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Having previously worked in the Capital Markets and Private Equity teams at AZB & Partners, Shergill takes us through her journey from working at a corporate firm to setting up her own venture, and the challenges she faced and overcame while doing the same.
Was corporate law always the choice?
Not really. I had experimented quite a bit, and then I happened to intern at AZB & Partners. My first internship with the firm was at its Bombay office in 2003/04. Later, I interned at the Delhi office. I just loved the people. The firm treated the interns so well; it was a lot of fun.
After thinking about what kind of social issues I wanted to work on, I realised I was not very inclined towards working with an NGO, because most of them do not have good roles for lawyers. They cater more to people with a social science background. So, corporate law appealed to me more at that point in time.
How was your experience working at AZB?
It is a fantastic firm. From when I first interned with them, till I graduated, I never associated myself with any other law firm. The work culture is great, they let you grow, and I learnt so much in my years working there. It definitely changed me as a professional, and as a person as well.
As on A0 (first year Associate), you get the opportunity to talk with clients, negotiate and handle transactions on your own. That’s the best thing about AZB; it’s not very structured like other firms, where you need to have a Senior Associate or a Principal Associate on a transaction. I was very lucky to find very good mentors at AZB.
At what point did you feel the necessity to switch professions?
I initially worked in the Capital Markets team for a good two-and-a-half to three years. After a point, you realise that each deal is the same. Especially in Capital Markets, where you have a DRHP and keep changing the placeholders for each deal.
Then I switched to Private Equity. Initially, the switch was very exciting, because Capital Markets is essentially about due diligence. Private Equity also has due diligence, but there are a lot more negotiations. So, the first two years were very exciting.
But after a point, I asked myself, ‘Do I really want to do this my entire life? Do I see myself doing the same kind of documentation twenty years later?’ I started feeling it was too repetitive, and that it wasn’t challenging enough. Time management and team management were challenging, but the work wasn’t. After doing corporate law for a while, you pretty much know where the answers are.
When I joined the firm initially, I always knew that it would be just a transition. I never had the intention of doing it forever.
What was the inspiration behind ShaadiWish?
The inspiration is actually very random. I was pregnant at that point of time, and I worked till the day I delivered. Throughout that period, I kept asking myself, ‘Do I want to go back after maternity leave?’ That led me to look for alternatives. I was very clear that whatever I did, I would do it for myself.
After working in a law firm for 18-19 hours a day, you are comfortable with working hard, so that was never going to be an issue. But I decided that I wanted to create something of my own.
Incidentally, just a few months before that, a cousin of mine based in England was getting married. He used to come to India very frequently for shopping, etc. That’s when I realised there are gaps in the market. While arranging things for the wedding, he would call me or my other cousins to ask about invitations, designers, etc. So, then I started feeling that this was interesting. Everybody gets excited about planning their wedding.
It made me think of the time when I was getting married. I was still at AZB, working very long hours, and I planned to take a good amount of leave for the wedding. After going up to your boss every now and then, and asking if you can leave early to meet the decorator or whatever, made me see the challenges in the wedding planning process. So, I got very excited about starting something to cater to that challenge, because it involves a lot of organisation.
Speaking of our competitors, there are a lot of yellow pages. But there is still no credible system to get you a list of good partners and vendors in a particular city. Our mission is to curate good partners from each city; we are not interested in the number of partners, that’s why our process takes a lot more time.
What are the services offered by ShaadiWish?
When we talk about the wedding industry, there is no solution for the vendors. What we do is help the vendors market themselves and provide them an opportunity to generate original content. For instance, players like caterers do not have good content. Now, it is important to have good content and show it on social media. Somebody may be a great caterer, but most of his business is coming through word of mouth. We provide them a whole storefront, where we showcase their work in a pretty manner.
For our users, we provide a lot of good curated content, and connect them with the right partners. We get their requirements through lead forms, and our system automatically sends it to the vendors, who are able to respond very quickly.
Right now, we are focussing on Delhi and Punjab, and we have started registrations in Mumbai.
What were the challenges you faced while setting it up?
Everything is a challenge. As is the case in business, every decision that you take is based on what you feel or think. Initially, the biggest challenge was since I am not from a technical background, I had to trust someone else to develop my product.
I remember thinking that these app development firms were as sincere as law firms. After outsourcing some work based on recommendations, I got into trouble with the first couple of firms, as they were not delivering on time, and were not producing what we wanted.
The biggest lesson I learnt from this experience is that everything has to happen in-house. When you have your own team, they feel the product as their own, not as just another product they are working on. Luckily, we were able to hire a very good tech team to work in-house.
Then, like any other business, the biggest challenge was marketing. It is not like the law, where you can only market a particular way. After working with a lot of marketing consultants, I felt that I could think of better ideas than some of the agencies. At the end of the day, it is something you learn on the job, and I figured out what works and what doesn’t.
You learn something new every day. Right now, I am learning how Search Engine Optimization works. The journey has been phenomenal.
Do you miss anything about the law firm life?
The biggest thing I miss is my friends. There is also the certainty which goes with being a lawyer. When you start a transaction, you pretty much know that you are going to be really busy for the next 3-4 months. I miss that, because right now, my venture is at a stage where there is a lot of uncertainty. On a day, you might reach out to a hundred people, but only ten will respond.
Now, I am back to my struggling days. When I left the law firm, I had a good relationship with my clients, had a good rapport with my partner and juniors, and was well settled. Right now, it feels like I am back to my internship and A0 days.
Do the skills you learnt as a corporate lawyer come in handy?
Of course. As a Private Equity lawyer, there are times you work with investors, and times you work with the company. When you do due diligence and draft transaction documents, you really understand how business works. You understand how money moves and how the investor thinks. The biggest value I’ve been able to add is to sanitize all of that from day one. It’s not like I am going to raise funds today, but I will eventually.
So, being a lawyer has really helped me. The biggest thing I learnt from being a corporate lawyer is to be very organized and thorough – you can’t miss out on a single word. Those skills are very helpful for what I am doing today.
There have been a number of lawyers from the corporate sector who have ended up taking roads less traveled. What advice would you have for lawyers who want to switch to a different vocation?
I think you should just follow your heart. If you have worked hard as a lawyer and established yourself, there is no fear. Even today, if I were to go back to a law firm, I don’t think it will be difficult. There is only one life you get; don’t lead it with regrets.
In my case, I procrastinated for a long time. Though I wanted to do something else, I kept putting it off for one deal, one more transaction, one more promotion. If you get an opportunity, just go for it. Even if it’s something as random as travelling or taking a sabbatical. Everything that you do in life is enriching, and only when you have done it will you realise the value that it has added. Being in a job or in a firm, you are kind of stuck in a rut.
If you feel you need to get out and do something else, you should give it a fair chance.