Anant Gupta (Founder- Memo-Pundits, and Infinite Detours) on his journey from Tier-1 law firm to Entrepreneurship

Q: How would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?

In 2016, I graduated from NLU Odisha and joined the Banking Team of Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas & Co., Delhi. I worked there for 2 years before becoming a full-time entrepreneur. Currently, I’m the CEO and Co-founder of Memo Pundits, India’s First Mooting School. I also head a trekking startup called Infinite Detours.

Q: How did you end up in law school?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an inspiring story about why I chose law. I’m being brutally honest here – I chose law only because I was sure of not pursuing engineering, medicine and chartered accountancy. No one in my family is/was a lawyer or is in any way connected to the legal profession.

I was pretty overconfident about my preparation for the NLU Delhi exam. Not cracking it was an eye-opener, but by that time, it was already too late to prepare well for CLAT. I gave the NLUO exam without any expectations, got through the 3rd waitlist and joined NLUO simply because I did not want to drop a year.

Q: Please share your experience at NLUO. What message would you like to convey to students who have landed in a mid-tier law school?

A: In 2011, NLUO did not have a campus. The first batch was still in its third year and the college did not rank well among the NLUs. I think what I went through is something that every student who doesn’t get through a good NLU goes through. It was honestly frightening at first, but our former Vice Chancellor, Dr. Faizan Mustafa did a great job convincing the students and the parents about the bright prospects of joining NLUO.

It was disheartening to realise that material things such as infrastructure, a well-stocked library, and a strong alumni base were not at their best at this new college. Unexpectedly, what made up for all that, was the community of passionate students who were willing to do anything to make a dent in the legal fraternity. And that I think was unrivalled. It was invigorating to realise that I could be part of contributing to it from the ground up.

Q: Please tell us about your recruitment at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas.

The process of recruitment was a long-drawn one. Which speaks to both the merit of the firm, as well as the level of effort required to tread this difficult path. I interned twice at the firm for a total of 12 weeks. My last internship was so long that calling me a “senior intern” was a running joke among the interns.

I think one of the main reasons why I got through was that I worked more professionally than my co-interns. My team liked me precisely for this reason. My prospects of getting a pre-placement offer (PPO) were most clearly visible when my team trusted me on a matter in which I had to work directly with Mr. Shardul Shroff (Exec. Chairman, SAM Co.).

The final days of recruitment were some of the toughest days of my life. Everyday I woke up tense about the day ahead and slept worrying about converting the internship into a PPO. The interview process was especially rigorous because I didn’t have a jack. But to get placed, at my own merit, at the end of 4th year, was also one of the most fulfilling and satisfying feelings I’ve ever experienced.

A mid-tier law school does come with its limitations, in terms of alumni and exposure, if nothing else. The prospect of being the first from my college to get an offer from SAM was daunting to me at first. But (forgive me for this cliché) “it’s only impossible till it’s done”.

Q: What should be a fresher’s approach in law school to secure a job at a tier-1 law firm?

If I were to give some advice, it would be – carefully follow what you’re told by the team, be professional, be on time, and don’t complain. The littlest of things matter – how you dress, how you write emails, how you interact with the team.

Working hard and consistently working hard are some things which are going to set you apart.Trust me, not everyone can wake up everyday with a clear focus on their goals and the will to work every minute of the day to achieve it.

Q: What inspired you to leave a job with 7 a digit salary and start your own ventures?

Life at a top tier firm seems enticing from the outside, and I cannot deny that the money is a perk. Sure, for the first three months you feel so financially empowered because you can order ANYTHING you want from Amazon, go to fancy diners and bars and spend exorbitant amounts of money on anything whenever you feel like. Reality however, catches up fast, and the monotony becomes unsustainable – spending 6-7 days a week working 10 AM to 2 AM, is nothing short of modern day slavery. The days when I got free at 11 PM were my “happy days”. It soon hit me that the bar for “happiness” is running at an all-time low. Some people say it gets better with seniority but I was observing the life of my seniors at the firm – work pressure and accountability only increase with seniority, and managing all that with added personal responsibilities takes a heavy toll.

The thought of leaving my job involved heavy introspection.

“What brings me true happiness?” – Spending time with friends and family, creative pursuits, travelling, relaxing over a truly free weekend.

“Can I work at a law firm for 12 hours a day for the next 30 years?” – NO.

“When am I supposed to do the things I always dreamt of doing when I was in school and college? Aren’t these my prime years?” – This is the time. I have to #DoSomethingDifferent.

So what did I end up doing? 3 months before I left my job, I started making business plans for my two start-ups –Memo Pundits and Infinite Detours. I started networking with people, figuring out my customer base, their needs, financial sustainability and delivering a valuable product.

Q: Please tell our readers what Memo Pundits and Infinite Deotours are about? What are your roles and responsibilities in them?

MEMO PUNDITS: I co-founded Memo Pundits with Rachnendra in 2014, when both of us were in our 3rd year of law school. Around that time, NLUO was on a magical spree of winning Best Memorial awards one after the other. Rachnendra and I were personally involved in helping around 10 moot teams win such awards at even coveted moot court competitions like Jessup (National rounds).

So, just as an experiment, we thought of teaching the students of our own college the art of memorial making. We designed a few modules and the main attraction of our course was how to use Microsoft Word in a way students could never imagine. When we launched the course in the college, we weren’t even sure of getting 10 registrations. To our surprise, within a few hours of opening registrations, around 120 students (including our seniors) signed up for the course! We happily taught the bunch and received remarkable feedback about our style of teaching (exactly the opposite of boring college lectures). By the end of our 5th year, we had taught about 300 students. One thing was clear – the demand for this course was high.

When Rachnendra and I started working after college, Memo Pundits was dormant for a good 2 years. At the time when I was planning to leave my job at SAM, I thought of restarting the engine of Memo Pundits. This time, we commercialised the course, gave it a professional exterior and started marketing the idea of conducting the course in various colleges throughout India. One-by-one, colleges started saying yes to the course.

By the end of 2019, we had taught some 2,300 students! We have also managed to introduce India’s only Moot Mentorship Program, which makes it possible for moot teams to seek guidance from moot experts from Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and Top NLUs. As of the latest, we have launched an Online Certificate Course onMemorial Making, which is available at a promotional price till March 20!

INFINITE DETOURS: There’s an interesting story behind my other startup, Infinite Detours. Once, before I quit my job, I was travelling to this village near McLeod Ganj called Dharamkot. I was posting several stories and posts because I was mesmerized by the beauty of the village. I remember a person on my list messaged me “If you don’t stop spamming my feed, I will block you.” (with a faint friendly tone). Thus came the idea of starting an Instagram travel account called “Infinite Detours”. I had always felt connected to the word ‘infinite’ because that is also the meaning of my name. The second word, ‘detours’, was based on the idea of taking a detour by doing something different in life. I kept that account active and it soon started receiving a lot of traffic. So much so, that by the time I left my job (Feb, 2018), the account had 3,000 followers.

A month before I left my job, my childhood friend Ratish and I started planning curated treks to the Himalayas. With the sole power of Instagram, within 6 months we were able to complete 10 treks in India and Bhutan and serve 100 clients from India, USA, France, Israel, Kuwait, Canada, etc. Since then we have expanded to Sahyadris and have gathered a community of 20,000 people on Instagram.

In my opinion, what sets the start-up apart is its focus on reconnecting people to nature and guiding them to spaces for exploration, adventure, and introspection. The aim was also to create a safe space where each individual not only has a powerful inner experience, but also a collective one.

Q: What challenges did you face to start these ventures?

Both Memo Pundits and Infinite Detours were zero-investment startups. So luckily, initial finance was not an issue in either startup. In terms of marketing, Memo Pundits grew with word of mouth and Infinite Detours spread with its strong social media presence.

Memo Pundits had the first mover’s advantage – there was no other business in India which offered a product remotely close to ours. Since the product was so novel, it invited its own set of challenges – a new product like our Memorial Making Course was initially hard to sell to universities that follow a traditional outlook for moot courts. To make universities understand the need for the course took some time but gradually the process picked up pace – Bhagwaankegharmei der hai, andhernahi. In the last 10 months alone, around 20 universities have contacted us regarding the course! Hard work always pays.

Infinite Detours, unlike Memo Pundits, did not have a first mover’s advantage or even a product which was different from what other trekking companies were offering. So the challenge here was different – product differentiation. We identified that most trekking companies in India focused on “Budget Trekking”, a model which, by its very nature, compromises with comfort. Although economical, treks by these companies often did not suit the wants of people with decent paying capacity (like lawyers). There it was – premium grade treks. The results were nothing short of terrific – lawyers, bankers, CAs, consultants and people of such backgrounds became our prime customers!

An overarching challenge for both the startups has been finding the right people to work with. It is rightly said that a company’s most valuable asset is the human asset. Getting to work with passionate and creative people is both extremely rare and a blessing.

Q: Please let our readers know about the attitude and character which (according to you) can make someone a good entrepreneur.

Ability to execute business ideas, attitude to take risks and a hunger for success.

About 50% of the crowd occasionally thinks about potential business ideas, however small or big they may be.

40% have the will to move out of their comfort zone.

30% of them brainstorm it with the right people and see a future in running a successful business.

20% take the risk to actually execute the idea.

10% don’t quit even when they don’t encounter quick success.

5% are successful.

If after reading this you think that the journey from 50% to 5% is, however tough it may be, worth taking the risk, I can assure you that you’re meant to be an entrepreneur.

I co-founded Memo Pundits in 2014 but it wasn’t my first startup. My first was in 2012 and I wasn’t willing to take the risk of giving it my all. The failure was daunting, but it taught me a lot – not just saying this for the sake of it. We all start somewhere. What is important is – to start.

Q: Do you offer / plan to offer, internships? What will you look in a candidate? How can one apply for the same?

Memo Pundits is, in fact, looking for interns for a short-term internship (1-2 months). The internship work involves data collection for moot court competitions and networking for Memo Pundits.

The qualities we are looking for in the candidate are professionalism, good command on English (spoken and written) and an attitude to learn new things. Immense knowledge in the field of law, while a “good to have”, is  certainly not a necessity. The position is open for all 2nd to 5th year law students. Memo Pundits is ready to offer a decent stipend along with an enriching experience of working in a startup firm.

You can apply for the internship by mailing us your CV and a cover letter to contact@memopundits.com (CC to rachnendra@memopundits.com). Please DO NOT send us Copy+Pasted cover letters – just include a brief description of your past internships and an answer to “Why you think you’d be an asset to Memo Pundits”. Do note that every bit of your e-mail indicates how professional you are, so make sure you give it some thought before applying.

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