Yes We Can
Shanti Ariker currently serves as SVP, General Counsel of Zendesk, Inc. (NYSE: ZEN), a $1B+ revenue SaaS CRM business, since December 2020. She has more than 20 years experience working internationally with high-growth companies. She has worked closely on Environmental, Social & Governance programs and has expertise in charity law, formation and an understanding of different philanthropic models.
Shanti founded the legal pro bono program at Salesforce to work on social justice initiatives, including helping DACA recipients, creating a legal tool kit for judges in connection with the United Nations and Consortium for Street Children. She serves on the Executive Committee of American Friends of Hebrew University (Pacific Northwest Chapter), the Advisory Board for the Helen Diller Institute for Jewish Law & Israel Studies at Berkeley Law School and is a board member and corporate secretary for the Simpson Literary Project. She is an aspiring writer, currently working on her memoir.
Prior to Zendesk, Ms. Ariker was VP, Deputy General Counsel at Twilio Inc. Ms. Ariker also served as SVP, General Counsel at Salesforce.org and held other senior leadership roles at Salesforce.com, Inc. and Autodesk, Inc. She started out her career in private practice. Ms. Ariker received her B.A. from University of Massachusetts and her J.D. from the University of Virginia.
To watch more episodes of Yes We Can — and submit suggestions for future guests — visit cloudflare.com/yeswecan
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of Yes We Can. I'm so glad to have everyone tuning in.
It's just a couple of housekeeping items. If you have ideas of guests you'd like to have on the show, please email yeswecanatCloudflare.tv or if you have any questions for Shanti, you're welcome to email them there, too.
And so please welcome Shanti to my show today.
Welcome, Shanti. So great to have you here.
Thank you so much for having me. So fun. I was saying on my little Twitter tweezer that you're my first guest with a legal background on Yes We Can.
So I'm really excited to learn more about legal teams and how technical people can better partner with legal teams and hear more about your career.
So thanks so much for making the time today.
Sure. It's great. Good. Well, let's start. So you're currently the general counsel at Zendesk, which is a great large publicly traded technology company.
But for the audience who doesn't know what Zendesk does, maybe you can just give us a quick opening of what does Zendesk do?
Sure. Zendesk makes software that simplifies customer service and unifies communication and data across all segments and channels.
So email, self -service, phone, chat, messaging, you can kind of connect any way you want to.
Yeah, that's great. Well, and we are a happy customer of Zendesk.
So we use that. I remember back in the day having my own account and doing a lot of customer support inquiry.
So thank you for building a great service.
And so as part of Zendesk, you've worked at amazing companies.
You've worked at Salesforce. You've worked at Autodesk. You've been at Twilio.
Now you're here at Zendesk. You're the general counsel. And so I think there's a lot of people listening who aren't sure what a general counsel does.
So maybe we can start by in your words explaining to the audience, what is a general counsel?
Sure. So a general counsel is really meant to be the trusted strategic risk advisor for the company.
But what does that really mean? You know, the general counsel works on all different legal and risk aspects for the business and really looks at the guardrails for your particular company and where you want to, you know, operate within.
And I think a good way to think about it is similar to a general contractor.
So somebody who's kind of overseeing the risk profile for the company as a whole because law is really complex and there's lots of different issues that can pop up in a software company.
For example, there's so many different areas related to product, cybersecurity.
There can be general, you know, run-of-the-mill company issues for anyone related to employment, etc.
And you can't possibly be an expert on all of those areas of the law.
So where you do what, you know, a lawyer comes in and looks at those different issues and may need to then either in a big company setting look at internal resources, experts in the legal team who can advise on those specific issues, or you go to outside counsel.
And so, you know, often when you bring in a lawyer for the first time into a company, you would think, okay, great.
My legal fees are going to go down.
I'm going to really understand what's going on in my company. And instead you may see the opposite because the lawyer will come in and realize, oh my goodness, nobody's looked at these three issues and I'm going to need to talk to an expert.
And so you end up going to outside counsel even more than you did before and your bills rise.
So if you're wondering why that happened, it's because there may have been risks that you hadn't been focused on that the lawyer sees are concerns.
Yeah, you know, it's so interesting you bring that up because I'm nodding because I think back to Cloudflare's early history when we used outside counsel at first as many founders and early stage companies do.
And then we're like, okay, it's time to bring someone in full time.
And we saw something similar happen because you now have an expert inside and they're like, well, it's not just this part.
It's there's product implications and lots of other things and let's make sure that we're crossing our T's and dotting our I's.
And so I remember those days where I'm like, why am I outside legal expenses going up and not down?
So now years later, I understand. So thanks for clarifying that. Hopefully it's helpful to other early stage companies listening.
So when you're describing, you said general contractor and I was like, oh, so you really are like general counsel providing kind of an overview of legal across a wide range, like a lot of surface area.
But how do you stay up to date with kind of what's going on across the company?
So it's really, you know, about making sure you're embedded as much as you can be with the company, what's happening, keeping up to date with products, updates, you know, generally having, you know, my team be very involved in all the different aspects and so that they're plugged in and the more you can do that, the better.
And then, you know, additionally keeping up with the law, which is constantly changing and trying to, you know, really focus on the things that are key to your business is really important.
Yeah, I'm surprised by how often the law does change. Especially in the technology area and cybersecurity, privacy, you know, those are really things that are just a constant, you know, ebb and flow of information.
That's good. We often guests come on and talk about how being curious and high rate of learning is really important in their career.
And it sounds like with your career the same, where it's just like you got to stay on top of what's going on to be able to provide good counsel.
So that's a good, I think kind of not obvious point.
So thanks for sharing that. So today you're a general counsel. So again, providing general counsel across a broad area, but you've done litigation, you've done transactional law, you've done corporate counsel.
So you've done everything from, you know, helping contracts with customers like us to, you know, transactions, to corporate counsel, litigation, any favorites among your career?
You know, so I did, you know, start out as a litigation lawyer and then I went in-house as a transactional lawyer.
Today, what I really enjoy doing more on the corporate side is the things related to ESG.
You hear a lot about ESG, which stands for environmental, social, and governance.
And it kind of wraps up a lot of the different things that I've done in my career nicely because it deals both with the social impact related work and also governance, which is what, you know, corporate lawyers tend to focus on, the governance of the company at large and does work into that environmental areas as well.
And what I really like about that is it talks about the policy aspects and, you know, that idea today that we should be looking at all stakeholders and not necessarily just shareholders.
So the, you know, how can a business be a good corporate citizen in the community where it, you know, where employees live and work and things like that?
I love that. Well, that's such a, well, I think an important area and growing area.
So that's, that's, I'm hearing more and more about that.
And I think it is becoming much more at the forefront of many businesses.
So, which is a good thing as a citizen.
I think that's a good thing. So when you were, went to law school, did you know that you wanted to become a GC at a large publicly traded technology hot company?
Or how did your path with law and technology intersect? How did they find each other?
So when I went to law school, things were really different. Most people went right to a law firm and they aspired, you know, I aspired to go to a big, big law firm.
There were really not law departments the way there are today, where you have hundreds and hundreds of lawyers and some of these large tech companies.
So it was really more about what kind of law I wanted to practice.
And I did try a variety of different things.
One summer, I clerked at the U.S. Attorney's Office doing anti-mob prosecution.
Then the other half of that summer, I worked in an environmental law firm thinking that I really wanted to do environmental law.
I was really involved and interested in environmental, you know, you know, trying to see how we could make, you know, cleaner water and things like that.
But when I when it came down to reviewing the Clean Water Act for six weeks, it wasn't very exciting.
It's just a lot of policy and review of statutes. And so the next summer I went to a New York law firm, a large firm, and I learned a lot about finance and, you know, strategic transactions.
And over time, I realized that I wanted to move back to the Bay Area because, you know, tech was really taking off quite a bit.
The Internet was first starting and I decided to move back. My father is a retired physicist, and I've always learned a lot about tech from him and had grown up in the Bay Area, really wanted to be involved in the tech industry and figure out how could I how could I do that?
So that's that's really where I focused on.
And so my first job in-house was at E-Trade and, you know, they were really changing the way people can work and trade online.
Yeah, the time was very new and novel and brought up a lot of cutting edge issues.
And what I've really enjoyed working in tech over the years is, you know, the cutting edge issues change, but there are always new ones.
And so it's always really interesting to be, as you said, learning and applying things that you know, but in a new and novel way that you have to kind of, you know, take a new lens to it.
And sometimes it's it can be daunting because there's a risk to it.
And there's not you're not always sure exactly how that's going to turn out.
And as a lawyer, you like to be sure. But you know, I think as an in-house lawyer, you have to be pragmatic and figure out the ways that you can work within, you know, the constrictions of the law.
The law may not be as up to date as what the technology is trying to do or for the company or products and things like that.
Yeah, well, I would say the law certainly doesn't have reputation for being as cutting edge as some of the some of these technology companies who are building products that help solve their customers problems.
So it's interesting, you know, for the when you use the word pragmatic, which I think is actually such a poignant word to use because often when I hear lawyers and people think, oh, they just say no all the time.
Lawyers are there to say no and to kind of be like the fun police.
But I think pragmatic is a much better, much better way to describe that.
And so maybe we could kind of divide this into two. So let's say there's a product manager listening or a developer listening or even a founder listening and what advice or maybe an account executive on the sales team.
What advice do you kind of have for them? What's a great way to interface with their legal teams within their companies?
Like how should they think about that? What are maybe some best practices and mistakes you see people making?
A really good question.
I often see people come to the legal team with a specific question. You know, can I do this or how can I do that?
Instead of the bigger picture of what they're trying to solve and really if you want to get a lawyer involved earlier in the process, it's always going to work out better because then they can understand and guide you to where you want to go versus just answering a yes or no question.
And so, you know, I think that brings people into the legal team, into the discussion earlier in product marketing and, you know, marketing and anything else, you know, this concept of privacy or security by design rather than, you know, tacking it on at the end makes a huge difference and allows it to be more holistic and part of that a whole approach.
And so I think, you know, working with your lawyer, your legal team in that way is always going to be a better result for the company and, you know, get you to a position where, you know, it may not be a yes or no answer.
Usually what a lawyer says is it depends and the reason it depends is because it depends on where you're trying to go with it, what you're trying to do.
And so if you come with a pre, you know, something that you've already kind of sketched out and you're already over here towards the end, you may have been able to do something different if you had started back here with the lawyer and now it's too late.
Well, and, you know, what you're saying resonates so much because I've seen even some missteps we've taken internally and the thing is, is everyone's really busy in a growth company, you know, everyone's got, there's way more things to do than people to do it.
And so then, and time to do it. And so if you kind of going down a path and at the end, it's like, no, no, no, we got to back up.
That's like, I feel like that's a really hard thing to do just because it's just like, oh my God, we just spent all this time and cycle and thoughtfulness almost working on the wrong thing.
It's hard to want to go back five steps to fix it.
So it's almost like better to get involved earlier so we can see it, kind of get to anticipate these issues and get up in front so we set it down the right path.
So then, so you can get back to shipping.
Yeah, and often people don't want to embed the lawyer in because they think, oh, the lawyer is just going to be sitting there and they're not going to either, it's a waste of their time or they're not really going to understand or they're going to ask too many questions or try to stop things, but instead make the lawyer part of a team because they'll really get to understand where you're trying to go with it.
They'll, you know, typically a lawyer joins a tech company or a company because they're interested in what they're doing and they want to understand it better and they can help you move farther faster.
That's been my experience. That's what I've seen with our amazing legal team too.
So it's almost like all the legal teams need a hashtag, like fly on the wall.
I like that. I'm going to start using that. Like, you should like ship some stickers around.
I think that could really, there's something there anyway. Okay.
So, all right. So those are for the non-lawyers listening, but how about there are some maybe other lawyers who maybe either currently work in-house at a company or maybe want to go do that?
And maybe they're a bit earlier in their career.
What advice do you have for them? Maybe things that you've seen the bright stars in your team or in your career, what they've really done and maybe areas where it's like, these are some common mistakes I see.
You know, I think really it's about following your passion and trying to figure out what you're interested in.
And, you know, I think there's no mistakes, but sometimes I've seen lawyers take a position where they're not really passionate about it and then they don't necessarily look at all the details because it's not interesting to them.
So, you know, I had a lawyer working for me who was working on commercial work and their heart was just not in it and they moved into the product legal role and, you know, have really thrived in their career because they just were much more interested in how things work and what the product did versus, you know, negotiating with customers.
You know, there's so many different aspects of what you can do in a legal career.
So, you know, you shouldn't limit it to one thing. And if one thing isn't exciting to you or isn't working for you, try something different.
And sometimes that's hard.
It's usually easier to pivot earlier in your career. So don't wait, don't, you know, don't throw a bunch of time at something that you see isn't working for you.
And it doesn't mean you can't be a lawyer. There just might be some other kind of law you can practice.
I mean, it's really interesting when you see most shows on TV have to do with lawyers in court, but there's so many different aspects to practicing law and going to law school is such a valuable background for so many things that you could do.
Matthew Prince, my business partner, our CEO, he went to law school and he also has an MBA from Harvard Business School, which is where we met.
And he often says his law degree is very useful, almost like more useful than anything else he's done.
So he would agree with you. I've heard him say that.
Okay, so let's shift gears. So in addition to this incredible career of working at a law firms and in-house at all these incredible companies, and we've gone through a little bit of that, you also do a lot of pro bono work.
And that's so, so you just personally are very passionate about that.
So I wanna learn more about why.
But in addition to that, you also help set up these pro bono initiatives within these organizations.
So at salesforce.org, you help set up their pro bono initiative.
And now at Zendesk, you've done the same thing. So I wanna talk about both pieces because I think that's so fascinating.
So maybe let's talk about why are you so passionate about doing pro bono work?
And maybe also for the audience who don't know, what is that?
Maybe a quick primer of what it is and then why are you so passionate about it?
So pro bono work is really just skills -based volunteering and skills-based volunteering for lawyers is what pro bono programs are.
And typically law firms would have programs for this to do a certain amount of pro bono while you were there.
And as more people have migrated in -house, I've really been interested in making sure that we continue that great tradition in whatever facet that is internally.
I started out my career in a big law firm on Wall Street.
And my very first pro bono case was given to me by one of the partners that I worked with.
And it was for a nonprofit that their CFO had stolen some embezzled some money.
So I went to small claims court and argued against, it was actually a case against the recruiting firm that had placed him there.
In any event, I won the case. It was my very first time in court. I was very nervous.
It was my first probably six months at the firm. And that very first case got me really noticed in the firm because I was the only first year who'd gotten into court.
Now that was just a small claims case. It was no big deal. Of course it was a big deal to the nonprofit, but it wasn't a huge case for the company, for the firm.
But that got me noticed. It got me into to be able to work in a couple of other cases that were for paying clients.
And that made a huge difference to me and enabled me to do more faster in my own career.
And so I like to also always provide information to younger lawyers about how they can use pro bono to benefit their own career, their own development and not just in helping other people, but it can help them as well.
So I did start the pro bono legal program at Salesforce and worked on that for about four years, really connecting with lots of different legal aid societies, local bar associations with law firms.
And I think people sometimes feel like it's a daunting task to start something like that because people are in-house or stretched thin, they're busy, the legal departments are small often, or if they're not small, they're still very busy and there's a reason you have that many lawyers.
But you can use your law firms, your external counsel, you can use legal aid societies to build out a program.
I actually did write an article about this for the ACC docket, detailing out the steps that you can take.
There's other organizations that can help with those types of things. And I think it really makes a difference to work with people who don't have access to lawyers and legal representation and remind you that there is a big world out there, that there was a lot of people in need.
There's lots of things that you can work on that your team is passionate about.
So I highly recommend it. I have goosebumps speaking about it because actually my dad is a lawyer and he just celebrated 50 years of law.
And so we did a little family. I haven't told you this. So we did a little family celebration on Zoom a few months ago and my nephews and nieces and everyone was there.
And someone asked him, why do you do it? And actually his answer was really similar.
It's like, you just meet a broader swath of people. It expands your horizons.
You become a better lawyer, you become a better person. And so a lot of the things you're saying is bringing me back to my dad's 50th year in law celebration, so it's nice.
That's great. Yeah, it's really nice. Okay, so then let's say there's someone, let's say there's a lawyer at Cloudflare listening to you and be like, oh my God, I want to do this.
Or, and I know they can find the article you wrote which is actually very well laid out, but, or another organization or somebody you're like, oh, one day I'm going to take this idea I just heard from Shanti was saying, it's actually not that hard.
We should do this skills-based volunteering and pro bono initiatives within organizations are a new thing, a rising trend.
What are maybe some, we don't have to go through the whole thing, but kind of scaffolding on how to think about how to go about setting it up.
So I think, you know, the most important thing is to get buy-in from the general counsel or whoever's running the department and then to make it as much of a grassroots organization as possible, you know, start with a committee, maybe do a survey of the team and what they're interested in.
You know, there were a couple of things that I tried to do and people just weren't interested in them.
So, you know, you have to get buy-in from the team.
If they're not interested, then they're not going to take part in it.
And it has to also be something where they feel that they can understand it and do it.
You know, typically you have these high powered lawyers who are very type A personalities.
They don't want to get anything wrong.
And so bringing in people who can really help them learn what they're trying to accomplish, even if it's just filling out a government form, you don't want to get it wrong.
You want to be able to give the client the right information.
So doing some sort of continuing legal education at the beginning or prior to starting the project, even if it's a one-day project or a half-day project, having that training is really, really helpful.
Having an expert on hand if you need it, maybe translators if you're doing like an immigration clinic or something like that.
And then what I've always tried to do is create a day, you know, back when we could actually do it in person, have the CLE training at the beginning, have the actual four or five hour clinic that you're doing and then do a happy hour team building thing at the end so that people feel like they got to accomplish something that day and then, you know, they get to get together.
It, you know, it's not, you're not going to be making, you know, a change in career by doing this one day.
You can only do so much to help people, but it's a start.
And I think it also plants that seed with the team about, you know, how you can make a difference even with these short stints that you do.
Yeah. Do you have any examples of some pro bono cases that you've seen, some of these initiatives recently that might just help provide some context for people listening of maybe some of the types of works or cases that they might get put in front of?
So recently at Zendesk, we partnered with the global law firm Baker and McKinsey, and they're doing this with many of their corporate clients.
We actually did a whiteboard that was online where we did this all at the same time.
We got online.
They had already set up a lot of the information. We had researched in two different cities.
We did Edinburgh, Scotland, and Boise, Idaho, and we were looking for information to provide layman's, in layman's terms, what happens if you get stopped by a police officer?
This is specifically for adolescents. So we wanted to write it in terms of what could a 13-year-old understand if they need to get on their phone, find out this information, which will be put online eventually.
And they're in different cities throughout the U.S. and the world, and they want to know, can I get stopped?
Do I have to respond to the police officer?
Can they search my backpack? What are some questions that they would go through their minds?
We want to be able to have set answers. And many people have done, like the ACLU and others, have done informational things like that and put them online, but they're often not in terms that are readily understandable to your average teenager.
So I thought that was a great project to work on. Yeah, that's amazing.
And I just think making, sometimes I feel like in technology, we have to just take what we're doing and making it more accessible to our users.
And it's the same thing in law.
There's a lot of laws, but making it something that everyone can understand is important, including adolescents.
I think that's a big part of it.
And so I always feel like I wish I had had more classes in high school about these sorts of topics.
I kind of was, or my high school did not have a lot of topics on this, but I feel like it's just good just to kind of understand it at a foundational level.
Definitely, and I've done many other clinics in the past as well, working with immigrants, just filling out forms.
And what I've always tried to do is, the DREAMers, the Deferred Action, DACA clinics that we've done.
What I tried to do in the past was not just have the DACA clinic, but maybe set up, one time we set up a panel of people that were working at Salesforce who were immigrants themselves from different countries to talk about their experience and how they ended up working at a tech company to kind of inspire the people that are there, not just to say, we're here to help you, but also look what you could do with your own career one day as well.
I love it. Well, that's kind of why I started this show, Yes We Can.
So just because I'm sure there's so many people listening to you speak being like, oh my God, I want to follow in Shanti's footsteps.
So that's great. So we have about three and a half minutes left and there's one question I ask everyone on the show.
So I'm going to end with that. But before we get there, any advice to maybe somebody who's going to law school or about who just came out of law school or early in their career and they hear you speaking how passionate and how accomplished and how many different amazing chapters you've had in your career.
Any words of advice to a younger version of you, Shanti?
I think there's so many different things you can do with your career.
Sometimes you feel like you're stuck and you just have to keep looking, learning, figuring out what you can do next.
I think I love to network and meet people, but it also helps me understand what the possibilities are.
And so I think that's super important and always be trying to figure out what that next step is.
Where could you go? What are you interested in? And make sure that people know that because then they can become your sponsor.
If you don't tell people what you aspire to, they won't know how they can help you.
So I think that's super important.
It is, that's so scary though to sometimes share. I want to do this. You think, well, if I tell you one day I want to be a general counsel, then you'll hold me back.
That's my job right now. I think sometimes people say that, but that's not how it works.
That's exactly right. When I became general counsel at Zendesk, so many people came to me and said, I remember you telling me five years ago that you wanted to be a public company GC and now you've accomplished your goal.
That's amazing. And I remember when I first started to say that I was definitely uncomfortable thinking, well, who am I that I should just think that I can do this?
And over time it became something that was more of a normal idea.
So I think saying it out loud, thinking about it, figuring out how you can, it may take a lot of steps to get there, but you should be able to accomplish whatever you set out to do.
I love that, I love that.
Okay, we have about 90 seconds left. So the last question that I want to end on is, as a woman in technology, where has the industry lived up to your expectations and where has it fallen short?
So I've seen many more women at the table become general counsels and take on a lot of other responsibility.
At the same time for the general counsel specifically, I often still see the GC role sitting under the CFO or somebody who's not the CEO.
And I wonder why people don't view the legal, the head of the legal team as important enough to sit at the table with the CFO, the CEO, et cetera.
And so I would love to see that happen and really feel that the head lawyer has a seat at the table in every company.
Well, because it's by design up front, right? We need to have it earlier in the process, hashtag fly on the wall.
We need to have a seat at the table. This is great.
Shanti, this was wonderful. Thank you so much for joining. Really appreciate you taking the time and sharing all your insights.
And so everyone, Shanti Archer, the general counsel of Zendesk, really appreciate having you here.
If you have any suggestions on future guests you'd like to see at Yes We Can or any questions, you can email yeswecan at Cloudflare.tv.
And otherwise that's a wrap today.
And Shanti, thank you. I'm gonna be following up with you after and asking you if you have any great recommendations.
And it was one of your colleagues that had put your name forward.
So I hope you can pay it forward to somebody, some people that you have in mind in your career too.
Great. Thank you so much for having me. It was really fun.
Awesome. All right. Thanks everyone. Have a great Friday and look forward to seeing you here next week, next week for next week's episode.