Gautami (27) start-up entrepreneur
Her tip for women entrepreneurs
‘Decisions that you make when you are not feeling stable are usually not good ones.’
Indian start-up entrepreneur Gautami Raiker (27) is on a mission. With LawMate, her online legal advice platform, she aims to reduce the burden of dealing with legal red tape for start-ups and entrepreneurs all over the world. This way they can devote their time and energy to what they like to do best: run their business.
Gautami – shoulder-length black hair, black jacket, blue blouse and matching trousers – is used to managing her affairs with great efficiency. When I email her my interview request, I get a super quick reply with a date, time and place that she can meet. On the day of our conversation she walks with me to a meeting room, fetches a Nescafé for me, sits down with her hands folded together and asks, “What can I do for you?”
The location she has chosen for the interview is the place she calls her second home: business incubator CIBA (Centre for Incubation and Business Acceleration). Five mornings a week she drives from her parents’ house in Margoa – the provincial capital of South Goa – to the mint-green CIBA building, a twenty-minute drive along a tree-lined highway. Upon arrival she walks to the second floor and inserts her key in the door of her office, a small cubicle with grey and blue office furniture. On the walls are a humming air conditioner and a whiteboard outlining the plans for the coming year.
In 2013, Gautami got her Master in Law at the University of Goa, as one of the best of her year. She was the first in her family to go to university and expectations were high; everyone hoped Gautami would become a judge. If that would not succeed, then at least a lawyer. “I myself also had sky-high ambitions. I wanted to achieve good things for society. I wanted to improve the legal system in India from the inside out.”
‘I wanted to make others happy, but also to stay happy myself’
Changing the system
But when Gautami started working in the judiciary system, she soon found out that the real world is not so malleable. The legal wheels spin with exasperating slowness in India. Changing the system from the inside was too ambitious a goal. “I wanted to make others happy, but also to stay happy myself. That’s why I decided to change jobs.”
Because her father, a contractor, became seriously ill during that period, it was important to her to choose a job that would offer financial stability. Her family expected her, as an unmarried graduate daughter, to contribute financially. So she chose an administrative job. “I felt desperately unhappy there. I had a stable income, but the work was boring and monotonous. It was below my level of ability. Every day I thought: ‘I was one of the best of my year, but look at what I’m doing now’.”
The tide turned in 2015; she was able to start working as a project coordinator at CIBA. She organised workshops for budding entrepreneurs and discovered to her surprise that there was no legal assistance for start-ups in Goa: not yet. This gave her the idea to start LawMate and she further developed this idea with the help of her CIBA mentor. “My mentor has believed in me from the beginning. Why? He noticed that I could think out of the box. And that I really wanted to create something new and innovative.
When she wanted to start her own business the society didn’t exactly cheer her on. “Again and again I heard: “How are you going to succeed? Can you manage? Will you be able to earn enough money to support your family?”
But she followed her heart and kept going. LawMate started small, just her with a laptop and a mobile phone, working at the kitchen table in her parental home. She has expanded slowly but surely, step by step, and by now has provided assistance to more than 3000 entrepreneurs and 170 start-ups. And she has gathered more than 50 enthusiastic and ambitious millennials who live all over the country, whom she can hire when needed on a project basis.
‘I managed to drag myself through those black days until I felt stronger again’
Gautami firmly believes in LawMate. But she, too, sometimes has doubts about running her own business. “Last year for example. My father was very sick and in hospital at the time and it was not going so well financially with LawMate. I felt a lot of pressure and noticed that I was mentally weak and I thought: I should just quit. But I also thought: you’re feeling weak now. Don’t make any hasty decisions. Decisions that you make when you are not feeling stable are usually not good ones. I managed to drag myself through those black days until I felt stronger again, and able to think clearly about my future and the future of LawMate.”
Gautami constantly tries to think of ways to make legal affairs even easier for start-ups. In July she stood in line at a notary’s office for hours. “While waiting, I thought: what a waste of time. Can’t I think of something that enables customers to arrange this online?” As proactive as she is, she indeed devised a soon-to-launch online portal: The Legal Capsule. At this portal companies can create documents themselves with the use of templates, and have them legally validated too.
Gautami is receiving recognition for her innovative drive. She was one of the four finalists in the World-wide Innovating Justice Challenge last year. This is a challenge that is organised by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL), based in The Hague, the Netherlands. The institute is a champion of user-friendly justice and every year it selects the world’s most successful projects in this area.
Energetic start-up entrepreneurs
But the unwritten rules of Indian society are still strong, also for innovative, energetic start-up entrepreneurs. Running a business when you are married is pretty unusual. So when I ask her what will happen to LawMate if she marries one day, she says with a laugh: “That’s a question I get asked almost every week.” She adds, diplomatically: “First I want to raise Legal Capsule to a higher level. Then I would very much like to expand to other countries, preferably starting with the United Arab Emirates. I see a lot of possibilities there. And then we’ll see.”