How I Did It - I Left Commercial Law To Found My Own Legal Startup
5 Min Read
In our How I Did It Series, we profile entrepreneurs whom we admire at Solid State Group, especially those who’ve made the leap from corporate life to founding their own businesses, or go above and beyond to support London’s tech industry.
Electra Japonas has worked in the legal and commercial departments of many corporate giants: Disney, Airbus, the European Space Agency and EY. But that long list of names also alludes to her discontentment with corporate life as she tried to find fulfilment at a succession of big companies - and didn’t find it.
Though corporate life wasn’t for her, Electra’s love of the law is very much alive, and in 2017 she set up The Law Boutique to disrupt the legal industry for startups with technology, customer experience, and a radical business model. Her startup for startups now has over a hundred of them as customers.
Here’s how she did it.
What’s been a great moment for you, when you realised your startup was achieving what you’d set out to do?
I didn’t realise it until I took a step back and looked at the data and found that 70% of my clients were coming back to me for different work, I thought, oh wow I’m doing something right! It meant I was getting feedback and getting an understanding of what I’m doing right.
When you don’t have a boss to tell you “good job”, those two little words are so important, so when you get that from customers it’s amazing. And then the business started making money so that was a pretty good moment.
I’d always worked in huge corporations and I was bored everywhere - I couldn’t stay longer than 18 months, couldn’t progress quickly enough, nothing was creative enough, red tape everywhere.
I spent my career managing and negotiating contracts on behalf of the companies I worked for, many of which were with smaller companies. There was a clear problem there in that these smaller companies never had the right legal and commercial support, which led to them taking on ridiculous amount of risk and damaging their businesses in the long run.
For example, they were entering into contracts they couldn’t fulfil, giving away their IP for nothing and then getting into disputes that cost them thousands. I was like, what is stopping them seeking out legal advice? I realised that it was two things: 1) limited funds and 2) lack of awareness about how much it’s needed. I decided to create an approachable legal consultancy targeting this market. I’ve been doing it for a year, it now employs four freelancers, including a solicitor and paralegal, and I’ve served over 100 startups in a year.
In a corporate, you’re more resilient, it’s more cutthroat, you develop great negotiation skills because you’re surrounded by such varied people
You were working for some of the biggest corporates, EY, Airbus, the European Space Agency, what was going through your mind on Day 1 of your startup? When you sat down at a desk in your house instead of a desk in a big office?
Sh*tting myself to be honest! You know, what have I done?? I had a steady income, I was freelancing, I’ve left it all behind! I don’t know if this is going to work or even how to begin. How do you get a website, what does marketing mean? After a load of googling and trial and error, some advice I’d give myself is just to be ok with that. Be ok with trial and error.
You do see a lot of people in the startup world who want the startup experience, which is considered quite “sexy” these days. But they don’t have the experience or understand when things go wrong. In a corporate, you’re more resilient, it’s more cutthroat, you develop great negotiation skills because you’re surrounded by such varied people. When I first started up I thought I’m so glad that I waited until I was 32 and didn’t do this earlier, because those ten years set me up to do this more successfully.
You get quite lonely starting a business. I didn’t think that would happen. You don’t know whether you’re doing well so it’s very easy to be harsh on yourself. You learn a lot about yourself personally which I did not expect. You do move away from your corporate self.
It’s all been fantastic. The whole self-discovery piece.
I’m not completely bad with technology, which was helpful. I’ve always had an interest and tried to diy my own technical problems. I thought well I’m not going to spend loads of money on my own website to start with, so I built my own in Squarespace. It was time consuming but valuable because until you write out what the world’s going to see of your startup, you don’t truly know how you’re going to position your product. I’m refining my website now and keeping it on Squarespace for another 6 months and then I’ll get it built professionally.
I have spent so much time trying to find a tech partner, and like with lawyers there’s such a lack of transparency with software agencies. I wish there was some kind of consultancy which can say “these are the off the shelf products, lets do a little bit of coding”. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
I did recently ask for detailed feedback from my clients but the only feedback which was negative was that I use nine platforms at the moment integrated into a website, platforms such as Typeform, Mailchimp etc, otherwise the platform is working as it should.
Xero for the SME world is what I’d like to do for the legal industry. I love these companies that take these boring stressful topics and make them easy and accessible.
Just go for it, accept the uncertainty.
On a deep philosophical level uncertainty is something that holds people back. A startup will force you to understand that you can’t control everything, it will force you to believe everything will be ok, and that in itself is worth doing. It frees you.
Also, women come to me at an earlier stage for mentorship whereas men come much later which I think is an indication of why sometimes women can make better entrepreneurs – they are more comfortable asking for help when they feel they need it. Everyone should get advice from people about the things which scare them the most. If you’re scared about legals, go to a lawyer. If you’re scared about tech, go to the experts. Understand your exposure, it will ease your mind and give you the confidence to go for it.
We’ve interviewed more of London’s fantastic entrepreneurs who left a corporate career to found high growth businesses. Visit our blog to see other stories from ex-bankers, consultants, accountants and more.
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