Cash Butler, Founder of ClariLegal, a vendor management platform that simplifies and normalizes RFPs between legal service buyers and vendors, talks with me at ILTACON on the value of optimism.
Kevin O’Keefe: What do you do?
Cash Butler: I have a software company called ClariLegal. We match corporations and law firms with service providers to get their work done.
Kevin O’Keefe: And at much less expense than before.
Cash Butler: Oh yeah. Significant cost reduction and actually significant improvement of outcomes.
Kevin O’Keefe: I’ve been talking with people that founded founded companies, who tend to be a little bit wacko, all of us are, in this regard. But you founded this, didn’t you? How long ago?
Cash Butler: Oh boy. Probably six years. Four years since we had a product, and a year and a half since we started charging money for the product.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you get the idea?
Cash Butler: So I’ve been working in the legal services industry for 20 years and I kept running into the similar problems that just were across the board no matter where it was I worked. Procurement was a mess, vendor management was a mess, project tracking was a mess, and communications were all over the place. So I left my last port of call, which was Merrill Corporation, and founded ClariLegal to try to fix those problems, which can’t be fixed by a single vendor. We’re a third party neutral, so we have an ability to push standardization.
Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you get started with the company? I mean, what gives you the ability to have enough money to start this thing? To go from day to day, to get it out there, get it introduced. How did you get started doing all that?
Cash Butler: Well, that’s a great question. I think some of my family think I’m crazy, but I had a couple of nice exits from previous companies, where I had enough new condo money, and instead of buying a new condo I invested in ClariLegal and myself.
Kevin O’Keefe: How long did it take from the time when you were scraping by, and maybe we all are still doing it, but to where you said, “I think I got something. This could work.”
Cash Butler: Well, so we did about a year and a half of customer discovery. I worked with the Bentley University College of Information Design and we interviewed a lot of law firm partners, a lot of lit support managers and corporations and a lot of vendors, and we floated ClariLegal idea past them and we got pretty good feedback. If I had to go into the wayback machine, I would’ve said, “is it good enough for you to buy it?” That’s a very big consideration, because at that point they could have funded my development instead of what should have been my new condo funding the organization.
Kevin O’Keefe: So what you did was you went out and said, “okay, is there a market for this?” And by going out and getting the firms that provide that market, trying to get their answers to determine if it is worthwhile if I do this.
Cash Butler: Absolutely. Making sure that there’s a real problem that needed solving, that it wasn’t just in my imagination, although, you know, I’m a little zany but I’m not that zany. It was a real problem.
Kevin O’Keefe: I’ve heard that a number times today: what is that problem? What is that pain, and to identify that clearly?
Cash Butler: Well, the problem is there are a couple couple aspects to it. It’s understanding what you need, and what you are paying for. So if I need x, the service providers need to deliver x at a reasonable, valuable price. So it’s a normalization of a market activity.
Kevin O’Keefe: And now I’ve seen you at I don’t know how many conferences across this country in the last four or five years – what were working on all those times that I’ve seen you?
Cash Butler: So it’s all customer discovery, all customer discovery. I’m spreading the word of ClariLegal. I’m spreading the word of our value series. When people think of ClariLegal, they think of value and of value exchange. I am talking to people and seeing if it resonates, and I’m selling. I mean, that’s what I do. Always, always selling.
Kevin O’Keefe: Just, “now what is it you do, what’s the problem it solves, and what is it going to solve for you?”
Cash Butler: You got it. Interestingly enough, I’ve been told, because I connect a lot of people together, that this is just like the physical manifestation of my personality. Of trying to match value to value.
Kevin O’Keefe: Along that way there are low points. All founders and entrepreneurs go through them, but is there one point where you remember wondering, “is this going to work? Is this going to fly?”
Cash Butler: So I’ve always been very confident that it would work, and what I have struggled with is why is it not working faster? Why is adoption slower than I would like, and need it to be? And it’s, you know, it’s somewhat disruptive. The legal space and change in general is hard for people to embrace a lot of times and that’s what we fight against. Our biggest competition is status quo.
Kevin O’Keefe: What gets you up the next morning? To do the same thing and get fired up, to be positive?
Cash Butler: We’re doing something wonderful. And guess what? I like helping people. I like what it is I do. It is the physical manifestation of my personality. I like matching people, value to value, and when I see a transaction or a connection go well that makes me happy. So when the investor types ask, “why’d you do this?” I go, I like to help people. And they say, well what about money? I go, if I help enough people it’ll come.
Kevin O’Keefe: We talk about that in the office. If we help enough people, don’t worry about the money, it’ll come. I got to repeat that over and over. What would you tell wannabe entrepreneurs, or people that are thinking about it? You’ve been in other companies, you’ve seen people maybe afraid to leave those companies. There’s lawyers and law firms that would love to be out here doing something. You might be saying things like “oh, don’t be so crazy,” but they’d love to be doing things like you’re doing or other legal technology people. What would you tell them, if they asked you?
Cash Butler: So you have to have the right risk profile to be an entrepreneur. You need to have a little bit of cushion, a little bit of money. If you’re married with children, you need to consider your family, and get their buy in. Not just go off and, you know jump off the bridge without a parachute. I’ve had people want to join ClariLegal and leave good, high paying jobs and I have to tell them “we’re going to create a path for you to, to join us, but I am not going to be the cause of your kid’s not going to college if you’re not making 300 grand a year in the first year, as much as I’d love that.
Kevin O’Keefe: What else do you tell them?
Cash Butler: Risk profile, be fearless, be innovative, always stay positive. You gotta stay positive to be an entrepreneur. There are ups and downs. Guess what it’s like playing poker. You keep your poker face on, but a nice smile and you just go. Everything’s just fine. And by the way, not only does that help external people, it helps you. It’s positive self talk that allows you to, when the chips are down, keep going out there and make it happen.
Kevin O’Keefe: It’s like why sales people read books by positive people. It’s like lifting weights. I can remain positive after I get enough going.
Cash Butler: That’s right. It’s muscle memory.
Kevin O’Keefe: That’s what it is. We didn’t get a chance to have one of your customers walk over and get on, but that’s a person, using ClariLegal, who’s already demonstrated that he could save money. And I ask you these questions because I’ve talked with you over the last four or five years and watch you out selling it, watched your passion about it, and now you’re starting to see these cases come to fruition. What’s his company, what do they do?
Cash Butler: So they have an interesting company: they’re both a service provider called Platinum IDS and they’re a vendor in the platform, and they also have a software company called Cullable. And being in the legal tech space, I walk around, I see lots of new products, some innovative, some not so innovative. That said, Cullable, their processing engine is one of the best new softwares out there. They can do some amazing things: it can process terabytes of data in hours. They’re using google technology as good or better than google. They’re innovative. They have a similar gene for the entrepreneurship and innovation as what I have, and what ClariLegal has. By the way, all of my providers tend to have that gene. They want to deliver better, faster, cheaper, superior value to the corporate and law firm customers. That’s the best thing I can say about our providers.
Kevin O’Keefe: So that company has been able to now, through ClariLegal’s connection to the law firms and the connections you have, be able to save people a lot of money. At the same time, they’re making money.
Cash Butler: Absolutely. There’s a lower cost of sale, the work is coming to them nice and scoped.
Kevin O’Keefe: And what ClariLegal did is connect both sides of the equation so these people meet.
Cash Butler: Yeah, so ClariLegal matches the corporations and law firms with the service provider. So it’s a blind bid. We scope the work, we automate a lot of things, we generate RFPs in minutes, not days or weeks, and you can compare them with data-driven decision making. They can execute, they put in pricing, the law firm and the corporation who’s looking at it can quickly understand who these guys are. They’re a vetted Clara legal vendor, so they have to be awesome, and they can make a decision based on service offering, price, and value. So the last work we did with Platinum IDS, they were able to bid on work, and the lawyer was able to put in the work in about 15, 20 minutes, the vendor was able to bid on that work in probably 10 minutes. And not only did the prices come through, but a full RFP. The lawyer was ecstatic; he could compare the five bids that came through ClariLegal, he made a data-driven decision, and off they go. I’m scared to publish the savings amount. Let’s just say it was well over 50% on what they were previously spending for processing and hosting services.
Kevin O’Keefe: That’s very cool. It was great talking with you.
Cash Butler: As always it was wonderful talking to you.