Erika Rottenberg personally asked Blum to join the in-house team.
“The first thing I said was no,” Blum told The Recorder, laughing. Her relatively new gig at Jones Day and a house remodel proved too time-consuming for a career move, so Blum gave Rottenberg a couple of names to consider. Rottenberg obliged, but, a few months later, came back to Blum.
“After a lot of shoulder shaking, I joined,” Blum said. “The jump was kind of scary. As a lawyer, by nature, I’m a little bit risk averse. Or maybe a lotta bit risk averse.”
That jump led to the longest gig Blum has had since leaving law school. Come Jan. 23, she’ll jump again, becoming GC to SurveyMonkey and inheriting the in-house team built by former GC Eleanor Lacey, who left November 2016 to Sophos. (“Lora is terrific!” Lacey said in a quick email about other matters.)
Away from legal issues, Blum enters SurveyMonkey more than a year after the death of former CEO David Goldberg. According to a New York Times report, Bennet Potter, head of marketing communications, told the employees at a quickly formed company meeting immediately after Goldberg’s death in May 2015, “This is going to hurt. Everyone is going to cry. It is only the start.” (Photo, left: SurveyMonkey general counsel Lora Blum.)
Longtime Goldberg friend and former GoPro senior vice president Zander Lurie was named CEO in January 2016. He remains today.
Blum’s first move as GC is relationship-building. Relationships lead to trust, Blum said, and “no one is going to want to come to the legal team for help and support if they don’t trust you.”
For outside counsel, like many GCs, Blum wants practical advice that doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Context is important, Blum said, and lacking context is a problem.
Blum said she gets annoyed when firms work on multiple deals with her and they try to “reinvent the wheel,” throwing away successful models that previously worked.
“We’ve been through something before, we dealt with it one way, and they aren’t using that prior context to shape our current conversations,” Blum said. “It’s so easy! You have all the documents already from our side!”
For Blum, it’s an obvious pet peeve. In work and in life, she likes to do a little “post-mortem on everything,” she said.
“It’s a good habit of mine,” Blum said. “Even if things go right, it’s good to remember how everything worked, how to put it into practice and putting it somewhere so you can refer back.”
Fittingly, she does annual reviews of her firms. She also enjoys collecting and interpreting data to make decisions, she said.
Blum said she is happy to join a developed legal team. It helps ease the first-time jitters, she said. Much like her move to LinkedIn, Blum is taking a jump, and again, the platform is solid. SurveyMonkey, founded in 1999, has steadily grown, adding offices in San Mateo, Emeryville, Portland, Seattle and abroad in Ireland, Canada and Australia. In 2013, the company raised $800 million in debt and equity, and a year later, it raised another $250 million to fund future acquisitions. The financing valued the company at $2 billion.
“It’s a chance,” Blum said, “but it’s a good chance.”