Hadassah Drukarch

On today's episode of The Law of Tech podcast:

Tom Dunlop

I've read a lot about the kind of... what motivates people, what motivates people in jobs personally. And, you know, human nature is to kind of belong to something - a community, a belief, whatever it might be. And I think you can see that in the workplace, that if you don't feel like you quite belong, or you feel like you and another person don't belong to the same thing, then you're not going to collaborate. You're not going to communicate. It's gonna kind of really put up those walls between you. And I think that it's true of beliefs into the objectives. So it's belonging to a team or belonging to a company. And then there's a belief in the objective. And I think if you can get both of those right, and you can make those two things, I guess, aligned across different functions then I think you've got a good culture. And that's ultimately what we're trying to do.

Hadassah Drukarch

Hi and welcome to another episode of The Law of Tech podcast. I'm super excited about this episode, not only because of the amazing guest that will be joining us today, but also because this is the very first episode of a new subseries of The Law of Tech podcast called the Legal Tech Start-Up Spotlight, focusing on legal tech start-ups, and their founders. And for this episode, I am joined by Tom Dunlop.

Now, Tom is the founder and CEO of Summize a leading, insightful solution for contracts that makes contract review, creation and management, easy for legal teams, wherever they work. As an accomplished commercial and technology lawyer, Tom's experience with reviewing contracts and his insight into the need to reduce costs and speed up the implementation time of products to change the way legal teams work, really formed the catalyst that eventually led to Summize. Prior to this, he also worked as a global legal director for several fast growth technology companies, and he also represented Team GB as a professional badminton player. Tom, welcome to the show. And it's an absolute pleasure to have you today.

Tom Dunlop

It's a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me. It's a nice little summary that you provided for me.

Hadassah Drukarch

A summary that definitely doesn't do justice to all the amazing things that you are involved in and that you have been involved in throughout your career. Now, to kick off this episode, can you maybe tell us a little bit more about your professional background, really focusing on how your career started and how you eventually found yourself in the legal tech industry?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, of course. So, I mean, as you alluded to earlier, I think when I was, I guess a bit younger, I had to kind of make a decision about which direction I went in. I think I was very much focused on, um, kind of the, the opposites of, of law probably, which was the, the sporting side. Um, but at the same time I was also doing law school. Um, and I think in reality, I kind of liked the application of law to business probably more so than, um, I guess law itself in terms of the, the, the kind of more theoretical side. Um, and it kind of PED my interest, very problem solving, um, subjects. And I think I lend it kind of self well to my personality. So after I, I guess, made the decision to leave team GB on the balancing side, um, I was then looking for, for what next, I actually did start up a kind of, I guess, a, a start-up, um, online business, which was a comparison site for solicitors.

So this was probably about 10, 15 years ago. Um, I'd like to think it was ahead of my time and actually that would probably do quite well now. Um, I don't think legal services were probably as commoditized as they maybe are getting to be at the minute. Um, but we, I kind of did that when I was coming out of law school. Um, and it's quite an interesting one where the only reason I really did that was because when I was applying for training contracts at that point, I was almost criticized for, um, not to have having commercial awareness. Um, it was tough because I didn't have any connections in law. I was the first generation lawyer as they call it. So, um, I very much had to, uh, kinda show them, um, my commercial experience by what, well, I perceived to be the, the right way about starting my own business.

Um, so I did that for about a after law school, but then ultimately an opportunities came along where, um, I could essentially join a very accomplished in-house lawyer. Who'd set his own law firm up as well as a sports management agency. Um, and for me that was an area that obviously combined my sporting background on law. So I thought that's brilliant. I'll be an agent for football or for Olympic athletes about the dream. Um, so I kind of jumped into that role and I essentially had this kind of dual purpose really, where I was a bit of a paralegal, as well as working on the, um, the kind of sports management side, obviously very interesting. We did a few nice deals and it was a is, but it was a strange old market. Um, and you soon realized that actually providing legal services for high quality clients, which we were, it was only a small boutique commercial firm.

Um, we had great clients, um, and it just, it just meant that we actually thought, you know, what, let's, let's focus our attention on this law firm and really build this up. Um, and so I kind of helped really establish this, this law firm with the, the managing partner we recruited, my lawyers recruited another partner, um, and I got a training contract and qualified into that firm. Um, so it was a very different type of firm. It wasn't more of the traditional, certainly the big firms, um, very entrepreneurial. And we almost worked as a bit of a, a kind of in-house department for, um, I guess the, the client. And we kind of acted as that really, which gave me that hunger to think, well, actually, why not just become an in-house lawyer for a company I really, uh, you know, enjoy working for, so about a year after I qualified, I moved in house, um, I did a couple of different roles, but the most relevant last kind of, few of them were, um, very much focused on tech.

I obviously always had a bit of a, a passion for tech because I'd start my on my business. And, um, I was just intrigued generally about the tech application to, I guess, whether it be from a consumer perspective or, or other businesses. Um, and it was at that point that I joined absence, which is the first notable software company where I became essentially the head of legal when I was, you know, only one to two years PQE. So, um, so it was quite daunting, but at the same time it was great experience. Um, and I was with that business till it, um, essentially got sold to a big us company. Um, and that's really where, you know, when we talk about surmises and where I ultimately end up that's that the first use case I had was I manually reviewed about 500 contracts during that sale, which was a, obviously a horrific task, but it, it was the catalyst that led me to, to think of the idea for what became surmise.

Um, but, but after that went to a couple more tech companies and SaaS businesses, one the last one being a, a Silicon valley based one, uh, whereas the global legal director, um, whilst in the background, essentially kind of developing the surmise concept. Um, and I think the beauty of those roles, which I learned isn't common in, in house roles or in law generally is in very fast growth forward thinking businesses, particularly in software. They G to be very innovative, they have cultures that essentially suggest that you have to always find a better way of doing things. Or in many cases you have to think about how is your function going to handle a hundred times the workload in, you know, the next two years, cause that's the speed of which these companies are growing. So everything you do is all about how can I refine the, how can I make this better? And ultimately that's why I was given a lot of freedom to, to kind of, I guess, innovate and get my mind to start thinking about innovative ways of doing things

Hadassah Drukarch

I can imagine. And I think it's extremely interesting to kind of see how you, um, how you started out and what process you went through and what steps you took to eventually get where you are right now. Um, and I obviously want to hear a lot more about Summize, uh, what the company does, uh, some of the, the background, uh, behind the, uh, the establishment of the company. But before we do that, I, um, wanted to get back to a point that you, uh, that you just mentioned. And that was that after you receive some early feedback when applying for training contracts and the feedback in this case was that you needed to develop some more, um, commercial awareness and experience, you decided to start up your own business. Um, so this basically indicated that, you know, these entrepreneurial or this entrepreneurial spirit was really part of you from quite an early age.

Um, later you also worked as a General Counsel for various tech companies, and now of course you are the founder and CEO of the legal tech cell sums. And as I said, I want to delve deeper into, uh, into the topic of sums in a minute. But what I wanted to, um, what I wanted to know from you is what really made you decide that the time was right to turn back to your entrepreneurial roots and found somes, because I can imagine that it must have been quite a leap of faith and a risky decision to leave behind your job as a general council in order to focus full time on building somes, um, at a time when, you know, you know, there is only very little certainty when you a new company. So I'm interested to hear from you, uh, what made you decide at the time was right?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, I think it's a, it, it's an interesting question where for, for me, it wasn't as much of a, I was head down doing my job, never thinking about doing anything, then all of a sudden I had a decision to make about, start me on business. I think the reality of what happened with me, as well as that starts, I probably tried to start up about another five or six things, um, that were unrelated to law, just general startups, like a fitness project one, because my background with Olympic athlete, um, there was, uh, like a professional networking type thing. There was, there was all sorts of things that I was always thinking about. And I think I kind of put that down to, um, and I, I did this kind of blog on this, but about, there's no such thing as an entrepreneur. What I mean by that is, I think you could, if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, you're always thinking about every aspect of your life that you can improve.

And if you have that mindset, you'll come up with ideas and you'll constantly come up with ideas. And I think that even a friend of mine literally has a black book where he writes that out his ideas, and he's probably up to like 600 or something. Um, so in some ways you could describe, he is a entrepreneur in the sense that he's got a very entrepreneurial mindset, he thinks of solutions to problems, and he's constantly doing that. I think what I found quite early is there's a big difference between, you know, thinking of a solution to a problem, but then taking that first step of trying to create even a ropey prototype of what you are talking about. So you can visualize to someone else what exactly it is that you're trying to create. So I always had this thing where whatever idea I had, I'd always try and create a prototype for zero cost offer as little cost I possibly cooks and have those of spare money to try and invest in these things.

Um, and I did that with quite a few to be fair. Um, and you test it out, you see what the appetite is? You kind of weigh up what the, um, potential investment will look like. Is, is it gonna get traction? I did that with three or four before surmises. Um, obviously with surmises, the advantage of that was, and I'd always recommend this. If anyone actually is thinking about starting a business is if you have where it's relevant to either a problem that you've personally, so you've personally suffered or, um, your use case. And I think people overlook these cause they think it's boring. They think like, oh, well, no, one's gonna be interested in what I do on a day to day basis. Um, you know, I've got friends who are in accountants and I'm like, there's so much in finance in terms of doing the spreadsheets and how you can extract information from them.

And they, things like that, that there's got to be a load of products in there, but like, wow, that's just boring. That's our accounting stuff. It's like, no, but you've got absolute domain knowledge that no one else has. So you already cut out so many people who couldn't do what you do. Um, and that's what I found with Summize is when I, I started to develop the concept and we created a very Roby prototype and tested it, the kind of feedback was amazing because obviously I knew what they problem. They, they had, I, I personally suffered it. So I didn't feel like it was a massive leap if I'm honest with you. I think because I've been doing this for a few years, I'd always been this mindset I've been working very closely with, on entrepreneurs of tech businesses. And it does rub off, you know, you do get that entrepreneurial bug.

Um, and I also had the support from the business where they knew I was looking to start up a company. Um, and they were again, quite happy that if the last job that I had was working for them, they're gonna get a lot of value out of me then if they didn't have me in the business before I joined Summize. So, um, so it, it, it never fell out a big leap. And I also, I was lucky enough to secure investment, um, even just see the investment, um, to, to develop the prototype, um, which meant that it wasn't like I went without a salary for months on end. You know, the reality is I've got two kids now I've got a mortgage that I can't just quit my job and then just go and, uh, that's a business up, so you, you can do it and you can do it moonlighting with existing jobs. You can, um, get to the prototype stage. And then there is funding out there and programs and accelerators to help build on, um, you know, people's concepts, but you've gotta get past, I have an idea to actually create prototype. Now,

Hadassah Drukarch

Obviously you got past that stage in 2018, you founded sums, which is the leading lightweight platform for contracts that provides a missing link between legal and tech. Um, this is of course a very, very brief description of the company and it definitely doesn't do, um, doesn't do sums any justice. So can you maybe tell us a little bit more about the history behind sums and also what change, um, the company tries to make in the contract lifecycle space?

Tom Dunlop

Yes, definitely. And I think the, the reality with, um, sums as well, it has gone on the journey to be quite a complete, um, solution for the contract lifecycle end to end. Really. So what may have started is one particular problem that I had means that it's now broadened out to be a much bigger solution than potentially what, what every, the original problem I had. So fundamentally what we're trying to do, and this is the bigger problem just we're trying to solve is just change how any business understand those contracts and interacts with them. That's kind of our headline, you know, why do we exist, um, types? And what I mean by that is obviously generally every risk or every bit of value to a business is tied to a contract. And I think when I used to go into businesses as in-house lawyer, I used to very much try and educate the business, how important contracts are and therefore the in-house legal team, um, just because you couldn't buy something or you couldn't have a risk or a potential liability without it being attached to a contract, no matter what the size of the business is, however, they are ridiculously long, they're complicated.

They are written in this kind of legal language for good reason. A lot of the time, maybe I think there's, you know, a lot of people trying to change the language of law, but I think there's a reason it's word the way it is. Um, so what we try and do fundamentally is make the kind of contracts, whether it be creating them, reviewing them or managing them, um, a lot easier and a lot simpler. And I think that the biggest differentiator between us and, um, obviously a lot of other contract systems out there is that we have a big focus on enhancing people's existing tools. Um, what I mean by that is we, you know, pretty much always use Microsoft word and I think people criticize Microsoft word a lot, and I get that there's certain collaborate, you know, I guess in terms of collaboration issues, within word, that things like Google doc solve, however's a word process for processor it's very complete and it's actually, um, a very good word processor.

So what we do is plug into word and just make it more intelligent, but we don't try and recreate word in our product, which is what a lot of other products are trying to do. Um, similarly, we, I understand the importance of business users trying to not always go to legal for routine questions. And how can you enable business users is to self-help. So what we've noticed over the past kind of two years with everything going on with COVID is that things like teams in slack have become this sort of virtual office, that's where everyone is now. So instead of, again, trying to incorporate things like chat and collaboration to our products, we are creating chat bots. That means that people can kind of ask question and self-help in teams, in slack, in a business compared to always coming to some eyes. So a lot of the intelligence in our software, I mean, fundamentally we summarize contracts. I should probably mention that that's our, that's our core technology that is, uh, hence the name, um, but a lot about how we, how you interact with a contract and how you would extract the data and access. It is through things like teams, it's slack, it's word, it's your existing tools day to day. Um,

Hadassah Drukarch

Now you just mentioned that summers, uh, really started off with a particular focus on summarizing, uh, contracts for various business and legal purposes. Um, and that a lot has changed since then. And as a result, obviously the focus, uh, of sums somewhat shift and it has changed, um, over time. Um, what I'm intrigued to hear from you is how do you basically decide what are the gaps in the market to focus on? Um, and what steps do you kind of take, um, once you have established what gaps you want to focus on and what gaps you want to fill?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah. I think there's a combination of a number of, um, a number of things. I think from a product perspective, we obviously listen to our customers a lot. I think we, um, you know, I, I get the use case and I think I have a certain vision for the product I'm quite product focused. Um, because I ultimately, you know, there's still a lot of work for us to do to complete the full at life cycle. I think, um, some people you kind of, until you live and breathe, it don't realize how big the contract life cycle actually is and how many component parts there are to it. And when you think the DocuSign is, is some, you know, a huge company and they literally just deal really with the e-signature piece, you know, one small section, um, we are trying to be relevant to every other part of the contract life cycle.

So we have probably a roadmap for the next 12 to 24 months just to try and get every bit of functionality that we'd like. So that it's seamless to track the, a contract from the initial creation through review, through negotiation, you know, integrating with like to DocuSign. And then how do you manage it effectively and also extract information from those contracts? So that whole process end into when we've still got, um, you know, I guess a, a lot of pro product roadmaps to go, um, but then yeah, listening to customers, and then I guess there's a, there's a huge culture role. Um, I guess, uh, well, a huge value that we share in, in terms of SMIS that we apply to the product as well, um, which may go into, but it's about how we focus on continuous improvement and how we always try and get everything 1% better. And I think it's an important personal development point, but it's also from a product perspective, not trying to, um, I guess create the biggest bit of functionality straight away. We do things in very bite size chunks and always try and get, you know, that 1% better, that 1% better and keep on doing that. So I think that's a huge cultural thing as to how we actually approach product development, as well as I guess, personal development in the company.

Hadassah Drukarch

And from what I understood in preparing for this episode, culture is also a huge thing at summers and looking more broadly at the concept of culture. I think it really distinguishes one company from another and to a large extent, it also, um, determines a way in which a company operates now looking at summers, how will you describe the organizational culture?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, so we, I mean, we have the, I guess fundamental values that every company has, but I think we, we are really trying to make sure that we don't just have 'em on the wall and no one ever actually, you know, you might be able to remember them, but you would've no idea how it applies to your day to day job. Um, the best example. And, you know, when you speak to anyone at somebody's, the, the, the one that always stands out in is continuous improvement. Um, Kaiser 1%, you, there's a number of different ways of, uh, describing the same concept, but it was actually a, a one that did actually, um, I guess derive from my sports background and from a lot of the kind of sporting, um, methodologies I to adapt, uh, use when I was a, a player. So, um, obviously the concert, it's quite simple, you just don't try and, um, think about kind of very big silver bullets to, to win.

And you don't. I think a lot of people take on big projects and assume that you're always on like a, a three to six to 12 month project. Um, and a lot of the time when you try and describe this is our objective, and we've got six months to do it, it's such a big change that everyone's natural reaction. Um, as a human being, you know, this is a, a biological reaction is, is to kind of fight or flight. It does invoke that type of reaction to, to us. And you can see that when, um, and why you made no progress is because no one quite knows where to start. Um, everyone's a bit kind of like, this is not gonna work. You get negative connotations to do with those type of projects. Um, and so what we try and do is make sure that we never, we, we obviously have as a, as a management team and as a leadership team, we're always looking for huge, scalable improvements, but we have to make sure that everyone in the company, um, is always looking for those 1% everywhere.

Um, and there's loads of examples of this in, I guess, sports as well as other businesses. Um, but what we do to encourage it, we have, um, things like a, a 1% bonus, which is we give 1% or someone salaries away, someone salary away every month, um, for the person who comes up with the best continuous improvement suggestion. Um, we also have a personal development fund where we basically give people an allowance and they can spend that to develop themselves personally, whether it's buying books, whether it's subscriptions, whether it's, um, kind of learning courses, things like that. Um, and we have a channel actually in teams, which is dedicated continuous improvement. And the idea is that we actually are recording and counting every 1% that we are making in the business. Um, it was something I actually heard from Clyde Woodward when he was talking about the rugby world cup and how he adapted this mentality.

He, he was like, we did loads of 1%. It's probably hundreds, maybe even thousands, but I thought it'd actually be really cool if we could actually tell you how 1% we did, um, through the journey of surmises. I think we're in about 200 at the minute, um, in terms of 1% that we've done. Um, but it's also great for new people who come in who understand the culture and coming board, you can have a look through the continuous improvement channel, look at some of the great things we've already done. Um, and these are all, and we actually make people aware how many of you contributed to cuz we want everyone to take responsibility for the future of the business and everyone to feel like they're contributing to the future of the business, which is huge for personal motivation that you feel as though you're contributing, you feel like you can steer the ship essentially. And that's, that's all part of the, the ethos behind it, but also why it's been adopted so well within, uh, within the company.

Hadassah Drukarch

Now, obviously culture is one thing. And, um, I think obviously it's a very important element, uh, of a company, but at the same time, there is also the question of how do you kind of find the right people to match that culture. Um, what is your approach to this?

Tom Dunlop

That's, that's one of the biggest promise someone say that, um, my biggest part of my role is actually essentially be a recruitment consultant because you've gotta recruit the right people at the right level with the right beliefs, with the right fit for the business at this stage. Um, I think I'm fortunate enough that I worked in fast-growth tech companies, SaaS businesses, software companies. So our whole development team is from a company I used to work at. Um, but also there's a network of people that all sort of knew each other, particularly here at the Northwest. Um, I think it, it, there's never, there's no wrong like right answer as to how you recruit the right people. But I think fundamentally we do have a strong culture. We have a strong way of doing things and fundamentally anyone who comes in has got to fit that way. Um, yeah.

Hadassah Drukarch

Yeah, but I mean, you built, you really built Summize from scratch and that obviously required, um, a lot of direction. It required a clear vision and also great leadership from, but I can also imagine that it required, um, a lot of input from people from well, from various people with different professional backgrounds. And one thing that I always find particularly striking for my own experience in the field of law and digital technologies is that people with different professional backgrounds oftentimes feel to kind of speak the same language. Not because they don't necessarily want to, but because they don't or because they don't want to. Um, and I think possibly that also relates to, to culture building. Um, but I'm interested to hear that from you. Is this something that you also noticed at sunrises when getting people on board? Uh, and, and how did you approach this if you, uh, did come across this challenge?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, so very I'm mean, I think software businesses in particular are, um, are very prone to that. And I think there's not many software companies that do it brilliantly because you've got almost the two ends of the spectrum. Um, how, how to balance those, those complete extremes almost in terms of, uh, different teams. It comes back to the, the culture. I think the culture itself for, for, for what we do is you would never, um, you would never know. I think if you came in here on a day to day basis, I don't think you could tell in particular almost who works in which department. And we all have the clear objectives that we're aligned to. We all know why we're here and we all know that we've got business objectives and every individual is aligned to those. So it's not like you are, it's not department centric.

And it's kind of everything we do is very much about aligning individuals to an objective rather than teams, if that makes sense. So, um, one thing I've, I've read a lot about the, kind of what motivates people, what mostly people in job personally, and it always comes back to the same thing. I think everyone wants to belong. You know, human nature is to kind of belong to something, a community, a belief, whatever it might be. And I think there's, you can see that in the workplace that if you don't feel like you quite belong or you feel like you and another person don't belong to the same thing, then you're not going to collaborate. You're not going to communicate is gonna kind of really put up those walls between you. And I think that it's true of, um, kind of beliefs into the objectives. So it's belonging to a team or belonging to a, a company. And then there's a belief in the objective. And I think if you can get both of those, right, and you can make those two things, um, I guess, aligned across different functions, then I think you've got a good culture. And that's also what we are trying to do.

Hadassah Drukarch

Um, on that note, moving to the, a wrap up of this episode, um, looking back at your professional and personal experiences, what advice would you give to anyone interested in following a similar career path as you did in thinking outside the box in, in terms of determining their career path?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, I think it goes back to that, I guess, entrepreneurial mindset or however you do. One thing I did when I was a, a lawyer, and this is one thing that I encourage anyone to do just is, is never forget about that personal development. The reason we've got the fund, um, here for people to develop is because I got too busy and I was kind of like, I'm just too busy with work. I can't, you know, listen to podcasts. I can't read books. I can't, you know, attend an event or I can't really try and better myself. Um, but fundamentally that's never going to get you in the right mindset to have any kind of entrepreneurial journey. So I think really adopting that, um, person develop, devote yourself, personally, learn, listen, and then getting to that kind of problem, solving mentality, look at everything that you do and just try and think of better ways of doing it.

Don't think about huge silver bullets. This is a billion dollar business. That was something really small, which is, oh, good. Have we automated that one task? Cause that's taken me a while. Um, and I think that when you get into that, it, it sets you up. Well, I mean, I'm obviously biased towards tech, so it obviously, it, it sets you up well towards a, a kind of potential tech solution. But, um, fundamentally it's just a good mindset that will probably mean that you'll come up with loads of ideas and I'd say the starting point for any entrepreneur journey is you probably do want to go through about 20 T ideas. That 19 of them are terrible, but you need to evaluate them, but you need to get into that way of really thinking about the, the, the kind of solution to that problem. Once you've got a few that you think are, are worthwhile, I think the next step is don't quit your job. Um, I would then try and create the minimum viable products, so, and kind of basic prototype. Um, and sometimes that's not because that you're gonna sell that prototype. It's just the act of doing it. We'll get you further than probably 95% of people who have great ideas. And I think if you can just create a basic prototype, essentially, we got funding on the back of a prototype, so it opens doors up to the level. And then that's when you can potentially start that, that real entrepreneurial journey, but do it in that kind of stage,

Hadassah Drukarch

Turning back again to the philosophy of one step at a time and moving forward from there. I think that is a great message to, uh, end this podcast with and with, I also want to thank you for joining me on the Sharon, taking the time to share some of your thoughts and also share the story behind some. So thank you very much.

Tom Dunlop

Oh, thanks for, uh, thanks for having me. It was a good, uh, good

Hadassah Drukarch

Discussion. Thank you so much for tuning in to the law of tech podcast. If you want to make sure you keep up to date with the show and never miss out on an episode, be sure to subscribe on your podcast platform of choice and follow the law of tech on social media. If you enjoy the show, please give it a rating or review as it helps others discover the show. And don't forget to share it with your network for now. We'll have a great day and I'll see you in the next episode of the law of tech podcast.

About the author

Tom Dunlop

As an accomplished commercial and technology lawyer, Tom's experience with reviewing contracts was the catalyst that led to Summize. Prior to this, he worked as a Global Legal Director for several fast-growth technology companies.
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