Chatting with Matthew Volm, CEO and Founder of Tali,a hands-free time-tracking tool, at Clio Cloud Conference 2018.
Kevin O’Keefe: Who am I talking with?
Matt Volm: I am Matt Volm, CEO and co-founder of Tali.
Kevin O’Keefe: Thanks so much for coming on the LexBlog series on legal tech founders. What gave you the idea to start this company? What were you doing at that time before you started it?
Matt Volm: At the time I was working in corporate finance for a healthcare company, but my wife is an attorney and so one night I saw her at our kitchen table with a pile of post-it notes and she was spending hours entering the information on the post-it notes and the info on the post-it notes was her billable time and so she was spending hours on this incredibly painful manual task and I randomly throughout the idea of, hey, what if you could use Alexa to get that job done? She would just track and log your time for you, and my wife thought it was not a bad idea, and that’s ultimately where where the idea came from.
Kevin O’Keefe: You had a real job with a real track, real benefits, so when you got this idea to do it that all went away.
Matt Volm: It all went away and the next thing I did is I went to two other guys at my day job and I asked them, hey, is this technically possible? And before you knew it, we were out building a prototype. We had done a demo video that we shot on our iPhone. Shared it with a bunch of different investors and within three months we had some seed capital in the door and we started working on it just as a side hustle. But then actually last year at Clio Con when we showed up here, we left and we had a lot of users that we needed to onboard and we were like, you know what, this is a full time job now. And so we went for it.
Kevin O’Keefe: So when you first started to do it and you were putting together the video, talking it through whether you can do and everything, you’re still holding your regular job that you had.
Matt Volm: Yep.
Kevin O’Keefe: So you were doing this what nights? Weekends. Whenever you had time.
Matt Volm: Yeah. Nights, weekends, lunch breaks, in the mornings.
Kevin O’Keefe: Where were you working out of it? I assume you’re working out of your home. You start to have other people, they’re working out of their homes or what were you doing? Describe it.
Matt Volm: Yeah, so we were working out of our home offices. We would each get together periodically during the week at one of our home offices and that was how we interacted, but otherwise a lot of stuff we just did via virtual meeting. We would do phone calls, stuff like that and that was how we collaborated as a team. We’d have conference calls at 10:00 PM at night, we would get together for beers at 9:00 PM on a Wednesday to get the job done and that was, that was how it all got off the ground.
Kevin O’Keefe: Was there ever a time where part of your income went away? When you stopped doing your other job and all of a sudden now you don’t have a check and you don’t have money coming in either from the startup.
Matt Volm: Immediately, immediately there’s that point where you leave the job and you’re super excited to get going and then a couple of weeks goes by and you realize that you no longer have those benefits. You’re no longer collecting that paycheck and you’re just thinking about what does this mean, how long are we going to have to do it? And you try to not let that distract you from the task at hand, which is building a great company that can survive and thrive into the future.
Kevin O’Keefe: It sounds like it happened pretty fast, so there wasn’t a real long period of time of bootstrapping it. Did you have to produce anything? I mean, were there things that you needed money to bootstrap, or you had to pool resources, or were you able to get that prototype all the way through to where you got funding?
Matt Volm: Yeah, so we were able to put a working prototype together, we shot a demo video on our iPhone and we sent a couple of emails out and that was enough to get us the initial capital to get it off the ground and to build it from there, but up until that point it was just a couple of hundred bucks in our time that we spent on it.
Kevin O’Keefe: Some people will ask me, “Oh well who do I contact about all this funding and whatever?” and I say well you go with your gut, but you look around as to who’s talking to who, who, you know, who might know who. How did you go through that process where you said, who are you going to send these videos off to, and these notes off to, to see who you can talk to about getting a financial partner.
Matt Volm: Yeah, so first time founder, I naively was just like, “I’m just going to find the email addresses of a bunch of VCs and send them emails and that’s what I did and that’s what worked. Which is not what should happen, but I didn’t know better. I was just like, I’ve got an idea, I think it’s solving a real problem for a lot of people and it’s a venture fundable business. And within three months start to finish, we had an investor lined up. And so the way that we did it was just do the least amount of work possible to portray the value that you’re able to deliver in the problem you’re solving, and be able to tell a story, and that’s what got us our initial capital.
Kevin O’Keefe: And there is no perfect formula and there is no perfect startup founder and there’s no perfect CEO. A lot of it is being real and authentic and just going with the best you know. And that’s sometimes strikes people on the other side as being somebody that’s pretty sincere, that may have a real story and be worth looking at. Maybe I asked you about it a little bit last year, but you get into the clio show. Why Clio? Why’d you decide to come here, now that you got something out here and you’d better go out and see some customers and whatnot?
Matt Volm: I mean Clio users are some of the most innovative attorneys out there. And our technology being on voice platforms is very cutting edge. It’s exactly the right type of folks that we want to get in front of. And the Clio team, the platform – Clio was our first integration – I mean, this whole conference ecosystem is just incredible. So whether we’re a two year old startup like we are now, or a 10 year old startup like we’re going to be, we’re going to be here because it’s the environment where we need to be
Kevin O’Keefe: A good message to people, and legal tech companies, that this is where the people that are the early adopters are. These are the people that can be innovative, try anything, just to get out and in front of it.
Matt Volm: And they were some of the first people that signed up for Tali and as I look back and reflect on the first thing that we released, like any startup, it’s far from perfect. It had its bugs, but those are the types of people that are willing to work with you to make the product better, and it’s truly a team effort. And that’s exactly the thing that sets any startup up for success.
Kevin O’Keefe: It’s two years, you’ve done well as far as name recognition and what you’ve been able to do and onboarding customers. Has there been a time where you guys had some low points? Is there one time we remember the most recent?
Matt Volm: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean there’s times where I will sit there and I’m just thinking to myself like why sitting on their desk? Like that’s crazy, but then you have a great day the following day and you’re like, oh, of course everyone is going to be using voice technology into the future, or there’s times where you wonder like, how am I going to pay my team next week? Those are all things that you will suffer and that you will go through, but resilience and consistency is what will get you through all that, and it’s part of the ride.
Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah, the next morning you wake up and you go, “gee what was I worried about?” And the night before you’re thinking about, oh my God, I’m not gonna be able to pay the team.
Matt Volm: Exactly. Yeah. You go from wondering like, I’m not going to be able to pay the team to having an inbound lead for a thousand-person law firm come in through the door that’s super excited about working with you and then all of a sudden your mind shifts to, I need to hire more people to get that job done now
Kevin O’Keefe: Who did you talk to? Because you can’t go talk to your team and say, “well, I’m really worried about this or that” because you don’t want to expose them to that fear. Were there mentors that you had out there, people you called on and said, “hey, I got this situation, can I bounce this off you?”
Matt Volm: Absolutely. It’s where finding the right investors comes in. So for us investors are not just a check, they’re mentors, they’re advisors and they will go through that ride with you. And then the most important thing that we found is just a peer group of other startup CEOs in our community that we can go and we can talk to. Because, you know, my wife is there for me and my family’s there for me, my team is always there for me, but the only people that can truly understand the pain of going through the things that you go through are other startup CEOs and those are the best people, and hat’s the best network to form, to have to have the support system that you need to get through all that.
Kevin O’Keefe: If you had to say one thing, if you were on a panel with 10 legal tech founders looking out on the audience, to people thinking about starting a company, and you got to say one thing that you would, you would tell them? What would it be?
Matt Volm: Do it, do it. There is nothing more gratifying than going out, taking something from idea to a real product and like, for me, the most exciting moment was the first paying customer we ever got, which was when someone agreed to give me money on a monthly basis. At my last job I was used to like rounding millions down. Right? When someone agreed to give me $30 I was over the moon. Like it was so exciting. And that feeling of taking something that is in your head and showing it in real life. Yeah, I mean it is the most gratifying feeling. There’s no amount of money that you can make that will ever make you feel that good.
Kevin O’Keefe: Yeah, because when we started, I only had three employers – one who was helping me kind of service everything, and then a developer and designer – I said the checks have to come here. She goes, well, why can’t they just put it in as a direct deposit, and I go, “because I want to go to the mailbox and get them out. Because they’re gonna send me a check for the $1,500 initial fee and the $200 for the first month. $1,700. We will have seventeen hundred dollars, and they believe in us.”
Matt Volm: Yes, yes, yes. That’s exactly right.
Kevin O’Keefe: I mean, it is so important, and the earlier you can do that, to get to that point where you can. That product is not going to be perfect – whatever’s viable. Minimal viable product. Because when people bring it in, bring the money in, now it doesn’t just feel good. Then you start to get real feedback from real people that are invested in your success. Yeah, that’s so true.
Matt Volm: Yeah. It’s an amazing feeling. So yes, I always tell: people do it. And the other thing that you’ll have to get comfortable with is the, the, the ability to accept failure. And I can honestly say if things blow up and we go out of business tomorrow, the Tali ride has been the most exciting thing and fun thing I’ve ever done in my entire life and there’s nothing that I would do to replace that.
Kevin O’Keefe: Now do you have to have a spouse that’s willing to put up with that craziness?
Matt Volm: And that’s the other thing is you need the support system. And that includes your team, that includes your family and that includes your wife, your boyfriend, your husband, whoever it is they will need to be there for you. That support system is critical.
Kevin O’Keefe: Thank you sir.
Matt Volm: Thank you, Kevin.