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A retrospective on the Montreal chapter, Winter 2020/2021.  #FIworldwide

I took the road less travelled. A few years ago, I was a senior I.T. consultant and the contracts kept coming. Already well into my early retirement plan, I decided to go back to school and start a new career. I know I am not the only person who has done this, but most of my engineering peers advised me against “throwing away a line of well-paying gigs”. With a bit of fate and lots of free will, I got my law degree. Now what? Everyone who graduated with me has become a lawyer.

I took the road less travelled, again. I noticed how law firms were so 1990’s and showed everyone my software proof of concept (POC) to improve the status quo. Most lawyers told me it was a good idea but none of them would pay for it. A normal person would have moved on. But I continued to build the POC into a failed minimal viable product (MVP). Meanwhile, I got interested in AI and Law and kept on studying. Note that a master’s in law is for interest only; it will not in any way advance a career in law unless maybe I also do a Ph.D.

Fast-forward to three MVPs and three pre-seed accelerators later, and thanks to the advice of many mentors, we now have paying customers and a dedicated team to support them. Our platform is not yet complete, and revenue is modest, but we have a blueprint to ride a long runway. And “just like that”, my company Aidia Legal graduated from FI Montreal. It is almost pretentious to call it mine as many individuals have helped shape and build it.

My experience at FI has been humbling and rewarding. Allow me to share with you what I learned. Disclaimer: my view is relevant to my reality and does not mean it will apply to anyone else.

Sell before we build. This one seems obvious; we have heard much about Eric Ries’ Lean Startup. But to learn it first-hand is costly and makes a long-lasting impression. I have spent endless effort and time on features that did not sell! They did not sell because they were not what the customers needed! How do I know what they need? No wonder software start-ups should do only two things: code and talk to customers.

Keep the big vision a secret. Don’t get me wrong: have a gigantic vision. But refrain from advertising it because others do not have access to the mental dots that take us there. Not only will they not understand, but they will also think that we are crazy, unrealistic, or stupid. Instead, walk the immediate steps like an ant.

Avoid insanity. The best way to do so is to let the world run around while we stand still. We live in a fast-paced and distracting world already; though it is true that entrepreneurs must “hustle and bustle”, standing still to look inward provides clarity while the rest of the world can get lost.

Clarity is key. Because words are not what they mean. We will receive all kinds of advice from people having all sorts of experiences.  The ability to decipher what they mean and where they come from not only benefits the company but also prevents us from acting defensively. The opinion of an individual is entirely a function of their experience. Therefore, developing an analytical mind is paramount.  A great way to become an independent thinker is to read a lot on a variety of subjects. Leaders and Readers.

In hindsight, pursuing entrepreneurship is a lot like pursuing art. Having moonlighted as a visual performance artist for more than 10 years and almost quit my day job, I can equate art with entrepreneurship in a handful of ways.

  1. Pitching is a performance. We must conquer stage fright.
  2. We will be lonely because not everyone understands Key Performance Index (KPI), just like not everyone understands harmonics.
  3. Self-doubt is an everyday struggle.
  4. Scarcity makes us resourceful, and we must improvise.
  5. Over 90% of the population doesn’t “make” it. So it’s best to do it for the process.

The entrepreneurial journey continues after graduation. From now on, I would like to approach entrepreneurship with the same qualities I have developed in artistic pursuits: perseverance, resilience, and patience. I look forward to meeting fellow “artists” out there on roads less travelled.

In conclusion, I would have to agree with the poet:

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.”

   – Excerpt of “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost