Integration of the legal profession and voice assistants is just a matter of time
Ari Kaplan spoke with Matthew Volm, the co-founder and CEO of Tali, a voice-enabled time capture software tool.
Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and the genesis of Tali.
Matthew Volm: The idea for Tali actually came about one night in early 2017 in my dining room. My wife is an attorney and has to track every six-minute increment of her day. She typically did that on Post-It notes and then spent a couple of hours every week manually entering her time into a billing system, filling out one time entry form after another. One night she was going through that ritual at our kitchen table while I was using our recently purchased Amazon Echo to set a timer and I wondered whether one could use an Amazon Echo to track and log time. She thought it was a great idea, which I shared with the two people who became my co-founders, and we ended up turning it into a business.
Ari Kaplan: How does Tali work?
Matthew Volm: With Tali and simple voice commands, you can use any Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant device to log or track your time. You could say something like: “Alexa, tell Tali to bill 12 minutes to the Jones divorce matter for phone call with client.” We take that information, turn it into a time entry form and then sync it to your invoicing or billing system. We have three integration partners—Clio, PracticePanther and Rocket Matter—and automate the timekeeping and time entry process so that our users can proceed through their days without ever having to fill out a time entry form.
Ari Kaplan: Who is your target customer?
Matthew Volm: We built Tali for solo practitioners and small-firm attorneys, who were leveraging cloud-based practice management solutions and often simultaneously practicing law and running their business. They are people wearing lots of hats, and Tali was designed to make their lives easier.
Ari Kaplan: Where has Tali succeeded?
Matthew Volm: Tali has been used by thousands of people throughout the U.S. and across the globe, including in Canada, Spain, the U.K. and Australia. When we first started Tali, voice technology was very much a consumer tool for playing music or the news. No one was using it to get their jobs done. Fast forward a couple of years and Amazon has an Alexa for business initiative, while Google, Microsoft and others are entering the enterprise space with voice technology. I would like to think that we played a small part in pushing that along. From the very beginning, we also tried to make everything about our product and our company fun, from our brand to our mascot, which is a cute, little beaver.
Ari Kaplan: You recently announced that your team will no longer be offering Tali as of June 30. What were the ultimate challenges?
Matthew Volm: We got to a point in late 2018 where, although we were doing everything we possibly could to increase our paid user base, increase engagement and fuel adoption, we essentially ran out of money before finding product market fit. We raised a nearly a million dollars in funding for the business and had about 200 paid users, but didn’t have a sustainable revenue base to continue operating. Attorneys still recognize that they have a problem around manual time entry and the loss of billable time. They still get really excited about a voice solution and its potential to solve that problem, but there was a disconnect between the expectation they had about what Tali could do and what we were able to deliver.
Ari Kaplan: Was the need to have a piece of hardware a challenge?
Matthew Volm: We typically provided a complimentary Echo device to every new paid subscriber because we didn’t want them to go out and buy a device just to use Tali in their office. The real challenge that we saw early on when we got started in 2017 was that prospects asked a lot of questions about the privacy and security associated with the devices. We told them then and it is still true today that Amazon’s Echo devices and smart speakers in general are no different than a mobile phone in that they are just tools with microphones to which you grant certain applications access, such as Siri. By 2018, people were more curious about the usability and adoption of our solution.
Ari Kaplan: Is there anything you would have done differently?
Matthew Volm: There are two things that I would have done differently. On the product side, we took a partnership and integration approach by collaborating with Clio, PracticePanther and Rocket Matter. We intended to build our own invoicing and reporting capabilities within the application, but ran out of time. I would have built those capabilities into our application sooner to help with adoption and stickiness. On the market side, I wish we would have run more experiments outside of the legal vertical. Our daily active users never rose above 20 to 25 people, which was no more than 10% of our paid user base at any given time. Despite all the things we did, we never really moved the needle on engagement, such as how often our active users were logging time with Tali. Timekeeping is obviously a challenge for other professionals as well, including accountants, consultants and freelancers. One of those groups could have offered greater potential for traction than the legal vertical.
Ari Kaplan: What should startups know before getting into the legal tech sector?
Matthew Volm: Do as much as you can to truly understand your target customer and the persona of your buyer. We did a lot of customer discovery early on, but adoption is crucial regardless of the space you’re entering. If people aren’t using your product or your solution, then there’s not really a there there. Understanding their problems and what will actually make them buy and use your solution is critical. The other thing to understand about lawyers is that they are trained to mitigate and identify risks. If you’re bringing new technology, such as voice technology, into their offices for the first time, they are going to look at that through the lens of the risks that come along with it. You need to be able to cross that hurdle in order to be successful as a founder.
Ari Kaplan: How do you sift through the hype and maintain your focus?
Matthew Volm: There are a lot of companies that are doing similar things, and it can be really easy to try to compete feature to feature with them. Rather than obsess over what the market and our competitors were doing, we obsessed over what our customers and our target customers were telling us. We concentrated on our product, solution and customers because we thought that would ultimately let us build a product to solve their problems. If you do that, they will use your solution and tell other people about it. If you only focus on what’s going on in the market, you’re looking at the wrong things, though it’s an easy trap to fall into.
Ari Kaplan: What’s next for the Tali team?
Matthew Volm: My two co-founders have found jobs, and I am looking for a new opportunity. There are other problems worth solving, and while our immediate next step is to bring our experience to different companies, you will probably see another startup from the three of us.
Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.
Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.