Valuable insights from guest writer Eddie Law, as he reflects on his 10-year entrepreneurship journey with eLawyer.
10 years ago, I was going through a challenging period in my legal career. One interviewer even bluntly said to me: “You change jobs like people change clothes”. Although I was very committed and worked hard, my career somehow was not going the way I wanted. I was in a state of despair, and kept asking God where I should go, and what I should do. I was upset, and felt lost.
I experienced a period of not having a stable full-time job. In the “extra free time” that I had, I started reading about e-commerce, blogging, and online businesses. I was fascinated with the power of the internet and the endless possibilities it offered. I started my own blog and exploring what opportunties there were online.
One day, the idea came to me to build a website as an online resource for Malaysian lawyers — this was how eLawyer.com.my was born, in November 2007!
To mark the 10-year anniversary of the launch of eLawyer (my co-founder was another tech entrepreneur, Larry Lam), I would like to share 10 things I have learned over this decade-long entrepreneurship journey:
1. Take calculated risks.
Like many lawyers, I was trained to be risk-adverse. However, deep inside me lay an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit. Though lawyering seemed to be a noble and stable profession, I was struggling in my legal career at the time. Those struggles compelled me to think hard about possible alternatives.
Looking back, facing those challenges was actually a blessing in disguise, as it gave me the “nothing-to-lose” spirit needed to start something totally new. I told myself that, if eLawyer didn’t work out, I could always just return to my lawyering job. I would never know “how far is far” and “how high is high” if I didn’t try. Any fears and anxieties I had disappeared after I gained this perspective. From then, whenever I have to make major decisions my guiding principle has been “Take calculated risks”.
I must emphasise that the key here is that the risks taken must be calculated. If, after giving it some careful thought, you can see yourself coping with the worst-case scenario, you should follow your heart and just do it! Taking the road less traveled allows you to see views that you would not otherwise see (be they good or bad views).
2. Sell what the market wants, not what you want to sell.
This was the first and most important lesson I learned. This may be obvious to an experienced entrepreneur but was not to a young lawyer like me without business experience. eLawyer’s initial business model was to sell advertising space on the website and web design services to law firms. This business model was not successful as it was not what law firms wanted. However, I noticed that one of the daily pressing problems faced by law firms was staffing issues. That was why I turned around the business model, and eLawyer started providing recruitment service to law firms.
3. Start niche.
Being niche or specialised is especially important when you are the new-kid-on-the-block. Not long after starting eLawyer, many friends suggested that I also start eDoctor and eAccountant. Some even told me to compete with the bigger, established job advertisement portals. Fortunately, I did not listen to these suggestions, as even building eLawyer was time consuming enough.
Being niche will position you to be an expert in a certain field, which will give you an advantage over larger businesses which are not specialists in that field. Consumers increasingly want custom-made products and specialised services. A good reputation can be built with relatively less effort when you focus on a specific segment of clients.
4. Stay focused.
Not many people know that during the early days, I was selling many products or services which I believed would benefit my clients, such as web design, domain and email hosting, ifax, SMS gateway, practice management system etc. If I had focused my energy and resources on improving the quality of my legal recruitment services, I firmly believe that the progress of eLawyer could have been accelerated.
Many new opportunities continue to come my way from time to time, but I have learned to say no to those which are not aligned with the company’s vision, regardless of how appealing they may seem.
5. Put the interests of clients before profits.
One of the reasons that our clients and jobseekers keep coming back to us (and often refer their friends to us) is that I always put their interests before profits. This is easily seen in a conflict of interest situation. When I genuinely believe that staying at their current job is in their best interests, I would have no hesitation advising some jobseekers to think twice before quitting. Or I would advise them that it is not the right time to change jobs. Likewise, I would honestly share my assessment of a candidate (including positive or negative aspects) with my clients even though I risk not closing the placement.
In doing so, I may lose some opportunities to make money, but in return eLawyer gains the trust of jobseekers and clients. Dishonesty may bring immediate and temporary profits, but honesty and integrity will bring endless opportunities.
6. Own the problems of others.
When my clients tell me their problems of being unable to hire the right talent, I take it to heart. I’m constantly thinking about how I can help solve their problems as soon as possible. Likewise, when a jobseeker seeks my assistance in securing a suitable job, I will connect him/her to an employer which I know fits the bill, even if the employer is not my client. I agree with jobstreet.com founder Mark Chang, who said: “There is an interesting principle in this world which is as long as you are able to solve others’ problems, the world will reward you with money. So don’t think of what business can make money, instead think of what problem I want to solve through my business.”
I see profit as the natural consequence of adding value to others. I firmly believe adding value to and servicing people is a very important reason for the existence of my business.
7. Hire good talent, and treat them well.
I have learned that hiring talent and treating them well is the only way a business can flourish. I see this in my clients, where those who are willing to invest money in recruiting good talent and in treating them well are the ones which do very well in their respective fields. I also learned this the hard way personally in my own company.
One person can run fast, but only a team can go far. A good leader really values talent and treats them like how he himself would like to be treated. A talent to me should have 2 As and 2 Ps (Ability, Attitude, Passion, and Purpose). Ultimately, it is people that matter the most, as they are the ones who make the difference in a business.
8. Humility, humility, and humility.
I always thought that I was a humble person. It was only when I experienced failures and rejections that I really understood humility. I always conclude my legal career talks by saying that, of the many positive attributes, humility is the key to becoming successful. When a person is humble, he realises he doesn’t know many things, and will try to learn from others. When one is learning, one is growing; when one is constantly growing, one is much nearer to success. In contrast, if someone always thinks that he is smart and knows many things, he will not learn, and when he is not learning, he stops growing.
I am so thankful to God for allowing me to go through many challenges, and to walk through a humbling period in the early stage of my life. This has empowered me to handle failures, and made me a more patient person. My soulmate always says: “Failures are normal, and success is the grace of God”. This seems a bit pessimistic on its surface, but if you think deeply about it, you will realise that such a belief can carry us through failures, and ensures that we are not self-glorifying when we achieve success.
9. Get mentors.
The most effective way to be successful is to learn how successful people think and see things. When you understand the perspective from which they see things or circumstances, you will naturally begin to train yourself to react or respond in a similar manner, which should then lead to you attaining the same positive results. Having mentors around me has helped to improve many aspects of my life — not only in business but also in areas of leadership, spirituality, and self-awareness.
I hired my first coach 5 years ago, and gained much self-awareness during the process. It changed the way I viewed some very important aspects of my business and life. This is why I ventured into providing coaching services, because I firmly believe that coaching/mentoring changes lives. To change results, the inner being (namely value system, perception etc) needs to change first.
There are 3 criteria for me in choosing a mentor: 1. Someone I trust. 2. Someone who takes an interest in improving my life. 3. Someone who has more experience or is smarter than me in certain aspects of life.
I left this to the last, because I see this as the fundamental virtue of success. In life, things may not go the way that you want within the timeline that you planned. I faced many challenges and experienced failures during this journey. I almost wanted to give up on certain dreams.
I’ve realised that when I think less about myself and my dreams, and when I see the purpose of my job and think more about the needs of others, my endurance level to pains and failures increases naturally. To me, real perseverance is when there are so many reasons for you to give up (some from others telling you and some from your own negative thoughts) but you still don’t. The benefit of staying in the same industry or business for a sustained period is that you will be able to accumulate sufficient network contacts, and gain the confidence of clients. These are very important to the growth of a business.
Having listed above the 10 lessons I’ve learned, the most rewarding part of my entrepreneurship journey has not been making more money, but self-discovery. I’ve learned and discovered so much about myself during this journey, especially whenever I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone, faced challenges, or experienced failures. Self-discovery includes giving me a very clear sense of my strengths and areas to be improved. This makes me more conscious about what I should focus on learning more about, and also which tasks I’m not good at and should delegate to others. I’ve come to realise that the higher self-awareness I have, the better decisions I make.
To conclude, I want to thank everyone who has journeyed with me, and those who are still journeying with me — especially to those who trusted and supported me at the initial stage of my business (I’m not going to mention every of your names here, you know who you are).
However, I must mention my wife, who gave me tremendous support and freedom, especially when I was lost in my career, and during the initial stage of my business. My wife is not a naturally articulate person and is pretty quiet. Nevertheless, in the lowest point of my career, she always made me see the positive side of things. When I gave up my legal practice and was fearful of venturing into the unknown, she said: “Your life is so colourful, as you are venturing into an exciting new chapter of life. Not many have such opportunities.” I always cite her words of wisdom to encourage people who face similar challenges in their career.
For me, I will always keep trusting God and hope to keep walking forward for many decades to come.