Entrepreneurial attorney advises students to change the world

[Story and photo by Mike Foley, originally published online in the BYU-Hawaii Newsroom, March 14, 2006]

Gregory Kim, Esq.One of Hawaii’s leading corporate attorneys shared some of the learnings and business philosophies he has incorporated into his own and other ventures in the March 14 entrepreneurship lecture series.

Gregory R. Kim, Esq. [pictured at right] worked at top at legal firms in San Francisco and Honolulu for 20 years until 2004, when he and a partner founded Vantage Counsel LLC — a local law firm specializing in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions and high technology contracting. He told BYU-Hawaii students “entrepreneurship makes business and the world better.”

“I’ve dedicated my life to entrepreneurship. It’s not about money…but about making significant change in the world. You do that by gathering resources you don’t have. Just because you don’t have a million dollars, doesn’t mean you can’t go get it,” said Kim, who is also founding director of the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Hawaii and is devoted to building the local technology industry and creating rewarding jobs in the state.

“Unless we stay ahead of the innovation curve, our economy is going to suffer,” he continued, urging the students to break down barriers “that prevent you from aiming high.” The great entrepreneurs of the world, he said, “never decided they can’t do it.”

“It was ingrained in me to get a good education, work hard, and get a good job; but if you do that, 20 years from now you’re going to wonder what happened. I’m trying to give you a heads-up to reconsider that path. Entrepreneurship is the thing that opened my mind.”

“Being an entrepreneur doesn’t mean you go to Las Vegas and roll the dice. It’s a career path. If you decide it’s something you want to do, you can chart out a path for yourself,” Kim said, suggesting the students project how the world is going to be in a few years from now, “and then head there.”

“The beauty is you can help people and make money at the same time. Entrepreneurship applies to nonprofits, too. Instead of volunteering to feed homeless people, for example, what if you decided to solve homelessness in the world.”

Kim listed eight rules he follows for an innovative life:

1) Aim High. “It’s just as hard to aim low as it is to aim high,” he said. “Why not think about something that’s going to grow big. Look at L&L Drive Inn: It’s going global. [Its president] Eddie Flores wants to spread the idea of plate lunches throughout the country.”

In another example, he told of a Punahou School acquaintance a few years behind him who was “kind of lazy, and not that good of an athlete. Now he’s in the U.S. Senate, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes president of the United States. His name Barak Obama. I can think of a lot of people in high school who were a lot smarter, but they’re nowhere near where he’s gone.”

2) Work for free…change the world. “The people who make a difference in the world don’t get paid much for it,” he continued, pointing out there are not that many high-paying jobs in the world, and “many start-up businesses pay zero.”

“The people who made the original personal computer did it just for fun. Bill Gates didn’t form Microsoft at the time for the money. If I were starting over again I would definitely risk my time on something that didn’t pay well.”

3) Work smart…not hard. “You have to work smart, and work hard. When you get older, maybe you can just do the smart part.”

4) Seek desperation. “You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone to achieve great things. If you’re surrounded by comfy things, I don’t think that’s where great ideas come from. You’ll be amazed at what you can come up with.”

5) Ship, then test. “For entrepreneurs, you’re not trying to achieve perfection: You’re trying to get your product out there. Let your customers help you,” said Kim, telling of a friend who has started five businesses, but lost one opportunity “because we waited too long to perfect our product.”

6) Pigs get fat…hogs get slaughtered. “You don’t want to be overly greedy, you want to share the wealth with everybody.”

7) All ships will rise with the tide. “If Hawaii as a whole develops a technology economy, everyone will do fine. Think of yourself as part of the entire community, and not in isolation.”

8) Look at the donut…not the hole. Kim said when you really understand what you do have, “that’s going to help you create value. There’s always a positive and a negative way of looking at things.”

For example, Kim said he started Vantage Counsel after getting tired of hearing the complaints from clients about billing hours. “Can you imagine having to account for every minute of every day of the week. So we tried to reinvent the system. This applies to a lot of service providers. It’s not just the law. If you can fix this thing, it’s a great opportunity.”

“Don’t count time,” he said. “The billable hour system doesn’t align the attorney’s interests with the client’s. Time does not equal value. Half of our practice now is by alternate fees.”

Kim also advised the students to “release the ball and chain. Overhead takes away opportunities. If you can achieve a business without [a heavy] overhead load, you can make a lot more money.”

“Knowing your customers is also critical. At Vantage, we’re focused on building companies, not just the law. We have to figure out their needs. Big businesses are not going to change: They’re invested in the status quo. That’s why start-ups are important,” he added, cautioning the students to remember they “can’t win every time. You have to be willing to lose some.”

Finally, as a proponent of high technology, Kim reminded the students telecommunications mean they “can work anywhere, any place, any time.”

“One person can make a difference. How will you do it?”

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