In August, I was invited to be on a legal innovation panel at the #breakinglaw Hackathon hosted by University of Melbourne Law School and King & Wood Mallesons. Along with Julian Uebergang from Neota Logic and Claire Warren from KWM, I was asked to share my experience as an entrepreneur in this space.
We live in a time of change. They used to say software is eating the world. They now say it's not software, it's platforms that are eating the world.
Here are my insights into entrepreneurialism, even though it’s still early days for me. It’s what I’ve learned about doing something new and different. Having an idea and turning that into something real.
1. Perspiration, not inspiration.
They say that it’s 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I am sure you have all heard that before. I’ll let you in on a little secret. They’re wrong. Everyone feel better now? In fact the inspiration, or the idea, is nowhere near 1%. It’s the tiniest fraction of 1%. If it was 1% and it took you a day to come up with the idea, I can guarantee you that you will have not executed by day 100.
2. What problem are you solving?
More often than not, as an entrepreneur, you are solving a problem. That’s how you have to frame your objective. Be crystal clear on what problem you are solving. You don’t have to be crystal clear on HOW you are going to solve it – only that it is a problem and that it is worth solving. The next steps will tell you the HOW.
3. Know your domain.
You need to become an expert of sorts in the domain that you are working to solve the problem. For someone like myself, I am relying on my knowledge and those of my founders of the BigLaw and corporate client domain. But one lesson I have learnt is not to assume that I know everything about the solution. That’s all about the HOW, and as I have said, don’t assume you know the HOW.
4. Research, research, research, and INCLUDE THE CUSTOMER
Don’t design for yourself. Customer feedback is key. The challenge for the domain expert is not to assume they know what the customer wants. Test, feedback, iteration, build, test, feedback, iteration, build. Over and over. That's why our Pilot Partner program is so important right now.
5. Perfection is not the aim – far from it.
It’s all about research, learning, testing, customer feedback, build, more feedback, more building. When I started on the journey, I had great aspirations that the PERSUIT™ solution would be built and perfect. Pretty silly. As the founder of LinkedIn said, if you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.
6. Get advice – there is plenty out there!
If you’re willing to look there are plenty of sources of expert advice. I think if I had done a better job of taking on board that advice earlier I would have saved time, money and some heartache. There are plenty of people out their willing to help, and often without charge. And if you can’t find or afford those people, look elsewhere. You may laugh but one way I’ve been getting expert advice is through podcasts. Take, for example, This is Product Management - a podcast with experts in all aspect of product management. When I started on the PERSUIT™ journey I didn’t even know what product management was! Within a couple of weeks of my first podcast I had listened to all 60 or so. And it’s all for FREE. I really wish someone had pointed me in that direction earlier on in my journey. And there are dozens more. My current favourite podcast is Seeking Wisdom. Check it out.
7. It’s a journey.
And in some respects there is no final stop. My early thinking was that we would build a (finished) product, and the customers would come. But there is no such thing as a finished product. I recognise now that we will be improving it every day on the basis of customer feedback.
8. You have to be passionate about the problem that you are solving, and your passion has to be infectious to those who are on the journey with you.
You have to sell - and have others buy into - the vision, and believe it as passionately as the founders do - creating an environment and culture where that thrives. The adage that culture eats strategy for breakfast is completely true in my experience. And your passion will open more doors than you can imagine.
9. Pace yourself.
The journey will be an emotional roller-coaster. Accept that on day one. If you allow yourself to think you’re invincible every time you have a win, and shattered every time you have a setback, you’ll be an emotional wreck. You’ll make mistakes. You have to. That’s how you learn. The mantra now is to fail quickly, and learn from it. But I don’t look at it as failing quickly. I see it as the process you have set up to learn and learn quickly.
Ask yourself this: is there a single entrepreneur you admire who has not believed in themselves? I doubt one exists. Although it won’t guarantee success, it’s necessary for it.
Finally, don’t die wondering.