#16 Episode - A Fever Pitch for Automation [[🔔]]

Ring the Bell, It's Time to Eat

A trend has been emerging that touches on a core thesis of this newsletter:

  • LegalTech—but specifically, Document Automation.

We broached this subject in Law of VC #3: Building A Legal Autopia, but legaltech hasn't been discussed since then.

Since then, I have seen things that have blown me away. It’s a much bigger deal than I thought. As one colleague put it:

“You were thinking of building a Disneyland race track, but the industry is building Teslas.”

As Elon would say: Message received.

Automating the Andreessen Analyst

The Emerging Manager Toolbox

VCs Weigh In

Some VCs and LPs are already far ahead of the curve, including lawyer-turned-VC Minal Hasan, Lindel Eakman and Maren Bannon:

I now realize where in the LegalTech process I should focus my time and energy:

  • It’s not on the venture deals side, but on the emerging funds/venture capital side.

Is the Future-of-Work Automated?

  • In the future-of-work SaaS space, there are thousands of companies building all kinds of automated tools including “No-Code” and “Low Code” solutions.

  • The fever pitch for automation is ripe. It feels like it’s on the same level that AI was back in 2011 when IBM Watson slapped the smugness off of Ken Jennings' face and took home the $1 million prize on Jeopardy:

The only difference is that this time, unlike obscure edge cases of using IBM Watson, process automation for venture capital actually works.

Trust. The. Process.

(Patrick) Q: I know you're going to be a generalist, but what are the market areas that really have your attention?

(Sam) It's going to be APIs all the way down, and that over and over you're going to outsource more and more of your business to some maybe micro-targeted very narrow piece of software.

  • As Sam noted, the no-code movement will democratise software for those who cannot develop it. Microsoft Excel gave 750 million users the ability to edit spreadsheets that went well beyond the use case of the financial industry. So too will document automation go well beyond the immediate use case of legal.

It’s Turtles All The Way Down

Software automation is all around us. We are entering an API-first world where:

  • Stripe is automated payments.

  • AirTable is automated databases.

  • Zapier is automated workflows.

  • {AngelList, Carta or the next big platform?} is automated funds.

Emerging managers, Micro-LPs and professional service providers are already embracing automated technologies to gain an edge over their competition.

So Easy a Caveman Lawyer Can Do It

Many people assume that automating legal documents is easy. It's not. Andreessen Horowitz invested $75+ million into Atrium around this exact premise.

Atrium was a dual company—a legaltech startup & a law firm—that was managed by an incredibly smart and driven founder, Justin Kan (of Y Combinator and Twitch). The companies shut down earlier this year before Covid-19 hit. The business model just didn’t not work out in the little time it had.

But one has to wonder, had Atrium stuck through Covid-19 or raised less money in 2019, would that startup be around today, and what could it do in 2021? 🤔

Don’t Hold Your Breath

Of course, with all of this hype, it creates fear, uncertainty and doubt. The FUD is real and as Halle stated in her original article:

“To be very clear, we believe that the onus is on established institutional investors to interrogate, challenge, and dismantle the structural barriers that have long benefitted them.  But ... we [will] wait with bated breath for that to happen.”

Whether or not venture capitalists are ready to adapt, competition is coming for them. In 2019, there were 1,162 venture funds focused on Seed and 126 focused on Pre-seed. There may have been a slowing down of venture funds in Q2 of 2020, but with the rollout of rolling funds in Q3, the number of new emerging managers has exploded. I have seen it in my own practice. Big firms are also struggling to keep up with demand.

Fred Wilson, the legendary VC who has seen his fair share of old guard passing the torch of power to the new guard, can certainly appreciate the power dynamic at play here:

“For all of its democratizing power, the Internet, in its current form, has simply replaced the old boss with a new boss. And these new bosses have market power that, in time, will be vastly larger than that of the old boss.”

It brings up the following questions in my mind:

  • Will challenger funds put a dent in the fight for equality and fund performance?

  • Will these new GP leaders be leaner, meaner & hungrier than their competition?

  • Will AngelList and Carta or a new platform leader emerge to automate the fund formation process, back-office operations and reporting for emerging managers? 

  • Will lawyers have a job at the end of all this?

What do you think? What legal forms do you want to see automated? What expectations do you have around process automation? Do you have any suggestions?

Leave a comment

I will leave you with this quote from Sam Hinkie:

We have so many things to do. Let's focus on the thing we're amazing at and spend all of our time, or as much as our time as we can, on the thing that we're wildly good at and trade our money for time.

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As always, if you'd like to drop me a note, you can email me at chris@harveyesq.com, reach me at my law firm’s website or find me on Twitter at @chrisharveyesq.


Chris Harvey