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Early last month, Akosha raised $16 million, with a projected valuation of $70 million. It was the third round of funding for the customer dispute redressal portal, with another round of infusion ($50 million) expected before the year ends.
Akosha was founded by law graduate Ankur Singla five years ago, one of the earliest entrants in this space. In this interview with Associate Editor Anuj Agrawal, Singla talks about the lessons he has learnt along the way, employment trends, and what advice he has to offer for future entrepreneurs.
Anuj Agrawal: A $16 million fund raise, an expected headcount of 500 by the end of this year. Way back in 2010, was this something you had envisioned?
Ankur Singla: To be honest, I have been very lucky along the way. When I started, I had just wished to be able to start a tech startup and keep it growing. I never thought so far ahead – it was mostly one day at a time. As it turned out, through the highs and lows, time flew. But building a company is a 10-15 year journey – so there’s a much more to come than what has passed. We are nowhere close to as good as we would like to be and this realisation keeps you from feeling self-satisfied.
Anuj Agrawal: It must have been a difficult choice – moving away from Linklaters and going the start-up route? You must have faced a lot of non-believers.
Ankur Singla: I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial. In a way, it was an easy choice for me to make because after working in a law firm, it was clear to me that I wasn’t good enough.
To be really successful in law (and indeed, in all fields), you have to really enjoy yourself and be insanely devoted. Once I knew I didn’t feel that way about being a lawyer, it was an easy decision. This became clear to me within 3 months of working as a corporate lawyer and I spent the rest of the time saving money before I could startup.
As far as non-believers are concerned, I have had so many believers that I never noticed. So many people including early employees, investors, parents, spouse etc. believed in me, if not always the idea we were going after.
So many people including early employees, investors, parents, spouse etc. believed in me, if not always the idea we were going after.
Anuj Agrawal: What is your take on consumer protection laws in the country?
Ankur Singla: As an entrepreneur, I tried fixing it by building an online platform for unhappy consumers to connect with brands and get their issues looked at a second time by someone senior. For the brands, we explained to them how they would be able to increase customer retention, increase revenues, reduce bad word of mouth. We also gave them industry-benchmarking data to help them take better decisions.
I’m not a consumer protection lawyer but as is true for most laws in India, the law is kind of okay, but not implemented well. There are so many district forums where there are no judges to adjudicate consumer matters. Most consumers we helped were not keen on approaching consumer forums.
Anuj Agrawal: Do you think there are some specific challenges to introducing newer technology within the legal sector? Is the legal field less receptive to change?
Ankur Singla: I don’t really know much about this, but it is obvious that the answer is yes. Finance and technology should form much bigger part of lawyers lives but usually they are wary of both.
Anuj Agrawal: This year, Akosha offered salaries of 9-lakh to fresh graduates. Do you see a preference for start-ups among the current generation? You think this will spill over to the legal field as well?
Ankur Singla: Yeah, we have hired 40 grads from top colleges in India this year including SRCC, LSR, ISB, IITs etc. Definitely in non-law colleges, there’s a preference for startups thanks to the awesomeness of companies like Flipkart, Ola etc. I hope more law students choose what they are truly meant to be – whether corporate law or litigation or startups or music.
Anuj Agrawal: Last question, any advice for lawyers or law students looking to build their own Akosha?
Ankur Singla: One thing that I ask younger lawyers aspiring to be entrepreneurs is to ask themselves – “Would you have done this business if you weren’t a lawyer?”. One of the problems with having a legal background is that you suddenly circumscribe your ideas to those around law.
One thing that I ask younger lawyers aspiring to be entrepreneurs is to ask themselves – “Would you have done this business if you weren’t a lawyer?”
There are so many problems out there to solve and usually you would have a better chance of building a large business outside of law-related ideas. An IIT grad doesn’t ask himself what engineering-related business to build. “What do customers want most” is a better way to start.
The second thing is that being an entrepreneur is incredibly difficult and you should be sure that you want to do it. The lows can be so low that it is difficult to describe.