Mohammad Aarif is currently pursuing an MBA degree from the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. He has completed his master’s and five-year graduation in law from National Law University. During his stint at CL Educate Ltd., he was tasked with preparing and managing their content, mentoring students and delivering lectures pan India. He also ventured into startups like Stitch Mi Solutions and Safe Space. Having started the first theatre club in his college, he has also been a part of a theatre group called “Asmita.” Debating, writing poetry, and copywriting are some of his other interests
Q. Hello, it’s a pleasure to have you with us! Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your life at law school? Did it appear to you at any point that you would venture into another profession aside from the legal field?
I was born in Uttar Pradesh, a historical place near Lucknow. I write my poems by the pen name “Bilgrami.” Though I enjoyed studying science in class 11th and 12th, I was also in a quandary over what to choose. I love science, but I was unsure whether I would be making a career out of it. Like everyone else, I, too, filled forms for AIEEE, JEE, and VIT, but I was doubtful about engineering somewhere deep down in my heart. In January 2010, somebody suggested an exam called CLAT for UG Law. So I researched some more about it and soon realized that this would be my path. My life at National Law School was the most beautiful facet of my possible while also being responsible for everything I am today and whatever I may achieve in the future. Those imprints will always be on me. Law school had been a roller coaster ride; it was full of fun experiences and learning. Although it isn’t possible; if given a chance, I would love to go back to law school again.
Coming to the second part of the question, though I did appear for CLAT in class 12th, I was sure about studying law but unsure about being and practicing as a lawyer. I always try life. It has molded me in the best way to learn and explore the spaces I enter, be it law or MBA. I was graduating in law. It is not necessary that the subject you graduate in, has to be the one you adopt a profession in for your bread and butter. I loved the law, I loved reading law, and I follow every legal update even today. I consider law as my favorite subject to read, but not my bread and butter. It is essential to explore your domains, enjoy them throughout the journey, and carefully choose them for your career.
Q. You worked with “Career Launcher” for 2 years directly interacting with high school students, how did that experience help you with building “Safe Space”?
Safe Space has a long story. During the lockdown, I felt a void because productivity was going down with people locked up in their houses, and their mental health might not be in a good state. Though I was not a certified counselor, I felt that there is a need to talk to people for free who need counseling. Since I have faced depression in my life, I knew how difficult it can be to overcome it. In Career Launcher, I was never a teacher but a friend to my students. I know how difficult it is for them to adapt to the needs of society or the aspirations of their parents. I could see that the generational gap could lead to problems. I believe that students should have access to someone who is experienced and, I believe one should help these kids or the younger generation for their betterment. Safe Space was aimed at communicating with such youngsters and I believe I have had around 100 people with whom I am connected with. I talk to them generally about my life and they tell me about their life. These were free sessions so there were no financial constraints; I just wanted people to speak out so that they feel better. That was my Safe Space venture. I believe that talking to students made me a modest, person and gave me a fresh perspective on different aspects of life.
Q. “Safe Space” isn’t your first entrepreneurial venture; you had your fashion label in “Stitch Mi”, what did your experiences in “Stitch Mi” teach you? What were some of the challenges you faced as a new entrant to the entrepreneurial field?
I was in my fifth year when I started reading about the new startups. It encouraged me to know more about the startup ecosystem in the country. So after that, I also decided that I’d also go into the startup journey. I started with my fashion startup that is Stitch Mi. “Stitch Mi” was a collection of all the fashion designers under one roof. I collaborated with around 200 designers in Delhi. It was very challenging, and a few of the challenges which prompted me not to go further was the first one being that there is a perception or prejudice in the investor community that students from law schools cannot venture into the startup ecosystem. There is a perception amongst the investors that only grads with MBAs from IBM’s/IITs can only scale up this. That was one major problem whenever I used to approach investors. The second was building a tech team. When your startup is tech-driven, it is essential to have a good tech team. So when you cannot code or don’t know how to put out the platform, it becomes challenging to start up your venture. So Stitch Mi taught me a lot many things. And though it is still in the pipeline, I’ll one day again try to put it into reality.
Q. Would you say your law school experience has helped you in setting up and running your entrepreneurial ventures?
Of course, yes. The reason being, in law school, I had been more of a person who was into extra-curricular activities. Being a member of the legal aid committee, we started our first theatre group of the college. I was leading that team along with my friend. And secondly, I was on the organizing team for the cultural fest for the college. I had experience managing food vendors, the caterers, and other parties involved. Moreover, I was supervising the organizing committee for the sports fest. All these things made me taste something – what leadership is, how to lead a team, how to manage it, how to operate with these small vendors and the minor issues which generally arise while you are into it. And especially not many people know, but our college did not have a canteen vendor in the last year. I, along with my friend, took charge and utilized our good relations with the Vice-Chancellor. So we were running our canteen with the caterer team. That made me learn so many things about the business aspect and many other things. I would say anything and everything, which I’ve learned regarding entrepreneurship, was all because of my law school. I was also in coordination with the Vice-Chancellor with various other things like getting air conditioners for the canteen area and other student-related decisions. I was actively involved with the administration.
All that helped me be a better leader to manage all the small and tiny things involved in business. I would say law school helped me a lot concerning my entrepreneurial journey
Q. What were some of the factors you took into consideration while planning the switch from law to entrepreneurship? In hindsight, do you think you would want to do something differently if you could begin the process all over again?
I was always exploring every road on which I was travelling. When I came from my school to my law college, I studied what it has to offer to me. In Law College, how this goes is that in the first year, you want to be a hardcore corporate lawyer, you want to go to a law firm, like Harvey Specter; in the second and third year, and you tend to get a more realistic picture. You tend to become a UPSC aspirant, then you want to do moots and all. These are some of the stages. By the time the fourth year or fifth year comes, you consider options that others have taken up. For example, some are into the judiciary; people are into LLM, some are busy with their UPSC preparation. So as far as my case was concerned, I was sure in my fourth year, though, to be very honest, I got a good kick from litigation. But unfortunately, I believe the system was ramshackle for me. Or I would say litigation requires a lot more time from me, or it required a lot of investment from my side, which I was not ready to give. It takes around 10 to 15 years to be a recognizable lawyer, right? I was always sure that I’m not going to go into this. So, I started preparing for my LLM. I was convinced that I have to do my Master’s.
And concerning entrepreneurship, I got it from when I started reading about various companies in my law college. It was 5th year, and I was preparing for my Master’s when I read about Flipkart, Ola, Uber, how these companies are emerging, and the startup ecosystem. I then realized the entrepreneurship is something that would excite me. I believe these were the factors, which encouraged me. Answering the second part, do you think you would want to do something differently? We could begin the process. So yes, there are so many things which I would love to do all over again, in a different manner. But yes, at the end of the day, I am satisfied with all the mistakes I made in my life. I would never say, I do wish I wouldn’t have done that. I learned from experience, and I believe that is what has made me a better person.
Q. At present, you’re pursuing an MBA from IIFT. What are your thoughts on combining an MBA with an LLB degree? What unexpected skills did you bring in from law school and intertwine with your MBA studies?
Since I came into MBA after running my startup, my first purpose was to learn everything I did wrong during my startup and learn all the business nuances. And when it comes to the placements in MBA, I observed when your background is a law; companies look for versatile profiles while selecting you though this is not a written rule, in a way, reality as most students are engineers in the batch. And you have an edge. But there are specific skills, which I believe helped me do better in MBA. Certain things are inherent in law students, like fluency in verbal communication, which plays a vital role during your interviews or presentations to HR or your team. Secondly, they have good writing skills. Thirdly, law schools over five years, build good logical and analytical skills, which help us analyze different complexities and in identifying pinpoints.
Moreover, lawyers are very good with research and know how to deal with people. In MBA also you learn how to deal with human resources. So, I believe these are certain things that helped me, particularly in MBA College. They would love to have somebody on the board that has extensive experience handling people and organization and with a tinge of legal perspective. However, I would like to caveat this by saying that while certain companies might not give you a shortlist, there would surely be many who would love to have you on board.
Q. Many of our readers are either students in law school or just starting after their graduation. Many of them are hesitant to take their career purely out of passion. Do you have any tips on how they can strive on working consistently towards their goals in/after law school?
First of all, everybody in law school, I would suggest them, never come in with preconceived notions. The first and foremost thing is exploring; you should know things. When you are into college or doing something in your life, maybe your graduation, you should know about all the possible things you can opt for just by this degree or after this degree.
You are doing things that are purely out of passion, like if you want to become a singer, entrepreneur, or dance or anything. It is like you have to introspect yourself that what you like the most. Secondly, you should thoroughly research it. It should not only be purely out of passion. You have to understand this fact that your passion should be able to feed you in the long run, or you have to combine it with something which provides you with it. At the end of the day, you have to earn bread and butter. These days, youngsters are more into wanting to follow their passion. It’s a good thing that you follow your passion, but you should combine it with some practicality attached to it. So that it should earn for you as well. For example, if I’m working from nine to five, and if I love painting, I will do it after five. And if I think that I want to become a full-fledged painter, my research should be thorough; that what the prospects of being a painter are? Where can I become a good painter and gain direction? Try to learn and absorb from people. What is that particular arena trying to teach you? Then you figure out slowly that everything is not about a mad rush here. Don’t fall into that rat race. Take your time and think about what is good and what is bad for you. There will be times when you will feel that you are fickle-minded; you will feel like doing one thing, then switching it, and this is totally fine. But at the end of the day, when you decide something, stick to it, follow it, complete it, finish it. For example, you want to become a judge; you feel that you will do good in the judiciary, you have analyzed all the prospects, you have seen interviews of the judges’ afterlife in a job. Still, even if you feel like after becoming a judge but five or six years down the line you realize you are not happy with it, leave it. It’s completely fine. But once you stick to it, try to see it through. Good things take time. And whenever there are failures, be ready. And to be honest, after law school, life is more challenging; it will be tough. Be prepared because law school is rosier but the afterlife is a bit tough. My first mantra would be doing thorough research and self-introspection. Take some time, go to the hills, take one month, two months, three months, but then when you stick to it, stick to it, and then give your best shot to it, whatever it might be. It is all about how you analyze yourself and what you make out of yourself. Do thorough research, and then make your path.
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Disclaimer – All views and opinions expressed in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the LAABh Foundation or the individuals and institutions associated with LAABh Foundation.