Tunji Williams, co-founder and CEO of dealWIP, took a major bet on himself and the future of the legal industry when he quit a cushy job as a corporate transactional attorney to take on the mission of revolutionizing the way corporate transactional legal services are delivered.
The company, founded in 2017, holds itself out as a legal technology company helping deal professionals deliver differentiated value for clients by leveraging integrated, cloud-based software solutions. Though, as Williams hints, the long-term mission of the company extends far beyond what meets the eye.
As corporate transactional legal clients grow increasingly dissatisfied with what they see as the inflated cost of corporate legal services, such clients are finding creative ways to get more value out of their legal service providers at reduced costs. This dynamic leaves many traditional law firms grasping for sustainable strategies to deliver more value at lower prices - a challenge, as William sees it, begging for technological disruption.
To meet the demand, Williams and the team at dealWIP have developed a workflow and collaboration platform for corporate legal transactions. "We’ve designed the dealWIP platform experience by systematically deconstructing corporate transactional matters into their component phases, assembly line-style, and layering value-added automation and collaboration tools on top of each of these modularized phases to help deal teams optimize for speed, efficiency and seamless communication in any given transactional matter.
Although Williams and the dealWIP team have placed their immediate focus on developing the world's premier workflow platform for corporate legal transactions, they have eyed an opportunity to leverage their platform, over time, to create the world's first central repository for real-time, raw data about private transaction legal deal points. The team intends to aggregate and synthesize the valuable data to create groundbreaking tools capable of providing the market actionable, real-time insights regarding market trends related to material legal provisions and global deal activity, generally.
Of his vision for the company's impact on the legal industry, Williams says, "I want us to be known as the company that forever changed the way corporate legal services are delivered."
RANDI LEWIS: You mentioned, Tunji, that you started the company just recently, in June 2017. What progress can you report to date?
TUNJI WILLIAMS: I think anybody who has taken an entrepreneurial journey for themselves realizes that progress is made on nearly an hourly basis. I tell my fiancee that days for me are either euphoric or filled with complete despair. There’s nowhere in the middle. For us, since we began the company in June of this year, 2017, we made a few massive strides that I think are giving us the momentum we need to really break out and scale this company in an impactful way over the next 18 months.
We started with assessing ourselves, our team, and realizing, “Look, we’ve got a team two co-founders who are both lawyers with no technical ability.” That’s a problem. It’s a problem—not because we don’t have the production vision; not to derail the conversation, but I think one of the reasons why you haven’t seen a company like ours ever before is because there’s this massive gap between this legacy industry and technology, and there are very few lawyers who are willing to leave their positions at law firms to go out and figure out how to build the technology they need to do their jobs better, and there are very few technologists who understand the pain points of practice and can really build the tool that speaks to the needs of attorneys.
What we were doing is we’re bridging that gap and building that bridge for the first time, so that’s why we are special. But to that point, we’ve looked around and figured, “Okay, there are some skills we don’t have. We don’t have technical skills. Who has technical skills?” We partnered with a guy by the name of Ian Hahn, who is a full-stack engineer and is our head of engineering. He’s helped us develop this product. On top of being a full-stack engineer, he is an incredible designer. And part of the standout, that differentiator with our product, is the simplicity of the product. You don’t need a user manual to use to deal with platform. A practice group routine can gain access to our platform on Friday evening and come in on Monday and have the entire team ready to work. That’s unique, that’s special. You don’t have those kind of solutions in the market right now. Ian is responsible for building this incredible, incredible user experience.
We’ve recruited an advisory board with extremely successful and experienced practitioners that include a general counsel at a large public company, as well as the director of enterprise technology at one of the nation’s largest law firms. Those two advisors are really helping guide us as we continue to develop the product and find the perfect product–market fit.
Finally, we are working on building a pilot program with some of the world’s largest law firms. By midway through next year, we expect to have between five and eight Am Law 200 partners participating in our pilot program, meaning they will be testing our product across their offices globally and providing feedback as to how to improve the product so that we can get more market penetration.
That’s just a little bit of what we doing. On top of that, we’re also fundraising to help fund our operations over the next 18 months and scale our business the way we need to.
I want to add one more thing to what you just said, Tunji, because I recently noted that congratulations is in order, because dealWIP was recently chosen as one of only seven legal technology startups to join the LexisNexis Tech Accelerator Program in the Silicon Valley.
Thank you, thank you. It’s a pretty big deal for us and, as they say, it’s better to be lucky than it is good, and in this instance we were certainly extremely lucky. I’ll tell you a story. We were looking for opportunities to attach ourselves to an accelerator program or an incubator program to help us get off the ground, and take the baby steps, and figure out the blueprint for starting a business from scratch. I came across this extremely specific description of their new accelerator program, and the application deadline had already passed, but I thought, “Look, I got nothing to lose. I’ve got the email address here, I’ve got the pitch deck—I’m sending this thing out tonight.” I sent out our application. They already closed the deadline. I hear the next morning back from them: “Hey, you’ve got some fans at our organization. We’re going to include your application in the batch.” A couple of weeks later, I hear back and we’re in the program.
It’s been an absolute blessing to be associated with LexisNexis and to be part of this program. Part of the benefits of being in the accelerator is that we get access to some of their senior executives, including their chief product officer, their VP of US product management. We also get to take away some learnings that they’ve acquired over their decades of doing business, specifically related to the legal industry, and selling in the legal industry, and developing useful partnerships in the legal industry. Those takeaways are massive for us.
The last thing: on top of that, we have incredible cohort of startups that are going through the program with us. One of the companies has a CEO who has taken two companies public before he started this startup. The amount of wisdom and information I’m able to get from him on a weekly basis is really second to none. It’s a great program. We’ll finish in mid-December and it’s a 12-week program in total.
Where do you see dealWIP 10 years from now?
It’s funny. A year before today I couldn’t have told you that I’d be sitting here with you trying to explain the vision and the story for a company we’re building from scratch. It’s hard to predict where we’ll be 10 years from now. I do know that I do want this for our company: I want us to be known as the company that forever changed the way corporate legal services are delivered across the world. I think we’re at a very special time in the legal industry. Like no other time in human history, we have technology available to solve some of our almost persistent and pervasive problems—socially, in business—you name it. It’s incumbent upon us, those who understand our industries and understand the work we do and understand the gaps, to figure out how to leverage that technology to make people’s lives better. Otherwise, the technology doesn’t mean anything. I tell people that we are a legal tech company, not a legal tech company. The experience—the difference, the impact we have for lawyers and for their clients is why we do it. It’s not about developing high-tech stuff. Ten years from now, I want people to be able to say that had dealWIP not existed, the legal industry would not be where it is today. We want to leave our imprint on the legal industry leverage and tech and data.
That sounds like you want dealWIP to be the Google of legal technology.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, that’s going to sound naïve, but that’s exactly what we are trying to do. Deconstruct that for a second: What does Google do? Google has created state-of-the-art tools for people to use—tools that make people’s lives better. They dreamed up wonderful tools. They leveraged great algorithms and machine learning to develop great tools that improve people’s lives. People flock to the tool to use it, and what does Google do? Google collects information about user activity and create even more groundbreaking and revolutionary tools. That is what we’re doing for corporate legal. It’s the same concept. We want to be just as ubiquitous as Google; we will be. I expect that 10 years from now, every corporate transactional attorney will wake up in the morning and the first thing they’ll do is check their dealWIP, and they’ll go to sleep at night and the last thing they do is check their dealWIP to see where their deals are, where things have moved, and what market trends are. That’s what we’re creating. That’s the big picture.
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