How to own contracts and influence people
Drinking from our own supply
The story of how Juro came about is a familiar one. Having both worked in startups, my cofounder Pavel and I got tired of the clunky, risky and all-round painful process that goes with creating, signing and managing legal contracts. Endless hours spent on legal language, the bizarre interplay of printing and scanning, the store-by-email nightmare. We decided to use technology to make the process better. It’s the familiar “founder sees problem, creates solution” tale.
But this story has been told. If you are reading this article, you may well be a small business owner or employee, and I’d be surprised if you found the contract process to be either efficient or pleasant, whether your experiences have involved signing an employment contract, creating a sales agreement or managing your contracts stack. Of our small business customers, most were previously spending between 1 and 5 hours a month on contracts and all would rather be doing something else.
There’s perhaps a more interesting story to tell about why we think Juro can transform the way small businesses deal with contracts. This is the story of how we are drinking from our own supply; how we are ourselves using Juro to create, sign and manage contracts and what we have learned along the way.
Having conducted lots of customer interviews, developed prototypes, released a beta and acquired over 400 customers, we decided a few months ago it was time to put our money where our mouth was — we would sign up to Juro and use it ourselves for all of our contract work. The process has taught us a huge amount.
Juro’s contract stack
Juro is only 7 months old but we’ve already signed some 15 contracts. And these contracts have been with some of our most significant stakeholders — whether customers, funders, freelancers or employees. Where possible, we have always strived to use Juro in these situations and collect as much feedback on the process as we can.
Our own contracts stack is moving all the time. But at the time of writing, it looks as follows:
- Cofounder Collaboration Agreement (1)
- Non-disclosure Agreements (3)
- Intellectual Property Assignment (1)
- Convertible Note (1)
- Director’s Loan Agreements (2)
- Development Supply Agreements (2)
- Freelance Design Agreement (1)
- Director’s Service Contracts (2)
- Employment Contracts (2)
Most have already been signed and some are in the process of being signed.
By the time we started using Juro, we had already validated that there was a problem to be solved and that problem related mostly to the wasted time spent on legal contracts. But there was a subtler point we wanted to test through using Juro ourselves.
When setting up Juro we saw more and more that there was a disjunct between the relationships that contracts codify and the legal paperwork itself. Put simply, contracts tend to come at exciting times, so why make the paperwork so painful?
Perhaps you are closing your first sale or signing a partnership deal, perhaps you have just been offered a new job or you have won funding for your startup. You’ve hit a big milestone, and yet, the legal paperwork is usually pages of legal jargon that is time-consuming to create, totally unreadable to the party on the other side of it, clunky to sign and a pain to keep track of. It’s just not good enough.
What we put this down to is a lack of human-centric design in legal services. Why when you have offered someone a job and they have bought into your culture enough to accept it, would you then throw at them a ten-page legal nightmare. Why when you are closing a sale, do you impede the deal with dense paragraphs of Ts&Cs and a hand signing process? Why when you need only a couple of days’ work from a freelancer can’t you just get something agreed in a couple of minutes? These are crucial touch points like any other but they are not treated as such.
To really transform this process and design technology that would put the user back at the centre of the contracts world, we asked the question “how can we do contracts better?”. In doing so, we set ourselves three goals:
- That we could deliver technology that would save customers time on contracts
- That we could offer contracts and signing that were as or more secure than the status quo
- That we could design contracts and processes that would delight both sides of the contract
It was now time to put our heads down and really test these assumptions through our own contracts stack.
3 times we owned contracts
We have used Juro on too many occasions to list here, so we’ve picked out three that give a flavour of both how Juro has helped us and what we have learned.
I’ve known my cofounder, Pavel, for several years. We were at business school together (INSEAD) and have kept in touch ever since. The team ticked lots of boxes — complementary skills (legal, product, tech, sales), high level of trust, previous working relationship — but we both knew that when it came to cofounding the risk of falling out in the tough times, even when you have absolute trust in each other, is ever present.
As such, we decided to sign a cofounder collaboration agreement fairly early on. The point of this agreement was not so much that we thought we’d ever be able to sue each other under it (when you get to that point, the company is probably done-for anyway…) but that it was a nice framework for us to surface our assumptions around roles, rewards and risks. Wasserman has some good things to say around founding a company the right way, if you want more info.
The cofounder collaboration agreement really tested Juro as there are lots of moving pieces in this kind of agreement. So we decided to create it manually in the first instance and then sign it through Juro.
In very practical terms, we learned two things here. First, when you have a distributed team as we do (between London and Riga) managing interactions through a platform is very nice. Although we LOVE using Ryanair, signing in person would have been a real hassle.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, we lived through the process and have used what we agreed is being used as the basis for the algorithm that will underpin this contract when we release it on Juro — it’s one thing to write a contract; it’s quite another to live it.
Taking on a designer
Part of our strategy has been to engage really smart people early in the company’s lifecycle. So when it came to design, there was one designer we really wanted on board — Joe Furr. He had done some amazing work for other startups we knew and we were confident that his involvement would change the game for us.
We agreed a scope of work with Joe on our visual identity and UI design and asked if he had a standard contract we could sign. Ironically, Joe had actually been in the market for a contract he could use with his clients, as his freelance business had really started to take off and it made sense for him to formalise these relationships. This opportunity was too good to miss, as the algorithms for the freelancer contract on Juro had already been written and tested through our beta. Joe answered a series of questions and Juro instantly created the contract. A few seconds later, we were prompted by an automated email from Juro that the contract was ready to be e-signed.
From the experience, we learned three things.
First, the design of a contract helps to set the tone with the other party to it. Being a designer, Joe particularly loved the summary section, icons and look and feel. This gave him the message that we were really serious about design and prepared to invest in it.
Second, the ease with which we created the contract (total time investment: 3 minutes) meant that we could get a trusted relationship far quicker than if we had been dealing with a low-quality template (that would take time to read) and paper signing (who actually owns a printer?).
The other nice thing about the contract with Joe is that when the deadline was approaching, Juro sent us a quick reminder so we could check everything was proceeding according to plan and it focused our minds back on scope of work and sticking to budget.
We hope that Joe will continue to use Juro to power his freelance contracts going forward.
The Seedcamp investment
OK, this one is cheating a bit. When Seedcamp made an investment in Juro in March 2016, they actually gave us the legal paperwork for us to sign and we didn’t use Juro at all… The reason I mention it is that Seedcamp have done an awesome job of standardising their legal paperwork (often in partnership with 500 Startups).
Like Andreessen Horowitz before them, Seedcamp increasingly strives to add value to its portfolio companies that goes over and above pure financing. This includes having in-house expertise on product, growth and talent. But another thing they do is streamline the legal paperwork involved in deals. Particularly as Seedcamp is one of Europe’s most active investors, this is a win-win for both the fund and their portfolio companies — they can sign deals in minutes, so the startup can get on with the real business at hand and they can get on to the next deal. They’ve made several of their documents open source and I’d recommend taking a look.
We signed a convertible note with Seedcamp. The template was a 2-pager and had been created with the assistance of a forward-looking law firm called JAG Shaw Baker. The standardised language in the convertible note meant that we could sign quickly and start working with Seedcamp without the usual legal delays. All-in-all a positive signal from Seedcamp to us that they understand the cash contraints of startups like us and appreciate the value of our time, as we do theirs.
We didn’t e-sign the document through Juro, but we’re working on that ;-)
Kicking your own contracts habit
There is a better way to do contracts. A way that is faster, less painful and that will delight your stakeholders.
To do contracts better, we suggest that every time you create a contract you ask yourself the following questions: (1) is the other party a valued stakeholder? (2) how will the person on the other side of the contract feel when I send it to them? and (3) what would be the most convenient way for the other side to sign?
Based on your answers, you can start to build contracts processes that can help you save management time, yes, but also close sales sooner, help to win the trust of freelancers and engage employees right at the start of their journey with you. It is a small change, but in an increasingly competitive field for customers, funding and talent, you can quickly give yourselves an advantage through leveraging legal technology.
We’ve been using Juro ourselves for several months and learned a great deal. Our customers have fed back to us that they are both saving time and delighting their stakeholders with robust, readable contracts that can be created, signed and stored in seconds. We’re really excited about continuing on our mission to bring design-led technology to legal services and we want you to be involved.
We will follow with more examples of us drinking from our own supply. In the meantime, what are you waiting for? Sign up to Juro free to join the first 10,000 customers to have priority access.