He’s the kind of tech industry lawyer you would expect to see traversing the corporate campuses of Palo Alto, CA. If not Silicon Valley then surely Austin, TX or Boston, MA. But there’s a reason why Scott Brown has built his business law practice thousands of miles away, smack dab in the heartland – Columbus, Ohio.
It’s a location that might actually be considered a strategic advantage for Brown and his firm Anthony Law, the city is no stranger to technological innovation.
“Columbus has had a really robust tech startup scene for a long time.” He told me.
Big name investors have known about the Columbus tech scene for decades and have been redirecting increasing funds there in recent years. Why? It pays off.
A technology hub in an underserved market offers incredible potential for investors, as these startups likely have lowered valuations simply because they are not located in Silicon Valley, Boston, New York, or Austin. Investors can get a bigger chunk of the next unicorn tech company coming out of Columbus for a much lower investment.
Early stage seed funds like Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest, which has raised money from the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Ray Dalio (Bridgewater Capital) and Sara Blakely (Spanx), are leveling the playing field for startups in underserved markets.
The Rise of Entrepreneurs in Columbus
Scott Brown was there in the beginning to witness the rise of Columbus’s tech scene. He graduated law school during the economic downturn and his business law practice has grown organically right alongside the local tech scene.
Doing business in the Midwest is something he understands deeper than most. He comes from a family of Midwestern entrepreneurs. His grandparents ran a chain of music instrument stores across Ohio and his father owned a percussion instrument retail store for many years. These are the kind of entrepreneurs that wear every hat, tackle any issue, and find an answer to every problem.
His unique background might explain why Brown offers uncommon legal advice to entrepreneurs:
“I encourage people not to get too bogged down with due diligence before it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s more important to work on the viability of the business in the early stages and only do the legal stuff when it’s necessary, as it can slow you down in the beginning. I love clients that take risks and get going. Cleaning up after risk takers is part of my job.”
Scott Brown gets it.
He knows how entrepreneurs think and seamlessly speaks the same language of risk-takers/founders. He relishes his role of playing catch-up to an entrepreneur who may have been so focused on growth, she forgot to check in on compliance. It is his job to “clean up after the risk-takers.”
I spoke with Scott about his legal practice, his role in the Columbus tech scene, and what lies ahead for his practice at Anthony Law. Here’s the transcript.
(IL): Scott, thanks for your time. We know you do a lot of creative legal work on behalf of startups. IP law, technology law… Can you explain everything you do at your firm and kind of give us a breakdown of your practice focus?
(SB): Our firm is boutique and offers full-scope legal services for small businesses and startups. Pretty much any legal need your business requires, we do it. We tend to work with developing and growing businesses.
I handle corporate work and assist startup companies taking on investments, agreements with contractors, vendors, business partnerships, anything they need contractually – I’ll work on.
Our specialty lies in really learning everything about our client’s business. So much so that we basically become their in-house counsel (without being in-house). Knowing everything about their business helps our clients save time and money.
Who is your ideal client?
I like working with businesses that create a lot of intellectual property: software developers for instance and clients who approach their business a certain way. I like to refer to them as “creative-based businesses.”
I do a lot of trademark work as well. Trademark is federal work so I’m not restricted geographically there.
More recently, cannabis companies have approached me looking for help with trademarks, and those are challenging and fun.
It’s interesting that cannabis clients have been knocking on your door more recently. What are your thoughts on practicing law in the emerging Cannabis Industry? How did you get involved?
Without actively pursuing it I suddenly have quite a few clients in the cannabis industry. It’s challenging work but rewarding. I also think the industry here is unique to other markets.
Being in Ohio, my clients are not typically selling THC-9 types of cannabis products because it’s not legal for recreational use and only very recently legal for medicinal use. It’s a developing area for sure.
You’ve been in Columbus since becoming a lawyer and seen the business environment there evolve. Can you talk about the Columbus tech scene a bit?
Columbus already had a robust tech startup scene since before I became an attorney almost ten years ago. The first firm I worked at was exclusively focused on tech startups in Columbus. There’s a whole lot of innovation happening here thanks to groups like Tech Columbus and there are a number of venture capital funds in Columbus.
Your favorite industries to work in?
Mainly tech and software clients. I also do work for companies in the healthcare field.
I’m a musician myself so I also work with creative types: musicians, writers, and photographers. Most of that work I do for artists is pro bono, just helping people along in their careers.
My background is in music. I went to The Berklee College of Music – which really attracts the best musicians from around the country and the world. So, my initial interest was in entertainment law. But the further along I got, I realized that working with record labels and small businesses is remarkably similar to any small and growing business, so that was my entry into the law. I just like helping people build their dream.
So, you pivoted out of strictly practicing entertainment law, to focus more on startups and small biz. Why?
For me, ultimately, my family is entrepreneurial so I have a natural connection to entrepreneurs. My grandparents owned a chain of nine musical instrument stores in Columbus and I started working for them at a young age. They sold the business when I was in college. My dad also owned a percussion instrument store for many years. I watched how they built their businesses and realized that those are the type of people that I love and want to work for: entrepreneurs that are passionate about their business and building something great.
How do you fit in so well working alongside entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurs have to wear a lot of hats. You have to be a software developer and then also learn how to do agreements. Building your business requires you to be a jack of all trades in a sense. Now, once you get going and bring in customers you shouldn’t be spending time focusing on legal stuff. That’s where I come in. I like dealing with the big picture.
Any advice for choosing the right lawyer?
You should trust your lawyer. You are basically bringing them in to be part of the team. Spend the time to get to know them a bit and let them show you how they handle things and where their expertise lies. Our firm doesn’t charge for consultations and instead prefers to just start advising and getting to know people. Then let the relationship grow from there.
I encourage people not to think about legal due diligence too soon and just do the legal stuff when its necessary, as it can slow you down in the beginning. I love clients that take risks and get going. Cleaning up after risk takers is part of my job.
Effects that COVID-19 has had on your clients?
I work with a lot of creative entrepreneurs, some of them who have pivoted during the COVID-19 crisis.
One client we work with pivoted to manufacturing sanitizing products. Another client, a large scale AirBnB management platform, realized that COVID-19 is somewhat of humanitarian crisis so they launched a non-profit where they are offering rentals to first-responders. There’s also been a ton of work with the PPP Loans.
What’s your favorite aspect about what you do, as business lawyer in Columbus, Ohio?
For me, it is seeing a client’s product or trademark out in the market. Or when someone mentions a client’s product or service to me not knowing I worked on it. It tells me they’ve made it and they’re successful. That’s the best part. Overall, I just enjoy seeing a client’s company take shape and go from concept to reality.