It’s not all Snapchats and Facebooks: How tribulations in tech can be a win for your career

By Alex Valente

I recall my brother informing our family that he was going to do a tech startup. It was met with a mixture of laughter and concern. The brothers were laughing. The parents were concerned. Mum had invested in her children’s education in the hope that they get a stable job in a stable profession: a lawyer or doctor… you know, something normal. Joe had other ideas – his company was Ebla, and would try to revolutionise legal publishing.

With some help from Jason Lim and some spark from the YBF community , Ebla was going to create a new way of searching and presenting law cases. Joe would compete against AustLII and all the big publishing houses, from LexisNexis to SAIGlobal. At the time I was at high school, so I could not comprehend the magnitude of what my brother was trying to achieve. Today, as a law student, I look at Ebla as an extremely “optimistic” (read insane) attempt to try and fix the most bureaucratic and inefficient section of our legal system.

Nonetheless, Ebla’s technology was extremely impressive, and very functional. His website was beautiful and the cases were presented in a legible format. Ebla would go onto be accepted into the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP) and Joe would win Victoria’s Young Innovator of the Year Award. Ebla’s financial success, however, would be more “patchy” (read non-existent). Marred by an adversarial government instrumentality, Ebla had all data streams to its website blocked and angry letters were sent to Ebla’s corporate headquarters (the family home).

Joe recalls this time: “I was frustrated and depressed on a daily basis. It’s extremely difficult to watch something you spent so long creating be destroyed arbitrarily. No technical failure, no laws broken, just government bureaucracy getting in our way”. During this time more sinister brothers may have taken some schadenfreude pleasure from this infuriating situation. We didn’t. The “I told you so” moment was vastly overshadowed by the family’s collective annoyance.

The runway might have run out, but Joe, at least, had sat in the cockpit. When applying for jobs and finding an alternate career path, his unique experience in tech meant that employers viewed him as a special asset. He left Ebla and became a management consultant at Bain & Company, where he uses the skills he gained at Ebla on a daily basis: “From making software for businesses to dealing with corporate politics, I learnt a lot from Ebla that was relevant to Bain. My time at Bain would be far more difficult without the experience I had gained from the start up community, and I would have struggled to find technical solutions without the mentorship from the numerous individuals whom I had encountered in my journey”

Jason, on the other hand, mightn’t be a COO anymore but he still has the business cards to prove it – “they unfortunately only come in packs of 500”. Today he is the GM of YBF and an associate with Adventure Capital. He recounts similar experiences: “You learn things that you can’t learn at university. Operational start-up businesses and theoretical university business are antitheses. It has given me insights that I can apply everyday to portfolio companies with Adventure Capital, and an operational understanding that allows me to manage YBF.”

Business is a hopeful endeavor. To dismiss start-ups as an efficient method for acquiring capital is to simplify its benefits. When start-ups fail, the founders rarely die with the business. Rather, it is the ultimate hands-on learning experience. You get to create a product and conduct business, sharpening skills that could take tens of years to gain in corporate environment.

As for Joe, while he toils away in his new job, he still refuses to throw in the towel. “To me, being threatened with legal action is frustrating, but still the highest compliment you can receive as a businessman. If people are worried enough by what I do to call in the lawyers, then clearly we must be doing something right.”

This mindset didn’t appear overnight. There was a period where I saw my brother feel disillusioned with business entirely. People usually misunderstand the personal and emotional risk that business people take in new endeavors. Investments include passion and social capital. But in reverse, people also miss the rewards from such risks: Joe is a far tougher, more formidable opponent today than he was before his startup.

Accordingly, at home, “Ebla” is not a bad word. Dad, an avid reader of law cases (He isn’t a lawyer – I believe its simply to support his son), misses Ebla. My eldest brother, a doctor, was impressed by the technology and has tried to apply it to the medical field. I ended up working at YBF because Ebla introduced me to the community. As for Joe, he’s not done yet – but to be honest, Mum is pretty stoked he’s got a stable job.