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Breaking the Ice: Fundraising setbacks inspired crowdfunding effort

Todd Nelson//June 21, 2018//

Breaking the Ice: Fundraising setbacks inspired crowdfunding effort

Todd Nelson//June 21, 2018//

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Name: Zachary J. Robins

Title: Attorney, Messerli Kramer

Education: University of Arizona, B.S., business administration; J.D., Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Difficulties raising money for small businesses — including a post-college venture — helped inspire attorney Zachary Robins of Messerli Kramer to work to solve that problem for others.

Robins eventually helped craft legislation establishing MNvest, the state’s equity crowdfunding program for small businesses.

MNvest offers small businesses in the state the opportunity to raise money from Minnesotans with a few thousand dollars to invest, not just deeper-pocketed investors. The five companies that have closed on capital of the dozen offerings made under MNvest have raised more than $1 million, Robins said.

Robins traces his interest in business to growing up in a family where his father had his own company. It interested him enough to earn a business administration degree.

Soon after, however, Robins experienced fundraising challenges firsthand as he and a brother started a company.

“We were clueless as to basic things that I deal with now like valuation and ownership structures and voting rights,” said Robins who went to law school to learn those details to benefit clients in their business dealings.


Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. The easiest way to find me is on Twitter. My handle is at @zjrobins. That’s easiest way to reach me because I’m on it all the time. Certainly [talking to] companies, whether existing or startup, that are seeking to raise capital, that tends to be the entry point for a fruitful conversation with me.

Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?

A. The experience that I had of starting up my own company and lacking in confidence in making decisions regarding valuation, ownership structure and governance. That experience told me that there was a lot I needed to learn about the business world to help other folks launch companies. My hope and goal was to be able to help others miss some of the pitfalls that we crossed while trying to launch our own company.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I’m pretty deep in reading all about security tokens. I’ve been reading a lot of crypto white papers and articles focused on the topic of security tokens.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. A pet peeve is concealment of information. I tend to work best when all of the cards are shown.

Q. What are your favorite aspects of being an attorney?

A. My favorite aspect is the social side of it, being able to meet so many different people and work with interesting and exciting companies.

Q. Least favorite?

A. Certainly the pressure to meet the billable hour expectation.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. Spending time with my family.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?

A. We have a pretty famous pizza shop that I would take them to [in Columbus, Ohio]. Otherwise I’d probably take them to the Horseshoe [Ohio Stadium], which is the football stadium where the [Ohio State] Buckeyes play.

Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most?

A. I was able to work for [Senior U.S. District] Judge Paul Magnuson. He is just a judge who I thought was of very high moral character.

Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney?

A. There are a lot of misconceptions about raising capital and what people can and cannot do. So part of what I try to do is educate companies on the legalities of raising capital, what you can and cannot say, and whom you can and cannot sell to.

Q. What is the highlight/lowlight of your daily commute to work?

A. The highlight is I’ve been trying to bike to work lately, so that’s been my favorite aspect.

Q. What if any is your favorite depiction of the law, the legal professional in populAar culture?

A. I like to watch “Suits” and back in the day I used to like “Boston Legal” quite a bit.

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