Justin Lau Unifies Cross-Functional Teams to Meet Privacy Goals at Mixpanel

General Counsel Justin Lau on how building cross-functional teams allow Mixpanel to stay ahead of customers’ privacy expectations

Photo: Mike Casebolt

On the phone, it’s easy to get the feeling that Justin Lau may, in fact, be engaged in several activities concurrently. As he offers well-wishes to members of his team leaving for vacation while speaking at a rapid, yet somehow conversationally casual pace, it becomes clear how Lau is able to balance so much on his plate at present. The general counsel at Mixpanel also oversees six other internal groups besides legal at the business analytics service company.

When asked how he’s able to handle the stress of so many roles, Lau seems almost confused at the idea. “It’s just part of my job, and I’m happy to take on these roles as long as I believe I can build cohesive, strong teams that do the work well,” Lau says. “My dad was an army guy who taught me about the value of empowering the team and in what you can accomplish as long as you believe in the value of the organization.”

Lau says Mixpanel is poised for a period of hypergrowth, and with that expansion has come the opportunity for the GC to take on extended roles. “I’ve been most proud of the amazing teams I’ve been able to build and the level of service they’ve been able to provide the organization as a whole,” Lau says. “Because of the strength of those teams, I’ve been able to expand my own scope to include legal, security, partnerships, recruiting, HR, and operations teams and unify them into one well-oiled machine.”

The strength of Lau’s team building is most immediately evident in the capacity and willingness of his home team: the legal department. “Collectively, we cover a lot of scope and touch every part of the organization from product development and engineering to sales and marketing,” Lau says. “These are highly committed people who want to build things, and when you combine that with a purpose-driven approach, we’re really poised to help move the business forward.”

Justin Lau Mixpanel
Justin Lau, MixpanelPhoto: Mike Casebolt

Lau says his legal team works to truly embody the notion of servant leadership, a philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. “I wanted to create an internal DNA of service on our legal team,” Lau says. “We’re there to help, and I think part of the reason that this team is so great is because of the overall lack of ego.” Lau says anyone who thinks they’re above a certain role in legal just simply won’t make it on his team.

There was no time at all for ego when it came to making sure Mixpanel was GDPR compliant. And while Lau says the project was one of the most rewarding jobs he’s had since coming to Mixpanel, he’s also willing to acknowledge that working to align to the new European privacy guidelines required “an insane amount of work.”

“This project required cross-functional collaboration with a number of teams including legal, security, product, engineering, IT, HR, and more—and it forced us to work backward from our known end goal of full compliance,” Lau says. “As a whole, we’re focusing on reshaping our product around the concept of privacy by design, meaning that privacy and security aren’t topics that live only on our legal team but permeate through our entire company.”

That evolved scope changes the way engineers think about designing product features as well as engaging new business, as the company now has around 40 percent of its overall revenue to date coming from internationally-based companies. With its GDPR compliance program, Mixpanel is increasingly focused on capturing the global market with European offices in London, Barcelona, Paris, and Amsterdam, along with an office in Singapore.

Mixpanel is GDPR compliant, but its focus on privacy goes deeper. For Mixpanel, privacy is not simply a box to be checked. “We’re always working across internal teams to make sure Mixpanel focuses on privacy by design and continues to offer industry-leading privacy and security to our customers,” Lau says. That includes a new data residency initiative in the EU, preparing for the California Consumer Privacy Act, enhancing GDPR compliance tools that feed product initiatives, and helping numerous financial and healthcare partners meet stringent regulatory obligations.

As Mixpanel’s strong growth continues, Lau is also cognizant of the challenges of recruiting, hiring, and maintaining the best talent globally because, along with the new European offices, locations in Asia Pacific are also under consideration.

“Our growth has been matched by strong validation and demand in the marketplace from large, global organizations—we now serve 30 percent of the Fortune 100,” Lau says. “We’re honored by that, we’re equipped to serve these customers, and we’ll continue to work tirelessly to support their innovation efforts.”