Asa part of our interview series called “Women Of The C-Suite,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Elena Chorna, Chief Business Development Officer at Loio. Elena regularly contributes expert pieces to legaltech and business media like Legal IT Professionals and Business Case Studies, as well as to Loio’s blog.
Loio has been enjoying wide industry recognition as AI-powered software for efficient contract drafting and review in Microsoft Word. Recently, it has been nominated for an American Legal Technology Award 2021. Earlier this year, Loio was mentioned among the top legaltech companies in New York by Welp Magazine, named a Legal Software Product Leader by the advanced business software discovery platform Crozdesk, and featured among the top contract analytics and document drafting software by the world’s leading B2B software and services review platform G2.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I’ve always been a new venture junkie. Seeing a startup grow from scratch into a mature company has always been my passion.
I’ve done it once before Loio. We started out as a tiny startup with global ambitions. Called Unicheck, the company eventually became the first plagiarism checker to integrate with Google Classroom. In 2020, it was acquired by the biggest edtech market player Turnitin. This was a big win for us!
In the beginning, the startup’s team was very small, that’s why each of us was a jack-of-all-trades. Personally, at different times, I was responsible for managing partnerships, finances, and customer relationships. Eventually, I became a co-owner of the company. Such a versatile experience, which I am extremely grateful for, has made it possible for me to switch to the role of Chief Business Development Officer at Loio quite smoothly.
What I loved most about Unicheck back then, and what I love most about Loio today, is that we have been building something truly meaningful, something that can make the world a better place.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I can’t single out any particular story that has happened to me during my tenure as Chief Business Development Officer at Loio. But I’d like to take this opportunity to say that I adore stories I learn about during demo calls with Loio’s potential clients. We’ve had over 150 demos already — and every call has been a revelation to me. Every story is both unique and universal, as legal professionals do share pains when it comes to contract drafting and review.
I love that with every demo we have, Loio’s “book” of understanding what operational gaps we can help legal professionals deal with gets richer by one more story. And the more people trust us with sharing their pains, the better product we can build for them. Every new feature has to be validated by at least ten potential users before it can be considered for development.
The fact that there are real people behind every one of these stories adds even more joy to the whole process.
On second thought, I do have a story that has won my heart. One of our first clients — Joshua D. Brinen, a small law firm owner from New York — who uses just one of Loio’s features dubbed “Styling” expects to save $150,000 in operational costs per year thanks to upgrading his legal document drafting routine. This is amazing proof that Loio can indeed help lawyers!
By the way, Joshua has recently teamed up with two other innovation-minded law firm owners — Owen McGrann and Brooks Derrick — to talk about legaltech at Loio’s recent webinar about innovation for small law firm owners. It was both extremely insightful and entertaining!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Let me think :)
Well, I don’t recall any particularly funny stories. But I do occasionally make tiny mistakes when it comes to addressing someone by their names in an email or during a conversation. I was very embarrassed when I kept calling a speaker at one of Loio’s webinars about legaltech adoption by another name. Luckily, the speaker was very forgiving! By the way, what I like about Loio is that it prevents legal pros from making such mistakes when drafting contracts :)
I’d also like to share a lesson I learned from another story that is too long to tell here. But the lesson is the following: be kind and refrain from giving superfluous feedback. Especially, when you didn’t have time to fully immerse yourself into the task or project.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It is hard to distinguish one person. I am grateful to all the people on my team who I used to work with and am working with now. I believe that every person on our team completes me like a little puzzle piece. I am convinced that everyone in our lives is not there by chance. They are intended to teach us something.
I am especially grateful to other company co-owners with whom I have been sharing huge responsibility for many years. By the way, one of them, Artem Fenkovskyi, has been interviewed by Authority Magazine! We have overcome many toughest challenges together, which shaped us into a strong team and made us better versions of ourselves.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high-stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I have been working very hard on coping with stress over the past two years. As you know, our previous product, Unicheck, was acquired by a much bigger company. For me, that meant a period of adjustment. I had to get to know the new team, familiarize myself with new processes, provide all the necessary documentation, etc.
And in this crazy whirlpool, I have somehow learned to live in the now. I used to start fretting over an important event a month before. Today I see a stressful situation as a brief moment that will come and go. However unpleasant it may be, I know two things: it is not going to last forever, and going through it will only make me stronger.
I’ve also started looking at business meetings differently. I used to be intimidated by the titles people I had to meet with had. Since then, I’ve realized that they are human, too — just like me. This has also contributed to lowering my stress levels and allowed me to focus on more important things. Things like simplicity, transparency, willingness to listen to another person, and confidence in what you are saying have turned out to be key to coming through challenging situations without stress.
Finally, I’ve learned to leave my professional life at work. It has been a game-changer for me.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
For me as a female leader, diversity is very important. It’s an axiom. Each person regardless of their gender, race, or religion always provides an alternative point of view, which usually increases your chance to do better in almost any situation. An alternative point of view doesn’t necessarily mean an opposite point of view — it is just different, and, thus, lets everyone look at the situation from a new perspective. It’s about adding value. This helps teams make more informed and objective decisions and, as a result, makes them more resilient and relevant.
Diversity is impossible without equality, though. It is important to have fair and equal compensation, be treated and treat people with the same level of respect, and be free from stereotypes. Diversity, equity, and inclusion should be respected at any level in every company.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society?
Everything starts from the top. It’s the leadership team that sets the tone and defines values in the company. There should be at least a corporate playbook and regular all-hands meetings outlining the company’s main values.
It’s also essential for the company leaders to practice what they preach — to make sure they respect everyone’s view regardless of their race or gender in everything they do.
Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders and staff members?
Being a C-level manager means a whole different level of responsibility. Whereas a non-C-level team member is expected to be responsible for the duties listed in the job offer document, a C-level executive is in charge of everything happening in their team or even the whole organization.
Being a C-level manager means that anyone’s problem is your problem. When someone fails, you fail. It’s on you.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think there is a common misconception that, in reality, CEOs don’t work but only delegate work to others. This is simply not true. At the end of the day, it is the CEO who is responsible for all the company’s results and achievements. Therefore, CEOs have to constantly “take the temperature of the room.” I’m not talking about micromanagement. I’m talking about strategic planning and course-correcting if necessary. I’m talking about knowing how to use the strong suit of every team member to achieve the best results.
It’s a huge chunk of work with the greatest level of responsibility.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
To be honest, I can’t see any :) Everything is exactly how I expected it to be. Loio is a young technological product. My passion is to help ambitious companies become global players — and that’s exactly what I’m required to do at Loio. All I can say is that I love it!
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Your desire to become an executive is key to success. Without it, you won’t move an inch forward. However, you can’t just wish for something to happen. You have to work for it. You should be brave to take on responsibilities and motivated to do your best, to do more than others expect from you every single time. You should care.
Your efforts will pay off. Even if you don’t make it in one company, you will in another one. Never underestimate yourself because of failures. If something goes wrong, chances are you are in the wrong place. If this is the case, change your setting and keep going.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I’d like to share a couple of pieces of advice that would work for any leader, regardless of their gender. First of all, always remember about your power. If you have become a C-level manager, there’s nothing else you can’t do. With this mindset, it will be easier to convey a sense of power to your team, thus, inspiring and motivating them to aim for greater results.
Secondly, see your team members as your peers, not your subordinates. This way, they’ll feel included and know that their efforts are appreciated. This will motivate them to work harder and offer new ideas.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
If I may, I’d like to talk about my success in connection with Loio. The way I see it, the more successful Loio gets, the more legal pros can become more productive and happy in their lives, the better place the world becomes. Don’t get me wrong: Loio is a business. But our primary goal is to help people. That’s how we measure success.
At Loio, we are very concerned about the fact that a terrifying number of legal pros do not have a healthy work-life balance. What’s more, they are constantly under pressure. I cannot even imagine how stressful it feels when the success of negotiations that sometimes revolve around millions of dollars depend solely on you and your professionalism.
Being a lawyer means being a guru of multitasking with excellent communication skills, extensive legal expertise, and the ability to take care of a ton of paperwork masterfully. By creating Loio, we are trying to equip lawyers to fight their daily battles; we give them an opportunity to delegate the least pleasant and value-adding tasks to machines — and focus on high-value revenue-generating tasks instead.
What’s more, we have also announced the Lawyer Productivity Week. Its goal is to encourage lawyers to take care of their mental and physical well-being and, by extension, help them become more efficient at work. As part of the initiative, we have been lucky enough to partner with Olivia Vizachero, a lawyer, life coach, and owner at The Less Stressed Lawyer, to craft a feel-good checklist for lawyers. Hope it’ll bring lawyers one step closer to being happier, healthier, and more productive!
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
It is hard to come up with a list of five such things on cue. But I would name one.
It is “Don’t be afraid, you can do anything.” I believe that our doubts and fears are our greatest enemies. So don’t be afraid. Work hard, and all your efforts will pay off. Even if you fall, don’t lose heart — treat failure as another important step on your journey.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I would be glad to start a movement for happier and healthier legal professionals. Their lives are packed with incredible stress from day one at law school and all the way to their retirement. Creating a movement for better mental health in law awareness would be a great thing to do!
And I am beyond excited to know that Loio is taking its first steps in this direction. For example, by announcing the Lawyer Productivity Week which I have mentioned earlier. Also, we have published a mental health guide for lawyers featuring expert commentaries from such stars as Angela Han and Olivia Vizachero. More to come!
I’m also a nascent eco nerd. I do small things like waste sorting and using cloth bags when shopping. Not everyone around me supports my eco-mindedness — so it would be awesome if the movement to save Earth would be even more influential than now. We need it!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Sure! “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” Works every single time.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
The first person who comes to mind is Princess Diana. I admire that even despite her personal struggles and lack of public speaking experience she managed to make a huge impact on the world. She dedicated her life to charity, seeking to help as many people as possible, walking the minefields, supporting sick children, you name it. She is a bright example of how a person of power and money can still be humane and empathetic towards people she doesn’t even know.