Attorney and small business expert Delisha J. Grant says if “your product is perfect when you launched it, you did it wrong.”
With a focus on startup companies, Grant regularly counsels entrepreneurs through her private practice, which launched February 2012, and her company’s corporate contribution, The WeBelieve Initiative, which began just this year. The project is a community-based campaign designed to offer support to startups and entrepreneurs and follows her firm’s credo: “Where legal representation meets inspiration and community.”
“At the end of the day, before I am a lawyer, I am a business owner. And I started thinking that everyone starts somewhere and I began to explore ways to launch The Initiative so that I could offer resources that have really helped me along the way,” she says.
Grant says she believes in doing law differently and wants to offer not only legal counsel to the community but also resources that help startups become viable.
While Grant admits she doesn’t have all the answers, she said she started from the bottom up and learned.
“If you have something to bring to the table don’t be afraid to get your ideas off the ground,” she says. “And that’s what my practice and The Initiative is here for – to look beyond the billable hour and find more innovative ways to advise and support our clients.”
MadameNoire: What’s the most important thing your business does?
Delisha J. Grant: My law office helps startup businesses and high growth businesses with legal information, contracts, and trademarks – really core legal services. The WeBelieve Initiative is a community-based campaign that designed to offer support to startups and entrepreneurs. So both my law practice and the Initiative pretty much go hand-in-hand. Both entities allow me to meet people and talk to them about their [business] ideas and witness their excitement. And while that initial excitement is what drives businesses, sometimes that excitement blinds business from their business model’s red flags. I figure out how to mitigate that risk. Sometimes there isn’t a model that you can follow and it’s imperative to know what areas in your startup business can lead to a lawsuit. So we really take pride in helping someone launch an idea – and launch it safely so it’s not lost in a settlement somewhere down the road. Being able to mitigate risk and insulate clients from risk is the most important thing we can do for our clients.
MN: What did you do before?
DG: I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I got my start by taking a corporate job with Johnson & Johnson and interned with them for a number of years and I liked the corporate atmosphere. I also worked in sales and business development for a global consumer and pharmaceutical products company.
After that, I [got] an offer at a multi-national law firm and it was the best experience I could have gotten because it was horrible. I worked as a paralegal and I just knew it was not for me. I decided to pursue law school (The George Washington University Law School) anyway. I passed the New York bar exam and ended up doing freelance work and took advantage of a summer internship at a large firm. I ended up being offered a great job at a prominent firm but I turned it down.
It was during the middle of the recession and people thought I was crazy. I ended up moving back north from DC without a plan and I just started making contacts. I ended up getting a job at a much smaller firm that I had initially worked at in the past. I had entrepreneurial dreams and they understood that. I was in the trenches, and I continue to be in the trenches but I have a passion, a good mix of knowledge, and a nurturing motivation that drove me to be an attorney and also gave me the ability to work with other entrepreneurs and to help them achieve their own dreams.
MN: How big is your staff? Has your staff grown since starting out?
DG: Right now I am the only full-time employee, but I have two interns and a part-time business development and operations coordinator. My goal now is to move the practice from a local small law firm, to a full-service outfit for innovative companies. I also have visions on more creative involvement and community involvement.
MN: How has the market changed since your business started?
DG: There is a larger focus on the startup community here in New York. It definitely was not booming the way it is now. Part of the catalyst to this is that there is more government support and initiatives are being created by the government and resources – such as office space – which is becoming more available. This has motivated people to take the lead and follow their dreams. The job market is still not great but it accelerates the idea that dreams can be pursued in [lieu of a job]. I have seen the phone ringing a lot more in my practice and I have seen things accelerate a lot in the last six months and that has to do with the changing market and laying the proper foundation.
MN: What are your plans for your business’ future?
DG: Well as far as The WeBelieve Initiative, we will present “Haircuts, Highlights, & Headshots (H3)” at the Alex Anthony Salon this coming September. A team of hairstylists will be providing free haircuts to attendees. There will also be makeup artists on hand to touch up participants before they take their headshots, which professional photographers will be taking on site. The images will then be provided in digital format free of charge. We will also be planning personal training events, free fitness/cardio classes, yoga events, and healthcare initiatives. It’s so important to make sure you are in optimal health and we are also working on a healthcare panel.
Another thing I am working on is to have a monthly “Coffee Clutch.” The event would allow me to meet with budding entrepreneurs who literally have just a business idea. If they want to meet with me and have a conversation about their ideas and get some direction I will make the time to do that. I want to donate my time and my knowledge and this is the perfect way to do that in a controlled environment and time frame.
MN: What’s your most memorable moment with this business?
DG: There was a week that I had two deals fall through. I lost one client all in the same week. It was the first time I felt like I made the wrong decision by leaving my job. But, then the phone rang and it was someone who had been referred to me. So what I learned was that bad things are going to happen. Sometimes they happen in rapid succession. But it shows that you never know what’s around the corner and that is the beauty of being an entrepreneur.
MN: Does being a business owner of color – and also a woman – affect how your business runs?
DG: I don’t want to be limited to the urban community. And I don’t want to be seen as the Black lawyer that only serves Black clients because that isn’t true. But I do know that there is a need for information and services that I can provide in our demographics. So if I can leverage information and bring it to the wider community then I see a value in that. It makes me excited to see what comes.
MN: What advice do you have for someone starting out in business?
DG: I would tell them to know when they need to rest and when to reinvent themselves. I have found that when you have a vision that you are passionate about, sometimes you need to make a judgment and pivot so that you are hitting your target adequately. You also must see failure as a lesson and an indicator of changes you need to make. Also, I talk to clients a lot about positioning because I have clients that have had great ideas that go nowhere because they lack belief in themselves. I’ve seen others with mediocre ideas that have gotten funding and gone further because you can’t tell them they won’t. You need to have a level of unwavering belief in your own ability and success.