STEPPING STONES TO SUCCESS
Archana Rajaram, founder of a top law firm, puts out some words of wisdom and offers some pointers on how to convert the troubles into triumphs and emerge as a winner of a start-up.
One of the most rewarding aspects of being a venture capital lawyer is working with founders and drawing inspiration from how they function. They come across as a special breed, who are born with nerves of steel, rising to challenges they meet everyday. From building a new product to catering to a neglected market, holding their ground while negotiating required protections in a fundraiser (even when there's no money in the bank), managing legal notices, employee strikes – the works.
As an emotional person whose panic alarm goes off several times a day (sometimes a mild chaser from a client is all it takes), entrepreneurship was always a different world that never even crossed my mind. Yet, here I am – founder of a law firm with a dream team that helped the firm get its foot in the door to a very competitive practice area. But this isn’t a story of how I overcame my doubts and took the big leap into entrepreneurship. I was just fortunate to be at the right place at the right time which allowed certain things to unfold.
While I still find myself constrained by self-doubt, there are many reassuring factors which keep me going. And the difficulties are slowly turning to stepping stones and greater things. I'd like to share the top two under each.
- Building a team ground up can be a daunting task, when strapped for cash. For someone who was given feedback on not being a team player, this was my biggest fear. What I found surprising was that money didn’t top everyone’s list. There are a lot of brilliant folks who are burned out or underpaid. Folks who are eager to work where they can take ownership and contribute. Always be on the hunt to woo people you identify with, people who are driven by the same motives and end goal.
- The start-up world offers a very helpful community, to the extent where competitive law firms have helped us. Referring clients, sharing templates and work-arounds to regulatory dead ends etc. Also, our start-up clients / VCs that we advise have been especially supportive by connecting us to others. And most importantly – mentors. I’ve found the best mentors in former colleagues and clients. Despite packed schedules, they’ve counseled and advised us, on foresight and crisis management.
B: Stepping Stones
- Learning how to let people go: Seemingly unusual, given the desperation to build a team when starting out, but an employee who isn’t the right fit is more damaging than not having someone. It's easy to be in denial about your hires, but when the difficult conversation happens, too much conflict has already been witnessed, to part amicably. The only beneficial solution is to act swiftly. You will know within the first month if the person isn't the right fit. And when you have to, just let them go!
- Timelines / client expectations are often unrealistic. We’re new and competing in the reddest of oceans, so we’re often too eager to please. But that’s when mistakes happen - associates get over burdened, clients take us for granted and we become just like every other law firm. It’s important to learn how to deliver while setting boundaries. This is work in progress in my book.
Eventually, a failed start-up is better than no start-up. The mental and professional growth you will experience, and what you can bring to the table for your next venture, will be far superior to anyone else. So even the fear of failure should not hold you back.
Archana Rajaram is the Founding Partner of Rajaram Legal. She represents Rajaram Legal as the independent General Counsel at Matrix Partners and also acts as independent General Counsel at Ronnie Screwvala’s Unilazer Ventures. Prior to founding Rajaram Legal, she was a Senior Associate at AZB & Partners. She regularly speaks at events and conferences both in India and internationally.