Helping technology companies raise capital

Alumnus Chris Wilson says he was an unusual child. “I wanted to be a lawyer since I was about 12 years old, which I realise now is a bit weird for a kid,” he says.

Chris Wilson

“It was either that or become a palaeontologist, but once I realised that palaeontology involves long stretches of hard work in the desert it made me even more determined to get into law.”

Chris, who grew up in Wellington, even recalls asking his teachers what subjects he needed to take to become a lawyer before he started high school. “Obviously it doesn’t matter what options a Year Nine pupil chooses, and my Latin classes weren’t a big help, but it was a good example of that slightly odd focus.”

That determination has paid off, with Chris now running the Singapore office of Simmonds Stewart, a New Zealand law firm that also has offices in Wellington and Auckland. The firm helps both early stage and established technology companies do business and raise capital from around the world.

Chris studied law at Victoria University of Wellington and completed a commerce degree alongside it, graduating in 2005.

“Law school was a great time. My commerce degree majors were in accounting, economics and finance, which really complemented the company, property and tax law papers I took on top of the core required coursework,” says Chris. “And even though I am mostly involved in the corporate law side of things these days, I loved learning about criminal law at university—a lot of it has really stuck with me.”

While studying Chris also tutored several accounting and economic papers, and worked for Deloitte during his last couple of summer breaks. He took a full time role with the Deloitte tax team after graduating.

“I enjoyed working for Deloitte for around two years. I then met with Andrew Simmonds, who was setting up a new legal practice with Victoria Stewart. They were looking for a corporate and commercial lawyer to come on board as their first legal hire.”

“Their ethos was something I could get behind—they were helping a lot of growth-stage companies to get established and expand, which was how they were operating their own firm too,” explains Chris. “To me that sort of work was more meaningful than assisting established corporates to minimise their tax exposure. What Simmonds Stewart was doing was just much more exciting to me.”

In 2017 Chris opened Simmonds Stewart’s Singapore branch, which he has been running ever since. The Singapore opportunity arose after the firm hired Lee Bagshaw, who had been leading a corporate technology practice in Southeast Asia. Chris increasingly worked with Lee on Asia-focused transactions, albeit while still based in New Zealand. However, in order to take the Southeast Asia practice to the next level it was clear that Simmonds Stewart needed a local presence. Earlier this year Chris was appointed as a partner, which has also helped accelerate the firm’s growth across Southeast Asia.

Chris has largely been involved in the corporate side of Simmonds Stewart’s work. “My focus is mostly on transactions such as raising venture capital, mergers & acquisitions, establishing employee share plans, and corporate restructures,” he says. Simmonds Stewart also has a commercial team that handles technology companies’ day-to-day contracts, like customer or supplier terms and conditions, distribution arrangements, website terms and conditions, and ICT contracts.

“Venture capital is a large part of our practice in Southeast Asia—a lot of my day-to-day work is helping technology companies raise capital from institutional investors. They can be early stage start-ups raising seed funds, through to mature companies doing sizeable late stage investment rounds or pre-IPO funding,” he says. “We also work for quite a few of the more active institutional investors in the market, especially those involved in series A and B funding rounds.”

Chris says that he sees several advantages associated with the firm’s focus on technology companies. “We have a detailed understanding of the venture capital and commercial markets for tech companies in both New Zealand and Southeast Asia. We know what those deals looks like for tech companies and we have dealt with many of the parties on the other side of these kinds of transactions.  This means that we can give particularly useful commercial guidance, because we’ve often seen it all before. That experience also allows us to do these deals really efficiently in a lot of cases.”  Simmonds Stewart helped close over 90 fundraising transactions during the 2018 financial year, with over half of those coming out of Southeast Asia.

With two and a half years already under Chris’s belt in Singapore, Simmonds Stewart now acts for over 150 clients in Southeast Asia. However, Chris says there’s still plenty of room for growth in the region. “With its young and tech-savvy population, Southeast Asia could be the fastest growing tech market over the next decade, with Singapore as the logical hub.  Companies operating in Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, India, and others are often headquartered here,” he says. “It’s also a fantastic place to live, so there’s a lot more I’d like to achieve here.”