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GC Spotlight: Joel Benavides, Redis Labs Head of Global Legal and DPO

July 8, 2020 6 min read
Joel Benavides - Blog Hero

Tell us about yourself, Joel.

I have been in high tech for the majority of my professional career. It has been a great experience, spanning 20+ years from the euphoria of the dotcom rise and implosion, to the rise of social media, Fintech, AI and other technologies that can only be described as fantastic. I live on the San Francisco Peninsula with my wife, 14 year-old twins, and our little pup Abby.

Joel Benavides Sunrise

Originally from Puerto Vallarta, I gravitate toward the sea, and whether in Silicon Valley, Berkeley or LA, I have never lived more than a few miles from a beach — the perfect spot for a jog and a swim. I was a partner in a restaurant venture when I was 19, so whipping up interesting dishes and bridging together friends, colleagues and family, is a great way to stay grounded.

How did you find yourself in your role today? You first started your career in-house. What interested you about corporate and transactional law?

I have always seen law as a way to eliminate friction, capture people’s understanding and prevent or minimize future conflict, thereby facilitating everyday transactions that drive our world. In essence, propelling business whether it is conducted as individuals or corporations.

A year after graduating from UCLA Law School, I heard the siren song of high tech and left Los Angeles and a budding career in film financing and distribution, for a position at Siebel Systems, then a red-hot CRM company and undoubtedly the best possible bootcamp for a career in tech transactions. Through hard work, luck and circumstance, I then joined pre-IPO VMware followed by Box.

You were part of scaling legal at Box. How did that prepare you for leading at Redis Labs?

Being the founder of a team, any team, is a huge opportunity wrapped in various challenges. The only way to succeed in the never ending fire drill landscape of startups is to quickly prove your skill set, gain confidence and build your network of trust among key players across the organization.

Whether it is the CEO who needs your urgent input on a PR statement or some M&A matter, a DevOps engineer who needs a new cloud agreement done today, an events manager who must book a venue asap, or a sales rep with the company’s first million-dollar enterprise deal that can’t wait, how you respond and deliver will make all the difference going forward. These were all part of life at Box.

Remember the Siebel Bootcamp I mentioned? It was the foundation for VMware, which, in turn, prepared me for founding the Legal team at Box and eventually going through my second IPO. Expanding my areas of responsibility into global data privacy and helping the Box Industries and Sales teams expand the adoption of Box into law firms and in-house legal teams internationally brought me full circle into purposing law as a business driver.

What is Redis Labs for those who aren’t familiar with the company? What does your day to day look like?

Redis Labs licenses proprietary software built atop the Redis open source project, which we manage. It is the fastest database in the world, preferred across industries and use cases from microservices to streaming and gaming, and even in space exploration. How cool is that?

As with many startups scaling quickly across markets and jurisdictions, change is a constant factor at Redis Labs. You have to quickly triage, access and re-prioritize to deliver today and stay on track with mid-term goals and long-term strategy. You can go from reviewing investor or board matters to negotiating a large cloud services agreement with a major UK financial institution to advising on marketing outreach or a joint development agreement today, then quickly shift gears tomorrow. All the while, you need to create processes and deploy systems to help the team scale as you onboard new members.

What brings you the most satisfaction in your role? What makes you say, “Nailed it!”

There is no greater work satisfaction than gaining the trust and recognition of your company mates. At Redis Labs, I’m proud to have earned the CEO’s Award, the “Miracle Worker” award from our Sales team and invitations to Club. Invitations to join international specialized work groups or speak at peer meetings are similarly satisfying.

General Counsel are more than just advisors and gatekeepers — they can be strategic partners to the business. Can you share with us some of the problems you’re trying to solve in your legal department or business process?

The days when the Legal team was seen as a necessary nuisance and expense center are long gone. Today’s legal leaders are key in advising on strategic considerations.

For example, should you incorporate locally in Asia to serve local customers including government entities or should you rely on distributors and resellers? While planning for a potential IPO, what legal and regulatory constraints hamper your ability to transfer IP ownership from one of your entities to another? How can you accomplish such transfers while minimizing the tax impact on the company and its investors?

Similarly, we are advocates of technology solutions that allow for productive and compliant offsite deployment of employees and contractors throughout the world. That includes effective AI-driven corporate records lifecycle management, AI contract review and negotiation tools, and secure HR and development tools, all of which are key in the new COVID-19 reality.

Our values are intent, integrity, drive and empathy — can you give an example of a value you talk about within your Legal team and how that was exemplified?

All companies choose a set of values that best define their corporate culture and operating philosophy. Equally important is the question of how you operationalize these values or principles. In my view, treating your company mates as well as external people respectfully and diplomatically is paramount.

Even the most difficult discussions or negotiations can be concluded successfully when you approach the other side diplomatically. It diffuses tension and signals to the other side that you acknowledge their position and skills, respecting their time investment to come to a viable resolution.

You know you have succeeded when counsel on the other side, say, representing a multibillion dollar conglomerate on a challenging negotiation, compliments your approach and extends an invitation to a highly regarded conference.

What legal trends in data and privacy (or other areas) are you tracking right now? Why are you interested or excited about them?

One of the most significant ongoing developments is the global adoption of data protection regimes, many of which are modeled after GDPR. WIth more than 130 countries enacting and enforcing data protection laws, this represents a significant opportunity for legal and data privacy practitioners to provide input to legislators and regulators on the real-world impact of the regulation, as well as the mechanics of complying with technical and organizational measures required. My close interaction with several data protection authorities in the EU, Asia and the Americas has been invaluable.

What certifications or soft skills do you think are essential to succeed as General Counsel?

Have I stressed the importance of diplomacy internally as well as with external parties? The greatest set of skills will only take you so far if you use them like a hammer instead of as a fine-tuned musical instrument.

Who, or what, inspires you?

The relentless dreamers working on new technologies, the indomitable fighters for the environment and guardians of nature, the advocates of those that lack the resources to protect their basic rights.

Do you have a mentor or serve as a mentor? How have you benefited from either role?

I have been extremely fortunate in my career. I have benefited from working with tech founders and entrepreneurs such as Tom Siebel, Diane Greene, Aaron Levy and Ofer Bengal, as well as fantastic GC and Legal leaders like Jeff Amman, Pete McGoff, Barb Walkowski, David Upcher and many others. I strive to pay it forward with teams I manage and by assisting budding entrepreneurs from disadvantaged communities to make their mark. Growth and learning from each other is symbiotic and equally beneficial, a win-win by any measure.

What would you tell your 25-year-old self?

Worry less, be kinder, ignore the chatter, focus on the things you love — it will all turn out alright!

Joel Benavides

What are two things people don’t know about you? Fun facts or secret talents?

Let me loose in a well-stocked kitchen and I will whip a great meal matched with nice wine: Ossobuco, bullaibaise, seared ahi or grilled lamb. We can talk about sci-fi films while we enjoy it.

What book are you reading right now?

Sapiens by Yuval Harari, because it is the story of us all.

Meet other legal leaders in this series including Jennifer Chung, GC of AccuWeather; Ryan Black, Director of Legal Ops at Opendoor; Deanna Sheridan, GC of Spartan Race, and more.

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