Welcome to our founder lessons series. This week we have an exclusive interview with Eric Wall, founder at Equivity, a San Francisco-based virtual assistant service company.
Equivity provides dedicated virtual assistant services to individuals, and custom-designed plans to employers looking for administrative support and innovative employee benefits.
Eric Wall is co-founder and CEO of Equivity. As CEO, Eric drives the strategic direction of the company and it’s growth activities.
Before founding Equivity, Eric was an intellectual property litigation partner specializing in the software, mobile, biotech, satellite, and gaming industries.
Eric earned his Bachelors degree in Finance from Georgetown University and his JD from Harvard Law.
How did you get the idea to start Equivity?
My best creative thinking gets done when I’m running and I hadn’t been running in a while. It was a warm afternoon in San Francisco and the fog hadn’t yet rolled in. As I emerged from Golden Gate Park onto the Great Highway, the darker clouds had retreated offshore and the boundless Pacific was dotted with huge carrier ships, speeding to unknown ports.
I was a partner practicing patent litigation at a top litigation firm. Doing top-flight patent litigation is difficult, time-intensive, high-pressure work, but you are very well compensated for your efforts. More and more, though, I didn’t think it was a good fit for me and this was my first run in a while.
Somewhere between the Pacific and my home, as my mind lazily roamed from one thought to the next, I had an idea. Some of my colleagues at my law firm had personal assistants. But personal assistants were expensive and out of reach for even many well-paid attorneys.
But what if you could hire a personal assistant for just a few hours at a time? Wouldn’t it be worth it to the time-strapped attorney that was struggling to keep his life in order because of court-ordered deadlines?
I didn’t develop the idea for my business that day — few businesses, if any, appear in a single flash of inspiration – but it was the germ of an idea. I didn’t develop a business strategy, but I saw my future in a new way. For the first time, I was able to visualize myself as something other than a lawyer.
How did you make the decision to take the leap and kickstart Equivity?
Some people talk about taking “the plunge” and leaving a job to start something new, but I didn’t have my epiphany over the weekend and leave the next day. It took me weeks to consider whether I really wanted to embark on an entirely new career and months to finally leave my firm.
In one sense, the amount of time I spent considering my options was good. When I left my firm, I was comfortable with my decision and I felt that I had accomplished what I needed to before leaving.
But, my tendency to thoroughly analyze, perhaps even overanalyze, would be a hindrance in the business world. At the outset, I focused on optimizing my company’s launch. I wanted to get the details right and launch a smooth-running business machine.
In fact, I should have been more focused on just getting the business rolling. You can only learn a limited amount from thinking through a problem. There are many aspects of your business that you will only learn once you have actual customers.
Lessons learned since launch?
When you start a business you will inevitably make mistakes, but that is simply part of the discovery process – learning what works and what doesn’t. You can’t begin that process if you’re sitting on the sideline crafting a supposedly perfect business plan. You need to get out there and start finding out what works and what doesn’t.
I also needed to get used to the world being a whole lot more uncertain than it had been for me. The life of a litigator isn’t predictable, but there is a lot that operates according to a set plan. Your cases have schedules and go through an established path from the filing of the lawsuit to trial.
You know that there are certain parts of your case – the close of fact discovery, the filing of depositions, pre-trial preparations – that are going to be very busy. The law itself is designed to produce predictable results and you can research and see how courts have handled issues similar to yours in the past. And at a big firm, you know that your compensation will be at least a certain amount every year.
Let’s just say that there are significantly more unknowns in play in the world of the entrepreneur. You create a plan, but you must adapt that plan constantly to realities on the ground. You start with one set of metrics to measure success and improve them, both as you assess their predictive value and as you gather more data.
The very nature of your business – the products that you sell, the services you provide, your value proposition – can change over time as you learn more about your customers’ needs. And, for the business owner, your compensation isn’t guaranteed.
In this sea of change, it was critical to me to have guideposts that I could steer the business by. Fortunately, I had two. First, I was guided by the impulse that seized me to start my business in the first place – to make the lives of busy people easier. While we’ve offered many different services, all of them are aimed to fulfill this goal for our clients.
My second guidepost was service quality. We want our virtual assistants to feel like an extension of the client – worrying about the things that the client doesn’t have time to worry about and tackling projects that the client doesn’t have time to do. Providing this service means finding virtual assistants that are smart, resourceful, adept at a wide variety of administrative tasks, and empathetic.
On Equivity’s growth?
Equivity has become successful and continues to grow because we implement change that furthers these guiding principles. We are constantly innovating our services to better suit the needs of our clients, both by applying technological solutions to more easily interface with our virtual assistants and by providing a wider array of virtual assistant solutions.
In terms of developing our human capital, we continually sharpen our methodology for finding the virtual assistants that will best meet our clients’ needs. As our clients’ needs evolve, so does our recruiting process.
Entrepreneurship is not only about constant evolution, but also about being able to chart a course that will guide you to your destination. As an attorney, I was prepared to chart a course that would grow our business. However, the ability to improvise and to adapt to new information was a skill I needed to develop.
An attorney who becomes an entrepreneur must make a cognitive leap. He must accept that he is no longer in a predictable environment, but now must contend with a stormy ocean of uncertainty and attempt to build something durable.