Entrepreneurs Through the Eyes of a Lawyer (Matt McKinney)
I’m a lawyer based in Boulder. I’ve represented tech companies in the Boulder entrepreneurial community for almost 10 years. This site has many blog posts on why Boulder is special, covering various perspectives. I wanted to share a couple observations from my vantage point as an adviser to tech companies.
I suppose I’m an entrepreneur in some sense of the word – I started my own law firm about 2 years ago – Stack McKinney Law Group – with another lawyer, Michael Stack. However, in the Boulder community, I use term “entrepreneur” sparingly and sheepishly in regards to myself. Forming a law firm is easy. Getting the law degree is the hard part. And that’s not particularly hard with the roughly 200 law schools in the United States. After the degree, you form an LLC and from there you really just need a phone, a computer, and an Internet connection. Voila. A law firm is born.
I suppose that’s a little bit over-simplified. I did take a risk, albeit a fairly calculated one with minimal downside. I quit a job. I put up a bit of my family’s saving. I took a leap of faith that I could sell services, create a brand, gain clients, and ultimately get paid. But compared to the hearty souls I’m proud to call my clients, that was a walk in the park. I had no product development cycle. I waited 45 days to get revenue. I didn’t have to worry about protecting IP. I share this background because every so often a lawyer, or even a non-lawyer, will say “wow, you started your own firm – that sure was risky.” And I say, “thanks, I guess so.” But I think “what I did was nothing compared to the risk and sacrifice of my clients.” This post is a small shout out of admiration and respect to those in the community who really put themselves out there to chase a dream or solve a problem.
The stereotypical tech entrepreneur is the college drop out (see M. Zuckerberg) or recent college grad (see E. Musk) hopped up on Cheetos and Red Bull in a dark basement or garage. Nothing to lose, but everything to gain. Reality, at least in my experience around here, is different. Sure, I’ve seen the stereotype in living color, but I’ve also seen the 2 middle aged family men who gave up comfortable middle management careers to start a software company, bootstrap it themselves, putting retirement and college savings in jeopardy, and finding themselves running a 25 person software company 5 years later. I know at least 2 tech companies started by married couples with kids. They put it all on the line – savings, credit cards, mortgages. Surely there were heartfelt conversations with spouses. They took the plunge. Then the newly married couple who threw caution into the wind and jumped into the entrepreneurial world feet first just weeks after getting married to start their software company. In other words, these entrepreneurs had everything to lose.
So I’m constantly humbled by the risks entrepreneurs take and the choices they make. Many do, in fact, have lots to lose, in term of money, time and family.
While risk-taking and tough decision making define all entrepreneurs, I love seeing their differences. At least in the greater Boulder area, and in my experience, entrepreneurship is not limited or confined by stereotypes or bias: age, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, religion seem to play no role in the greater entrepreneurial community in and around Boulder. What does play a role across all of these founders and entrepreneurs are the innate or learned qualities you’ve surely read elsewhere on this blog: a willingness to identify and fix a problem, and high risk threshold, a visceral perseverance to keep going in the face of and even after defeat. While I’ll be the first to admit that the community could always be more diverse by many measures, I’m impressed by the general inclusiveness of the community. So to the extent I’m an entrepreneur in my own, little way, I’m proud to share that moniker with the truly imaginative, visionary, bighearted founders and entrepreneurs who make this community the wonderful place that it is.
Matt McKinney is a Partner at Stack McKinney Law Group.