In conversation: Dibyojyoti Mainak, Consultant General Counsel, Mobile Premier League

Opting to specialise early in his career, Mainak discusses the qualities required to succeed in a start-up environment and the importance of legal support for fledgling businesses in India.

There aren’t many people in the start-up space who are lawyers; I realised that I was probably one of the first guys who said at a very early stage that I wanted to be part of the start-up sector, this is where I want to focus, this is the most interesting space.

I graduated in 2015 from National Law School Bangalore. I was hired by a law firm and I spent some time there before I was hired as general counsel of start-up news curation app Inshorts, around the time they raised $20m from Tiger.

Inshorts was facing legal issues over their intellectual property and over their content, and they also had very few internal processes for a company that had grown from 20 to 60 in three months, and planned to grow to 200 in the next few months. They needed someone to oversee that growth – ideally this was not in the domain of legal, but when you are a very small company with a very small core team, you don’t ask these questions. I was tasked with setting up all their HR policies, their committee against sexual harassment, to ensure that basic laws with respect to labour and employment were followed, that basic processes existed. On the legal side, I had to file their trademarks, ensure there were no copyright violations and ensure that the company was well protected as a 360° view.

I was contacted by Mobile Premier League (MPL) last year. MPL is a gaming company and they wanted to build the world’s largest e-sports and digital sports gaming platform. The legal landscape for gaming is very different from what I was doing at Inshorts, but now we’re one of India’s fast-growing apps – we’re eight months old and we have over 25 million users.

With legal, most of those who are involved at the start-up level are potentially younger, with four or five years of experience. As the company grows really big, there is always the question about whether you need to bring in somebody who’s more experienced and, if you were to, would they understand the business as well as somebody who has been involved from the very beginning? Would they have a better understanding of the digital and tech space – which is essentially lacking in India? What is the right balance of experience and youth as a company grows?

When you first join, you are given a shoestring budget and a bunch of things that you need to achieve with that. However, your budget will increase and also what you need to achieve will increase, so you are no longer looking at only protecting the bare minimum – you might now be looking at aggressively trying to protect your brand, for example. That kind of switch is challenging, because you are calibrating and recalibrating your plans completely.