When a leading technology-focused private equity firm turned to V&E a year and a half ago to work on transactions involving its portfolio companies, it was more than a cause for celebration at the firm.
“This was a great testament to the quality of our technology practice,” said V&E partner Milam Newby, who is advising the investment firm. “Any law firm that touches technology would die to have this private equity firm as a client. The fact that they partnered with us says a lot about our abilities and about the strength of our team.”
“There are some firms that narrowly focus on startups and venture capital. While we share some of the strengths of those firms in terms of VC financings, we are more than a niche practice. We view technology as a broad area of strength that includes representing companies, investors, and private equity firms.”
Thanks to a deep bench of highly skilled lawyers, a stronghold in energy and other tech-related fields, and a series of strategic hires, V&E has become the law firm of choice for a diverse roster of technology companies as well as prominent venture funds, private equity firms, and investment banks involved with technology investments.
V&E’s technology-focused lawyers have represented such blue-chip names as Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures (SAEV) and software company SailPoint Technologies, not to mention a wide range of emerging and established tech companies, many of which have evolved into world-class industry leaders.
The firm’s recent work in the tech sector includes advising MoneyGram International in securing a $50 million investment from Ripple and striking a strategic agreement with Ripple to utilize XRP, Ripple’s blockchain-based digital currency in MoneyGram’s cross-border payments process. V&E also represented ForeFlight, a leading provider of innovative mobile and web-based aviation applications, in its sale to Boeing.
Newby, along with his fellow partners, Wes Jones, John Kupiec, Paul Tobias and Wes Watts, recently sat down with V&E+ to discuss the rise of V&E’s tech practice and how the firm distinguishes itself from its rivals. All five advise on technology-related financing and M&A transactions. Here’s what they had to say.
How would you describe V&E’s technology practice?
V&E advises technology companies of all sizes in financing and M&A transactions, from formation through exit. The firm’s clients include emerging companies, established technology companies and non-tech companies that are using tech innovation to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. V&E has been particularly active in taking Texas-based technology companies public.
The firm’s client base reflects nearly every segment of the tech world including software, hardware, Internet, semiconductors, clean energy, digital media and entertainment, AI, data security, payment systems, biotechnology, life sciences, medical devices, pharmaceutical, and telecommunications, as well as automotive, financial, industrial, insurance, retail and real estate enterprises that are investing in technology to enhance their businesses.
An equally important and growing part of V&E’s tech practice involves advising investment firms focused on tech investments.
V&E has historically been very successful in advising entrepreneurs and emerging technology companies across the United States, with much of that work managed out of the firm’s Austin office. As V&E’s tech practice continues to expand, what will be the areas of growth?
V&E continues to be a highly sought-after firm for tech companies raising capital and engaging in M&A transactions in Texas. But the firm is also leveraging its strengths in private equity, energy, and other industry segments to make further tech inroads in Texas and beyond.
“There are some firms that narrowly focus on startups and venture capital,” Kupiec said. “While we share some of the strengths of those firms in terms of VC financings, we are more than a niche practice. We view technology as a broad area of strength that includes representing companies, investors, and private equity firms.”
Where do you see some of the biggest opportunities?
Energy-focused technology is a fertile area of growth for V&E. Increasingly energy companies are deploying technology to find, produce and distribute energy more efficiently. That’s given rise to a number of companies that provide tech solutions for energy producers.
V&E client Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, which is actively investing in tech companies that are focused on the energy industry, exemplifies this trend.
“V&E has been the dominant player in the energy space for decades and V&E is the dominant player in the technology space in Texas,” said Jones, who represents SAEV. “We think we are well positioned to help our clients take advantage of the convergence of technology and energy.”
In addition to energy, what are some other promising segments of V&E’s tech practice?
V&E is capitalizing on its reputation as a leading firm counseling private equity funds to advise PE firms in their tech-related transactions.
“We have a lot of strong relationships with a number of different private equity firms,” said Kupiec, who counts prominent PE firms among his clients. “We have the capabilities and experience, both from the startup side and the private equity buyout side, to service their needs in tech-specific areas.”
In addition, V&E foresees continued work in advising non-tech clients that are investing in technology. Increasingly companies of all types, from retailers to real estate companies, are investing in technology to gain an edge, and V&E is helping them do so.
What are some of the steps V&E has taken in recent years to bolster its tech practice?
The firm has made a series of strategic investments. A key move was the 2016 hiring of Tobias, one of Texas’ premier tech IPO and M&A lawyers. Formerly based in Silicon Valley, Tobias has handled more technology IPOs in the past ten years than any other Texas-based attorney, according to IPO Vital Signs.
Tobias’ capital markets experience includes working with issuers on the IPOs of Bazaarvoice, HomeAway, RealPage, SailPoint and SolarWinds.
“Paul and his team have really transformed V&E’s technology practice, not only with boots on the ground, but from a strategic perspective,” Newby said.
In addition, the arrival of Kupiec, who joined the firm’s New York office in 2018, is helping V&E meet its goal of representing more private equity firms involved in technology transactions.
In what ways do V&E tech lawyers distinguish themselves from their rivals?
One of the key differentiators for V&E’s tech lawyers is their practical approach. V&E’s tech team brings years of experience, coupled with a deep understanding of their clients’ business objectives.
Both Watts and Jones have worked in-house for companies. Watts helped run and grow businesses before becoming a lawyer. Jones spent six years working for a software company as it completed three rounds of venture capital funding, a merger, and ultimately an IPO.
“We really try to give practical advice,” Watts said. “Tech companies are known for being nimble and disruptive and we understand that. We’ve seen many of them grow and develop and go through operational challenges and successes. We’re able to zero in on strategic issues.”
In addition to financing and M&A work, what other types of legal service does V&E offer tech companies?
There are many.
For instance, V&E partner Devika Kornbacher leads a team at the firm that focuses on technology and commercial transactions. Her work includes advising on obtaining, protecting, licensing, and enforcing intellectual property rights, as well as on other technology-related legal matters that might arise in all aspects of her clients’ business.
Kornbacher is also a Certified Information Privacy Professional (CIPP/US) by the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), providing her with a deep knowledge base for counseling clients on cybersecurity and data privacy matters.
V&E litigation partner Hilary Preston focuses on intellectual property litigation and commercial disputes. Preston has substantial experience counseling clients in risk management surrounding technology development, particularly in the sports, digital media, mobile content delivery, and e-commerce industries.
Other lawyers at the firm represent technology clients on such matters as patent litigation, securities litigation, white collar criminal defense, government contracts, employee benefits, shareholder activism, and tax.
“We are a full-service firm for tech companies,” Tobias said.
V&E has ambitions to continue to grow its core tech practice while at the same time making inroads into new areas. How confident are you that you can achieve those goals?
“The momentum is building,” Watts said. “There is a convergence around these initiatives. Candidly, I feel like we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what we can accomplish.”