EARLIER this week, I had the distinct pleasure of joining High Point University’s Entrepreneurship Club as a panelist for its monthly Entrepreneur Roundtable. This particular event was designed to give members a chance to interface with local entrepreneurs, ask questions, and spark dialogue unique to their business interests.
Since launching Carolina Craft Legal in November, it was the first opportunity I’ve had to put my experience as an entrepreneur at the forefront with my experience as a young attorney as the anchor. I almost always approach these concepts in reverse. This post is a continuation of that entrepreneur-forward dynamic. I felt it blogworthy for a couple of reasons. One, entrepreneurship is often quite daunting. The emotional peak-and-trough is exhausting and the irregular workweeks can be isolating. But it helps to know that the concerns and insecurities are pretty universal. Second, Carolina Craft Legal is premised on embodying its own ideal client. A mainstay of the practice is delivering value that extends beyond the traditional practice of law. Sometimes that takes the form of business strategy; other times the form of network building. No matter the form, it is always a function of empathy.
The Roundtable was unbelievably fluid—so much so that the printed questions in the middle of my designated table went untouched. Before leaving, I thumbed through a few. I have included below five questions, the answers to which I felt would most effectively address the two tenets above. I want to thank the members of the Entrepreneurship Club for their hospitality. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I am grateful for the chance to continue learning about the evolving landscape of entrepreneurship and a bit more about myself, too.
What was your biggest challenge or struggle and how did you overcome it?
The low-hanging fruit here is client acquisition, more broadly understood as growing a customer base. And while that is a struggle for nearly every entrepreneur, I believe the source of such frustration varies. For me, the biggest challenge was and will continue to be confidence. I have a profound respect for the legal profession and being admitted to the North Carolina Bar was undoubtedly my proudest moment. Even still, practicing law while learning to practice law and running a business of practicing law commands a lot of attributes only experience can develop. I am conscientious of not only how prospective clients perceive me, but also how my reputation is developing within my professional community. Personally, overcoming the confidence challenge has been a two-part process. First, I focus on the things I do well—writing, research, and communication—and I devote a portion of every day to doing one or more of those. To some degree, offsetting the emotional lows of the unfamiliar or difficult is easier done when I juxtapose things I have some level of confidence in. Second, I focus on building true relationships with my clients. I do not mind a bit doing more than what is required to gain the trust and respect of the people giving me an opportunity to grow. I’m finding the stress of having the proverbial chip on my shoulder is willing me, albeit slowly, toward becoming the attorney I have in my mind’s eye. At bottom, I think confidence is earned in the aggregate. Before entering law school, a family friend and retired judge wrote to me, “Just remember: a man can move a mountain if he does so one stone at a time.” That’s how I approach each day.
What sparked your interest in entrepreneurship and that field specifically?
I sort of backed into entrepreneurship, so to speak. As my time in law school began to wane, I realized what many students realize in that I had no real idea what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be. That sort of existential angst is expensive, too. In my final semester, I applied for and joined my school’s entrepreneurship clinic. I fell in love. Playing the attorney role for entrepreneurs is fulfilling for me. I am given the chance to leverage my competencies in an effort to help other inspired people create. I’m relatively right-brained, so the concept of counseling on strategic decision-making satisfies my thirst for creativity. Moreover, I get to continue learning. Entrepreneurship is an inherently diverse field. My clients bring ideas and concepts to the table that I get to go home and learn about. Without knowing it at the time, that element of continued learning and self-education was important to me as I graduated and began studying for the bar. With regard to the alcoholic beverage industry, there’s literal science to both the production and the business. Charlotte has one of the most deeply rooted and fastest growing craft beverage scenes in the region. I naturally gravitated toward that culture, forged true bonds and friendships through it, and found a convenient intersection between my skills as an attorney-to-be and my passion for facilitating local business. Ultimately, I saw entrepreneurship as my path to facilitating entrepreneurship.
Do you include family members in your business? Why or why not?
I’m going to be that guy and equivocate on this question. It depends. As an attorney, my client is almost always the business itself—not the individual(s) running it. In my previous posts tackling business creation, I made it clear that we humans are fickle creatures. We tend to let the joviality of a new idea blind us to the tough questions that should be answered up front, namely those concerning decision-making authority and what happens when partners inevitably reach an impasse. When it comes to disputes over money, the half-life on most relationships is extremely short. I think the biggest question when one is dealing with family is whether the relationship can survive business failure. That answer takes a lot of honest self-disclosure. However, I do not advise against including family in business per se. There are many examples of husband-wife, father-son, and sibling duos realizing great success in the brewery business specifically. Justin and Sarah over at Sycamore Brewing are the folks that come immediately to mind. They are brewing a beautiful business over there. In legal parlance, these matters should be handled on a case-by-case basis. Speaking personally, my answer remains the same. Family adds an interesting twist to a decision that is difficult in its own right.
What do you think about the stories of young entrepreneurs today? Do you think things are different now than ten years ago?
I read a statistic recently that stated somewhere around 65% of children in primary schools will have jobs that are not yet in existence. Amazon is now piloting a drone program boasting two-hour delivery service. I think young entrepreneurs are the stories of today. I lump myself in with a generation of people who have entered or will enter the workforce fluent in technology. There is no question that things are different now than from a decade ago. The evolution of the Internet into a ubiquitous daily tool is the most obvious way to appraise that story. Things happen instantaneously now. I think the young entrepreneurs of today are nimble in that way and develop business models that reflect the role of informational agility. I certainly have endeavored to position Carolina Craft Legal as an innovative law practice, utilizing as much technology as possible. Look, we were able to launch this firm without brick and mortar—merely a website. Young entrepreneurs focus on efficiency, connectivity and transparency. They are shaping the evolution of every industry, including the practice of law. And I think it’s awesome.
If you were advising the college student going forward, what general advice would you give?
Having lived the overwhelming majority of my twenty-six years as a student, my advice is simple. Treat all educational experiences as ends unto themselves, not merely as a means to one. I learned a lot substantively in law school, from constitutional law to antitrust. But the most valuable aspect of my legal education was realizing what skills I was acquiring and how they could be applied in a real world setting. Having a degree is great. Having the ability to create, to me, is functionally better. In my limited experience, taking accountability for my educational experience—placing the burden of turning rote knowledge into application—has fostered professional opportunity. At its core, entrepreneurship is the manifestation of some proportion of applied education and intelligence. Considering the above-mentioned stat, perhaps the best strategy for students going forward is to maintain the mind of a student long after graduation. I talked briefly above about seeing my experiences with clients as vessels for continued learning. We never know when that next light bulb is going to turn on. But we can make sure there’s something for it to illuminate.
The world of entrepreneurship is a continuing learning process. As with life generally, there are ups and downs. The true challenge is extracting value from both, shortening the wavelength, and trending upward. Carolina Craft Legal is committed to assisting entrepreneurs and small businesses with this in every way we can. Just reach out. We look forward to collaborating with the educational sector in the future and extend a final “Thank You” to Ms. Kathy Elliott and the whole High Point University Entrepreneurship Club.
Until next week. Cheers!