Ashwin is a graduate of National Law University, Jodhpur, batch of 2012. He is an avid fan of martial arts and a bit of a nerd. After working as a lawyer for 8 years, he quit his job in 2019 and started a fantasy sports startup that is focused on combat sports called Fight Forecaster.
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? What extra-curricular and co-curricular activities were you involved in?
Law school was mainly a lot of fun for me. I remember that I took it very seriously in my first semester and then not at all for the remainder of the course. It’s astounding the amount of free-time that we had when I look back even though it didn’t necessarily feel like it back then. I spent most of my extra-curricular time playing basketball and participated very little in things like moot courts and debates. I attended a few quizzes once in a while.
Mostly, college was a great time to experiment, read, binge-watch stuff and reflect.
Q. After Law School, you worked extensively in the legal field. Now you’re running your own startup and you’re a Fellow at the Startup Leadership Program! Did you ever envision this while at law school or even right after graduation?
Running a startup was always at the back of my mind because I was a huge fan of Paul Graham and his essays. Along the way, I also became a big fan of a few other entrepreneurs, mainly Peter Thiel, but I was never 100% sure that I was going to start something of my own. In fact, for the large part of my career, I had sort of written the entire thing off as a pipe dream and assumed that I probably would settle for a law firm job. It took a health crisis coupled with disillusionment about the workplace to let me finally take the plunge.
Quite frankly, I had a lot of plans set-up for the remainder of my law-firm career that I abandoned.
Q. Could you tell us a little bit about your initiative ‘Fight Forecaster’ – A mobile based fantasy sports and prediction application for MMA fans? What was the inspiration/motivation behind the same? What does a typical day in your life look like?
When I first quit to start Fight Forecaster, I had no idea how big the fantasy sports industry was. Dream11 was just one floor above my workspace and I knew they were making a lot of money based largely off a cricket base. They achieved unicorn status and out of curiosity I read up about the landmark judgments through which they were paving the way for fantasy sports startups.
Being a mixed martial arts (MMA) fan I immediately began to think of the possibilities of a fantasy game that could be tailored for MMA. I noticed that there was already some very early competition, but saw a few areas of improvement. I borrowed concepts from Phillip Tetlock’s Superforecasters’ book and tweaked it around so as to be adaptable to MMA. The same principles are used by the US Intelligence community to evaluate their analysts.
However only after quitting my job did I fully grasp the scale at which the industry had already grown and was continuing to grow. Books by Albert Chen and Jay Correia both opened my eyes as well as validated a lot of the suspicions I already had and are worth reading especially if you want to get into the fantasy sports business.
Q. How did you go about setting up Fight Forecaster? Was the process of career change a difficult one? What factors did you take into consideration before making the switch?
As of this writing, the decision to shift out of the law firm life and into this line of work is one of the best (if not the best) decisions that I’ve made. The process was difficult because there is a huge credibility gap when a career lawyer moves into a tech startup with no technical background or skills. Initially I tried to rope in a few engineers I knew, but later decided to proceed with developing an application through a third party. I’ve had some mixed luck with that so far. I have a number of other features that are in the pipeline many of which are highly promising.
Q. What were some of the challenges that you faced as a part of the process of making a career switch from the legal field and how did you overcome them?
Mostly the challenges were (1) psychological; (2) skill-gap challenges. The psychological part was a bit more clear cut to me on how to proceed even if the process itself was hard (which is the main advantage of having life experience), but the skill-gap challenge is much harder because it’s linked to prioritizing activities in a startup. For example, should you learn to run and manage campaigns and campaign budgets or should you learn to code or should you learn user-interface design. The answer usually works out to be something along the lines of becoming good enough at all of them to talk about them in some intelligent manner and then work with people who really know what they are doing. It takes a long time to develop sufficient enough mastery at one skill to be commercially proficient at it.
I am not sure I’ve fully succeeded in either, but to be fair both are continuous processes rather than discrete goals.
Q. Has your legal background helped you in anyway in your current professional journey? Are there any unexpected skills that you brought in from law school to your career today?
Yes, the legal background has helped me but in a rather indirect way. Lawyers are a rare commodity in the startup world and offering other founders legal assistance has earned me a lot of good karma. Most people advised me to do this for a fee and to value time, but I have found that in the medium to long term, the kindness that people show in response is worth a lot more. However, and while I’m sure this isn’t the answer that most of your readers want to hear, there aren’t any specific skills beyond the soft social skills that you pick up as a lawyer which you don’t automatically pick-up working long enough in other professions too.
One thing which may surprise a few readers is a little counter to the popular narrative around negotiating. When I worked as an in-house lawyer, I’ve been in multiple negotiations, far far more than any of my law-firm counterparts and I’ve noticed that resolving discussions with alternative arrangements (and coming up with these arrangements) is a far more useful skill than being hard-nosed and stubborn about numbers. Too much of an emphasis is put on these things (both in legal circles and large companies) and the truth is that they lead nowhere and are not the hallmark of a good negotiator.
Q. Most of our readers are students of the law or are law graduates. What advice do you have for those who want to take up a career based on their passion but feel limited to the conventional career options in the legal field?
You need to either develop an appetite for risk or an appetite for stress. Having an appetite for risk is self-explanatory, you simply leave the law and try your hand at something and see if it works out. If it doesn’t then well that’s where your risk management and appetite for risk comes in.
The other route is to develop an appetite for stress, where in addition to what you’re doing as a lawyer, you’re setting challenging goals for yourself in the field that you want to venture into. Once you develop sufficient skills and see a viable path ahead, go and make the switch.
Which way you want to go is entirely dependent on your personality and circumstances.
One thing worth mentioning here is that the number of options that are available are far more abundant than what seems obvious. The biggest problem with the law firm circles is that it is very myopic.
Thanks to the internet and the number of online resources, it is entirely possible and even practical to re-tool and re-skill yourself even before taking the plunge and this would be advice that I would give myself if I could go back in time.
Find out more about Ashwin Viswanathan –
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn (personal)
- Website: Website
- Twitter: Twitter (personal)
- Instagram: Instagram (Fight Forecaster)
- Facebook: Facebook (Fight Forecaster)
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.