I’m back with another very inspiring interview in your favorite #IconsAround series. And this is very special for me. Because I met this person during a Kolkata Tweetup in 2010 when I first started using Social Media. Since then I am blessed to have this person as a friend. Though I couldn’t meet this person face-to-face in all these years, but following him online daily. I’ve observed closely over the years how that law student I had met over coffee, has grown into an inspiring Entrepreneur spreading legal education among masses. Beyond legal education, his posts inspire people to do what they love. But above all, if you get to talk to this person, you’ll learn what humility is all about. Keep reading.
Interview with Ramanuj Mukherjee
Principal Integrator and Chief Philosopher at iPleaders Legal Risk Management
Why did you choose to become an Entrepreneur?
The first real entrepreneur I met was a senior from college, Ashish Arun – who started an LPO while he was still in college. I was in awe – and asked him one day how much capital he needed to start it. He said that he had no capital when he started. That did something to my brain – I believed I could also then start a business.
Then I met an entrepreneur who had set up a tech startup just out of IIT KGP – and I ended up helping him with his funding rounds as he didn’t like any lawyer he tried using – and after working with 6 of them he was fed up and asked a law student, i.e. me to help with negotiating investment with investors. It was crazy, but I managed to do this with help of my friends. During this period, I often met this entrepreneur, Vikram, for dinner and drinks at his place – and he will tell me the stories of his startup experience. I was mighty impressed and decided to start up.
I think attending Startup Saturday regularly , that also had a major role to play as it kept poking my entrepreneurial side of the brain with new ideas and inspiration. Even before I left college, I was making online courses and building online communities – which would later become the foundation stone of my startup.
How did you start ipleaders.in/ ?
The idea to start online legal courses came to us during a train journey from Mumbai to Delhi. We had made a presentation in Mumbai to L&T directors and project managers on how to minimize legal risk for an INR 700 crore contract – and we realized that there is a market out there to teach law to professionals, managers and engineers. We decided that we will start an online course so that even those who cannot attend classes can access such a course, hence we opted for an online model.
What kind of investment and legal formalities needed?
Initially there was no investment. If we made some money we would put it into the business. My partner Abhyudaya would sometimes lend some money to the business to keep things afloat, but these were quite small, non-intimidating sums – with the understanding that I am giving a personal guarantee to pay these amounts back if the business doesn’t work out. We believed that we are onto something big and we didn’t care about small expenditures or personal sacrifices here and there.
When college was over, we kinda slowed things down and joined a law firm – Trilegal. When we quit a year later, I had cleaned out my educational loan and both of us had enough money to cover our living costs for 3-4 months. That was all the seed money if you can call that – the rest came from the business as we started selling products. Within a month we had made our first 20 lakhs, so it wasn’t difficult. During this phase we also inducted our third partner Pallavi Pareek, who brought along 7 years of experience as a management consultant specializing in advising startups and family businesses, and she took charge of sales operations.
We started our business as a Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) in 2010 when we were still in 4th year of college.
LLP requires lesser compliance in comparison with a private limited company. Apart from signing an LLP deed, you need to register the LLP with the Registrar of Companies and obtain other documents like PAN, TAN, Shops and Establishment license.
Tell us about your passion with ‘Law’.
I chose law because it was going to open a lot of doors for me – and it was a part of developing my personality. Later on I developed an obsession to teach people the law – because I think law is a marvelous, empowering tool that can make a difference in the lives of the common people.
Imagine teaching property laws to a farmer. Or maybe land acquisition law. He may need to make a decision related to buying, selling, mortgaging his property or having his land acquired only once in his life. However, this will be a major decision that will affect the rest of his life in a big way. Law is like that – you may not need that knowledge all the time, not even frequently – but it can make a huge difference on some very important days of your life. These kind of things excite me.
Why do you think Legal education is important? What should an Entrepreneur do? Get legal education herself or hire a lawyer or both?
For the general masses, law has always been considered as a complex subject, which can be handled only by the legal experts. The general idea is that legal education involves reading fat books and mugging up statutes. The reality could not be further than this. Law is an intuitive subject. We already have a sense of how legal scenarios should play out – just not the technical knowledge. However, some of that technical knowledge can be game changer.
- Imagine you knew how to set up your business in such a way so that you can save 10% tax. It would make a massive difference to your business.
- Imagine you knew how to access the international market for business loans – where the interest cost is less than half of what Indian banks will charge.
- Imagine knowing how to negotiate contracts or a JV agreement.
It can make a massive difference over time to your career or business.
Businessmen should focus on learning strategic side of the law. You decide the strategy, and if you hire a lawyer – he would rely on your strategic inputs. The lawyer is only as good as the inputs he gets from the client.
Most stalwart, senior businessmen have a good grasp of the law that applies to their business. Sometimes they may know more than a lawyer.
They still use lawyers strategically, they give clear mandates and set out expectations. They know how to use their “legal resources” and they are not intimidated by lawyers. This can be a great power in the business world.
Steve Jobs, for example was a phenomenal negotiator of contracts. And he would often say that a person in the modern world should learn two things – one is to code and the other is to read a contract.
However, the old businessmen acquire this knowledge through trial and error. What if we could teach them just what they need to know minus all the jargons, legalese, bare acts – but the strategic, practical aspects of law? What if we could teach businessmen to read a contract and even negotiate it?
For an entrepreneur, it is important to understand the nuances of the regulatory, taxation and other legal frameworks that govern his business. Having a clear understanding of the legal framework can help him to develop clear business strategies that comply with law. It also provides him an edge over others in taking precautionary measures to minimize the risks involved in business transactions.
Learning the strategic and practical aspects of business law is therefore strongly recommended for businessmen. And of course, this does not mean you will never need to hire a lawyer.
Can you recommend some books on your subject that any layman can understand?
There is no book on Indian business law which explains the process and regulatory requirements in simple and clear language for non-lawyers. In fact, this is a major problem that all good law books are written for lawyers, in a very jargonistic way that even lawyers find difficult to read. In order to solve this problem, we have developed an online diploma course on Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws for National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata which caters to the need of the entrepreneurs and businessmen.
What kind of products and services you are providing?
We help Indian universities to build world class, profitable and highly accessible online and mobile learning courses around law, and then sell these courses to learners across the world. We contribute technology, content and marketing services to enable a University to launch a course and make it a commercial and academic success.
Our flagship product is an online one year diploma course on Entrepreneurship Administration and Business Laws, which we developed for National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. The course is targeted at entrepreneurs and businessmen, and has more than 800 students from 10 countries.
We have also developed a course called “End Sexual Harassment”, which focuses on enlightening the employees and women about their rights under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace Act, 2013. The course also comes with a toolbox, which is essentially a step by step guide, consisting of videos, sample documents and templates to help the HR and the management to implement and comply with the anti-sexual harassment law in their offices.
We have also launched a course called BarHacker, which guide the students with easy to learn study materials, mock tests, quizzes and lessons on exam taking skills for the difficult Bar Exam. The course comes with a 100% money back guarantee, – if someone takes our course and fail the bar exam, we’ll give him money back – that’s how confident we are about BarHacker.
How many people are working in your business?
The core management team consists of three co-founders – Abhyudaya Agarwal, Pallavi Pareek & me. While Abhyudaya and me are alumni of WBNUJS, Kolkata and have previously worked with one of the best law firms in India, Pallavi has a management degree from University of Asia and Pacific and has worked as a management consultant in India and Philippines for more than 8 years. Apart from the co-founders, we have another four members in the team who looks after accounts, technical and administrative support, marketing and course creation.
How do you build the right team for your business?
This is one of the most difficult aspects of building a startup in India – finding good talent is super difficult.
I found that blogging about your company and the open positions really help.
Also it is important to leverage your classmates, alumni and colleagues network. These days there are some people looking to work in startups which was very unusual even 3-4 years back.
How do you get the clients? What kind of advertisements of marketing strategies you use for your brand?
We extensively use social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for promotion of our courses. Apart from social media marketing, we also conduct workshops for entrepreneurs, startups on a regular basis to attract the potential students. The co-founders extensively travel around the country speaking at colleges and delivering workshops.
What is your daily routine as an Entrepreneur?
There is no fixed routine – I have to take every day as it comes and get as much done as possible.
What is your take on Social Media?
Social media marketing has been an integral part of our marketing strategy. Apart from direct marketing through our Facebook page, I actively take part in various online discussion forums related to entrepreneurship and startups and answer to legal queries, which helps us to create a rapport with the prospective students.
Why New Delhi, why not in West Bengal?
West Bengal does not have a business environment. From hiring to operating, everything is very difficult. There are few other real startups there – naturally no- eco-system. Even the government and politicians are hostile to businesses – especially if you are a small business. It sometimes feels as if trying to make a profit is seen as a sin in West Bengal.
My most preferred city to startup will be Mumbai or Bangalore. However, we are in Delhi considering that some of our close partners like IIT Delhi are here. Also, there are massive number of Universities and colleges coming up in Delhi-Gurgaon-Haryana-Punjab area.
If things improve, I will love to come and build my base here. There is no doubt that there is great talent in the city and prices are start up friendly.
Would you recommend Entrepreneurship to youth? Why?
Absolutely. It is only youth which has the freedom, the mindset, the idealism and the risk taking ability that is essential to building startups. Old people might be able to do it, but it is just very unlikely that someone who is successful in his career in the 40s will suddenly do a startup. Even Paul Graham prefers younger people to startup for his legendary Y-Combinator.
There is brainwashing going on for ages ‘Bengalis can’t do business’. Your comment?
Yes, a lot of Bengalis, especially the generations before us, are extremely risk averse. The whole point of life has been about avoiding risks at all costs. This is anti-thesis of entrepreneurship. We have always been advised to avoid risks at all costs – so we can not start a business which is inherently risky.
However, whenever Bengalis have stepped out of West Bengal, or in some other way have managed to lose the inhibition of risk taking – they have succeeded spectacularly. I would say that it is the middle class upbringing that makes us think in very wrong way about things like money, finance and economy which is responsible for this state of affairs.
There were many great Bengali entrepreneurs through out history. Founder of the Pal dynasty was Gopal, who earned fame and wealth first through trading all over Asia. Even Prince Dwarkanath Tagore was one of the leading businessman in the world of his age, owning the largest fleet of sea faring vessels in the world. Even Rabindranath has engaged in trade and business. In our culture, we have completely failed to highlight the success of Bengali businessmen – and that is why our kids do not grow up with the dream of starting grand enterprises.
Your vision for future?
We want to teach law to 1 million people. The question is how soon can we do it.
Awesome! Wasn’t it? Let me share a Facebook post from Ramanuj to conclude the interview:
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