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#HerCareers Interview with Tanvi Bhalinge

As part of the team at Lightbox Venture Capital, Tanvi currently plays a key role in structuring the fund’s investments in consumer tech startups. A dreamer by nature, with ambitions of building a more sustainable society her current work fits perfectly with her aspirations. Starting her career as a corporate lawyer at AZB provided her the opportunity of working with some of the largest companies in the country and taking them into public markets and then moving on to LegaLogic Consulting where she worked with some of the most promising young companies strategising fund raises. Besides work, Tanvi has a fanatical interest in Indian culture – spanning food, art, music, fashion, beauty and skincare.


How did you decide to get into the profession you are in now and what prompted you to change gears?

Growing up, my granddad who was a practicing advocate always settled disputes between my brother and I in his courtroom (i.e. our living room) and I saw my dad leading a busy corporate life, picking up his briefcase at 9am sharp everyday dressed in a crisp white shirt. My early conditioning at home coupled with my argumentative rigour, motivated me to pursue a career in law. As someone who is always looking for solutions and is an eternal optimist, law seemed like a good fit in terms of the work I would do. As luck would have it, I quickly got bored of pursuing science in my junior college and managed to get into and then graduate from the ILS Law College in Pune.

My first job at AZB & Partners, exposed me to the world of corporate law and gave me a solid foundation to build upon. Fortunately for me I had the opportunity to work in the capital markets team that helped take companies public. Studying prospectus after prospectus sparked my interest in understanding business models, fund raising trajectories, growth patterns of companies and consumer behavior. The insights that I was able to imbibe about the business world through this process were fascinating and I was clear I wanted to be able to apply these and continue the learning process.

This is when I decided to explore this interest further and took up the opportunity to work with LegaLogic Consulting where I worked with startups in helping them structure their fund raises. Intrigued by the fast-paced nature of the startup ecosystem and the hunger and drive that was apparent amongst this set of entrepreneurs, I decided to pursue a longer-term career in this space and ended up at Lightbox VC.

At Lightbox, I have been able to explore how my knowledge of the law could be practically implemented such that it acts as a catalyst for growth rather than a road block, as most people consider it to be. I work closely with start-ups, learning the nuances of commercial deal negotiations and try to have an impact on growing businesses. All of which is superbly gratifying and makes all the effort worth it.

How would you compare mainstream legal practice with your current profession? *

At the very core, the biggest difference between being at a law firm versus being in-house at a venture capital fund is the breadth of work that you end up engaging in over the lifetime of a company and the deep sense of partnership that develops as you spend more time engaging with founders of investee companies. At a law firm your engagement ends when the agreements are signed and funds are remitted. Whereas for me at a venture capital fund, it is really the beginning of our journey with the company. It’s a great learning experience to work alongside the founders in building and growing their company and figuring out solutions to a diverse set of legal and financial issues / challenges that may crop up through the process of company building. Figuring out solutions to these challenges to serve the long term interest of the company, isn’t always straightforward and requires creativity and thoughtfulness.

Culturally, there’s a huge difference too – so much of what we do in venture capital is clouded in uncertainty. Venture capital is about the audacious, about the imaginative and about the daring. Hence storytelling becomes a critical tool in capturing the imagination of various stake holders for entrepreneurs and investors alike. As someone who loves listening to a good story and sharing a few of my own as well, this has been a refreshing change from the world of corporate law. Listening to bright-eyed founders, talk about their ideas to change the world and candidly sharing feedback breeds a sense of optimism about the future. I find this openness, positivity and flexibility lacking in mainstream legal practice, where teams are large, structured hierarchically and focused on moving from one project to the next as each person charts their journey up the proverbial corporate ladder. All of this without necessarily aspiring for any impact on improving the world and our country.

I have enjoyed working in a small team where there’s flexibility to learn different things, dream big and chart your own course based on your interests and passions. I have also witnessed firsthand that there’s a greater sense of responsibility and ownership in such work cultures, which makes you want to work harder.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

The unending cycle of learning, un-learning and re-learning! Each day comes with its unique set of challenges and finding innovative ways to handle them is a challenge I thoroughly enjoy taking up. In the past as a lawyer representing a client, I have always tried to negotiate the best terms for my clients, however, when you represent yourself and live the terms being negotiated, the responsibility is elevated and you naturally give your absolute best.

It’s also inspiring to be in the midst of the budding start-up environment in India; the insights from founders who have obsessed and lived the problems they have solved, are fascinating. Engaging with them, requires scrubbing your understanding and assumptions of the world around us from time to time and re-learning how the world has or is about to change.

My work exposes me to all sides of the business ranging from commercial negotiations to brand strategy, social media content creation, new product development, understanding consumer behavior, improving unit economics all the way to negotiating exits. This exposure is to the credit of the extra-ordinary work culture at my office which has given me the freedom to explore!

What advice would you give to young women lawyers aspiring to have a journey similar to yours?

Do not get stuck in the rut!

After stepping out of mainstream corporate law, I have realized there are so many avenues where one’s knowledge of law could be creatively applied. We often bifurcate between two main streams of practice - litigation and corporate law. But I feel the biggest takeaway for me as a lawyer was the ability to think critically and cover your bases for an adverse situation. This conditioning, which is inherently imbibed in lawyers can be a great tool for any job.

There is no right or wrong path on this journey, you can never be a hundred percent sure if you’ve chosen the right field but as long as you are excited to take on each day and you have inspiring people to learn from around you, you are good! I don’t subscribe to the idea of setting unreal goals or milestones to be achieved periodically (I actually don’t believe in measuring anything). At the end of each year, I ask myself if I am at the same place I was last year, if the answer is yes, we have a problem; if the answer is a resounding NO – then that’s all I need to keep me going!

I would definitely encourage doing as many internships as possible, spread across different fields of law to understand what is it that you truly enjoy doing in the long run.

I swear by Warren Buffett’s words – ‘Look for the job that you would take, if you didn’t need a job’.

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