Interview Corner

LAABh – Interview with Mr. Sanjay Krishna

Sanjay Krishna is currently building WorldWise.in, an early stage EdTech startup. He spent the last two years working with Khaitan & Co. as a part of their Corporate and M&A team after having graduated from National Law University, Jodhpur in 2018. Sanjay’s law school experience was immensely rewarding as it allowed him to travel extensively, meet new people and continue to pursue childhood interests like sport, quizzing and debating while also dabbling in other co-curricular events. Sanjay now spends most of his free time playing and watching sports, quizzing, reading and writing his newsletter.

Q. It’s a pleasure to have you here with us! Could you tell us a little bit about your life before going to law school? How would you describe all the activities you undertook while in school and leading into law school, how did those activities assist you there?

That’s an interesting question! As a kid, I always wanted to be a professional sportsperson. I took my sport fairly seriously, and part of me wanted to take it up full time. Through the process of playing a bunch of sports, I stumbled into a sports quiz. I ended up doing well at the quiz and that’s where I caught the quizzing bug.

I quickly started attending numerous quizzes, and a lot of my friends happened to be quizzing/sporting teammates at the time. Now these were also people who were into debating and so peer pressure struck, and I started debating too. I then ended up hearing the typical trope that if you’re a good debater- go to law school. That got me curious.

So now the idea was planted in my head.  Law school seemed like a cool idea so decided to figure out how I could make it to law school. My search brought me to CLAT and it seemed like an exam that suited me because it has a lot of components that generally interested me like logical reasoning, GK etc. and it focussed on speed. Plus my dreadful handwriting couldn’t be factored against me.  I was sold on the exam.

So now while I was still in school (in the 11th grade probably), I spoke to a bunch of friends studying in various law schools and they introduced me to the ‘Speluncean Explorers’.  That was one of those things that generally got me hooked onto law.

So how I ended up choosing law as a career was actually pretty complex.  The backstory was long and winding but that’s essentially how I got there. I would say that the decision paid off, because my five years in law school were extremely rewarding.

Q. You went to National Law University, Jodhpur, one of the most prestigious law schools in the country, how would you say it shaped your outlook towards law and the profession? Do you think that your college and the activities associated with it played a major role in helping you become who you are today?

I absolutely loved my law school experience. But if I may make a loaded statement while answering your question here, I don’t think law school necessarily prepares you for the legal industry. So even though I went to a great law school, I don’t think law school was particularly outstanding in the sense that I still think there’s a huge gap between what the industry demands and what law school teaches you.  Classroom learning in law school is great if you want to join academia. However, from an industry standpoint (whether you work at a law firm, or litigation) it isn’t ideal, to say the least.

That being said, I still derived incredible value from those five years. One reason for this is that my peer group was outstanding, and a lot of my friends in NLU Jodhpur are doing really well for themselves. Being surrounded by ambitious people is a huge plus.

Another thing that I liked was that academics weren’t particularly stressful at NLU Jodhpur, at least according to me. The freedom this gave me was incredible. I travelled extensively, and I am not sure these opportunities would necessarily exist elsewhere.

The other huge benefit was that the sense of community at NLU Jodhpur was fantastic. Reaching out to alumni is extremely easy and that network is something that isn’t talked about enough.

Q. Did you enjoy law school extra-curricular activities such as debates, moots, quizzes, etc.? How important would you rate extra-curricular activities in law schools in shaping your outlook as an entrepreneur?

I don’t think this has a straight answer. Have they added tremendous value to my life? Yes. I do think that these activities teach you fundamental skills (like public speaking and lateral thinking). These are skills that you will apply almost every day once you join the industry. Some of these skills (like public speaking) are useful, irrespective of what line you choose to enter.

I think a lot of students look at co-curriculars as a means to an end and I don’t think that’s the right approach. I am not a huge fan of the concept of “CV Value”. If you are doing things just for the certificates, odds are that you won’t necessarily do it well. The harsh reality is that if you don’t do it well, people don’t really care.

The approach should be to do something if you really enjoy doing it. For example, I really enjoyed quizzing, debating, playing tennis, and ADR and I enjoyed relative success only because I really enjoyed doing these activities.

I also believe that one should not sacrifice grades for the extra-curriculars. Truth be told, I never had great grades. But grades remain your ultimate insurance policy. I had figured out pretty early that (a) academia was not for me; and (b) I was not clear if I wanted a job straight out of law school. That’s how I rationalised having grades that were above average, but nowhere close to good. But with the benefit of hindsight, I would not necessarily recommend that.

Ultimately, good grades get you into most rooms. Job interviews, further studies, all of that. Are they the only route to make it. Of course not. But good grades are probably the easiest/ safest route.

Q. What are some of the most important things that made you choose the path of entrepreneurship? How did you come up with the idea of your start-up?

There are a couple of factors.

For starters, I actually really enjoyed my time at Khaitan & Co. I learnt a lot and met some incredible people. But, after two years of work, I wanted to push my boundaries both creatively and otherwise. During my team at Khaitan, I got to work with a number of entrepreneurs who were solving big problems like public mobility, sustainability, food wastage and so on. Their approach to problem solving had a big role in inspiring me to take the plunge for sure.

WorldWise started with trying to fix fundamental problems with the Indian education system. Issues critical thinking not being taught. So far we have had one or two attempts at trying to fix the “education problem” and we are still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. So in terms of the specific idea of (a) what we’re building, and (b) how that acts as a solution that the market likes/ needs is evolving very fast.

Q. What elements do you think one should factor in while considering a start-up?

There were a couple of things that framed my decision making:

One, I come from a background of financial privilege.  This meant that I could afford to take risk at the age of 24. This decision would be a lot harder for me to take aged 30. But at 24, when you have enough savings in your bank account, it’s a lot easier to take risks.

The thing with entrepreneurship is that 90% of start-ups fail. Stories of entrepreneurship are filled with survivorship bias and its important to be cognisant of how real the risk are.  I took this call knowing that I wanted to this risk.

The second factor is that part of me realised that I don’t want to trade my time for money. Working in a law firm is very time intensive and I wanted to build something that would allow me to earn without my time also. Its an approach that puts most service industries (including most of the legal profession) at risk. This prompted me to transition towards product and away from the service industry.

The last thing is that I always felt passionate about solving problems. This allowed me to do that. That’s part of why I loved the law too. You could use it as a tool to solve issues. But entrepreneurship allows me to opportunity of trying to do this at scale.

Q. Being a new startup founder often comes with a lot of fears and setbacks, how can a new founder combat those? What would you like to say to a person who wants to become an entrepreneur but is afraid to incur the risk associated with it?

For one, I don’t think everyone should do it.  I think you should do it only if you are ready to take the risk.  Entrepreneurship is brutal. The market does not care what creds you have. You don’t get rewarded for a good attempt. It is about solving a real problem, and it does not matter which college you went to or where you worked. So, unless you want to take the risk don’t do it.  The odds of success are low. I only took it because (a) it felt right to take some risk, and (b) I was passionate about what I wanted to solve.

The second thing is that taking risk is easier when you have enough of an insurance policy (like I mentioned below). That stability made it a lot easier to take this risk. I know that this isn’t true for everybody.

Ultimately, the decision to go into entrepreneurship is truly a personal one. What I will say though is that law schools in our country are such that you have a lot of time and I don’t personally think it’s true that academics are that stressful. If you are studying law and are considering entrepreneurship, the best time to do it is while you are in law school where you can get a college side hustle going. It’s something I regret not doing because that way I could have learnt really quickly. The reason I say that is because reading all the business books in the world does not prepare you for how working with actual people is like.

So for readers who are considering entrepreneurship, just run something of your own and build a small product and that’s the way to go because that would give you a sense of whether you are cut out for it and whether you enjoy the process and the hustle that comes with it. Or join an early stage start-up. Most startups (us included) are more than happy to get more hands-on deck.

Q. What are your thoughts on making your passion your choice of career? What would be your parting messages for our readers?

I think a lot of people really romanticise this idea of working for passion. For instance, I know a lot of people who love sports. Its understandable, because that’s often how I made friends. A lor of us thought about working in sport. A select few are now working in sports law/ management and are really happy.  At the same time, there are others who aren’t.  Niche fields are often harder to break into, and may not be as financially rewarding.

Now why do I like working for something that I am passionate about? It’s because I don’t complain when I work Saturday nights. That’s the biggest advantage if you are excited about your work. I cam across this really nice Japanese Philosophy called Ikigai which is a nice way to make choices.  Here’s an image that can help.

 

A couple of closing comments from my side would be:

One, law school is a massive bubble. People chase similar goals. Often without knowing why they are chasing them. People will also tell you that there is a formula to surviving/ winning at law school. I think that is bogus. There isn’t a formula for law school. There are no “mandatory things” that you have to do in law school.  So for those of you still reading this, if anyone tries to tell you that there is a formula to “hacking law school”, ignore it. Does that mean that there’s no good advice. Of course not. Just that question the reasoning behind each piece of advice you get, before buying into narratives blindly.

Two, I think law school is filled with stereotypes that need to be broken. Too many students make decisions based on stereotypes.  Students pre-emptively glorify/ vilify certain decisions based on these notions and that’s dangerous. For instance, my co-founder Saahil and I fundamentally disagree on things like which biryani we like.  Career decisions are similar. So if someone tells you that XYZ is boring/ fun/ epic, they may be well intentioned, but in most cases that’s not going to add value. Try things out yourself. That’s the best way to take decisions.

Lastly, don’t be afraid. If you can’t ask for what you want, odds are you won’t get it. In a fairly competitive field, don’t be afraid to write emails to people, or reach out to them for advice. You’ll be surprised as to how many people will help out. I documented one such example in the first edition of my newsletter , when I wrote to Dr. Tharoor to help me get a visa. This does not just apply to visas but to everything in law school (including internships). Being fearless is the way to go.

Find out more about Mr. Sanjay Krishna-

Visit: https://the3ts.substack.com/p/edition-1-how-a-cold-email-got-me

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