Column of Strength: It Started With A Bump

It’s Friday the 13th today but I always do away with the superstition. In my family the ‘13th’ is a date which we celebrate, and today is all the more special as it marks our daughter’s 4th birthday. It is also 4 years 7 months and 1 day since Obelisk Support was born. Perhaps, then, a good time to spare a thought and reflect on the business’ beginnings and the journey thus far?

Put simply, it started with a bump. At the time I founded the business I was in the early stages of pregnancy with my first child. Many suppose that the idea of the business was born out of my own search for a way to balance my family with legal work. But that is not the case.

Obelisk Support was my return to the legal profession having spent a few years running my first venture in political risk analysis. I suppose, in a sense, it was a career break from the practice of law but not for the motherhood reasons assumed.

That 3 year break from the law gave me the perspective to come up with a new approach to flexibility and to focus on a group that, in my view, had been left uncared for – parents (in particular mothers) who left the profession to focus on raising their families. To me, they became a buried treasure that I was keen to unearth, polish and display again. If work could be outsourced to India, the Philippines or Belfast, surely then it can be outsourced to the very people who we trained, who we had invested in before they had children, who lived nearer us? My idea was welcomed with caution by my lawyer friends who thought little of my venture into the ‘start up’ world. However, Charlotte, a friend who was working with me in the political risk business, agreed to give the legal start up a try. But, even then, one of my lawyer friends went as far as to warn me that Obelisk would not last long in the tank ‘full of sharks’.

The start of the journey was not an easy one. It is never easy in a start-up but the ‘bump’, in my case, kept getting in the way of securing work. At meetings to introduce our flexible service, which would be offered by the 10 lawyers we had secured, the focus would invariably turn to the bump and what it could mean for the future of the business. ‘Are you planning on giving up once you have the child?’ was a regular question. But how could I? I had only just begun, and the baby and the bump were happily coming on this journey with me, everywhere. It is perhaps no surprise that one of my daughter’s earliest career aspirations was to become a lawyer!

The business started trading in earnest once the bump was out of the way in 2011. Of course I had to learn quickly the balancing act of being a new mother with a new business, and having no resources to pour money into 24 hour childcare in order to focus on the business alone. The child and the business had to coexist and grow at the same pace, each demanding their fair share of my time. One during the day, the other during the night.

Early champions were mostly men. My husband, John – a lawyer. Nick Eastwell, an ex-partner in my old firm Linklaters. And people such as Professor Stephen Mayson, who understood how Obelisk fitted into the new legal landscape and that the future belonged to us. They offered the beacon that guided me all these years towards a better and stronger business. I recall with affection a first meeting with one of our largest clients – an international bank – where the childcare fell through an hour before it was due to begin. My husband rushed from his office to take charge of looking after the sleeping baby, whilst I rushed out to make it just as the hour struck. No words were exchanged, just an understanding that this was important, that it could be a crossroads for Obelisk. And so it was that one of the largest and most respected banks in the world became a client. This was just another Cinderella-like tale that summed up the whirlwind life of a new mother and her start up business.

Awards, clients and a core team followed. The pace increased to the point that my working time moved from ad hoc hours on the business (mainly during the night) to part time and, since January 2015, to full time. This has been a journey that has taught me much – not least the art of flexibility, of treasuring versatility in your skills and the importance of believing in your dreams.

So it is that today I look at Obelisk: a bigger and stronger legal business swimming happily in the tank full of sharks. Just like my daughter, the speed of change and growth is tremendous. And so, it makes me proud, alert, energised and happy to raise a toast and wish many happy returns to them both, my home and my work.