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The 5 joys of working with early stage entrepreneurs

As one of a handful of corporate lawyers discovering the joys of working with early stage entrepreneurs, here are 5 reasons why I still like what I do:

It’s bold

While training in negotiating and drafting large investment deals, the emphasis is on a strong legal technical focus. Corporate lawyers working on large deals aren’t encouraged to dabble in anything outside of advising on the law or legal documentation. Very often, you will see corporate lawyers chalking out a lakshman rekha and hopping back (in bold and italic and all over the place) – please confirm the commercial understanding. This works great in deals that have all kinds of experts pitching in with their two cents – management consultants, financial, legal and technical experts, bankers, sophisticated investors and their legions of black coats followed by an army of support staff. In big business, everyone does their job, and it is only a few lawyers that have now begun to venture into sharing market practice or nudging commercial issues forward.

Early stage investors and entrepreneurs on the other hand, like to be all things rolled into one. Working with them forces you to be a wide-goggled consultant, bring perspectives from across the board and participate aggressively at every stage. Entrepreneurs want all the help they can get, and don’t like lakshman rekhas.

The mojo

Meeting no one on a typical work day, sitting in a cubicle and skimming through documents day in and day out doesn’t seem like the glamour and promise that drove us to drudge through law school. For those of us who like work to be cerebral, who like to talk, and have less documents to squash our eyes on, angel and VC investments are a dream. They are more substance – focused, issue based and thin on fine print.

Also unlike large clients, early stage entrepreneurs and investors are more hands-on, people friendly and informal, less tied into organizational and bureaucratic structures. Whether or not they succeed, they love rolling up their sleeves and trying to get things done. This requires a cultural shift in work ethic, and of course – work clothes.

The first thing I did after quitting the big law firm was lose the black trousers, ties and jackets. Soon I realized that there is absolutely no bigger joy in the world than to wear a beard, a pair of jeans and negotiate hard. It gives you feeling that even if you don’t change the world, maybe you dress like them that do. Not to mention it was always your preferred dress code.

No back-breaking mumbo jumbo

When a large investor invests in a large corporation, a large number of lawyers sweat out a legal due diligence. A legal due diligence involves travelling on behalf of an investor client to remote corners of the world (where the investee company is located) with the sole mission of reading oceans of fine print hidden away in dusty racks to determine if somewhere something is afoot.. or missing. Once this exercise is completed, and the lawyers involved in the deal have been subject to days (and sometimes weeks) of document review that even accountants would yawn and balk at, only some of the lawyers involved will have an opportunity to be part of the deal negotiation.

Early stage investments involve a simple and meaningful diligence given the size of target companies, and more often than not your investor clients are more concerned with whom rather than what they are investing in. Valuations follow this principle too. For those of us who would rather sit across the table rather than a desk, one can’t ask for better.

Growing together

I believe the success of start-ups you work with rubs off on you as well. Your growth is intrinsically tied to their growth, and the bigger your clients get the bigger you get. Hobnobbing with the big has its own thrills, but growing big with those you service is far more rewarding. Many of the best businesses rely on businesses which closely followed their life cycles. Greed is always tempered by relationships, and hope.

It makes you a better lawyer

In hindsight, my fixation with large law firm practice lasted longer than it should have and my contemporaries in the legal profession still work on large corporate investment deals that pay their bosses extremely well. At some point in that journey I felt there was too much hierarchy and bureaucracy to innovate or contribute meaningfully, often being involved in thankless one-cog-in-the-wheel work. After moving on to start on my own, the realization has dawned that the same philosophy motivates early stage entrepreneurs – the desire to break away from the old guard, build afresh ground up and unshackle your imagination.

These are great enough reasons to contribute professional time to the start up space, but also reasons that would get diluted if not supported by the little joys of everyday. Early stage entrepreneurs are an interesting bunch that share with lawyers one trait we value the most – we know you can’t fall in love unless you are in love with the details. Not only do a lot of entrepreneurs in my experience swear by this, but best of all – a lot of them understand that maybe lawyers aren’t all that much of a pain or worse – boring! The big and small mercies keep us going.


(Views are personal, though my colleagues at Impact Law Ventures couldn’t agree more. My mishandles – @suhasbaliga, I am based in Mumbai and like meetings over drinks)


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  1. loved every bit…!

    talking about preferred dress code – this story might interest you  –

    Story 1 – What I wear. 

    In or around 2004 , 2007 one of our Companies – Mobile2win  Games2win was growing fast and needed VC money.

    Neeraj Arora of Google Ventures was interested in meeting me and I went for a meeting with Neeraj and with Thota Ranganath – Founder of Mobile2win (China).

    I think it was the Mumbai summer time.

    I was dressed in a shirt and formal trousers and had a jacket on. The meeting was at the Grand Hyatt Vakola. Ranga was wearing a formal shirt (I think with cufflinks) and trousers.

    We walked towards that sofa area outside the coffee shop and spotted Neeraj sitting with someone in the coffee shop. The only sofa we got to sit on was the one next opposite the table so we sat there. Immediately I recognized that the person sitting with Neeraj Arora was Mahesh Murthy (of Mahesh Murthy fame; Pinstorm, etc). I said ‘Hi’ to him. 

    Once we were settled, Ranga whispered to me – “Alok, do you know that person sitting next to Neeraj?” 

    I said, “Yup – well. He is MM”. And I explained MM’s background to Ranga.

    Ranga said, “Alok, look at what he is wearing”.

    I looked and noticed that Mahesh was wearing a round neck T-Shirt that was either Navy or Black in color. It was faded and its collar was slightly wonky. It has the words “NASA” written in it in white on the right side… the “N” of Nasa was completely faded and was barely visible.

    Neeraj seemed captivated by his conversation.

    I was sweating in my Jacket and shirt and my mind was on my clothes and not on my pitch.

    Till I saw Mahesh Murthy dressed the way he was.

    That’s when I realized that it’s not what you wear to work – it’s what you what you DO that matters.

    Thank you Mahesh Murthy!

    (Ps – I told this story to MM last month when we met at MICA for a conference – he was shocked).

  2. Thanks Asha for your patience and kind words, and tagging in this excellent post! 🙂 Its on the spot! I think consultants especially should take note 🙂

  3. After a long long time something which i Liked – thanks for writing this piece.

  4. One thing that I must add is that once you have worked with entrepreneurs as a lawyer, working with big a big law firm becomes quite a drudgery.

  5. Thanks Rochak! 🙂

  6. suhas, 

    it’s always so interesting to go through the archives and re-discover articles like this!!

    we’d love to read more!!

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