Michelle Howland Zmugg – SpotOn
She had the experience in employment law and HR issues a growing company needs, but as SpotOn’s small business payment and management tools are in greater demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zmugg says she’s quickly expanding her legal skill set to support rapid growth.
“I always loved the mom-and-pop restaurants in your neighborhood where they know your name and how many kids you have. It’s what creates the character of your city or town,” she says. “Those companies need a platform to reach people beyond their storefront, and that’s more relevant now than ever before.”
Connecting and growing
SpotOn was founded in 2017 by Doron Friedman and Matthew and Zachary Hyman. Its goal was, and is, to help small and midsize businesses connect better with customers through software and cost-effective payment processing, according to the company website.
These services are even more crucial as the pandemic has limited direct customer interactions, Zmugg says, adding that restaurants in particular are adopting digital technology like SpotOn Delivery and contactless ordering.
With the acquisition of EmaginePOS in 2018, SpotOn added point of sale systems and customized websites, enabling servers to take orders digitally and customers to pay tabs at their tables or online.
When SpotOn acquired Lifeyo in 2019, it added a website development platform merchants can customize to their liking. In August 2020, the company added the digital reservation management company Seatninja, now known as SpotOn Reserve.
In addition to acquisitions, SpotOn has grown through product innovation driven by its teams across the U.S. as well as in Mexico City and Krakow, Poland. That includes technology that enables contactless ordering, payments and contact tracing that keep customers safe, Zmugg says.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, the company has thrived because we pivoted fast to focus on technology to help business owners digitize their operations to emphasize convenience, including SpotOn Delivery and point-of-sale systems that work on patios and curbside,” she explains. “We’ve also been working with our customers facing hardship in these times by cutting or delaying costs and implementing a new loan offering to help address cash shortfalls or invest in upgrades.”
While the founders are involved in daily operations, Zmugg notes the startup culture she enjoys is maturing with the hiring of Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Bryla.
Together, they’re implementing the growth processes, with Zmugg stewarding key drivers like employment, contracts and working with outside counsel. She’s also helping integrate what had been Seatninja operations and staff into SpotOn and expects her workload to have more IP and M&A duties as the company expands.
In particular, Zmugg says it will be important to prevent litigation and protect intellectual property, while also training management and staff.
She adds that she’s looking forward to handling those areas because there wasn’t much opportunity to work in them as a litigator.
While immersing herself in her new role, Zmugg has also been participating in virtual seminars hosted by outside counsel Morgan Lewis to learn more about M&A and enjoying the internal collaborations with SpotOn’s executive and department leadership.
“I get to use the skills I love. Building business relationships is something I really enjoy doing,” she says. “Thinking about business strategy and development is something I was not able to do as a litigator. At SpotOn, I’ve been part of discussions I’d not been expecting to join.”
Drawn to the law
The daughter of a Chinese mother and a white father, Zmugg remembers moving with her family to Boise, Idaho, as a child. At times, she found the atmosphere less than friendly to a child from a mixed marriage.
Drawn to learn about the people able to change politics and create laws, she quickly realized many of them had law degrees. At the same time, Zmugg was learning from her grandfather, the owner of a hardware store, who taught her the value of building relationships as he worked with customers and suppliers.
Though getting a law degree was in her plans, she spent the two years after earning her bachelor’s degree in law and society and minor in English from the University of California Santa Barbara, as a merchandise operations coordinator for retailer Williams Sonoma.
“That early business experience has been invaluable,” she says. “It provided a deep understanding of retail and how companies operate.”
Zmugg enrolled at University of the Pacific – McGeorge School of Law in 2008, and earned her JD in 2010, after serving as associate articles editor for the Pacific McGeorge Global Business and Development Law Journal. She was also an extern for Judge Roy Paul at the Los Angeles Superior Court and an intern in the office of California’s attorney general.
After that, she decided criminal law wasn’t for her—she preferred business and working with clients in commercial realms.
In September 2010, she was hired as an associate attorney by McNamara Law Firm, where she’d also been a summer law clerk in 2009.
Handed a range of litigation cases involving civil rights, real estate, tenant and landlord issues, and general liability, among other areas, Zmugg managed more than 35 cases at a time, seeing them through jury and bench trials. She then moved to San Francisco to become an associate attorney for Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard & Smith in December 2014.
In 2016, Zmugg became a senior employment counsel at Gordon & Rees and returned to Lewis Brisbois as a partner before joining SpotOn.
Guiding SpotOn’s legal approach and affairs as it grows gives her additional purpose in her career, and the in-house role suits her desire to build relationships, she notes.
“I think the stars aligned around my experience and passion, and I was able to land my dream job,” Zmugg concludes.
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