Christian Haigh

It's no surprise that Harvard is filled with people creating wonderful projects and innovations. One such person is Christian Haigh, originally of the class of 2017. He with fellow Harvard student Eva Shang co-founded Legalist, a startup that finances lawsuits for businesses. Not only has it been turning heads for online and print publications but it also got backed by a little known person named Peter Thiel. This organ playing, TedxHarvardCollege co-founding Reading, England native has obviously done many things in his Harvard career. Luckily, we were able to catch Christian before he set off on his flight back to England.

So what is the Legalist?

It’s a company that deals with litigation financing. So we fund lawsuits that we think are going to win.  There are a lot of small businesses in America and that’s a great thing for the American economy. But those small businesses when they get into problems like breaches of contract. Small businesses don’t typically have the resources to take on larger corporations to court. So that’s where Legalist steps in. Someone comes up to us with a case where the case would likely win but they can’t afford to take it to court. We’re able to provide the financial backing in exchange for a portion of the outcome. We see it as leveling the playing field. Neither Eva or I were thinking about entrepreneurship at the time. I was into finance and I did consulting over the summer. But Eva worked at the Public Service Defender Service during the summer as a criminal investigator and she got acquainted with the legal system and how lawyers deal with paperwork and we realized there was a lot of inefficiency there. So we saw an opportunity where someone can come along and aggregate public data that would really help lawyers to do their work more efficiently. I study Computer Science so I could use the skills I could learn from that to aggregate and analyze the data.  From there we expanded.

On taking time off

This summer we went through Y Combinator and through it we got funding that would allowed us to take time off and work on it. I’m taking time off from Harvard so I can work full time on the Legalist. We had enough support to try a few experiments to see whether our ideas are valid. We realized we had such a greater opportunity than what we initially thought.  Now we have venture capital backing it just makes sense to take time off and really explore this in a much bigger way.  I learned more in that 3 month period (in the summer) than I felt I was learning in my classes. I was learning things I wanted to learn. And also the everyday cycle of working on a startup itself. So many things can go wrong every day with so many ups and downs. There is so much more variety of things you learn.  

On Harvard and how it helped with the venture

I co-founded TedxHarvardCollege. I played the organ in Memorial Church and also in Boston.  I also worked for Small Claims Advisory Service for a while, which is how I got interested into court cases.  Obviously, SCAS and the computer science background was a help.  Someone who really helped mentoring me here was Latanya Sweeney who's a professor in the government department. She is known for her work with anonymity and privacy in the web so I did a couple of research projects with her classes. That work was really helpful in the data aspects of it with the web scraping and the data analysis. There is a lot of intangibles you learn being here. Either the experiences you have with your friends or through your classes where you learn things you really didn’t think you learned. Especially now when we’re having meetings with top VC firms and potential clients. Learning how to interact with them on their own terms, that has been a big part of my experience here.  

Any recommendations for others.

Taking time off isn’t for everybody. And a lot of people see it as a step to being successful in entrepreneurship. I think it is something you should think about. For us, it was a really calculated decision. It made sense given the backing that we had, the opportunity we saw in the market, and we didn’t want to risk that opportunity by using up our time in classes and being on campus. But certainly when we started, we didn’t take time off. Being on campus we still had enough time to experiment and get a first working product out. But last semester we we started working on this company, and that’s when I started to do badly in school. If you could do work on campus, it makes sense to continue to stay at school and work at it.  I think the biggest hurdle is going from an idea to actually having a test of an idea to see if it works in a very small way. A lot of people have many ideas and it is very easy to discuss ideas and think about being an entrepreneur with the ten ideas they have. But the biggest challenge is to go from that stage to testing it in a very rudimentary way to see if it works. And that doesn’t require funding or months of building a product. It can be just putting up a single page and seeing how much people interact with your product.

Want to learn more about Legalist? Check them out and maybe you will get inspired to create a start up of your own.