We sat down to speak with Omar Ochoa, an award-winning lawyer, certified public accountant, financial expert, and founder of Omar Ochoa Law Firm. His legal specialties include antitrust, class actions, insurance matters, securities, oil and gas, trade secrets, construction law, environmental law, qui tam, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, employment matters, private equity transactions, and breaches of contract. When he played an instrumental role in uncovering a global automotive parts conspiracy, he not only helped car buyers recover millions of dollars, but also won Outstanding Antitrust Litigation Achievement by a Young Lawyer from the American Antitrust Institute.
Before founding his law firm, Ochoa was an attorney at Susman Godfrey LLP and completed federal clerkships with two of the nation’s top judges — Judge Amul Thapar of Eastern District of Kentucky, and Judge Raymond Kethledge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Before attending law school, he served as a senior financial analyst for General Motors in Detroit. His numerous degrees include a Doctorate of Law, Masters in Professional Accounting, and Bachelors’ degrees in Business Administration, Accounting, and Economics, all from The University of Texas at Austin (UT). He has also made history as the first Latino editor in chief of Texas Law Review and the first Latino student body president at UT.
Q: The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
Omar: When I think about what I have learned while building my business, the overarching thought that I have is that I should have done this all sooner. I love it. I love being an entrepreneur. I had never seen myself in that position prior to starting my own law firm. I love it, I really enjoy it. I have learned that about myself.
Q: The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
Omar: The truthful answer is no, I never really got lonely. I’ve always had something to do, I don’t have time to be lonely. But I will say this: it is difficult to talk to people sometimes about the things swimming in my mind in regards to my business. Unless you’re a business owner, it’s really hard to understand some of those issues. Seeking out and finding people who can help you become a better entrepreneur is difficult and it can feel isolating. There’s never going to be anyone who understands your business the way you do, so you’re kind of left to build it on your own.
I wish I had others to talk to about growth and managing that growth. It’s great to be successful, but you have this growth issue — that can be really challenging. There’s also subjects like maintaining levels of quality client service and leveraging technology that I wish I had someone to talk to about.
The Psychological Warfare
Q: Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like for you, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
Omar: Honestly, I feel like an anomaly because I have never been healthier in my life. When I’m on a roll, I feel like I’m on top of my stuff. I’m getting my work done, and that inspires me to keep a schedule in all aspects of my life. It’s when I’m not geared towards a goal or when I don’t have anything to do to keep me busy, that is when I start to feel lazy, for lack of a better word. Staying active is healthy for me. Staying active in my business keeps me in an active lifestyle overall.
Q: Newer entrepreneurs often equate their personal success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality? If yes, how was that experience for you, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
Omar: It’s kind of cliche, but I see every failure as an opportunity. It’s a way for you to learn how to make something better. If something falls through the cracks, you can develop a better process. If a client wasn’t satisfied with your services, you can learn how to make the service better next time. They are all ways to learn how to do something better.
Q: What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears? (please organize your response – 1,2,3)
- The mental health and well being of my employees. One of my biggest fears is burnout, on my own part and on the part of my employees. I want them to be satisfied with their jobs. I am constantly thinking about how to avoid that, because it is a considerable concern of mine.
- Number two would be finding cases. You can be a fantastic lawyer and give great service, but if cases aren’t coming through the door, it is all for naught. So, having a steady pipeline of cases and managing that docket is something that concerns me.
- My third concern is cash flow. We are very much a cash flow business. Almost 100% of our cases are contingency fees, so we do not get paid unless we are successful for the client. Sometimes, it can take some time for those cases to be resolved. In the meantime, I still have staff to pay and overhead costs, so managing cash flow is something that I am concerned about doing well.
Q: What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can these mistakes be avoided by others? (please organize your response – 1,2,3)
Omar: They are not necessarily mistakes that I made, but mistakes I could see being easily made that I avoided. 1. First would be not taking care of one’s health. I made that a concern early on. I could see how not managing one’s health well could be a huge problem down the road. 2. Second would be taking on everything on your own, being a lone wolf operation. If you’re going to build a successful organization, you need good, reliable people around you. If you wait too long to get the right people by your side, they may be impossible to come by when you need them the most. 3. Third, I would say a mistake is not investing wisely at the beginning of building your business. For example, when I first started my firm, we had this very nice building in a high-traffic area. For the first three to four months, I did not bother to put a sign on the front of the building. My thinking was, there was one on the marquee by the street. I knew that when I did get a sign, it would need to be large. I knew that would be expensive. I thought there were other concerns that had to come before signage, but people began telling me I needed a sign, so we invested in a huge sign on the side of the building. It’s a draw and it was a wise investment. I understand people wanting to pinch pennies at the beginning of their business, but some investments are worthwhile to do right away.
Q: What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning? (please organize your response – 1,2,3)
- The first is investing in growth, especially at the very beginning of building a business, there’s a mindset of resources being very scarce. But you have to know when to switch your mindset and invest in growing your business.
- Another consideration is metrics. Entrepreneurs need to have very strong business metrics. Once targeted metrics are achieved, they will know it’s time to start investing in scaling the business.
- Lastly, is focusing on team building and getting good, talented people around you early on.
Q: What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them? (please organize your response – 1,2,3)
- It feels difficult at times to find good, reliable staff. Especially if you’re busy building a business, you’ll feel like you don’t have time to vet candidates before they’re hired or to manage them well once they get started. Both of these can be overcome with systems in place. For hiring, we use testing modules that applicants MUST complete before they can be considered. These test modules evaluate things like organization skills, customer service acumen, and legal knowledge. They are incredible screeners at the outset and in our experience the people who perform best on the modules make great employees. For staff development, we’ve given staff access to skills development platforms where they can engage in self training and we can monitor their progress.
- It’s also difficult when you’re operating in a space with competitors who seemingly have infinite resources and a large base of customers. You might feel like you’ll never convince clients to go with your service or that you can’t outdo your competition. None of this is true. It’s important to know what your core strengths are and to consistently communicate those to your target customer base. Doing this will generate buzz and will get your foot in the door with a new market. You’ll find that, over time, if you deliver on your promises and provide quality service, your customer base and reputation will grow and your resources will increase.
- By far the biggest obstacle is having enough time in the day to do all of the things you want to do. There are often more tasks than can be completed and tasks continue to pile on without caring whether you’re caught up or not. You can overcome this feeling of being overwhelmed by staying very well organized. Keep firm track of your to-dos and set deadlines for yourself. You might not hit everything, but if you prioritize correctly you’ll always hit the tasks you need to and can adjust on the rest.
Q: What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout? (please organize your response – 1,2,3)
- First, we try to keep things social in the office. We have office lunches every so often, we do whole-firm outings. We like to go out and build a camaraderie with one another.
- Second, I try to keep people engaged and check in as much as I can with my team.
- Lastly, I have standing meetings pretty regularly, just to make sure everyone is on the same page. I want to know how they’re feeling about their workload, and answer any questions they may have before frustrations arise.
Q: How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
Omar: There are different ways to approach this. Most entrepreneurs eat, sleep, and breathe their businesses, and that isn’t something to be ashamed of. If that’s who you are, I say accept that. I think knowing yourself and knowing your personality is really important if you intend to solve the issue of work/life balance. The opposite can be true if your business is not your life. If your business is just something you do, and it’s not something you eat, sleep, and breathe, that’s great, too! It’s all about knowing what you need.
Q: What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why? (please organize your response – 1,2,3) Omar:
- I think the first piece of advice would be to start sooner. If you have the entrepreneurial spirit and the confidence in yourself to strike out on your own, you should do it.
- Second, I think it’s important to choose the right cases. There’s definitely an artform to choosing the right cases. We absolutely say “No” more than we say “Yes”.
- Lastly, I would say jump in feet first with whatever you are doing. Take on as much responsibility as you can early on in your career and build a solid foundation for future entrepreneurship. I was lucky early in my law career to be able to work on a variety of cases, which allowed me to build not only expertise but confidence in my abilities.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Omar: Our goals as entrepreneurs should never be money — not because it’s inherently evil or sinful, but money is often the wrong motivator. It’s going to lead you astray and lead you to make bad decisions. What you should focus on is providing quality work and building a good reputation. If you do those things, you’re going to have good returns, client satisfaction, and happy employees. That will lead to financial success. If you are focused on the fundamentals of your business and delivering an exceptional product, the financial success will follow. You just have to be careful about what you see as the main motivating factor in your business.