Interview With Legal Startup LawBasket: “As A New Concept The Biggest Challenge Was Shifting Mindsets”

Farai Mudzingwa Avatar

[Image Source: LawBasket – From left to right: Simba Mubvuma & Nyasha Makamba]

Earlier this year we were part of the publications that covered LawBasket after their launch. The ‘online legal services marketplace’ has a presence in a number of African countries including Zimbabwe. LawBasket reached out to us and we had an interesting conversation with Nyasha Makamba the co-founder and current Head of Marketing LawBasket.

We discussed the startup’s experiences since our first article on LawBasket back in March.

PS: Our questions are in bold and labelled TZ whilst Nyasha’s responses on behalf of LawBasket are labelled LB

TZ: You guys launched this year, in January. What were some of the challenges you faced when setting up shop in Africa – a continent known for its multiple challenges? How did you overcome these challenges?

 LB: As a new concept, the biggest challenge was shifting the minds of both clients and lawyers who were used to taking the traditional route when acquiring and providing legal services. I would like to think our transparency and willingness to open up our doors for everyone with questions to come forward and ask us directly played a vital role.

In addition, the LawBasket offering itself, from the client-centric marketplace and the lawyer focused client management portal triggered and fostered new habits in lawyers and clients alike.

TZ: Can you briefly speak about the traction LawBasket has had over the last 11-12 months? How many clients have you managed to serve since launching?

LB: We have managed to attract over 180 lawyers to the platform, and over 150 clients with 60 engagements on the platform. We also managed to conduct four law clinics in co-working spaces in Harare, leveraging on LawBasket lawyers on the platform who have provided free legal help for startups and small businesses.

TZ: Explain how the law clinic initiative works a bit more, it sounds interesting…

LB: The Law Clinic initiative is a monthly event that brings together start-ups, entrepreneurs, innovators to a co-working space or hub, where they can interact with LawBasket lawyers and get practical help on how to lower legal risk in their organisations. The clinics are self-funded through the LawBasket Pro Bono Trust, which gets $1 of every $10 in all revenue generated by LawBasket.  Since launch, this initiative has had a 30% growth rate for every new event, with over 50 startups achieving a low-risk profile after 2 events.

TZ: Your Co-Founder, Simba Mubvuma, participated in the Mandela Washington Fellowship Business Plan competition at the University of Notre Dame– can you take us through that and what you think were the biggest advantages of that experience are (for LawBasket)?

LB: The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a unique opportunity for young African leaders such as Simba to interact with other leaders from across Africa. It also allows start-up founders to learn from other founders in different places. During the fellowship, Simba participated and won the business plan competition at the University of Notre Dame, where he presented LawBasket.  This experience allowed us to closely examine our business model and to perfect our pitch. This has been useful post the fellowship, where we have used the experience gained to speak to more impact investors to garner the support needed for LawBasket.

TZ: LawBasket partnered with UNDP to provide training for Youth Connekt Tour Winners – How did that come about and what do you look forward to there?

LB: We strongly believe our Law Clinic Initiative empowers the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Zimbabwe and beyond, and as part of our objective to scale this initiative we reached out to organizations interested in partnering up with us. The UNDP together with Impact Hub saw the value of this initiative and invited us to partner them in their incubation program. We look forward to more partnerships like this, within and outside Zimbabwe.

TZ: You placed 2nd in the HiiL Challenge – what positives can you take from that experience?

LB: HiiL is a great organisation that finds the most promising justice innovations across the world, and supports them through funding and business support. Over the years, it has managed to find some of the most innovative justice innovations around the world, helping them to scale and impact more people. We are very privileged to have participated in the 2019 challenge, and coming second in Southern Africa. The association with HiiL is very important for us and opens doors in terms of partnerships across the globe. We have also been invited to the Justice Entrepreneurship School and Innovating Justice Forum in the Hague in 2020 and we are super excited about the partnerships we can conclude at these events.

Being part of the top 2 was surreal. Looking back at it, I would say the positives stem from the very beginning. The hours put in creating a strategic plan, working on our business model as well as perfecting our pitches. Each member of the LawBasket team was willing to go above and beyond because we all believed in the vision and trusted the process. It is one piece of advice I would like to share with every other startup. Trust the process, focus on your vision and be willing to put in the extra hours to bring it to life.

TZ: You also won a significant amount of funding from that (around US$32 000) – are you in a position to share how you plan to use the money to grow LawBasket?

LB: Funding received from HiiL will be invested into stabilizing the business as the team focuses on scaling.

TZ: Given that you guys have launched in a number of countries around the continent, what do you see as advantages offered by Zimbabwe for someone looking to start their business here?

LB: The Zimbabwe startup ecosystem is growing. This year, thanks to many initiatives by various players, start-ups have the opportunity to scale their ideas. Hubs such as Impact Hub are going above and beyond to support the ecosystem through various initiatives. The newly launched Value Creation Challenge, Zimbabwe Youth Connekt and Stanbic incubation program are also key drivers to the support the ecosystem is receiving.

TZ: What are the disadvantages of being in Zimbabwe so far?    

LB: There are structural issues which hinder startup growth, such as currency volatility and uncertainty in the banking sphere. Powers issues and high costs of data also put a heavy burden on startups that leverage the internet for scale and growth.

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