Izwan & Partners is a Kuala Lumpur based corporate and technology law firm focusing on advising technology companies, early stage startups, and investors do business and raise capital and today, we have the honour of speaking to the founder, Izwan on his story.
What was the defining moment that led to the birth of Izwan & Partners?
As much as I enjoyed working on these large deals, I realise that I enjoyed working with technology companies and early stage startups a lot more. So I made a firm decision to leave my comfortable salary job to start Izwan & Partners.
Could you walk us through the process?
So after leaving the law school, I constantly sought to find a role that would allow me to harness the technology space. I know there are so many “startup lawyers” out there, but I feel that it may be a great attempt to have a dedicated law firm focusing on advising startups and technology companies. That was how Izwan & Partners was founded in 2019. Many existing corporate law firms out there would either create another ‘practice area’ or dedicate a team focusing on this clientele. For us, we do not do anything else apart from giving exclusive attention to emerging companies like technology companies and early stage startups. This also means that we can spend more time investing time and learning the latest regulatory updates affecting these disruptive technology companies.
Did you encounter any particular difficulties during the start up?
It is challenging running a law firm as a sole proprietor as you have to manage several things at once. I don’t have a clerk or a paralegal which means I do all the work alone. This is not necessarily a bad thing as this allows a client to interface with me directly and there is generally no outsourcing. The biggest challenge perhaps is many of the potential clients I work with are early stage entrepreneurs and founders. To illustrate, out of ten startups that I speak to every week, eight of them may not have the financial resources to engage me. So I’d just give them a high level summary on what they need to do or consider if I could mentor them for free until they get fundraised. Since I’m restricted in terms of personal bandwidth, I have to get really picky when it comes to choosing which startup I can mentor for free.
How did you overcome these difficulties?
As a lawyer, just like a doctor or a dentist, you are in the business of selling time. So it is important to manage time carefully. I’ve set up up a sales funnel where clients get to book a time and date which has helped me immensely in managing time. It is still a constant challenge in terms of time management, but I guess that’s something that we all have to manage when it comes to juggling between work and business development.
What were some of the important lessons you learnt from it?
I strongly believe in ‘paying it forward’. Many times I come across early stage startup founders that may not be able to engage me as they are bootstrapping, but I’ve decided to mentor and help them anyway. I believe that although they may not be ready to engage me but they may know someone out there within their network that may need legal services. I also believe in mentoring. I am currently a mentor for several startups and nonprofits like Founders Institute and Futurelab. I believe everyone should allocate some time for mentoring which would allow the overall tech and startup ecosystem to grow. As the saying goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats”.
How have you been developing your company since start-up?
Although the law firm was only founded in 2019, I’ve been thinking about setting it up ever since I started practising law close to a decade ago. Although a technology and startup focused law firms are common in Silicon Valley, it is unusual here in Malaysia. So I’m still trying to figure this out and the law firm is also a work in progress.
What kind of market feedback did you get for your startup so far?
Before I started the law firm, I asked around especially those in the startup and tech community what do they feel in terms of the pain points when it comes to dealing with a lawyer. Pricing is obviously a big issue. So I won’t say I’m a cheap lawyer but I’m not expensive as well. So we try to manage and give progressive legal advice that would be important for our clients who are mainly early stage startups and technology companies.
What is your strategy against your competition?
As a technology and startup focused corporate law firm, Izwan & Partners is able to market itself more effectively given our niche practice areas. So we think this has been particularly useful especially when pushing a certain narrative and a brand value that we wish to portray to the world. At the same time, we partner up with so many ecosystem enablers like MaGIC ( Malaysian Global Innovation & Creativity Centre) and (MDEC Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) to see how we can carve out or create value in helping the growth of the Malaysian tech and startup ecosystem with a regional perspective.
What is your strategy to remain relevant in this industry?
Apart from partnering with ecosystem enablers, we also work constantly to create useful and practical contents for our existing and potential clients. We write short legal tips and push them across our social media channels which we believe is more practical and easy since our clients are mostly younger people. In addition, as a fully cloud and online based technology and corporate law firm, we leverage on online tools a lot. So clients can forget the hassle of physical meetings and meet us literally anywhere on a Zoom call.
Did you encounter any unique experiences of starting a business in Asia?
As a corporate lawyer practising in Asia, I can say that Asian entrepreneurs tend to be more concerned on the people than what is written on the paper. In other words, trust is really important when building a new relationship. A contract is a mere paper that means nothing and only becomes crucial when there is a legal dispute. This may not sound well if you’re a lawyer as this means parties do not really look at the contract until something goes wrong. But this also means that as a lawyer, your role also becomes important to help your client to look at the counterparty if he or she fits the trust level as expected in the relationship.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
As a young lawyer, I’ve always felt that I could do a lot more. As much as I’ve enjoyed working in a large company or law firm working on big M&A deals or transactions, I’ve found that I actually enjoyed working with early stage entrepreneurs and startups a lot more. As an entrepreneur, I also get to spend more time mentoring and really do something that I enjoy doing.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
People with strong work ethics are vital when it comes to achieving success as an entrepreneur. As someone who has read countless memoirs, I also believe that a successful person is generally miserable in terms of family and social obligations. This is I guess the constant challenge that an entrepreneur needs to effectively manage as he or she becomes successful. As the saying goes, “It gets lonely at the top.”
Any parting words of wisdom?
I really like what the legendary investor Warren Buffett said, “Price is what you pay, value is what you get.”