Amir Reshef talks with Kevin O’ Keefe on how he started dealcloser, where the company is today, and what he’s learned along the way.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Amir Reshef: Amir Reshef.
Kevin O’Keefe: And what do you do?
Amir Reshef: I’m the CEO and cofounder of the legal tech company called dealcloser.
Kevin O’Keefe: And where are you from?
Amir Reshef: Alberta, Edmonton.
Kevin O’Keefe: The same place as Jack Newton that co-founded Clio. And what does dealcloser do?
Amir Reshef: Dealcloser is a transaction management platform.
Kevin O’Keefe: What does that mean?
Amir Reshef: It’s for corporate lawyers to run their deals through. The M&A process is typically very paper heavy, very manual. A lot of those tasks can be automated with our software. So, we make the transaction process better for lawyers and their clients.
Kevin O’Keefe: And how did you get involved in that?
Amir Reshef: I used to be a lawyer at a big international firm and I just lived that process and I hated it and I couldn’t understand why we were doing it. And, couldn’t understand why we were doing the things we were doing. And not just us–all corporate law does it that way. And so we–my cofounder and I–thought ‘wouldn’t it be great if there was something that did these things and just made the process less manual, less frustrating, less annoying?’ And decided to go for it two years ago.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you went out and started it. With what? Did you have savings, did you have anything?
Amir Reshef: Not a whole lot.
Kevin O’Keefe: Is your co-founder a woman or man?
Amir Reshef: He’s a guy.
Kevin O’Keefe: Lawyer or not a lawyer?
Amir Reshef: No, he’s technical. He’s a technical guy.
Kevin O’Keefe: How did you guys know each other?
Amir Reshef: Mutual friends. He started off as a contractor, him and another guy. And then he became the CTO and the other guy is an employee of ours too. I call him a cofounder because he was there from day one, but he started as a contractor.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you had this idea in your head, ‘Hey, better way to do this. This is way too painful.’.
Amir Reshef: Yeah. 5 am, night after night, I didn’t want it anymore.
Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah and obviously if you’ve talked to other entrepreneurs, you are exactly from the road that people come from. They’re working in some type of issue, and they’re past it–there’s too much pain. So when you hired him as a contractor, how’d you pay him? Where’d you get the money to do this thing?
Amir Reshef: We made a terrible PowerPoint to explain what it’ll do. And I showed it to some lawyers at my firm and one was like, ‘oh I’ll invest in this.’ Wasn’t even expecting that, but he gave us our first investment. It was now what seems to me like a small amount, but back then was a lot of money and that’s how we started. That was what we started to pay contractors with.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you go get the customers?
Amir Reshef: We built out an alpha, basically. Completely nonfunctional, but it looked way better than our terrible PowerPoint. And we went to firms in Edmonton and I said, ‘when this exists, would you be willing to use it?’ And we even asked for a small fee just to show people are willing to put money into this. And that’s how it started. It started with local firms in Edmonton and then as we started to grow, we expanded our reach and now we’re all throughout North America.
Kevin O’Keefe: How many firms are using dealcloser now?
Amir Reshef: We’re at over 25.
Kevin O’Keefe: They’re of all sizes? Or tend to be a little bit larger because of the nature of the deals that you’re doing?
Amir Reshef: Actually, even small firms. Simple sales–like the sale at a gas station–it’s not a big transaction, but it’s still happening all the time. Our smallest firm is one lawyer and our biggest firm is 400 lawyers.
Kevin O’Keefe: So somebody can go in this interface–it’s reduced to an interface as opposed to document by document by document. I assume you see where they are on the stage of getting everything done. And by putting information in, it’s then producing the documents based on the input of information as opposed to filling in blanks in a word processor. I’m just guessing. I don’t know.
Amir Reshef: Yeah. It’s not quite that. Document automation–we are actually going to build that. But typically lawyers are using their own documents. We are really a process tool. They upload their documents, they can invite–most deals are two sided–the other law firm. They invite their clients of course. They can invite the accountants. Everyone involved on a deal comes together in one true digital version of the deal instead of having separate closing rooms and emailing documents, then the clients have their own portal where they can securely review and then sign their documents and as they’re signing documents, that’s all tracked back so the lawyer can see exactly who signed what and who hasn’t. It’s funny because most people think of signing a document: It’s very quick, it’s one contract or whatever and maybe two people signing.
Kevin O’Keefe: Oh no–you could have page after page
Amir Reshef: Yeah, so when you have a thousand documents, the problem gets huge when it’s on a deal.
Kevin O’Keefe: Did you go directly from college, law, to: you’re in the large firm, and now you’re an entrepreneur?
Amir Reshef: Yeah, exactly.
Kevin O’Keefe: What’s been the biggest surprise? Or let me ask, before even that–why you? When you’re sitting there working at large firm, you’re not working with a lot of people that are ready to quit and start their own companies. What made you as somebody that was willing to do that?
Amir Reshef: It’s funny, I never had heard of entrepreneurship until I did a joint JD MBA. And so in my MBA I had always just assumed every company has always existed. I don’t know how I never thought of it. Facebook was always Facebook. I’d never thought about the people behind the company who started it. Somehow I missed the boat on it completely, but then I started learning about it more during my MBA and I was like, ‘this seems amazing.’ And I decided–I gave myself a maximum of five years.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you had a plan?
Amir Reshef: Yeah. After five years, I was afraid the golden handcuffs would kick in too strongly. So I said ‘five years at most,’ but then after practicing–and I always thought I’d join a startup and be employee number 30 or whatever. I got–what I see it as fortunate enough–to live this problem and actually quit long before five years. I practiced almost three and then decided to take the plunge and co-found a company.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who were the mentors that allowed you to do that, that you were talking to ‘I’m going to do this thing and different things’ because obviously you’ve got an MBA–you’re learning something, but it’s nothing like learning it on the ground.
Amir Reshef: No, it’s nothing at all. I’m really lucky. Edmonton has a really great tech community and startup community. I have a lot of friends in that community. So when I was thinking about it, I was able to talk to other co-founders and founders and ask questions like, ‘When should I quit? Am I crazy? What’s it going to be like?’ And you can’t actually prepare for what it’s going to be like. I’m lucky that I have a lot of mentors in my community that I bet are always willing to give me some time of day, even from some of the really big companies. Edmonton’s a very supportive and collaborative community. So that’s how.
Kevin O’Keefe: What’s been your biggest surprise?
Amir Reshef: Honestly, this is going to make me sound very naive, but I thought it would be like a red carpet unrolled for us. Like it’d be so easy. Customers would be flocking to sign up. And I just didn’t expect how hard it was going to be. Also it’s been super rewarding. But I was completely naive–thought it’d be like, ‘here’s some money.’ It’s obviously not that easy or else everyone would be doing. It’s been extremely rewarding. But that was the big surprise–just learning the reality of what I decided to undertake. Maybe I should have done better research.
Kevin O’Keefe: Were your parents or relatives, asking ‘what are you doing?’
Amir Reshef: They’ve been extremely supportive. I’m lucky. I don’t have a lot of risks. I rent. No kids. Not married. So this is the time to try this kind of thing. My parents are happy that I did and I would not have been able to do it without them and the level of support they’ve given me.
Kevin O’Keefe: I started my first law firm and I haven’t practiced in 20 some years and I traveled 200 some miles to see my mentor in Milwaukee and I’m telling him I’m thinking about starting my own firm and he goes ‘you don’t have any risk.’ I go, ‘I have five kids and we just bought an old Victorian house. We’re going to restore it.’ He goes, ‘if it doesn’t work out. You just fall down and get back up and do it again and it will probably work out anyway.’ and I’m like ‘are you nuts?’ But I think there’s a lot of truth to that for people to really step back and say, what do I really have at risk? And if I’m really confident in an idea that I believe in, if I don’t do it, that might be the greater risk.
Amir Reshef: That’s the risk, yeah.
Kevin O’Keefe: It’s your first company and your vision of how it’s going to be so easy and so obvious–it’s going to work. But there have to have been moments where you go, ‘this is going to fly. We’re going to do this. I know it. Now.’ Are there occasions where that’s happened or do you remember particular events or you got this client?
Amir Reshef: Yeah, exactly. I still get that feeling when something good happens, but I guess what’s interesting is, and what’s changed is it used to be at the early days, there wasn’t a lot of good news and there wasn’t a lot of bad news. So good news really stood out and bad news was crushing and now there’s more of both kinds. It just averages out to be ‘a day’ now. But yeah, there’s lots of moments where I’m just like, ‘this is awesome.’ Even at our booth, someone just signed up just earlier, like an hour ago so I was, I was happy about that. That was cool. I was like, ‘this is working, this is validation.’.
Kevin O’Keefe: Do they pay a subscription over a period of time or they pay per use?
Amir Reshef: It’s a per person per month cost. $79 month to month.
Kevin O’Keefe: Pretty good.
Amir Reshef: Yeah, we’re pretty competitive for pricing. They can pay for the year and then it’s cheaper. It ends up being 69 a month.
Kevin O’Keefe: How did you figure out your pricing?
Amir Reshef: We looked at a lot of other companies, including Clio and we saw the range in legal tech and in SaaS. But pricing is something we have to continually revisit. I read an article that said most startups, they basically set their price in their first days of existence and then never go back to it. And it’s one of your most important things so we don’t talk about it often. Maybe not as often as we should, but we do talk about it and we’re ready to try different prices out. Startups are like tons of experiments that you’re running.
Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah you’re trying to figure out: can we add greater value to validate this price or increase the price? Do we need to go down in price as we’re becoming more efficient?
Amir Reshef: Or do we have a new feature that is going to be a different tier. There’s lots of things you can do.
Kevin O’Keefe: How many people are working?
Amir Reshef: Eight. Five of them are here today.
Kevin O’Keefe: That’s impressive. How’s everybody feeling like coming here?
Amir Reshef: I went last year as an attendee and loved it and I like talked it up on how much fun they’re going to have and it’s been awesome.
Kevin O’Keefe: Do you find that having your people at Clio and you being at Clio, in addition to meeting lawyers and you can sign up customers, just the inspiration–the client centric, ‘we can do this stuff,’ just rubs off?
Amir Reshef: It does, it’s very inspiring.
Kevin O’Keefe: You go home and you’re ready to do more and conquer the world.
Amir Reshef: I mean Jack’s keynote yesterday was super interesting from all those stats. They’ve led us to think about what directions we can take on our next features. That was super valuable for us to hear those thoughts. He did all the research for us.
Kevin O’Keefe: I’m going on Twitter and I’m giving messages to my team. ‘Why can’t Lexblog do this?’
Amir Reshef: Yeah, my developers too when I started making feature requests, they tried to like calm me down.
Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah. Because sometimes you know, Hey, you haven’t thought about what we might be able to do with this if we work on this to do that. And that will be a real art on your part to be able to step back and power these people to do great things and they’ll come back and do better things that you couldn’t have envisioned.
Amir Reshef: That also has evolved. It used to be everything I said got built because I was a subject matter expert. Right. And now I asked for something sometimes that my developers will be like, well did a customer tell you that? They question me now about it. Like ‘why should we do it? What’s the priority?’
Kevin O’Keefe: But sometimes you know, I tell our team, man, customers don’t know what they want.
Amir Reshef: That’s true too.
Kevin O’Keefe: Nobody was waiting on this thing when we just introduced it to the marketplace. But yet they’re buying.
Amir Reshef: That’s why we also track how they use the app cause tells a different thing.
Kevin O’Keefe: What do you tell somebody that’s sitting at a firm whose maybe thinking like you thinking, I only want to be on it for a period of time. What do you tell them?
Amir Reshef: Go for it. That it’s not easy.
Kevin O’Keefe: What’s the most important thing they need to have when they leave [a firm]?
Amir Reshef: In what sense?
Kevin O’Keefe: Not talking about money, but what did they need to have? What has got to be in your DNA?
Amir Reshef: Risk tolerance. Enjoying situations where there’s no instructions. When you’re an associate at a firm you do what you’re told. You don’t have to think too hard about what you do next or how you do it, but there’s no manual for what we’re doing. They have to be prepared for the unknown really and be comfortable with that.
Kevin O’Keefe: It’s great what you’re doing, it’s a cool idea. And what i’m amazed is I go to different conferences, just set up shop or go on Twitter and say, ‘I would like to talk to legal tech entrepreneurs,’ and meet people like you and they just keep coming. It’s going to be the lifeblood of the law because as things from large law begin to change in the way they deliver legal services, it’s going to take that tech and that automation for people to look at things differently.
Amir Reshef: It’s coming whether they like it or not.
Kevin O’Keefe: That’s right. But actually you can help individual lawyers maybe make more money, they might be able to do more sales.
Amir Reshef: We we have stats on that in fact so that we’re starting to collect it with some of our customers. So we are trying to build an ROI calculator cause nothing is more compelling than just the numbers. We’re working on that now.
Kevin O’Keefe: And you can be empowering individual lawyers are a couple lawyers to go out and be their own law firm.
Amir Reshef: Yeah and they can punch above their weight. We like to tell them that.
Kevin O’Keefe: I told Jack [Newton] that. I said ‘you’re punching above your weight, way above your weight’ at Clio. It just continues to get higher and higher. You’re doing it, and you’re helping those lawyers do it. It’s pretty cool.
Amir Reshef: Thank you. It’s fun to do this. It’s stressful, but I find the stress better than the stress I had at a law firm. It’s like a less toxic stress.
Kevin O’Keefe: That’s a really good way to put it because people are stressed by it. ‘Is this what I want to do. this isn’t rewarding. I’m getting paid a bunch of money. It this all that’s going to happen to me in my entire life? You wake up in the night, probably more with that than you do with things that people would think you should be scared about in a Startup. Congratulations. Great to chat with you.
Amir Reshef: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Thank you.