Legaltech Venture Investment

This week Crunchbase produced some numbers covering Legal tech investments in 2021.

Legal tech companies have already seen more than $1 billion in venture capital investments so far this calendar year, according to Crunchbase data. That number smashes the $510 million invested last year and the all-time high of $989 million in 2019.

While dollars are higher, deal flow is a little behind previous years, with 85 funding rounds being announced so far in 2021, well behind the pace of 129 deals last year and 147 in 2019.

Some of the largest rounds in the sector this year include:

  • San Francisco-based Checkr, a platform that helps employers screen job seekers through initiating background checks, raised a $250 million Series E at a $4.6 billion valuation earlier this month;
  • San Francisco-based legal services provider Rocket Lawyer closed a $223 million venture round in April; and
  • Boston-based on-demand remote electronic notary service Notarize raised a $130 million Series D in March at a reported $760 million valuation.

According to various start-up founders:

“This mainly is a paper-based industry. However, COVID exposed inefficiencies and it forced people to look at everything you do and explore new ways.”- Patrick Kinsel, founder and CEO at Notarize

“There’s no doubt COVID provided huge tailwinds for legal tech growth,” said Jack Newton, co-founder and CEO at Vancouver-based legal tools platform Clio, which raised a $110 million Series E at a $1.6 billion valuation. “It was the forcing factor for firms that had put off their transformation.”

“Since the midpoint of last year, we’ve seen an acceleration of our business,” said Vishal Sunak, co-founder and CEO at Boston-based management tool developer LinkSquares, which used that increased interest to help raise a $40 million Series B in July.

Here are a few observations on what is going on:

  1. Impact of the Cloud: Just as in many industries, the cloud and other new tech had been slowly changing the legal world for more than a decade. However, after COVID caused offices to close and legal processes and documents to go virtual, adoption of those technologies skyrocketed. Investors started to eye technologies that took many firms “in-house” processes and moved them to the cloud—many involving documentations and filings as well as tools to help better communicate with clients.

2. Cloud-first generation: Many general counsels are now coming from a “cloud-first” generation and know the importance of things such as data insights that can help predict outcomes. Just as data and AI has changed marketing, sales and finance, the legal community is now catching on, and many don’t just want to be a cost centre

3. Increasing investor knowledge: The increasing market and scaling legaltech start-ups are causing VCs to take note. While many investors eyed the space in the past, more investors have knowledge about contracts and legal tech, and founders do not tend to have to explain the market

However, the market is still small albeit growing and no ‘goliaths’ exist in the space. With no large incumbents, how investors see returns remains a popular question.

This may chance if, for example, horizontal software companies like Microsoft or Salesforce could become interested in the space—as legal tech has data and analytics those types of companies find useful, Wedler said.

Some companies in the space also have found private equity a viable exit, with films like Providence Equity rolling up players such as HotDocs and Amicus Attorney several years ago.

However, perhaps more interesting to some startups is the legal tech space even saw an IPO this year, with Austin, Texas-based Disco going public on the New York Stock Exchange in July. The company’s market cap now sits at $2.8 billion.

One thing most seem certain about is that while the legal world’s tech revolution may have been brought on by a once-in-a-century event—there is no turning back.

3 Big Digital Priorities for Leaders

After analysing the data of over 439 senior leaders at global organisations in the recent REIGNITE! 2020 Report, it was clear that the use of technology for 95% of the majority had been to maintain business operations, whether that was survival or business continuity in facilitating remote work. 

This is not surprising per se in response to a major emergency. Before the tectonic shifts caused by COVID-19, some organisations were executing on multi-year digital transformation plans, with others focused on fighting other fires with digital not even on the radar. 

The ongoing pandemic, economic, social and health crises continues to raise the stakes for leaders on digital priorities, underscored by three major opportunities:

#1 Increased digital adoption enables adaptability at speed and scale

For many firms this has involved a combination of accelerated back-end cloud, front-end software tools, and new ways of working. Many of those digital initiatives quickly became make or break—for example restaurants, cafes, and retailers enabling digital orders and connecting seamlessly with delivery services. 

Other firms however continue to have core (or hybrid) infrastructure set-ups based on outdated tools, processes, and assumptions which need to be re-envisioned for the evolving landscape, continuing remote workforce requirements and leadership appetite to maximise the full potential of digital across the firm.

The focus for leaders should be to build on the momentum of change the crisis has caused (‘it can be done!’) and adoption by moving beyond ‘getting back to business’ and understanding the full set of digital opportunities for customers, internal processes, workers, and organisational capabilities. 

#2 Digital acceleration increases the widening gap between the ‘laggards’ and transforming leaders 

COVID-19 has accelerated this trend and has firmly planted digital and innovation at the top of most CEO’s (and CXO’s) agenda. Whilst many of the worlds large and small companies went into tailspin or survival mode once the pandemic took hold, a handful of digital-powered and platform-enabled companies have instead added billions to their market capitalisation and top-line revenues. And they won’t stop (even likely break-up by the US government will not slow them down). 

In other words, if COVID crisis hasn’t shown you the burning platform (i.e. how fast change is moving, and how digital can help you adapt), then nothing will.

Here are the 3 rough categories of organisations today:

The Leaders: 

A business or brand, which has invested heavily (monetarily and otherwise) into a digital transformation strategy that goes far beyond ‘remote work facilitation’. Integrating key technologies and talent (up skilling existing and augmenting with external expertise) to elevate customer experiences, exploit new business models and ventures, and optimise business processes. Not to be confused with those who have attempted digital transformation, only to implement a new email system and hang up their hats.

The Laggards: 

Those who, for whatever reason, have failed to incorporate new technologies and/or invest in up skilling their talent, leaving their business to rely solely on manual or traditional forms of operations, business models, go-to-market, and communications. While you may be inclined to think of this group as pure traditionalists, grasping on to their old standards, assumptions and ways of working, this group has grown to include a much broader range of organisations. 

In talking with many leaders and employees across the world, it is surprising how many leaders have gone straight back to this way of working after Q2 2020 lockdown. In some cases, they have retreated even further. 

The Middle-Ground Mavens:

This may be the point in which you find yourself asking, but what about those in middle? Not quite a leader, but definitely not a laggard. In our post-COVID world and given the pace of change, the space taken up by these ‘middle ground mavens’ you could argue is increasingly dwindling, giving way to a landscape in which we can only find ourselves as laggards or leaders. Those who have mastered the art of transformation and innovation, and those who have not. 

(NB This is obviously hugely simplified and far from black or white, but the sentiment remains).

For non-tech large incumbents with some tailwinds and the appetite to transform, there is significant opportunity to use the scale and resources to digitise processes for efficiency, and at the same time, investing in future growth and innovation portfolios, new business models, and up skilling. PingAn’s transformation is a brilliant case in point. 

Whilst this is not easy and requires the right leadership, the alternative is arguably worse: a slow death-march toward extinction or significant value-destruction. 

 #3 Digital acceleration enables more advanced and integrated human and digital combinations

In other words, digital adoption will enable the workforce of today and tomorrow (e.g. remote, virtual, distributed, agile, flexible, gig etc) to become more productive, effective and efficient (‘smarter’) utilising automated workflows (enabled by cloud, analytics, AI, automation, software) of both repetitive and higher-order tasks.

The Boston Consulting Group call this the ‘Bionic Organisation’ which at its core will combine more advanced and integrated human/software combinations (see below):

The-Bionic-Company-of-the-Future_Exhibit_tcm-233419-1024x829

According to BCG, what the company of the future will look like is becoming clearer. At the centre is purpose and strategy: the reasons it is in business and how it brings those reasons to life. Four enablers allow companies to operate as bionic organizations: two have to do with technology and data, while the other two address talent and organisation.

What’s next?

To better understand these issues further or explore our range of digital business advisory offerings, get in touch here andrew@rocketandcommerce.com or at ROCKET + COMMERCE

6 Ways To Make Digital Investments More Successful

Recently I posted here about how organisations can go back to basics and understand what digital really means. In the context of today’s rapid acceleration of digital and IT investments to support remote or new ways of working – from cloud to SaaS tools to desktop VC solutions – this is critical to understand.

Another key fact to consider is that some of the most successful companies ever were started during or just after times of crisis (e.g. GE, GM, IBM, Disney, Facebook).

For leaders who can seize the ‘re-set’ opportunity this crisis provides – and start to engage with more long-term, future-focused, and exploratory strategic planning with digital at the core – this presents a potentially game-changing moment.

This presents a critical question: how should firm’s approach and organise to make digital or innovation investments and transformations successful?

Whilst there is no playbook, below I pull together a number of perspectives from some of the world’s leading management thinkers and practitioners on strategy, digital, innovation and change.

The Challenge

Digital transformation is extremely complex and requires new ways of approaching strategy. Starting big, spending a lot, and assuming you have all the information is likely to produce a full-on attack from corporate antibodies—everything from risk aversion and resentment of your project to simple resistance to change.

  1. Start Small, Think Big

Professor Rita McGrath calls this ongoing learning approach to strategy: discovery-driven planning (DDP). It was developed in the 1990s as a product innovation methodology, and it was later incorporated into the popular “lean start-up” tool kit for launching businesses in an environment of high uncertainty. At its center is a low-cost process for quickly testing assumptions about what works, obtaining new information, and minimizing risks. According to Rita:

By starting small, spending a little on an ongoing portfolio of experiments, and learning a lot, you can win early supporters and early adopters. By then moving quickly and demonstrating clear impact on financial performance indicators, you can build a case for and learn your way into a digital strategy. You can also use your digitization projects to begin an organizational transformation. As people become more comfortable with the horizontal communications and activities that digital technologies enable, they will also embrace new ways of working.

2. Soft and Hard Facts About Change

Managing change is tough, but part of the problem is that there is little agreement on what factors most influence transformation initiatives. Ask five executives to name the one factor critical for the success of these programs, and you’ll probably get five different answers.

In recent years, many change management gurus have focused on soft issues, such as culture, leadership, and motivation. Such elements are important for success, but managing these aspects alone isn’t sufficient to implement transformation projects.

According to consultants from BCG in an Harvard Business Review article entitled The Hard Side Of Change Management:

What’s missing, we believe, is a focus on the not-so-fashionable aspects of change management: the hard factors. These factors bear three distinct characteristics. First, companies are able to measure them in direct or indirect ways. Second, companies can easily communicate their importance, both within and outside organizations. Third, and perhaps most important, businesses are capable of influencing those elements quickly. Some of the hard factors that affect a transformation initiative are the time necessary to complete it, the number of people required to execute it, and the financial results that intended actions are expected to achieve. Our research shows that change projects fail to get off the ground when companies neglect the hard factors. That doesn’t mean that executives can ignore the soft elements; that would be a grave mistake. However, if companies don’t pay attention to the hard issues first, transformation programs will break down before the soft elements come into play.

3. Breaking Down the Barriers

According to a 2019 article from the partners from Innosight, a critical reason for businesses failing to get the impact they want is because they’ve failed to address a huge underlying obstacle: the day-to-day routines and rituals that stifle innovation.

Shifting+the+Culture+Iceberg

Innosight Partner Scott Anthony talks further about this below:

4. A Systematic Approach

A study by McKinsey here of leaders post-transformation has shown there are 21 best practices for organisation’s to implement to improve the chances of success.

These characteristics fall into five categories: leadership, capability building, empowering workers, upgrading tools, and communication. Specifically:

  • having the right, digital-savvy leaders in place
  • building capabilities for the workforce of the future
  • empowering people to work in new ways
  • giving day-to-day tools a digital upgrade
  • communicating frequently via traditional and digital methods

One interesting best practice was that firm’s who deploy multiple forms of technologies, tools and methods tended to have a great success rate with transformation (see below).

This might seem counterintuitive, given that a broader suite of technologies could result in more complex execution of transformation initiatives and, therefore, more opportunities to fail. But the organizations with successful transformations are likelier than others to use more sophisticated technologies, such as artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, and advanced neural machine-learning techniques.

4. Execute AND Innovate

For any followers of the work of the late Professor Clayton Christensen on Disruptive Innovation (view his HBR collection of popular articles here), this is a fundamental challenge for almost every established firm which often becomes a matter of survival during industry, business model, technology or other shifts.

According to Alex Osterwalder:

This continues to be one of the biggest challenges we see companies face: to create two parallel cultures of world-class execution and world class innovation that collaborate harmoniously.