Article originally published in the American City Business Journals on October 31, 2017
One of the best parts of my job as a columnist is writing about and providing guidance to young entrepreneurs. In addition to watching them develop their businesses, I have the privilege of watching them grow both personally and professionally.
Entrepreneurs see a world full of possibilities and abundance, versus some people who see only a world of limitations and scarcity. Entrepreneurs are not afraid to pivot — that is, change direction if what they are pursuing proves not to be viable. Entrepreneurs sometimes fail, but they pick themselves up and keep moving forward.
Entrepreneurs also know how to take responsible risks and de-risk their initiatives. They work outside their comfort zones. Frequently, they invent and develop products and services that people don’t yet know they need.
One such entrepreneur is Maggie Treuting, CEO of LawDecoder and a June 2016 graduate of Drexel University with B.S. degrees in marketing, entrepreneurship and management information systems. Currently, Treuting and her team work out of the Baiada Institute, an incubator and resource center at Drexel University’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship.
LawDecoder is an app that serves as an information aggregator, providing resources and information to individuals searching for a solution to their legal issues. After using LawDecoder, if an individual would like to further consult with an attorney, the app serves up options for attorneys with the appropriate specialty.
“LawDecoder strives to empower the public by educating individuals about their legal rights,” Treuting said. “We use smart search technology to help users articulate their legal issue and then produce ‘plain English’ translations of the statutes relevant to their problem through artificial intelligence.
“When a user arrives at the LawDecoder website,” Treuting added, “they choose their legal issue from a menu of topics. The app then provides information on their issue in understandable language.”
Use of the LawDecoder app is free. Currently as many as 18,000 people visit the app each day. Revenue is generated, Treuting said, from attorneys advertising on the website.
The app currently focuses on real estate, immigration, cannabis use, privacy law and, soon, family law. The site is populated with legal information by law students under the supervision of a practicing attorney.
LawDecoder also provides content for startups. Entrepreneurs have many questions about getting their businesses up and running, including questions on how to incorporate, protection of intellectual property, and what should be included in partnership agreements.
I asked Treuting what drove her to be an entrepreneur. She said, “During my first six-month co-op job [as a Drexel student], I tried the corporate environment but didn’t really like it. In a subsequent co-op job, I had the opportunity to work at Dreamit Ventures, a growth-focused accelerator designed for startups with market-ready products. I found the work interesting and very rewarding, working with passionate people building their businesses.
“At the time,” she added, “I had some issues with my landlord and wished I had a source of legal information to guide me. I wondered how other people addressed their legal issues. This was the basis of developing the idea for LawDecoder.”
I asked Treuting what are the traits of a successful entrepreneur. She replied, “Passion for the business you are building. Entrepreneurs need to want to get up every single day and do this. They need to be optimistic that problems can be overcome. They need to have the ability to push through impediments.
“Entrepreneurs need to recognize that they don’t know it all and need to surround themselves with experienced and knowledgeable people with a variety of skill sets,” she added. “Entrepreneurs need the ability to ask people for guidance. The worst they will say is no. Most people will help; it’s their way of giving back.
“Entrepreneurs need to understand that the first thing they try is probably not the best thing, and that they need to learn to adapt. Entrepreneurs need to learn how to fail, and start again. They need to listen to the market and adjust their value proposition if needed. Entrepreneurs need the ability to sell their idea not only to the marketplace, but also to potential investors.”
I asked Joan Lau, founder and managing partner at Militia Hill Ventures, to describe the traits she sees in the entrepreneurs with whom she interfaces. Militia Hill is an innovation hub that provides space and resources to life sciences companies to develop and grow.
Lau’s responses were consistent with those of Treuting. Said Lau, “I see entrepreneurs who are extraordinarily passionate about solving a problem that they have encountered or seen and are singularly-minded in providing a solution to solve that problem. They will stop at nearly nothing to try to bring something forward that benefits society. These are people who want to make a difference.
“I also see in these people a strong, inquisitive nature, Lau said. “They are receptive to feedback, suggestions and advice from others who are also entrepreneurs or who are subject experts in the area. I also see people who get back up and try again when they run into adversity. Most importantly, entrepreneurs should have fun developing and growing their businesses.”
There is no other career path that exposes an individual right out of school to the broad span of business responsibilities and challenges than that of an entrepreneur.
Even if one eventually works for an established company, the mindset and skills learned as an entrepreneur are invaluable to an individual’s success. It sets them apart from others and is a significant differentiator that will help that individual compete for a promotion or their next job.
Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership. He is a speaker, advisor and nationally syndicated writer on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. Silverman earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering and an MBA degree from Drexel University. He is also an alumnus of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.