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As I have written about before, I am an inbox zero person, and I appreciate when others keep on top of their emails. It’s a pet peeve for me if people do not respond, even to politely decline or acknowledge a deadline. Of course, I am not talking about spam emails. Sadly, many people are simply overwhelmed by communication, particularly their inbox. I recently caught up with Ryan Anderson, CEO of Filevine, located in Provo, Utah. Ryan started Filevine in 2015 when he was a practicing attorney who was frustrated with case management options and communication in general.
Mary Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Ryan Anderson: Filevine solves the problems of workplace communication and alignment. Right now, the de facto system of record for lawyers is email. That’s where they communicate with clients, collaborate, archive information, and share documents. The result is a flood of emails — hundreds a day. Sometimes lawyers mention it as an odd source of pride — like their 200 daily emails is a sign of their importance. But in truth, it’s a sign of mismanagement.
Filevine is a cloud-based case management system. It combines lawyer collaboration, client communication, and legal operational analytics into one platform. We call it “conversational case management.” What used to take hundreds of emails a day now happens in one intuitive system. Filevine keeps people aligned, informed, and on task.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Anderson: Our customers are predominantly attorneys, but we also have quite a few non-law-firm customers. Information workers come to us because they are experiencing an alignment problem — which is almost inevitable once you have 5 or more people working together. Before Filevine, their information is siloed, decision-makers are left out of important conversations, and important tasks slip between the cracks.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Anderson: I’m a practicing attorney who started my own law firm. Like so many other attorneys, I started out using Gmail to manage my communication. I developed a sophisticated system of flagging and folders that worked for me — when I only worked with one other person. But then we grew. Our staff and client load became bigger and bigger. It became nearly impossible to remain aligned around clients’ needs.
I faced a similar challenge with other forms of communicating. I always wanted to be the lawyer who was the best communicator with clients, so I gave out my cell phone number to every client. My clients loved that. And it worked great — for a year. Then I got more clients. People gave my cell phone number out to their friends who needed a lawyer. I grew a fantastic client base — and my phone never stopped ringing. Like many attorneys, I became a victim of my own success — by doing well for a client, I got more business, and it was no longer physically possible to devote the same attention to new clients.
I experienced first-hand an industry-wide problem: attorneys have a very difficult time scaling. That’s why we invented Filevine. My co-founder and I joined up with some world-class software engineers, with the focus of allowing group conversations around client needs. We wanted to allow firm members to pick up the phone and know immediately what to say to a customer or client.
From there we branched into other areas that made sense. We included the ability to text into and out of a case file, so users can text their clients without giving out their cell number. We made systems to bring email, hard mail, and faxes all into one communication system.
Incidentally, I still recommend that brand new attorneys give out their personal cell phone. Then when it’s time to scale, they should come to us.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Anderson: I built Filevine with Jim Blake and Nathan Morris. We have a world-class team of engineers and sales and marketing professionals. We take recruiting very seriously — it’s not uncommon for the engineering department to go through hundreds or even thousands of resumes before selecting one or two applicants for interviewing.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Anderson: In January, we announced $8.3M in Series A funding, which was led by Signal Peak Ventures (SPV). We took on funding to accelerate product development and sales and marketing. As we approached 1,000-law firm customers, we felt like it was the right time to cement our position as the market leader. Signal Peak understands our vision and was committed to Filevine remaining founder-led.
Brandon Tidwell with Signal Peak spent more time with our product than anyone else we talked to. He grew to understand our product at a molecular level. He was a practicing lawyer himself and knew the power of what we were building — that “lawyers begin and end their day with Filevine,” as he puts it. That’s how we knew the fit was right.
Anderson: In the beginning, I would make sure to handle the largest deals myself. But I also wanted to minimize my time away from my family. The solution for me? Red-eye flights. One night, I prepared to head out on a 12:30am flight to make an important deal. Knowing I wouldn’t have time to shower once I landed, I worked out and showered late that night. When I closed the shower door, the glass shattered. Shards of glass fell on my hand and arm and all over my face. There was blood everywhere. It looked like a scene from a horror movie.
Some of the cuts were so deep they needed stitches — but I wasn’t about to miss my flight. I called a friend, a doctor who lived on our street. He stitched me up, bandaged my cuts, and tried to make me look presentable. I hopped on the plane, arrived, and made the deal, even covered in cuts and bandages. I faced some questions, but throughout I couldn’t stop laughing about the situation, thinking “well, this is how we roll.”
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Anderson: Success is seeing a customer go from being anxious and fretful about their job as a lawyer, to being proactive and confident. Nothing is more gratifying than hearing people say Filevine has given them their time back, that they’re able to sleep better, and they feel in control. When a lawyer tells me they’ve made that transformation through our software, I feel so happy about what we have created.
One note from an attorney really affected me. He wrote that “Filevine impacts lives.” He also sent to me: “Filevine allows us to offer benefits to our employees that we otherwise couldn’t. Benefits that they use to attend school assemblies and be present in the lives of their children. Your work is a big deal to at least 4 families and about 10 kids under the age of 9.”
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
Anderson: Measure what your customers do, not what they say. They might say they love your software. But are they using it? It might surprise you to learn that it’s easier to get a customer to pay for your software than to actually use it. People are willing to spend a little money to test something out, and see if it works for them. But real success is getting them to invest their time in your product, and actually change their habits.
When a customer actually puts their time into your product, then you know you have something powerful.
Juetten: And of course, any IP horror stories to share? They can be anonymous.
Anderson: I’m mostly amazed to discover how poorly prepared and mismanaged some law firms are. When I’m talking with potential customers, I love to ask, “Where do you keep your case list?” “Where do you keep a list of all your active matters?” In the beginning, I expected a clear answer. Now I’ve learned that 25-30% of attorneys can’t answer that question. They don’t have a full list of active cases. Instead, they’re deadline-driven. They only deal with something right before it’s due. If they have some case on appeal, they may not think about it for a year. No client communication — nothing.
If you don’t even have a list of your matters, how can you manage a firm? How can you get out ahead of problems before they start? How can you be proactive about shaping your strategy? How can you make sure you’re connecting regularly with all your clients?
Juetten: Finally, what’s the long-term vision for your company?
Anderson: We envision a world where the distance between thought and action is dramatically diminished. We want it to be frictionless. When a lawyer thinks “I should do X for my client,” they should be able to speak the words and start the process. Too often, the thought crosses their mind about something they need to do, but they don’t put it in a trusted system. The next time they think about it, it’s too late. We want to capture each moment, each strategic thought for their client’s benefit. We envision a near future where lawyers can be focused on higher level tasks — strategy, research, and marketing — and the quotidian tasks of practicing law take care of themselves.
There’s a second part to our vision: we want clients to love their lawyers. And right now they don’t. We’ve found research showing that seven out of ten clients would not recommend their lawyer. That’s a dismal number — the net promoter score (NPS) of lawyers as a whole is incredibly low. Our long-term vision is turning that around, so clients feel seen, heard, and appreciated, and feel good about the outcomes of their legal matters.
Client-centric is the way of the future. Anyone who would like to share their story, along with tips for founders, please reach out on Twitter @maryjuetten. #onwards.
April 2, 2019 at 08:58AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs