IT’S said that Malaysians are an entrepreneurial bunch. Ask any employee what their secret dream is and many would tell you it’s to start their own business. Anecdotal evidence suggests that becoming a published author ranks pretty high on many people’s secret wish list too.
Unfortunately for most people, starting a business remains just a dream. And so is writing a book. But for Marcus van Geyzel, these dreams have become a reality.
After years of working for law firms, he has set up his own practice. And to top it off, he’s just had his first book published this year.
Van Geyzel talks to Savvy about his evolution from a science student to a lawyer, and to becoming a non-fiction author.
He also offers an insight into the entrepreneurship scene in the country and talks about his plans to try his hand at writing fiction next.
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE LAW AS A PROFESSION?
Growing up, I was never actually particularly attracted to the legal field. I was a science student all the way up to A-Levels, where I studied subjects like Biology, Chemistry and Additional Mathematics.
When it came to deciding on my career options, nothing really stood out although I was passionate about reading and writing.
I considered signing up for a journalism degree but ended up opting for law following advice from my uncle — a journalist who’s now a prominent figure in the local news industry — who told me that it’d be better for me to read law.
He said that a law degree would give me more options than a journalism degree, and that with a law degree I could still go into journalism if I wanted to.
However, once I started reading law, especially when I was exposed to the British education system, I really enjoyed it.
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU HAVE DONE IF YOU HADN’T STUDIED LAW?
I probably would have tried my hand at something closer to my passion for writing, which at the time would have probably meant journalism.
My real passion is for fiction-writing but it wasn’t a feasible career option then — and probably still isn’t now. It’s really something to do on top of a regular job.
HOW HAS YOUR LAW CAREER BEEN SO FAR?
I read law in England, and also did the Bar course and got called as a barrister there, before returning to KL to begin my legal career.
I’ve always been in the non-contentious corporate law practice area, meaning I’m not a court-going lawyer, and I spent my first few years of practice at one of the big Malaysian firms.
After a few years, I moved with one of the senior partners when he formed his own medium-sized law firm, and was later admitted as partner of that firm.
In 2013, I started my own boutique corporate law firm with another partner. It’s been an interesting career so far as I’ve had the chance to experience being part of big-, medium- and small-sized law firms.
YOUR FIRST BOOK WAS PUBLISHED THIS YEAR. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
My long-held passion is for fiction writing but legal writing is what I do a lot of.
As a lawyer, I’ve been actively writing legal articles for both online and print media in this country.
I even co-founded a pretty prominent legal website, TheMalaysianLawyer.com.
My book, Law For Startups: What You Need To Know When Starting A Business was a natural progression of the mentoring and workshops that I’d been running for entrepreneurs.
Many people had suggested that I publish a basic legal guide for entrepreneurs, in a format and language that non-lawyers would want to read. There was nothing like that in the Malaysian market.
By writing this book, the advice which previously would only have been available to those who attended my workshops is now accessible to anyone.
It’s meant for entrepreneurs planning on starting a business as well as for those who already have an early-stage startup with plans to grow their business.
WHAT TOPICS DO YOU COVER IN YOUR BOOK?
The topics were specifically selected for being most relevant to entry-level start-ups, such as the right approach to legal matters; how to choose the best business vehicle; the basics of company law, including the relevant changes to the Companies Act; understanding a typical term sheet and shareholders’ agreement; fundamental employment law; and various common legal issues faced by entrepreneurs.
HOW DID YOU END UP SPECIALISING IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP?
Firstly, I should point out that there aren’t any laws which specifically apply to entrepreneurs.
It’s the same corporate law, employment law, intellectual property law,
contract law etc that applies to all businesses.
I’m a corporate lawyer. But I got actively involved with startups when I was asked by Cheryl Yeoh — when she was the CEO of MaGIC (Malaysian Global Innovation and Creativity Centre) — to help out by mentoring a group of Asean entrepreneurs on basic legal matters.
Over time, I became more and more involved with MaGIC and the wider startup eco-system in this country, providing mentoring, conducting workshops, and meeting and advising many entrepreneurs and investors.
It’s been very interesting and I’ve made many friends as well as learnt a lot about business, hard work and innovation.
HOW FRIENDLY IS MALAYSIAN LAW TO ENTREPRENEURS?
Compared to other countries in the region, Malaysia ranks quite well as a place for entrepreneurs to do business, and this includes the legal ecosystem.
The Companies Act 2016 has come into force this year, and the other relevant laws and regulations have also been sufficiently updated to keep up with most business innovations and trends.
This also applies for bigger businesses, which all startups would aspire to become one day.
As the business grows, the corporate governance and financial controls and infrastructure in Malaysia also make it easier to attract investors.
Most importantly, the regulators are also making a good effort to stay ahead of the curve, so I’d say that Malaysian law — both in theory and in enforcement or practice — is very good for entrepreneurs.
IS IT TRUE MOST LAWYERS ARE NATURALLY GOOD WRITERS?
No, I wouldn’t say so. I can see the thinking behind that notion — lawyers are supposed to have a good command of language and strong persuasive skills, and they also have to read lots and lots of cases and statutes.
But it simply isn’t true that most are good writers. There is an ever-increasing number of law graduates flooding the job market every year, and some of them have only basic language proficiency.
SINCE YOUR DREAM IS TO WRITE FICTION, WILL YOU ATTEMPT IT NEXT?
Yes! I’ve always wanted to write fiction but so far have been so occupied with my legal career that this passion has been set aside for the longest time — as is the case with most of us when it comes to our day jobs vs our passions, which is a shame.
After my Law For Startups book was published, I decided that I had to dust off my fiction-writing passion, and will be giving that a go in the next couple of years.
It’s been quite tough, going from being an expert in the legal field to a novice in the writing field, but I’m determined to put in the hard work and long hours required to learn the craft.
I’ve already managed to get a short story published in a local compilation: Little Basket 2017: New Malaysian Writing and a flash fiction piece published in another compilation called Micro Malaysians.
HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU ABOUT WRITING FICTION?
Work-wise, my focus for the next two years will be to continue growing my legal practice.
As a boutique firm, we’ve already achieved a lot as we’re recommended in international legal directories and have also won several awards.
But I also plan to put aside some time to fulfill my ambitions of becoming a successful fiction writer. I’m not too sure whether I’ll succeed with my writing ambitions.
I’m very much a novice in this area and there’s so much to learn. I know it’s a bit of a long-shot but I’m convinced I should give it a try.