The Hong Kong native tells us about her pursuit of entrepreneurship, her plans to use tech to transform Asia’s legal industry and what it’s like being a female entrepreneur in this global business capital.
Ryanne Lai is a Hong Kong native whose company, Dragon Law, delivers legal services to small and medium-sized businesses through an online platform. While Lai, who is a lawyer, never expected to be an entrepreneur, she was open to the possibilities around her — and grabbed a business opportunity she saw to bring more technology to the legal world.
We visited her to hear about starting a company in Hong Kong and expanding it across Asia. She also spoke with us about being a woman entrepreneur and the business challenges she’s facing today.
This interview was originally published on Prabha Dublish’s blog featuring international women entrepreneurs. Edited excerpts of the interview follow
Can you tell us more about Dragon Law?
Dragon Law is a legal services platform. We provide template contracts online for businesses to modify and file themselves. They can use our technology and DIY contracts without needing to go to a lawyer. If they need help, they can come to us and we try to support them with our in-house support or connect them to lawyers who can provide more support. Our mission is to provide access to best-quality legal services that are convenient and transparent.
Did you ever expect to be an entrepreneur?
I was always open to new possibilities and challenges. I always wanted to do something that I could have more impact on. I felt there are many people who are smarter than me, but not many who understand how technology can change the legal landscape like I do, given my legal background. And since not many people have the privilege of taking the plunge to become an entrepreneur, I took the plunge.
Who are your target customers?
We currently target small and medium-sized businesses. Over time, we slowly transitioned to more established businesses that need legal support. These businesses are more hidden away than startups because they are already stable and growing and they have their own way of doing things. One of our challenges is getting in touch with these businesses and educating them. Some think legal protection is not needed and that lawyers cost too much.
Do you see many tech startups selling to businesses?
Most businesses target consumers rather than businesses, but in recent years, I am starting to see more B2B [business-to-business] services as well. For example, PR services can be broken down and bundled to be sold online. The government supports fin-tech a lot, but law-tech is still quite rare in Hong Kong and Asia — maybe because lawyers are more traditional and don’t use technology as much.
Why Hong Kong?
I’m born and raised here. I’m one of the few local entrepreneurs. Some of our co-founders came from the U.K., and our team has more than 20 nationalities. We have 40 to 50 people on the team.
Did you ever feel gender discrimination being a female entrepreneur?
I have to say that I am quite lucky. In Hong Kong, I don’t feel discrimination as much, and maybe it is because I am a lawyer, so people will listen to and respect me . People tend to look up to lawyers, doctors, etc. I think I was quite lucky to have gone through the law firm path and then started a business. If I had just graduated from university, it would have been much harder. Gender bias at Dragon Law doesn’t exist; we look at people’s abilities here.
I have many friends who are male, and they say that I’m lucky that I’m a female entrepreneur because the media is more focused on us. One of the perks of being a female entrepreneur is that they will notice you because you are less in number. Having a female entrepreneur as an interview subject leads to more engagement on social media as well. There’s an implicit focus on women entrepreneurs over their male counterparts, but there isn’t a large gender-equality movement like in the United States.
What are some of the challenges that Dragon Law is facing?
I think there are two challenges. One is hiring. It’s a long-term problem because it’s hard to get people who are dedicated. So far, we’ve been lucky, but people come and go and we need more senior people.
Another challenge is figuring out how to take our business to the next level and scale it. We are now in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand, and we are expanding to other geographic locations as well. We are working on partnerships, so people who haven’t heard of us previously get to know us better.
During this expansion into new countries, what lessons have you learned?
When we expand to new countries, we’ve learned good lessons about the importance of having people on the ground there. In Singapore, for example, we had lots of events and worked with local partners to establish our brand there. When it comes to selling a B2B product, you need to build trust and only then will customers start to think about using your service.
Another thing we learned is that you can’t just use the exact same product in every country. You have to tweak it to match the local laws and practices. We have local lawyers who can help us tailor our products to these business needs.
What keeps you going when you are having a hard day?
Whether today is bad or not, tomorrow is another day. There are battles to fight every day, so don’t dwell on the past. Some days will be hard, some days we don’t know what we are doing, even if we have direction. We have to go through a lot of failures to get to success. Keep trying.
What advice do you have for college students interested in entrepreneurship?
I would say don’t rush to start a startup. In fact, it might be better if you get experience in the professional world first, sharpen your skills and make more professional connections. If you really want to be an entrepreneur, learn from what others are doing and avoid making the same mistakes.
What’s the end goal for Dragon Law?
We are quite ambitious. Our end goal is not to get rid of lawyers, but rather for Dragon Law to be the first step that everyone takes if they need legal support.
Prabha Dublish is an undergraduate business student at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and co-founder and president of Womentum, a nonprofit pay-it-forward crowdfunding platform that allows anyone in the world to donate to women entrepreneurs in developing countries.
Posted: March 27, 2017