Legal tech made simple

Interview with Eric Laughlin, CEO Agiloft

March 09, 2021 Dom Burch
Legal tech made simple
Interview with Eric Laughlin, CEO Agiloft
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode I caught up with Agiloft’s new (ish) CEO Eric Laughlin. He tells me all about the  company’s recent $45m investment. 

Bootstrapped since its inception in 1990 and profitable, Agiloft’s this is the company’s first round of external funding and will be used to accelerate its product development and expand its vertical and geographic market presence.

Eric most recently served as global leader of legal managed services at EY, where he managed the Pangea3 and Riverview Law teams. Prior to EY he was managing director of the corporate segment within Thomson Reuters and used to run Serengeti, which went on to become Legal Tracker. 

Like me, he's not a lawyer, but unlike me, he's a super smart guy who is at the forefront of legal engineering and enterprise transformation.

He see contracts as the DNA in an organisation - and thinks companies should care about what is deep coded within them so they understand their risks, but also can benefit more fully from what is contained with in them.

He also is passionate about culture and the relationships his teams build with customers.  Eric says being relationship driven and being very transparent, are cornerstones of any good culture and definitely Agiloft's.

Dom Burch:

Welcome back to legal tech made simple with me, Dom Burch. I'm not a lawyer and I'm not particularly techie, which makes me perfectly well-placed to help make legal tech simple. And I'm absolutely delighted at this week on the podcast to welcome Eric Laughlin, who is the CEO of Agiloft. Eric has a fantastic track record and history in this legal tech world that we operate in having played his part at EY where he was global legal managed services leader, but also at Thomson Reuters. Eric, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast.

Eric Laughlin:

Absolutely. It's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Dom Burch:

So, Eric, I always start by asking people just to give us a little bit of a potted history. What did you do at school? How did you end up in this world of legal tech and how did you end up becoming the CEO at Agiloft?

Eric Laughlin:

You know, I, I went to a school at Duke university in North Carolina and I ended up moving for my first job, but to, to Boston where I worked at a consulting firm called the Parthenon Group. And, you know, not with any intention at all, the first client that I ever had was Thomson Reuters. So I quickly got thrown into the world of legal content and , and services and software. Uh, you know , after going to business school, I ended up moving to Minneapolis and working for Thomson Reuters for the next , uh , 13 years or so. So I, I got my full plate of , uh, of legal , uh, despite not being a lawyer myself. Uh, you know, when I was at Thomson Reuters at , at TR I , I did a number of things, but some of the most fun were running the Serengeti. You know , now known as Legal Tracker business after we acquired that in 2010, and then later I got the opportunity to run Pangea 3, which I think your audience will know know it was one of the original legal process outsourcers that Thomson Reuters acquired. So I ran Pangea 3 , uh, for five or so years before , uh , taking that whole team with me , uh, over to Ernst and Young , uh, and that team became , uh , along with Riverview Law became the bedrock of EY's legal managed services outfit, you know , a lot, a lot of legal, a lot of legal tech, a lot of tech enabled services. Uh, you know, in all those years I spent most of my time working with clients that were corporate legal departments , uh, not as much on the law firm side. And so I saw a lot of, you know, legal transformation , uh, type of projects. I saw a lot of folks, you know, trying to build a legal operations groups. Uh, and that was a lot of fun, you know? And so when I was looking for my next idea or next thing to do after EY , I was attracted to , uh, you know, to Agiloft. You know, Agiloft is a contract lifecycle management , uh , software provider. And, you know, we're really on a mission to elevate the contract and make the contract a first-class citizen in the enterprise. Uh, and I love that, right. I love this element of it because I think that software can really , uh , unlock people's creativity , uh, within the legal department and help them imagine, you know, a whole different way of , of working within the contracts world

Dom Burch:

Really exciting time in this sector, in this industry. Isn't it ? I mean, I come from a non-legal background, a non-contract background if you like non-tech background and in the last year or so, since I've been part of the SYKE team, just seeing the speed of well consolidation at one , one side, you know, where the big Thomson Reuters of the world and kind of bringing technology together end to end , but also just how quickly now, and I guess partly driven by the pandemic, how quickly now large organizations are recognizing that they need to move to CLM. They need to get themselves organized and are actually on that sort of journey over the next two or three years, there's going to be a huge amount of organizations moving that way. Tell us what is it about Agiloft that makes that journey easy? Cause you're, you're , uh , uh, you know, you, you come from a no code background don't you, and you weren't actually a CLM tool to begin with, but you've kind of become this amazing CLM tool on the, on the back of, of the , I guess the, the, the foundations of what was built originally.

Eric Laughlin:

You got it right. I mean, the really interesting history of Agiloft is that it started with an idea that enterprise software should be better, and we should have less failures in enterprise software. And, you know, you you've been in organizations, so have I, where you've tried to put in a giant piece of enterprise software, and it's been a real struggle. So the idea originally behind Agiloft, was what's the, what's the way to remedy that. And the idea was to build, you know, a no-code low-code platform , uh, really before that was in the lexicon, right before that was kind of cool to do. Uh , and our founders built that, that no-code platform and had a variety of different use cases they were using for it. Interestingly enough, you know, five, six years ago, they just saw more and more companies coming to them, working on contracts problems. And that became the focus of the company. So, you know, not by, you know, not through intention at the beginning, but certainly CLM is just an amazing use case. And when you think about the complexity of sort of the data structures and the complexity of the approval routing and the complexity of the language and drafting, and sort of every part of CLM has some complexity to it , uh , which requires a really robust set of software. Uh, so thank goodness, you know, Agiloft started as a platform, right? And then built the CLM application on top , uh, because I think when it comes to, you know , Agiloft's standing apart from the rest of the CLM crowd, we really do stand on top of that platform. What that enables us to do is to be extremely configurable without writing any custom code. And so, you know, you're not a techie , uh , I'm not an engineer, but you can imagine that as you're writing custom code for every customer, that becomes more and more brittle. And as those customers are trying to upgrade, they have more and more problems changing their workflows down the line. You know, Agiloft has a completely different approach because it's all configuration we can do upgrade seamlessly. And when the realities of business hit and you have to change, have to change your workflow or data structures, or your contracts, your drafting, you know , approach the software can handle that. So that, that really does set us apart. And, you know, it's been, as you were saying, there's just this amazing wave of purchasing going on right now. You know, we're, we're, you know, in the six hundreds , nearing 700 customers, we see so many customers coming to us now who, you know , in the past might have tiptoed into a repository or something like that, tiptoed into automated drafting. And now they're looking not only for the full end to end CLM experience, but they're also looking to roll it out at an enterprise wide level, right. Not just for a business unit, but for the entire organization, the sales side, as well as the buy side.

Dom Burch:

I'm really interested, because you're going through this sort of transformation now, aren't you where you've kind of been bootstraps as an organization up until relatively recently, you've taken on $45 million, I think of funding. What, just help me understand then as somebody who's not gone through that process, you know, in any of the organizations, I've been part of, you know, I've been part of the Walmarts of the world where there's , you know, funding is to some extent, no object, but you have to fight for it. You really have to fight for it. What does that kind of investment mean? How will that change how you approach things, is that about building brand? Is it about attracting new people and talent to the organization? You know , you know, how do you allocate it when you're sat there at the top of the tree going right. We have that funding, what are we going to do with it?

Eric Laughlin:

You know, I , I came in as CEO and the first thing that I did with the founders was to raise that money. Uh, and the reason we did that is because as you said, it was, it was bootstrapped and profitable and growing, but there was so much, you know, so much purchasing activity of so much innovation in the market that we really felt like we needed that extra capital in order to really innovate, have a great roadmap and, and be successful and , and really try to be a leader, right. Gartner's called us a leader in this. We want to live up to that, right. We want to sort of invest in and keep going. And so we're doing a lot, right? We were doubling the size of the team this year , uh, from a people perspective. A lot of that is customer facing organization, right? So sales and customer success and support professional services, you know, all those things that , that really allow us to have a good fit with our customers, allow those customers to succeed. The other thing that we're doing is we're having putting a lot of investment into alliances, you know, various partnerships, whether it's , uh , you know, large global, you know , system implementers, it's technology partners , uh , you know, we , we need to have a robust ecosystem around Agiloft , uh, that can serve our customers. So there's a lot, a lot to invest in, you know, as you said, it's not just about what you're investing in, but you have to make sure I , I have to make sure that those are my job as CEO is to make sure that we're spending it wisely and staying on mission. Right. And we're staying true to our culture. And the interesting thing about the culture of Agiloft is that it's always been a virtual company. Uh it's, you know, there's probably, you know , a small crew at headquarters and then the , the vast majority are, are virtual. So when the pandemic hit , uh , and I joined after the pandemic hit , uh, we had this amazing base of a really great virtual company. Uh, and now we can extend that and now we can be a global company and sort of keep that, you know, keep that culture. All the money in the world. You still have to keep your culture. U h, and then the second thing for me is you have to make sure that you're staying on mission, u h, a nd, and really trying to do everything you can to try to formalize that, that mission. U m, and so, you know, I believe we're only going to be successful if we're elevating the contracts professionals that we're working with, that we're elevating contracts to being a first class citizen in the enterprise. And then we're connecting the contracts to the commercial activities in the, in the enterprise. You know , I don't really like this notion that we're selling legal tech, right, despite all the, all the time that you and I use the word legal tech , we are selling enterprise technology , um, and legal tech only functions in the broader enterprise because it takes information in from the enterprise. It pushes it out. And, you know, I've been thinking recently, and I'm curious to hear your take on this , uh, about stopping the idea that contracts are a shield and promoting and thinking more about contracts as relationship DNA, right? Um, Dom have you taken 23andMe or ancestry.com or any of those DNA tests? And yet most people haven't taken them. Some people take them just as a curiosity, right. You know, to understand their background or, you know, what they might be susceptible in the future. There are some people that take DNA tests because they realize they might have, you know, the breast cancer gene, right. Something like really very serious. And then there's a whole group of people who just ignore it. And so, you know, I , I think about that in relation to contracts, right? If, if contracts are your relationship DNA, they're the instruction code or the relationships you have with vendors and customers and employees, then why wouldn't you take advantage of all the modern technology to look into your contract DNA, see what's in there and make sure that you're taking advantage of all the opportunities in there and see what risks are in there. Because if you ignore it, it'll still come out, right? It's, it's, you're , you're not going to get rid of it.

Dom Burch:

I really love that analogy. And also this idea that in the future, you know, contracts ought to be dynamic that the data ought to be flowing between organizations, you know, using blockchain and all that kind of integrity stuff. But so that the lawyers, the people doing the deals, actually not even the lawyers that people doing the deal are able to get to the juicy bit, without having to worry about intellectual property rights and terms, and conditions and all of these kinds of stuff. That's just like, let the systems talk to one and let's talk a little bit actually about Andy Wishart because that's, you know, that's a great hire for Agiloft. What a , what a, what a scoop, if you like that is to get the guy I'm trying to think of the American football phrase, where you get the best kids out of college, or maybe it's me , maybe it's the guy who went from New England and joined the , uh , the other team or won the Super Bowl anyway.

Eric Laughlin:

I'm very excited about him having Andy Wishart on the team and for your listeners who , who don't know Andy he's , uh, you know, one of the founders of Contract Express , uh, you know, the, you know , first, you know , I think brilliant , uh, you know , automated drafting tool on the market , uh, that was acquired by Thomson Reuters, where he did a lot of good things at Thomson. And then, and then came over to Agiloft, just , uh , really in January, starting for us. Amazing thing about Andy is he knows contracts. He knows contracting professionals. He knows AI, right? When you look back at his university days, you know, he was studying AI as you know, for his master's thesis. And , um, you know, the guy is brilliant and a wonderful man and, you know, he shares our vision, right? He's all about elevating contracts. You know , he is putting together a roadmap for us that I think has all of our imaginations, you know, buzzing , uh, you know, building on the AI core that Agiloft already has, and allowing, you know, sort of that intelligence to show up in the platform in new ways. We're about to come out with a , uh , new , you know , user interface that really improves the experience for both, you know, hardcore power users, as well as business users. And we have a lot because we're a no-code platform , uh, we're endeavoring to build a number of applications on top of this, that, that supplement and compliment , um, you know, the core CLM tech and all of that, you know, Andy is going to drive for us and in such great ways.

Dom Burch:

So let's, let's just imagine the future then where legal tech is no longer a word I've had to change the name of this podcast. Um, we're not speaking in those terms. And we're thinking about actually the end users and the people interacting with each other within enterprises, who let's be honest, they don't really care about the engine. They just want to know that it runs smoothly and actually they can accelerate and get to the thing they need to get to in , you know, on their terms. And that it's easy, right? It's as easy as picking up an iPhone, how do you see all of this playing out then? And , and you can be as crystal ball as you like, or you can keep us down to like the next six to 12 months, what, what's the future of this kind of space look like? And, and what are your hopes and aspirations for that future?

Eric Laughlin:

I think first of all, you're right. The business users, let's say someone on the sales side or someone in procurement who isn't going to deal with the contract itself, they don't care about the contract. They, they do care about the relationship, right. And they care about the data that did that, that determines that relationship. Um, and so what I keep thinking about is how do you put the power of that contract data closer to the relationship, right? So let's just talk a sale from a sales perspective. How do you put it closer to sales operations, and closer to the salesperson's hands so that the person who understands the relationship the best gets to help determine the, you know, the contract data, the contract rules , um , in ways that, you know, non lawyers , you know, and relationship professionals can , uh, you know, can determine. And when you think about the experience that that person wants to have, they don't want to be in a contracting platform, right? So at Agiloft, the way that we think about that is the Agiloft platform is extremely powerful on its own. And it needs to have tentacles where the data from our application and even experiences from application , um , are experienced in places that those other people live. So let's say in their CRM tool, they need to be able to access the data and even interact with our platform without knowing they're interacting with it. Or let's say they're on Slack, right. We imagine the time when you're on Slack, and you're asking questions about your contracts to Slack and our bots are answering those questions. Um, so putting the data and sort of the power of that relationship DNA into the places where those business users can access it and act on it. Uh, and , and I think we'll get that right. I think that's , that's all very possible. Um, and that's all very probable with the technology, you know , that we have , uh , any amount of investment that's, that's in this space,

Dom Burch:

One final thought. And I love the fact that you referenced culture so many times in this conversation and , and, and keeping an eye on what is your mission, right? What's the purpose in life? Somebody said to me, when I worked at Walmart, that as you grow, and as you scale, you know, you, you have to be a values based, a culture driven organization, because nobody's got time to remember all the rules, right? So they need a strong culture in order to guide them along the way. So they know that if kind of empowered to make decisions and move quick, and also when you do things wrong, or when somebody's trying to do something, that's out of kilter with that culture, people feel empowered to say, that's not how we do things around here. Is that how you see culture being, I mean , it's such an important ingredient, isn't it? As you grow and scale and develop as an organisation.

Eric Laughlin:

I think in addition to everything you said, you have to define your culture, not just as your internal culture, but as the culture that you create with your extended, you know, relationships, right? So the, the, the culture that you have expresses itself in the relationships between you and your customers and you and your partners , uh, and so how do we treat ourselves and how do we treat, you know, our , our, the folks on the other side of the table, I think that's actually what comes through the customers. Um, you know, when they get a feeling about the culture , the culture of the company, through the sales and services, relationships they have through the customer experience, they have , um, that, you know, that brings them into the culture in a really tight way that goes beyond the economics and beyond the software experience. Um, and so, you know, from a culture perspective, I think being very relationship driven and being very transparent, are cornerstones of any good culture, and certainly ours.

Dom Burch:

Well, Eric, listen, we could chat all day long. I'm sure you're even busier than I like to think I am. So Eric Laughlin thank you so much, CEO, Agiloft for joining us on legal tech made simple.