John Gilmartin, CEO of Klyant, On Building a Global Customer Base

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Kevin speaks John Gilmartin, CEO of Klyant, on the growth of their legal accounting software, and what it’s like being an entrepreneur in Ireland. 

Transcription

Kevin O’Keefe: We’re going again. Who am I talking with?

John Gilmartin: I’m John Gilmartin. I’m the CEO at a company called Klyant and we do legal accounting software

Kevin: And from where? Dublin? 

John: Dublin, Ireland. We’re out of Dublin, Ireland. 

Kevin: Not all bad. I feel some affinity based on the name, but my first law job was in County Clare in Ennis. Um, and I understand you think that Ignatius, Hoollihan, & Sons. Michael Hoolihan or Hoolihan & Sons might still be a customer. 

John: I might need to go and double check, but I think in terms of Ennis, it’s always been good to us. So we do quite a few firms down in Ennis yeah. 

Kevin: I can guarantee you when I was there, we didn’t have any computers. In fact, behind the receptionist desk was this big machine and it had like butcher paper on it and I’m going, “okay, what’s that for?” or “because when the telephone company goes on strike and we don’t have any telephones, then we do all the communications based on this teletype machine”. It’s just that hard. That was the cutting edge of technology. There’s probably things like that that maybe you want to invest in Ennis. You know as a tech guy. So what do you guys do? 

John: (1:17) So, we’re a complete web-based stat legal accounting application designed specifically for law firms. So, and that’s going to the end to make it, to explain it, we remove the need to manipulate general accounting systems and in order to cater properly for the management of trust money as well as the operating money. So we do all of that in one system.

Kevin: So competitor is the guy that has a business out in North Carolina. I can’t even think of the name of it, trust something or whatever. I met him last year or something.

John: Yeah, so those guys over at TrustPlex. So, those guys concentrate specifically on the reconciliation of trust funds accounts. I guess were different, insofar as, more in terms of kind of our direct competitors or, as an alternative, would be QuickBooks. So it’s we’re like a replacement to a QuickBooks. So our USB would be that will do everything like your QuickBooks but we’ll properly manage your trust account. 

Kevin: (2:07) So you told me already you’re a lawyer.

John: Yeah, former lawyer, but yes. You’re never not a lawyer if you qualify it. 

Kevin: That’s what I tell people. I said, “I’m a lawyer”. I don’t have to do the same things that other lawyers do and they don’t have to do things that I do. I mean, hell if you think most 

John: The training is still there. 

Kevin: Most of the lawyers, that you work with, do you think they would want to do what you’re doing? 

John: No, absolutely not, no. That’s cause they’re sensible. 

Kevin: Come to the United States and meet a whole bunch of people you’d never met before and kind of make up things as you go to some extent, and how you’re dealing with people and how you service them. I mean, so when you went to law school, what did you want to do?

John: Genuinely, I wanted to practice law and that was, yeah, I had a real genuine passion for it. But I think, I was always going to build a business. And so, what my kind of thinking was very early on and to even pre qualification and I knew I’d be setting up my own firm at some point. That was my thinking at that stage. So, in many ways, that was my hammer, you know, looking for that nail in terms of business. 

Kevin: (3:03) My dad used to tell me all the time over dinner, he’d be telling us, you know, nothing like on your own show or you’ve got to own your own show, go run our business. And I kept thinking, “what does he mean?”. I mean, I need to get a job. What did your dad do? 

John: Well, my dad was also an entrepreneur and actually funny enough, in terms of advice, it’s funny you should say that in terms of what dads say, actually it’s really rung true. Kind of made that point is that once you do build your own business, it’s always going to be hard to go back or certainly, where you go back to work, you can’t influence decision when you’re not kind of sitting there in terms of it and I certainly do have that feeling. I do love that feeling of being able to grow something and work with kind of great team to kind of build something kind of special and kind of be constantly, hopefully heading in the right direction. 

Kevin: Yeah, I mean you can’t. I mean, my previous company was acquired by LexisNexis. Now all of a sudden I’m inside this thing and it was great that the person told me, “Hey, don’t move your whole family from Seattle back to New Jersey until you find out what corporate America is like. And I’m thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be great. You guys got budgets, we’ll be able to get stuff done overnight”. Boy, was that an eye opening experience and I could not go back again. I had to go back to the garage.

John: Pretty much knowing that you can make a call and then see it happen. 

Kevin: Yeah, and to do it very quickly. Um, when did you get involved with this company? How’d that all come about? 

John: (4:19) So I was practicing over in Bristol. My dad had a company. 

Kevin: Bristol is in the UK?

John: Yeah this was in the UK. United Kingdom. Yeah. That’s where I qualified. And so I did my primary degree in Dublin, Ireland and then, and then went over to. 

Kevin: Where’s Bristol for people that are. 

John: It’s south, southwest. So if people know where Wales is on the map, it’s down from England just before you go over to Cardiff. So Southwest of the UK. Cider country we call it over there. A great time. Yeah, absolutely. Worth going, but, remind me your question?

Kevin: So, how did you get started in this? You’re in Bristol practicing law? 

John: I always had a  long lasting goal. I grew up around and an entrepreneurial founding. My dad had always been in business. He was always involved in actually supplying everything from kind of your office supplies to uh, to stationary to printing services to ultimately computers and tech and then software. Then selling into the entire legal industry. And they’d had a very successful business doing that in Dublin. And so that was there and he had taken on another partner and they made some various different decisions. But anyway, a partner come all in on the tech side and they thought they’d build some software. There was an opportunity to buyout another company coming up, very small software company that had a hundred firms out of Ireland. It was all happening around that time. And there was also an opportunity essentially for Dad’’s partner at the time that someone’s going to buy them out and was a developer, wants to move on to something else and enter me. And so, yeah, a very short conversation one day just talking as dads and sons do about what he was thinking and saying, “well look, I, you know, really kind of keen to kind of think about setting up this firm or doing it as quickly as possible and we’re adding the numbers”. Saying, “look, why don’t you think about that doing this, you know?” and then I did. So yeah. So I got involved, bought him out, and the first thing we did was buyout that company. Which sounds bigger than it was. Very small business, only about a hundred firms, but very low kind of license fees. And we did that.

Kevin: (6:09) How long ago was that?

John: That’s now just over nine years ago. Yeah. So when, so we did that. Built up that up new, kind of went through the whole recession and all that did a great job in terms of maintaining stability and growth. And during that period and all building up to division, that kind of developed, of course over time. But we stopped building clients in late 2015, mid 2015. And in building that to the two or three years, kind of prior to that, it was all building up and trying to work out and, you know, validate. We saw this huge gap globally really that, um, in terms of kind of accounts technology and uh, solving that property using next generation technology. So then we set out in that journey and mission on then having a good chat with you today.

Kevin: You have a family? 

John: I do indeed. Yeah. Wife, two kids. 

Kevin: So, she think your nuts?

John: She thinks I’m absolutely insane, but she knew that the day I met her though, so, so that’s okay. No, she’s been very good and supportive, but you have to say that, especially when I’m on camera. But, yeah, she’s been brilliant, and if you don’t have that it would be more scary.

Kevin: (7:10) Certainly you’re an entrepreneur in the middle of a company. The whole family’s in it. Cause you’re feeling it all the time. Even if you’re out coaching the kids or something in the back of your mind, you’re thinking about the something. 

John: I’m Irish, I’m always talking about it as well. There’s a lot of that.

Kevin: The rest of the parents maybe having a beer, talking about nothing cause they’re working for the state. You’re thinking about, “I’m working for me”. 

John: Yeah, yeah, you gotta meet payroll. No, that’s it. That’s the reality of building a business that you want to become a fast growth business. 

Kevin: What’s your thinking going on as far as, “okay, we’re in Ireland, we’ve made good penetration there. We got a good customer base. We’re doing some work in the UK now. Now you’re in the states. Um, what’s your thinking as far as the states? 

John: I think it’s a huge opportunity and we’ve known it for a long time. And if anything, we’re just frustrated in the pace. The pace it’s taking us, to kind of, go after in a avail of that opportunity. And that’s the challenge. But there’s a lot of, back to your point, there’s a lot of thinking and talking about it. 

Kevin: (8:11) Well, you’re Irish, you’re going to feel guilty anyway. 

John: Yeah, yeah we do definitely. Got the Catholic guilt going on in lots of ways. But yeah, that’s probably just some of the pressure that we put on ourselves in business. We’re very ambitious. I’m lucky, I think we’ve built a really great team around us. We know we can do it now. We spent this year doing a lot of validation. We’re at ABA tech show later on this year. Attend a lot of conferences over here as attendees and you’re exhibited with ABA tech show and obviously we’re at ClioCon today. And so what we’ve been doing is we’ve built a great relationship with Clio guys in Dublin there EMEA offices are in Dublin. So they’ve been very good to us. Clio throughout the journey of the last year,  year and a half. They’ve been really good in terms of talking and getting lots of information and insights and based in North American market. And so including Canada in that. So we’ve now over, I guess that last year, year and a half, we’ve been planning in parallel to continue our growth in the UK and Irish market. We’re about one in four firms now have in Ireland. And so growing quite quickly on that side of things. And we enter the UK market a year and a half and that’s going very well for us. So we trying to run that in parallel while planning for the U S and I think that’s the key. I think if I was advising anyone, I think when you’re coming and looking at the U.S. market and it’s so big and it could be overwhelming. So I think you’ve got to take that time rather than rushing in headstrong. And I’ve seen people do that and that hasn’t worked out so well.

Kevin: (9:18) And I’m sitting here with the U.S. market realizing, you know, with large law, you know, how much more can we push? You know, you’re not going to get 100%. I went over and hung out at LegalGeek, you know, last year. I wish I was there again this year. You’re sitting there and you’re going and then another conference in Amsterdam and you’re going, “wow,  United States is really small legal market compared to the world. 

John: When you compare it to the globe, yes. And it’s still a huge market, if you compare it to, you know, the UK. You know, specific countries within EMEA. 

Kevin: The thing that’s different about the UK is as soon as you’re in the UK, everybody looks at the market as the world and it was like a mindset that they’ve been in since they were putting ships in the water and going around and conquering the world. Because of this Island, “there’s not in a business here we got to be worldwide commerce”. With the United States, people here look at it and say, “well, if we have the West or the East or even the United States, we’re doing really good”.

John: (10:15) Well I think that’s right. And I that learning and that kind of mindset is what I think you get from coming to the bench like this and understanding and learning those things before you rush into it. And that’s, that’s very much where our kind of mindset is. We’re coming, we’re looking now in January, we’re launching for the U.S. market and we’re looking at basing ourselves most likely that in New York in terms of our kind of base. Has to do a flight time and all of that kind of side of things and, and really building partnerships and looking at efficient ways of getting that market, early market penetration without trying to, when it all wants to do, we just wouldn’t have the funding to do that.

Kevin: I was just gonna ask you about the partnership thing, because the partnership is so key you don’t know the nuances of different markets. I mean, you know the UK and Ireland like the back of your hand. All of a sudden something strange is going to come up here or there and you’re gonna go, “I didn’t know that this goes on, or this goes on”, but those partners can help you with that. I mean, Starbucks had their greatest challenge in Germany because it was the one place they decided to go without a partner. Turned out to be a mess.

John: (11:08) It’s kind of the theme of this conversation, right? It’s also being able to put yourself out there and say, “look, this is what we do know, this is what we don’t know. Can you help us what we don’t know? And when I think if you do a lot of that, you do that preparation and hopefully that will hold us in good stead. Yeah, no, we’re really excited about the opportunity in terms of, as I said, it’s such a big market. And what I also think, um, yeah, what we’ve done and what we’ve been very focused on is being very product centric over the last couple years. Maybe what you’re hearing for the most days, “we know we have the product, we know it’s there. We know it’s scalable. We think it’s great”, but all guys in my position think that. But yeah, it’s a good strong product. We’ve got good customer count, great feedback, great customers, and I think we’re ready for now, like anything else not moving too fast. 

Kevin: What’d you tell a lawyer? You know, like you, they’re practicing in a firm and they’ve got an itch to do something else, you know, what do you tell them? What do they have to think about, you know, somebody you were having a pint with somebody and they’re saying, “I’ve been at this firm for a few years, I’ve got a niche for my dad was an entrepreneur, my mom was an entrepreneur, I want to do something else”. What would you tell them? 

John: (12:12) Well I think, I would start out with, “I think go for it”. I think you should always follow your passion. I think that’s key. You’re going to keep hearing it repeated every day. And I think you’ve got to know it’s going to be hard too. And I think you can’t just know it. You’ve got to go and make sure you understand it and whatever you need to do that. So I think, you know, there’s a lot to be said and people will often advise going to go, just take the punch. So I think it’s okay to dip your toe in the water too and really try to understand it? And I think, look, I’m an accounts guy and I’m deep in it, but I think very quickly get into the numbers early and we’ll make sure that the numbers going to guide everything that you do. They’re the type of things I’d say to be, but I think ultimately I wouldn’t be saying “go for it”. I think it’s exciting. It’s brilliant. And I think if you’re in a firm, I think perhaps the law is brilliant. I think you need to, there’s nothing wrong with putting your head above the desk and going, “you know, is this the area I want to be?”. Maybe it isn’t that they’re going off to be an entrepreneur. Maybe, they want to move into a different department or try something different to put themselves out there. But if they’re looking at going with becoming an entrepreneur and setting up something, there’s so many opportunities out there.

Kevin: (13:05) Don’t you think the opportunities are getting bigger because the manner in which legal services are delivered and managed, the way they’re being run, is all changing? 

John: It’s just scratching the surface. 

Kevin: So, the doors are open to us to invent things that we just see opportunities to do. Never been as big as this. I don’t think.

John: I think that’s exactly it. I think the thing is that you can’t have that kind of mindset of “it’s all going to end” or “all the great ideas have been taken up”. I think a lot of lawyers, those huddled risk averse lawyers that may be sitting there, I mean if you are that person, you’re looking that way, probably isn’t gonna be for you. What I think if you are ever looking in you only see opportunity I think you’re probably right from the gate. I would give it a go. Yeah, I think so. You’re right. Like look, literally it’s only been scratched. I mean, look at Clio. 10 years ago and you know, and now they’re talking about being the operating system for legal. And I think they’ll do it. And I think it’s just mind blowing to think of all this.

Kevin: (13:58) I met Jack in a Starbucks. I’m not sure if it was in the hotel or up the street from where legal tech was. He hadn’t started, he hadn’t launched the company yet. He’s just was out. He was out meeting people. He met people that people said were influential or good people to meet. Seriously. And I arrived in Chicago a few months later at ABA Tech Show and I brought two of my team and I, you know, at a large video camera on a mono-pod and I said, “let’s find some cool people to go interview”, you know. And I pointed out different people. Then I run into this Jack Newton guy. I go, “I know that guy. I met him”, well he’s got a company now. He’s launched a company. It was just the two of them, Rian and Jack standing there and uh, white shirts and black ties, but their passion was there and their heart was there for the opportunities there. I, you know, I do really think Clio’s a good place if you have an idea, even if you’re still practicing. Just come, come to this conference and talk to people like yourself or myself and just hang out. 

John: That’s exactly it. There’s a room full of people that are just trying to work it out. You know some are at different levels on the journey, but as you say, “there’s so many good people to have conversations”. Just about talking, learning, and taking on board the lessons really.  Watching the people who are doing it better than you and trying to learn from them.

Kevin:: Ask them to say, “who should I talk to?”. Go up to Jack and say, “who do you think is doing some really cool stuff that I should talk to? 

John: 100% 

Kevin: Talk to Andrew Gay. He’s doing all the integrations. Lots of cool stuff. 

John: No, I think that’s exactly it on these guys. That’s the thing. And you’ll spot the entrepreneur because they’ll want to talk to you, because they’re passionate and they’re excited about it and they’ll want a see people kind of kick it off. 

Kevin: Now somebody comes over to you to say, “I heard you’re doing great stuff. Could you tell me about it?”.

John: “How did you do that?”, “Had some guys”, but no that’s good.

Kevin: It’s been great to talk with you. 

John: I enjoy it. 

Kevin: Thank you very much. 

John: Nice to meet you. Thanks.

Trial lawyer turned legal tech entrepreneur, I am the founder and CEO of LexBlog, a legal blog community of over 30,000 blog publishers, worldwide. LexBlog’s publishing platform is used on a subscription basis by over 18,000 legal professionals, including the largest law firm in each India, China and the United States.

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