Speaking with Chris Smith, founder of Your Firm App, which provides lawyers the opportunity to place a uniquely branded app on the App Store and Google Play, at Clio Cloud Conference 2018.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Chris Smith: Chris Smith. I’m an attorney in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and a founder of Your Firm App.
Kevin O’Keefe: How long have you practiced law?
Chris Smith: I’ve been practicing for about 14 years now.
Kevin O’Keefe: What type of work do you do?
Chris Smith: Primarily family law, litigation, General Litigation and family law.
Kevin O’Keefe: Always in Oklahoma City?
Chris Smith: Oklahoma City. I’ve also practiced in Dallas, but primarily Oklahoma City.
Kevin O’Keefe: And then how did this idea come along? I mean, it’s not like most people are going to law school ready to start a legal tech company.
Chris Smith: Well, I was one of those guys that kept wanting to see a client-facing application so that we could easily communicate with clients on a native app.
Kevin O’Keefe: What do you mean by native app?
Chris Smith: Well, if you were to log into a platform on your mobile browser, there’s that feature – a lot of people use their mobile browser. I wanted something that was just a click on an icon, open it, and you’ve got the information that you wanted right there. That was the goal. And so we wanted to make it as easy as possible for clients to get the information that they wanted about their case, and about their matter right there on a native application, on their phone. We wanted to also make sure that it was a marketing piece for attorneys. So what we created was an app that, like the name, Your Firm App, it’s not the Your Firm App app, it’s not the Clio app, it’s the firm’s name. So that that was our goal. And what we did was integrate with Clio, the LaunchCode [contest] was announced a year ago. We’ve had this idea for about two years.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who’s we?
Chris Smith: My wife and I, you know, my other partner. She is definitely a co-founder. There’s no doubt about that. She gave me permission to pursue it, and –
Kevin O’Keefe: Is she a lawyer too, or not?
Chris Smith: She’s not, she’s home with our two-and-a-half-year-old son, and she’s seven months pregnant, and she’s running around the conference here selling apps. So she’s just as involved in this. I probably should have let her do the pitch yesterday. She’s definitely very much a co-founder. So she gave me permission and we started developing it back last year, and then we pushed it live to the Clio App Directory at the end of March, early April. Had some Beta users, went back to the drawing board and re-coded a number of things and added some features, nd then the version that we are at right now we’re pretty happy with.
Kevin O’Keefe: Can you code?
Chris Smith: No.
Kevin O’Keefe: Okay, who codes this?
Chris Smith: We have a development team that we work with out of Dallas that is working with us and they’ve been great and we’ve been lucky to have some good folks helping us do it, because I’m limited to about a WordPress site. That’s probably the length of my experience.
Kevin O’Keefe: Same for me. How’d you identified the developers and you’re going, okay, I got this idea and I know we’re not going to do it. Who’s going to do it for you?
Chris Smith: I had a referral from a friend of mine that is a friend and a client who has built some platforms that have been fairly successful. He referred me to his developer group. It’s a developer group that I’ve used on some other smaller projects and and so when this idea came to fruition, I knew that I could work with them, they could work with me, and it was a cost-effective option.
Kevin O’Keefe: I mean, what makes you different than maybe some of the other folks in Oklahoma City that might be doing family law and they’re not thinking about how they’re going to improve somebody’s experienced by going out and getting developers and developing an app to accomplish all that – and then executing on it and doing it. All of a sudden you’re integrated with Clio. That’s not typical if you will.
Chris Smith: I’ve always thought of the practice of law as a business first and and I wanted to make sure that the customer was happy with the way that we were presenting our business to them. That’s always been my motivating factor is to make sure my clients are happy at the end of the case, at the end of the process, so I’ve tried to identify areas where we might be able to fill a void and if we can build it and develop it and make it easier for the client in the process, that’s what I want to be able to do. And so this was, in my opinion, this was an easy concept because I wanted it in my own practice and that’s kind of how I gauge whether or not I want to put some money into something is to determine if this is something that, as a practicing attorney, I wished I had in the practice. No one had done it, so I stepped in and said, let’s go do it.
Kevin O’Keefe: You bootstrapped the whole thing, you and your wife?
Chris Smith: We bootstrapped the whole thing.
Kevin O’Keefe: What do you like about bootstrapping? I mean, obviously you’re all in, there’s no way out right away.
Chris Smith: I liked it. I liked the fact that we are all in, because we’re here at Clio Con, trying to sign people up and every time we’ve signed someone up we feel good about it, but I also liked the fact that this is truly a startup a startup can get. We didn’t have someone financing us, that made it easy for us to go spend a lot of money that we didn’t have. And so we’ve had to be very conscientious of, “okay, if this feature needs to be updated or changed, what’s it going to cost and is it worth going back to the drawing board and editing that feature in our code?” Because our development costs are our primary expense right now, and we’re, we’re feeling good about where we are as a four month startup, but we obviously like to see a lot more people on our platform so that we can continue to improve it and have the budget to do it.
Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah, at four months it’s hard for me to ask questions like, okay, what was the absolute low point? And what was the absolute high point so far.
Chris Smith: Well, the low point may have been two days ago whenever we update our hosting and our entire site crashed the day before Clio Conference, so I was probably the most puckered up when I was trying to make sure that we had a website that was live before the. We showed up here.
Kevin O’Keefe: If you had people ask you, when you’re four months into this thing, and the folks at Clio are a pretty innovative crew here, compared to your typical lawyers, and some of them are thinking about actually starting companies, because they’ve seen, like you have, a need. What would you tell them?
Chris Smith: Do it. I don’t think there’s any group of potential entrepreneurs that is more qualified to try to start companies to solve problems than lawyers because that’s what we do.
Kevin O’Keefe: I believe that, but I don’t think people look at it that way. I mean, they think that lawyers would be the worst people to try to start things, but I do look at it the way you look at it.
Chris Smith: They probably need to make sure they have a good accountant, make sure that their books are in order and things like that. But I think that lawyers have the ability to identify problems, and I think that’s the first step for any entrepreneurs to find a problem that needs to be fixed, and then try to build something that is going to solve that problem.
Kevin O’Keefe: And also be real accountable. It’s got to be done well, it’s got to be professional. We’re not going to screw this thing up. And those are all things that you’re wired to do as a lawyer, and to serve people. Now you guys got to be in the LaunchCode contest. What’s that all about? I haven’t even talked to anybody about that who’s actually in it.
Chris Smith: Last year, at this conference, Clio announced that they were offering $100,000 to a new integration to their Clio App Directory that was most innovative, that improved the process, and whatnot. They say they had over 50 new integrations that were added to their app directory that were part of it. We were lucky enough to be chosen as one of the five finalists. Yesterday, everybody gave a three minute pitch on their product and we had some esteemed judges who know a little bit about legal tech and so they’re judging us and we’ll see what the outcome is later today.
Kevin O’Keefe: You got to see if you walk out of here with $100,000 check.
Chris Smith: You know, I’m only happy to be here. I’m glad to be here and glad that we were able to do it.
Kevin O’Keefe: Now, you were talking about last year’s conference, though, and you’re hearing about the thing. Then you didn’t even have anything.
Chris Smith: We didn’t have any code. We had an idea and we had soft sold this, to some extent, as a idea to the Oklahoma City legal community, just to see what kind of interest was out there. The Clio market in Oklahoma’s probably not as high as some places, so it was kind of hard for us to really gauge what the interest would be from Clio users in Oklahoma, but we had enough interest that we thought maybe it was going to work. We hadn’t started development on it though until the Clio LaunchCode announcement.
Kevin O’Keefe: You’re in Oklahoma City – it’s not Silicon Valley, it’s not Boston, it’s not Austin. Do you look at that as a plus? Do you look at that as challenge? Or does it just not matter?
Chris Smith: I see it as a great plus because our costs of development, our cost of doing business, are so much lower than places like Seattle, LA, Austin even now, but we are close enough to places like Dallas and even Austin that we can get a development community that can help us help us do it. Our development community, the tech community in Oklahoma City is improving. It’s not anywhere close to some of the larger communities that we are competing with, but, you know, in today’s economy and with technology like it is, you can live anywhere on the globe, and you can develop a tech product.
Kevin O’Keefe: How is everybody hearing about what you’re doing? How is word getting around the country?
Chris Smith: Clio. We’ve been very fortunate and I am very thankful for Clio and Jack Newton and what they’ve done with their Clio App Directory, and what they’ve done to facilitate folks like me who have an idea and they need help to develop it, in terms of getting it in front of people. We wouldn’t have anybody on our platform until now if it weren’t for the Clio App Directory, because we’re not spending money on marketing. We’re doing a little bit of word of mouth and email type stuff, but it’s really Clio and the fact that we have the only IOS and Android client-facing app integration with Clio that’s making what we’re trying to do possible. That’s how people are hearing about us. And we really were working towards this conference, because we knew that this was going to be important for us.
Kevin O’Keefe: I can see why you freaked when you had hosting problems.
Chris Smith: This was it. I I knew that we probably needed to update our hosting a little bit and I made the rash decision of doing that 24 hours before the conference and so we had to transition all of that.