Why did you decide to start your own company? And better yet, how did you bring it to life? As a recent founder, I get asked these questions a lot, especially when meeting someone for the first time. However, I’ve recently found myself asking these same questions, not of other tech founders, but rather my clients—the Big Law associate that decides to venture out on their own, or the solo practitioner who now has a firm of over 50 attorneys.
Their answers have made me realize: whether you’re a startup law firm or a startup technology company, a startup is a startup—and there’s a lot we can learn from each other.
A common drive: Entrepreneurs want to make a dent in the universe.
I’ve spoken to a lot of different attorneys over the last year, from a solo practitioner in Portland, Oregon, to the founder of a multi-office immigration firm in Canada. When I ask why they decided to start their own firm, I hear unique stories yet one common theme resounds throughout: “I wanted to make an impact, and felt I couldn’t do that unless I started my own firm.”
Think about that for a moment—making an impact (or as Steve Jobs would say, a dent in the universe)… what does that mean to you? And how would you actually make that happen? In reflecting on my own journey at Tali, and hearing the stories of law firm founders from across the globe, there are three key things that I see as critical in realizing your need to make a dent in the universe.
1. Surround yourself with good people that aren’t like you.
For technology startups, a classic “dream team” analogy is the Hacker, the Hipster and the Hustler—the Hacker brings their ninja coding skills, the Hipster brings the creativity, and the Hustler finds the right way to package it all together for the masses. At Tali, these labels break down as we blend across those borders—two hackers, two hipsters, and three guys named Matt—but we do break our dream team down into three specialties: product, technical and business. As we like to say, each of us does our part to build, “the right thing, the right way, and for the right people.” Like a heist team, we each have our area of expertise, but we also know enough about each other’s area that we can contribute (and argue just a bit).
Most small- and medium-sized law firms I’ve spoken to have found a similar team dynamic. One co-founder will say “…well she is really outgoing and good at managing relationships” and the other co-founder will say “yes, but she is great at managing projects and making sure work gets done on time.”
Whether you have a Hacker, a Hipster and a Hustler doesn’t matter—what matters is that you have a team with a complimentary skillset and that you share a mission as a team.
This also goes beyond the founding team and applies to mentors. Regardless of how great your founding team is, having mentors to go to for advice is critical to success for any startup. At Tali, we have a great team of investors and advisors with varying levels and different types of expertise. If we need help on how to improve our sales process, we have a 20-year B2B sales veteran in Vancouver, BC we can go to. If we need help prioritizing our product roadmap, we have a product-focused CEO out of San Francisco that can help. We have an incredible team at Tali, but there’s no way we succeed without the help of others to offer advice.
This last part may seem obvious, but you should enjoy spending time (and I mean A LOT of time) with your co-founding team and your mentors. If you don’t, and you try to force a team together that looks good on paper, you will fail. Starting a company is the first step of a long journey, so why would you want to go through that if you’re not having fun with those around you?
2. Give first… always.
I’m a firm believer in the more you give, the more you’ll get out of life, and I think this holds true when it comes to starting and running your own company as well.
Whether you’re a cash-strapped technology company or an established law firm, you always have something to give.
It may be offering friendship or mentorship to another startup co-founder, despite the fact that you’ve got a massive to-do list to tackle. Or perhaps it’s a small token of appreciation for the team you’re leading, like a team lunch or dinner to celebrate a recent victory at trial. These things don’t need to be huge, but if you focus on giving first, you’ll find that people will ultimately do the same for you.
3. Making the wrong decision quickly is usually the right decision.
Once you make the leap and start your own company, you’ll be forced to wear many hats, most of which will be outside of your comfort zone. It shouldn’t surprise you that as a former accountant, I’m responsible for finance at Tali. However, I’m also responsible for sales, marketing, and PR, among (many) other things, none of which I had any experience with before starting Tali.
When I worked in accounting and finance, I would often triple-check all of my calculations and would do “one last review” of my presentations multiple times before hitting “send.” I could be indecisive, always looking for more data and information before making a final decision.
When you are running your own company or law firm, being indecisive is simply not an option, and I’ve actually found that making the wrong decision quickly is better than making no decision at all.
But why? I think Elon Musk sums it up best when he recently said that “It is better to make many decisions per unit time with a slightly higher error rate, than few with a slightly lower error rate, because obviously one of your future right decisions can be to reverse an earlier wrong one, provided the earlier one was not catastrophic, which they rarely are.” Have I made mistakes at Tali? Yes. Definitely. Quite a few actually. But none that were catastrophic, or at least those haven’t become apparent yet. 😉
There you have it: starting your own firm is as easy as surrounding yourself with a great team that you enjoy spending time with, always being generous through giving, and making a bunch of decisions quickly without a lot of data or information at your fingertips. That doesn’t sound tough at all, right?
Whether you’re starting a technology company or a law firm, doing so will be one of the most challenging experiences of your entire life. The good news, though, is that it will also be one of the most rewarding—and you don’t need to go at it alone. So go find a friend, your spouse, a colleague, or a random stranger and tell them how you want to make a dent in the universe… I promise you won’t regret it.