Our Legal and Strategy Director explains why it’s important to have a lawyer around, especially in the startup scene – meet Emma.
You’re a lawyer? Tell us more.
Not all startups realise this, but it is actually very useful to have a lawyer around. So much of what a company does, and the investment that stakeholders have in the business is governed by contracts. I spent a lot of law school learning how to think rather than what to think, so being a lawyer is a lens through which I see the world and work through problems. In the end, it’s useful training for evaluating the forks in the road you face as a growing business.
What do you do here at Grana?
My unofficial title should be ‘Team Mom’. I make sure that everybody is happy, we’re thinking about the future, have the funds to achieve it, and no one gets hurt. In the business context, that means I’m mitigating risk through contract review and compliance. I also manage fundraising, overseeing human resources, team culture, and executing strategic projects. Now, some people may think that sounds like a lot…and those people would be right.
What’s it like working in a startup compared to your previous jobs?
I’d liken it to going from driving on a one lane highway to paving a road in the desert. When I worked for a firm, the career path was straightforward and levels of hierarchy and responsibility were clear, but there wasn’t a lot of room to explore. Working at a startup is the opposite, there isn’t a lot of structure. Sometimes you make things up as you go, filling in gaps where necessary, and building a foundation upon which the company can keep moving. There’s a level of self-determinism that can be both empowering and anxiety-provoking, depending on the day.
‘People will surprise you in good and bad ways. Working at a startup can be emotional.’
What have you learnt about people through your job?
People will surprise you in good and bad ways. Working at a startup can be emotional. There’s a real investment in the work we are doing and other team members. Sometimes that can lead to a lot of hurt, but also it can push team members to work with real passion. When you believe in the direction of the company and can see your impact on its success, while working alongside driven and talented people – that can be really inspiring.
What’s the most difficult thing about your job?
Figuring out how to use my training to provide options rather than obstacles. A lot of law school is spent ‘issue spotting’. Working in-house, I strive to be a lawyer who says “yes”. For me, that’s when law is most interesting, when you can pair it with business knowledge to find creative alternatives or means of prioritisation.
What do you look for in quality when it comes to curating your life?
When I first moved to New York, I just wanted to do, have, and see everything. For about ten years, I hardly slept, fuelled on New York’s frenetic energy, figuring out what I really liked and what quality actually meant to me. That’s part of what drove the move to Hong Kong. I wanted to remove some of those distractions, focus on the things that are important to me (travel, finding a job that feels fulfilling, my relationships, and new experiences), and build a life on my own terms.
Can you tell us a bit about the places you’ve lived and how they influenced you as a person?
I grew up a little bit all over the place – Hong Kong, California, the Philippines, Kuwait, and then Massachusetts for high school, so I’ve never really had a place that I would call home. After high school, I moved to Paris, New York, and back to Hong Kong. Along the way I learned some important skills – how to cook classic French cuisine, how to suss out the best places to dance, that karaoke is a universal language, and most importantly, how to build a life for myself in any situation. I crave change, and I often feel that if I’m not struggling a bit, I’m doing something wrong. Living abroad, I always feel that stretch and a sense of perspective. There are many ways you can choose to live your life… maybe it’s infinite flavours of fabulous. You just need to get after it.