Talking with Garth Watson, the co-founder of Libryo, an online legal compliance software, at the 2018 Legal Geek Conference.

Kevin O’Keefe: You’re the founder of Libryo. What is Libryo?

Garth Watson: Libryo is an online platform typically used by global companies that have diverse operations and they use it to know the specific regulations that they face at each of those distinct operations.

Kevin O’Keefe: How’d you get started doing that?

Garth Watson: That’s a good question. It’s a series of opportunities, really. I co-founded a consultancy that helps companies with management systems and legal compliance, and together with my co-founder and CEO of Libryo Peter Flynn, we developed a web based system which we call the Libryo MVP.

Kevin O’Keefe: But why you? What made you the person that was going to do this?

Garth Watson: I’m a lawyer. I practiced law for about ten years. Firstly, I realized that I added lots of value to customers, not necessarily billing lots of hours, so there wasn’t a correlation there, and I decided to use my legal creativity to add value through a legal platform that could scale and be consumed by many different customers. And then the other thing is I have quite a passion to see companies operate justly and that’s lots of keeping the law, and if companies could just keep the law that applied to their operations we’d be better off as a planet I think. And law is not well organized, it’s not easily available, so helping companies to know what the law requires of them in an easy way,

Kevin O’Keefe: You do something that is just. I thought it was a little bit ironic when the person said, well, who did we forget in this legal tech equation, in this speech? And I was hoping she was going to say people really. I didn’t even hear that yet today, we’re sitting here at Legal Geek. Which is one heck of a conference. Are you based in London?

Garth Watson: Yeah, in London. I live in Oxford and I’m from Cape Town originally.

Kevin O’Keefe: What made you do this? Most people that are involved in a law firm or practicing law are not thinking about starting companies. Most people are driven towards excelling in the practice, billing hours, how much money they can make. It becomes a rat race, so it’s very few people to jump off and say “I might be able to do something more meaningful and I can leverage technology to do it.” What made you do that?

Garth Watson: Nothing made me, I chose to. The passion and the stuff that I’ve discussed in the previous question –

Kevin O’Keefe: But you left something behind. Are you still practicing law?

Garth Watson: No, no

Kevin O’Keefe: So you leave some level of security, a salary, you know, so you go off in that direction that’s uncertain. Why were you willing to do that where other people may not be willing to give up?

Garth Watson: I guess I’ve always been the kind of guy that takes the calculated risk. I’m a mountain biker, I enjoy snowboarding, I enjoy something that’s exhilarating. And honestly, I think this is something that the world needs. There’s a lot of detail that I’ve left out of the story, but my friendship with Pete Flynn goes way back and I think it was 2009, he ran a tech conference. And I was there as a lawyer saying to him after the conference, “you know, surely law and technology can combine in some way.” So those conversations go way back. And when I moved to the UK in 2015 – we moved over for personal reasons, my wife took a third post doc at Oxford University – I left law at that point. I left the practice of law, I guess. I chose not to become a UK-regulated solicitor, and decided to kick the tires on the UK market. And we discovered it wasn’t just a UK need for our Libryo MVP, it was actually a global need. And it was at that point we said, “we’re going to incorporate it, we’re going to roll this thing out, we’re going to get a venture fund, and we’re going to go as global as we can.

Kevin O’Keefe: So you did venture fund it. Did you bootstrap it?

Garth Watson: Yeah, we put a decent amount of cash in initially. And now it’s externally funded.

Kevin O’Keefe: When did you think, okay, this might make it, we’re going to be okay? Because I mean, you always believe it when you’re starting a company, you’re way optimistic. But when did you go, hey this is really going to fly?

Garth Watson: Yeah, I mean there is another cofounder that I haven’t mentioned, which is Malcolm Gray, so there’s three of us, and I think he joined us at the stage just before when we decided we were going to do this thing. He comes from an asset management background. He was the global head of environment and social and corporate governance at Investec Asset Management and I think Malcolm joining us was a validation. There’d been a few validation points along the way and also, you know what, it’s up and down. So we’re pretty bullish about this at the moment. When we landed our first, we call it the elephant deals, a deal in excess of $100, that was a good moment for us.

Kevin O’Keefe: Was there ever a time when you thought maybe this isn’t going to work? Were there particular times or just that roller coaster that you’re on?

Garth Watson: You know, there was a time when we needed to raise our seed round. There were moments then. We’re 22 strong now and servicing customers in a number of different countries. So yeah, we’re de-risking the business as we go, but it’s still risky.

Kevin O’Keefe: It’s all risky, but you build a nice team together of 22 people, where they have enough faith that you’re gonna make it, and then you have an obligation to them to make sure. What would you tell people today who are thinking in the back of their mind about doing something in legal technology and innovation?

Garth Watson: First they gotta bring that to the front of their mind. Okay, so you don’t suddenly start a company, it’s really difficult. What I’d say to them is you’ll have a level of exhilaration and fulfillment that you won’t have if you carry on keeping things in the back of your mind. It’s in the back of your mind for a reason. You’ll have a high level of exhilaration. You’ll also have a high level of sheer terror. You’ll experience life more fully. I’ll tell him that and then I’d say just to figure out a way, make sure you have the right team around you, the right supports, that actually know what they’re doing because it’s not the same as having a regular job. It’s very, very different and then just do it.

Kevin O’Keefe: Thank you very much, Garth.