Welcome to the October 2015 installment
of this series of day-in-the-life reports from the
Columbia Startup Lab
“Providing U.S. Spanish Speakers with Effective Legal Aid”
Diego Lafuente ’14LAW can’t stop. He didn’t stop when his first venture folded, nor when he failed to find the funds to hire a developer for his second one. Instead, he learned to code and built his website Abogadazo himself. And he continues to see incredible success to this day.
After graduating from Rutgers with a degree in Economics, Diego took a year between college and law school. Diego’s pursuit of a legal career stemmed from a general interest in law couple with an innate desire to help people. Columbia’s location, rigorous academic curriculum, and prestige ultimately put it in the top spot for Diego, a native New Jerseyan.
While at Columbia, Diego happened upon Entrepreneurial Selling, a class taught by Prof. Eric Baron. He immediately fell in love with it, his entrepreneurial spirit ignited, and subsequently took every class offered in conjunction with the Business School. In one class, Launching New Ventures, Diego developed his first startup, Travedor, as he and his cofounder wanted to make tourism in Latin countries more authentic than the typical trip.
However, after they both passed the bar, his cofounder decided to pursue a legal career. Already accepted into the Columbia Startup Lab, Diego faced a something of a crossroads: should he continue a life of entrepreneurship, or go back to practicing law? He made the easy decision to remain an entrepreneur, but knew Travedor wouldn’t prove sustainable without the help of a cofounder. Thus, a new problem arose: what exactly should his new venture should be?
The Making of Abogadazo
Having worked with both the Legal Aid Society and American Friends Service Committee, Diego saw first-hand just how difficult it was for Latin Americans to get legal help. Less than one-quarter of first-generation Latino immigrants speak English, and to compound the issue, less than 10% of non-Hispanic Americans report fluency in Spanish.
Finding adequate legal services, then, is a real struggle for a significant percentage of the 54 million Hispanic Americans currently residing in the U.S. In response to this growing issue, Diego founded Abogadazo, which means “great lawyer” in Spanish, and provides Spanish-speaking immigrants with legal information in their native language. One of its key components is the free Q&A forum, where users can ask relevant questions and get the answers they need.
But how did Diego end up in the lab? Through Jeffrey Witten CC’10, LAW’15, BUS’15, a fellow Columbia Startup Lab founder of Coin Out. Since joining the CSL, Diego entered and was a finalist in April’s #StartupColumbia competition, and Abogadazo won the Startup Ecuador Competition, funded by the Ecuadorian Embassy in the U.S.
Despite all the success, finding a capable and affordable developer in New York continued to prove difficult. So ultimately, Diego decided to go in another direction. With the prize money he got from the competition, he enrolled in a Ruby on Rails class to become Abogadazo’s full stack developer — on top of serving as its first lawyer and, of course, founder. And sure enough, he built Abogadazo as a minimum viable product entirely on his own.
Diego was grateful for his legal training when it came time to tackle any and all problems he encountered with learning Ruby on Rails. Specifically, the object-relational mapping in Ruby on Rails computer language is surprisingly similar to the nature of categorization in law school. After coding and launching Abogadazo himself, Diego was accepted into the Manos Accelerator in Silicon Valley.
Manos is a startup accelerator devoted to encouraging Latino men and women to pursue their tech-centric passions. Manos seeks to increase the number of venture-backed companies founded by Latinos, which currently stands at only 1%, despite the fact that 17% of the United States population is Hispanic. With Manos’ help, Diego is now building out the Abogadazo team, networking, and refining the company’s business plan.
Manos will have its Demo Day at the Mountain View Googleplex in mid-November, for which Diego’s goal is to find venture funding for the company’s first seed round.
Something tells me he’ll succeed.