A Slice on Alykhan Sunderji, Founder and Principal Attorney at Sunder Legal
Alykhan Sunderji always thought he was going to be an entrepreneur. That’s what he grew up around and what was most familiar to him. Sunderji’s parents immigrated from East Africa and set up roots in Canada. Serial entrepreneurs themselves, Sunderji was first exposed to business working in their hotels, gift card shops (before the days of email), and, finally, during college, for their agriculture business in Uganda.
Despite Sunderji’s strongest intentions, he was drawn to the practice of law. He attended undergrad at McGill University in Montreal, received a Master’s degree from Queens University all before attending the University of Toronto for law school. Sunderji jokes it’s the best law school no American has ever heard of. Sunderji was deeply involved in school life and served as President of the Students’ Law Society. Although Sunderji graduated from law school, he didn’t really plan on practicing, but rather following in his parents’ entrepreneurial footsteps instead.
That was, until, he got an interview at Paul, Weiss in New York, a pre-eminent global law firm. Sunderji was overwhelmed and excited, this was a firm that had employed 4 of the 9 justices on the US Supreme Court and he could not believe he had an opportunity to work there. “I never thought I’d have the chance to work at that type of law firm, a classic white-shoe firm. How can I pass this up, to get to live in New York, work with these super-smart people? I figured I’d just do this for a couple of years, learn as much as possible, and then try something new.”
In this third year at Paul, Weiss however, a friend of his was selling a chain of coffee to shops around Vancouver and making money while doing so. Sunderji noted that if this friend was able to make this profitable, so could he, so he started negotiating a deal with him. As fate would have it, Sunderji broke his leg during discussions which threw a wrench in negotiations.
It was shortly after this deal dissolved that Sunderji received a call from Amazon. At the time of the call (nearly a decade ago), Amazon was not the company we know and rely (in my case heavily) on today. It was known more for its online book store, and its massive investments in technology were less apparent. Sunderji, however, was excited and saw it as a great opportunity so decided to make the move west.
In his first role, he worked advising the payments business, and it wasn’t long before he proudly took over the Canadian legal team. There, he took immense pride in questioning long-held assumptions about how Canadians and regulators would react to U.S. products. “We really changed the way retailers operate in Canada and really brought them sort of forward into the world of e-commerce. The Canadian market had been shielded from this type of competition for years, and the consumer suffered. When I see the type of offering Canadians have today from all their retailers, I see the spark of competition that we brought years ago.”
This wasn’t Sunderji’s final stop at Amazon, however, after three years at the helm of Amazon Canada’s legal team, Sunderji took a new role leading the legal team for Amazon Fashion. He credits the leadership team as being “next-level smart” and really impacting his time there in a positive way; both in how to address the needs of customers and emphatically managing an organization during a global pandemic. Although it was an amazing experience, Sunderji found himself at an inflection point in his career right around the same time he and his wife were expecting their first child. Sunderji had various paths he could take at this career crossroads, he could: stay at Amazon, Big Tech, or VC.
Ultimately, when Sunderji looked ahead and really thought of where he wanted his life to be in five years, it was clear he wanted to start his own firm and provide to other businesses some of the secret sauce that has helped Amazon be successful. It was the same framework Jeff Bezos used when he developed Fulfillment by Amazon and AWS, but in this case, Amazon isn’t a competitor selling legal services.
Today, Sunderji has since founded Sunder Legal, his own law firm which is poised to be different than a typical firm. “Most lawyers tell you what you can’t do, we tell you what you can. We understand that legal risk needs to be quantified in real-world consequences, and too many lawyers focus on hypotheticals that will never come to pass. I was regularly shocked at the poor quality of legal service even sophisticated counterparties were using, and I saw an opportunity to do better.”
Now running his own business, Sunderji has a piece of advice for other entrepreneurs looking to do the same. “First, whatever you are doing, make sure you are developing your skillset. Time is a limited resource, and spend it where it counts. Additionally, never be afraid to ask questions. People love talking about what they do, and it can be both educational and inspirational. Lastly, believe in yourself. There are so many reasons not to do something or not to take a risk. It’s important you have the confidence to overcome those obstacles.”
In his new office, Sunderji is excited to be taking on clients and looks forward to what’s to come. He left me with a few parting thoughts, namely, the importance of hard work. “Talent only gets you so far, you have to have hard work and grit. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Not only that, but it’s important to work smart, so take the tools that are available to you and simplify your life so that you can focus on the most high-value tasks.” Sunderji’s long-term goal for Sunder Legal is to become the best business law firm in Seattle, where business owners know their lawyer is customer-obsessed, commercial, and dedicated to helping them achieve success.
Alykhan Sunderji obtained his law degree from the University of Toronto. He earned his Bachelors from McGill University in Montreal and later earned a Master’s in Industrial Relations from Queens University in Ontario. Sunderji started his legal career at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison in New York City. Prior to founding Sunder Legal, Sunderji led the legal team for Amazon Fashion. You can connect with Sunderji on Linkedin and learn more about Sunder Legal on their website.