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Software Startup Snags Shah, Former Robinhood General Counsel

March 25, 2021, 9:18 PM

Archit Shah, the first lawyer in the door at Robinhood Markets Inc., is making a new in-house legal debut, this time at Airbase Inc., a fintech startup that makes cloud-based spending and budgeting software.

Airbase confirmed Thursday it hired Shah this month for a newly created general counsel position. The company cited Shah’s decade of experience as both a law firm partner and general counsel at Robinhood, where he “supported several highly regulated businesses” and “advised on a variety of novel legal issues.”

Thejo Kote, a founder and CEO of Airbase, said he’s “thrilled to have” Shah on board at the San Francisco-based company, which raised $23.5 million a year ago this month in an extended Series A fundraising round led by Bain Capital Ventures.

“He brings a unique blend of legal, technology, and fintech expertise that will allow him to partner broadly across teams at Airbase and enable us to execute on our ambitious goals,” said a statement from Kote, who started Airbase in 2017 after selling car-tracking startup Automatic Labs Inc. for more than $100 million to satellite radio giant Sirius XM Holdings Inc.

Shah, a former Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated software engineer-turned-Harvard Law School graduate, spent the past four-and-a-half years as general counsel at Robinhood, which he left in early January. Robinhood hired Shah, an intellectual property litigator, as its general counsel in 2016 from Kirkland & Ellis, which promoted him in October 2015 to its large tier of non-share partners.

The privately held Robinhood, whose self-proclaimed mission to democratize financial services has shaken up the world of online trading, confidentially filed this month for an initial public offering, according to Bloomberg News. Robinhood was valued at more than $11 billion following a private fundraising round last year and could be worth up to $40 billion when it eventually goes public.

Reached via email, Shah declined to discuss his time at Menlo Park, Calif.-based Robinhood, which over the past few months has made changes to its in-house legal and compliance team. The company tapped Daniel Gallagher Jr., a former commissioner at the Securities and Exchange Commission who joined its board in 2019, to become its chief legal officer last May, replacing Anne Hoge.

Within the next few months, Gallagher went on a hiring spree as Robinhood recruited from rival financial services companies, law firms, and regulatory bodies to bolster its legal and compliance staff. Robinhood also saw several other lawyers leave its in-house ranks during that time.

Robinhood Ruminations

In a February interview with Khurram Naik, a former Goodwin Procter and Polsinelli associate who now hosts the Khurram’s Quorum podcast, Shah spoke about the challenges he faced building out the legal group at Robinhood. He told Naik that he took over the company’s general counsel role in 2016 after getting tipped off about the open position by venture capitalist Sheel Tyle, an early Robinhood investor.

Asked by Naik about the saga surrounding GameStop Corp., a consumer electronics and video game retailer whose soaring stock price shook up Wall Street and Washington earlier this year after Robinhood and other brokers made the controversial decision to temporarily halt trades in the company’s stock, Shah admitted it was hard sitting on the sidelines.

“As a litigator there’s an adrenaline aspect to your personality,” said Shah, who left Robinhood just weeks before the stock-trading platform made global headlines and attracted regulatory scrutiny.

Looking at the GameStop situation as an outsider, Shah told Naik that he felt Robinhood handled the matter “fantastically well,” adding that his former employer provided “great explanations” for changing stock settlement times during “difficult regulatory, financial, and operational circumstances.”

Robinhood’s legal and public policy challenges preceded the GameStop affair. In December, Robinhood agreed to pay $65 million to settle an SEC inquiry into how the company did business with high-speed traders.

Shah, who during his time at Kirkland specialized in high-stakes technology litigation, will now oversee Airbase’s efforts to build out its own legal and compliance function, the startup said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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