Leaving Law for Tech Start-Ups
Russell Lakey practiced law for three years before launching his first tech start-up, Babafoo. He later sold it and moved on to start his current company, QwkPic. QwkPic is a mobile app that allows people to get an iPhone photographer on demand, and get the high-quality photos sent directly to their smartphone.
The Road to Law School
Russell took some time off after finishing college to figure out what his next step would be. At the time he was working at his uncle’s law office and had many friends who were going to law school. He never had a strong interest in law but he read about successful people with law degrees that never practiced. This made him believe law school would be a valuable experience and an opportunity to have more time to find his passion.
“I didn’t have an interest or passion for the law but I needed something to do and it gave me another 3 years to figure it out, while gaining a useful skill.”
After law school, Russell went into product liability at an Arizona firm. He did not enjoy working at a firm but nonetheless practiced for almost three years. He then moved to a smaller size firm thinking that the size might have been a factor in his disinterest. Of course Russell quickly realized that he wanted to leave law regardless of the firm size.
“I stuck it out for a few years but I definitely wanted to do something more creative.”
Russell quit after he decided to start a technology company with his friend John Karavas.
Russell had played college basketball and John played college baseball so they were both very familiar with the recruiting process of high school athletes to college teams. They thought of the idea for an online platform where an athlete can showcase themselves and get their information out there to the colleges they were interested in.
It was called Babafoo and it was a site similar to LinkedIn but specifically for athletes and colleges. The company consisted of the business partners, a small development team, and temporary marketers to help promote them in their busy season.
“You learn as you go. We just worked and fumbled our way through.”
Russell was responsible for the business side of things. He did the marketing, hiring, raising funds, etc. while John handled the tech side. After five years of running the company, they decided to merge with a data aggravation website and move on in their careers.
Taking on a New Role
At this time Russell had the idea for QwkPic while backpacking alone in Europe. While sightseeing, Russell would often need to trust strangers with his cell phone to take a picture of him, which was uncomfortable to do. In addition to that, there would often be an exchange of photo-taking and the pictures were mediocre in quality. This made him think about how great it would be to have someone there to take a few good quality pictures and have them sent automatically to your smartphone.
He discussed this idea with his friend and now business partner, River Korn. River had a similar experience while attending a football game with family and not being able to take a group photo. They both saw the demand for this service but it wasn’t until they thought of having photographers stationed at high tourist areas that they realized this could be viable for both customer and photographer.
QwkPic works as an on-demand service, not dissimilar to Uber. They have designated zones in Los Angeles where the photographers can set up and if the customer is within a set radius, the photographer will come to them. The photographers have the flexibility to work whenever they want to and can do so just by turning on their application!
Russell and River started thinking about and planning QwkPic in 2015, and they officially launched less than a year ago. They have hundreds of photographers in the Los Angeles area and are growing daily. Their next step is to partner with some festivals in the coming months and offer customers private photo shoots at these events.
Russell, already having learned so much in running his previous start-up, was much more prepared to launch QwkPic. He believes his law background has heightened his attention to detail and helped him in the way he tackles business problems. He also has the research skills to look and apply information about the industry, the market and the competition.
“Law is very structured but the start-up world is very fast-paced. There is no clear-cut straight and narrow path.”
Russell noted that his law background did help his career, but it is by no means necessary for being a successful businessman. He simply used and applied the knowledge he had and learned everything else by trial and error.
For those wondering or considering leaving law, Russell’s advice is to go for it. He states that there will never be a perfect time and the last thing you want is to look back 20 years from now and wonder what would have happened if you took a chance.
“A lawyer is in the best position to take a chance because you’re able to do things on the side, freelance and do whatever else you can to stay afloat.”