RALEIGH – Jim Verdonik and Benji Jones, veteran attorneys well known in the Triangle entrepreneurial community for efforts focusing on startups and the emerging alternative means of raising capital such as crowdfunding, are strike out on their own.

The duo as of Friday now operates Innovate Capital Law, having left Ward and Smith, P.A.

In an exclusive Q&A with WRAL TechWire, Verdonik and Jones talk about why they struck out on their own, what their mission is with the new firm, and more.

  • What’s the motivation for launching your own firm?

Jim: Our core business is advising entrepreneurs and investors in capital raising transactions using a tool box of new legal strategies, technology and business practices.  We think we will be better at that core business now that we are setting our own rules on how we operate.  It will give us more freedom to choose which clients we work for, how we are compensated and how we grow with them for the long term.

Benji: People at our old firm were great.  We just wanted more flexibility — to partner with outside law firms, implement more flexible fee structures and undertake more of an advisory role – all with the goal of helping entrepreneurs and investors with long standing capital raising problems grow and succeed.

Jim:  On a more personal level, we also wanted to decrease our commuting time. Raleigh, RTP and the Triangle are growing.  The main corridors are getting crowded with people working at all the jobs that this dynamic and entrepreneurial economy has created.  Building the ecosystem that supports that job creation machine has always been a passion for us, but we’ve also been spending a lot of valuable time sitting in traffic.  Moving to our new office in “Midtown” Raleigh gives each of us each an extra hour to problem solve every day.

  • After working with entrepreneurs who risk all, does that give you more courage to strike out on your own?

Benji:  While we are inspired by our clients, we didn’t undertake this endeavor without assessing the risk.  Unlike many people who start businesses, we knew how hard it is before we started.  But we also understand the amount of work, creativity and pro-active problem solving it takes to succeed – even when times get rough.

Jim:  We have seen a lot of people get hurt by treating entrepreneurism like a magic wand that will protect you from the consequences of making mistakes.  One of the things we bring to the table in helping clients is being reality based.  If we think a lot of work needs to be done to save a business, we tell the client.  So, after advising others not to drink the Kool Aid, we try not to drink it ourselves.  Being reality based is more important than courage.

  • How will your firm differ from the competition?

Jim:  First of all, we view other law firms as potential collaborators more than as competitors.  If we work together to develop new capital raising practices that help entrepreneurs and investors solve problems, there will be plenty of money for everyone.  So, competition doesn’t really concern us.

Before we launched Innovate Capital, we talked to a lot of business people – both entrepreneurs and investors.  We asked them what they thought the biggest problems are and asked for suggestions about how to build a problem-solving company.

Frankly, many people were surprised that lawyers would ask for advice about how to run our business.  So, maybe our focus on not pretending we have all the answers and our eagerness to engage with others in interactive problem solving might be our biggest distinguishing factor.

  • What trends and opportunities do you see that you want to capitalize on?

Benji:  The biggest trend we see is the democratization of capital raising.

We have always been involved in the venture capital industry.  That industry has taught us many valuable skills, but new laws and technology and business practices are changing how people raise money.  But venture capital only made sense for about 1% of businesses.

Now, new legal new legal strategies, technology and business practices are opening up capital raising to so many more businesses.  This ranges from Crowdfunding to Blockchain.

All these tools involve one common factor – communications.  Effectively communicating to investors brings success.  We are excited to be in the middle of that trend.  We devote a lot of time and energy to thinking about how to harness communications tools to help our clients.

Using these new tools takes skill.  Success doesn’t just magically happen.  We are focused on how we blend the best of the old and the best of the new to advise startups to start down the path the right way and to create custom capital raising plans that allow many more businesses to arise the money they need to grow

  • Will you be adding other attorneys and staff?

Jim:  We believe our strength is that we are two very experienced professionals who are good at working together to solve problems.  Frankly, having employees may be a distraction.  We would rather help clients than deal with employment policies, benefit plans, etc. And without employees there is no office politics.

Benji:  We are building a network of legal colleagues that we can work with and intend to send excess work or work outside of our wheelhouse to other law firms and to other professions like accountants and consultants.  That will allow us to concentrate on the things we do best.

There are lots of talented people who are eager to help us as and when we need them. We just don’t think they need to be permanently attached to Innovate Capital.

Note: You can reach Jim Verdonik and Benji Jones via email:

Jim: JimV@innovatecapitallaw.com

Benji: Benji@innovatecapitallaw.com