Ben Malloy

Welcome to Venturi's voice. If you like the show and would like to hear more from us, give us a follow on your favourite streaming platform.

Welcome to the show, everyone. Today we're joined by Tom Dunlop. Tom is the founder and CEO of Summize. Great to have you join us today, Tom. Thanks for taking the time to do this.

Tom Dunlop

Thanks for having me. It's great to be on the show.

Ben Malloy

Yeah, excellent! We've got a really interesting conversation ahead. I can't wait to find out about your history. Could you give us a bit of an insight into that?

Tom Dunlop

Depends on how far back you want to go in terms of my career! It's been one of those strange ones, in terms of how I ended up in the legal industry. I very much started out, very much aimed at being an athlete. In the early days when I was in college, in university, I guess my sole focus really was to become an Olympian in Badminton.

That was my life, I guess. It wasn't one of these journeys where I was always wanting to be a lawyer or in many ways, always wanting to be an entrepreneur. In fact, it was very much the athlete side of it. So, that was where my focus was when I did my studies. And I think I was balancing the law degree alongside essentially representing Great Britain and going down that route. I got to the end of my degree and obviously, it's not the easiest to balance the two of them alongside. I was at the age where I needed to make the choice of being a full-time professional - like go for the Olympics, really put my foot down on it, or not basically and pursue an alternative career.

It was at that point that I think the transition from being a junior England player (the under 19, under 20 age groups) which were very team-oriented, you were flying around the world with a group of people you really liked, to a senior professional, where it was just you and your own, and you just flew around on your own, lost, flew back to the hotel and went home. I think it was that transition at the same time that made me think actually, I want to give this law thing a go, because I think that's more interesting than training all day, every day. I probably wouldn't have made it as another big medallist and everything else. So, that's when I went into the legal industry really. I did start a business when I came out of law school, which was an online solicitor comparison site. Really I only did that because I couldn't get a training contract, because people were saying I didn't have commercial experience, which was because I was an athlete.

I then took a hybrid role of joining a sports agency, which was a bit of legal because we're doing contract negotiations on behalf of footballers and Olympic athletes. But also, there was obviously a sports part of it as well. So I did that for a little while. Then the same company or group of companies had a legal arm, like a law firm arm, as well as the representation side. That's when I did my training contract, qualified to be a lawyer and really chose that route to focus on this one thing, rather than that hybrid sports law kind of thing that I was doing.

And then that's how I guess.... That my career then was firmly legal. I went to be an in-house lawyer quite early on, worked for a few different tech companies. That was where my passion was really, to work in SaaS and software. I'd generally be heading up a small legal team, growing with the business, and then exiting with them. Then that's really where the use case from Summize came from. So that's a potted history of where I've been.

Ben Malloy

Oh, right. Amazing! Yeah, that's crazy. I find with business and people that lead businesses, and it's actually more often than you think, that business leaders are ex-professional sports players. Do you think that your professional sporting history or those disciplines involved in that has helped you in your career after that?

Tom Dunlop

Depends on how far back you want to go in terms of my career! It's been one of those strange ones, in terms of how I ended up in the legal industry. I very much started out, very much aimed at being an athlete. In the early days when I was in college, in university, I guess my sole focus really was to become an Olympian in Badminton.

Yeah, it definitely has. I wrote a post on this not too long ago, that the actual traits of athletes, in terms of that dedication, that commitment, that always striving to be the best - there's a lot of similar traits to what I've discovered as founders. People who are genuinely, the people that start businesses, take an idea, but take that leap to actually found a business. I think there's a lot of similar traits. So a lot of the culture that we've put into Summize is always about its continuous improvement or Kaizen or that kind of thing.

It all stemmed back to, somewhat... I didn't call it that at the time, but when in a sporting industry, I don't know, the way you become the best at a certain point is not through skill or... you're all at a certain level. It's the mental strength. It's the ability to find that additional 1%, that additional edge that you might be able to have over your opponent. I think that we've translated that quite a lot into the culture within the business. So it's a lot of similar traits and a lot of learnings I probably didn't know I had at the time, that I'm now applying to the business.

Ben Malloy

Would you say that Summize... Would you call it a tech business or a legal business or a combination? The reason I ask that is because a lot of old-fashioned businesses now... like traditional businesses, not old-fashioned, traditional like banking and all that financing, things like that... a lot of them see themselves now as a tech business that does banking, or a tech business that does finance and stuff like that. I was just wondering if it's the same philosophy that you have.

Tom Dunlop

We are a pure play software vendor, so we are very much a tech business. We don't provide legal advice, or I guess the advisory side of it is not part of our business model. So we are generally trying to, in many ways, empower or enhance how legal teams work, so that they can provide legal advice or legal services differently and better than they already do. So, yeah, we're very much a software vendor, rather than a tech-enabled service.

Ben Malloy

Yeah. We've just had Rich Somerfield on the show as well, your colleague, and we had a really interesting conversation around why legal is a little bit slow on the uptake with technology, behind banking and all that. What are your thoughts on that? First of all, do you think it's slow on the uptake, and if so, what are the reasons for that?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, it definitely is. There's a number of reasons. I think, I'm a big believer, being obviously from a background as being a lawyer and GC of companies, that legal is still an advisory service. Fundamentally, it's about... you're essentially paying for someone to give an opinion on a set of facts or a document or certain knowledge that they will have and they'll form an opinion, and provide that. So, automation and tech is obviously applicable, but at the same time, it's not a replacement of what a lawyer does.

I think that's the big difference between how people approach, in my view, when they've come into legal tech, think it's very much a kind of "We will replace what lawyers do" like they have done in FinTech or banking because it's more numerical. It's more process driven. It's easier to automate. I think people sometimes lose that focus when they go into legal tech, which is why it's hard really, because you've got to automate parts, but not all of what is essentially an advisory service.

So, I think fundamentally, that's the biggest reason. But then on top of that, also the whole business model of how lawyers charge is obviously hourly rate driven. I think it's all geared up for a kind of occasional use model. It means that it's reactive. It's usually as a result of something going wrong, rather than a proactive advisory service. So, you put those two together, and you've got this occasional use, billing hourly model and where every hour that you have it basically needs to be chargeable. Otherwise, it doesn't really cut it in terms of legal industry.

So, when you are trying to introduce tech, you've got to change behaviour. You've got to stop hourly billing to learn a product or to do it differently, which might actually mean that you're not doing as many hours billing. So it might affect your current business model, and the fact that the actual industry itself is advisory. So, you pull them together, and that's the mishmash of everything that means that uptake has been quite slow. The initial boom of legal tech probably hasn't had the adoption that people might have thought.

Ben Malloy

How do you go about changing the mindsets of legal firms? Because it is a traditional industry. It seems... I don't know. I don't know much about legal industry, but it seems like a lot of it's has been heavy, time-consuming, quite a slow process. Then how do you change the mindsets of those people? How do you change their mindset? Because they've been doing this for long time. Probably had the same principles for decades even, maybe. So then how do you go now, "We've got this amazing technology to implement into your business, really helps things come along." How do you then change their mindset? Because it must be difficult.

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, I think there's two answers to that. First is that our primary target market is actually more in-house lawyers that work within corporate. So, they're less bothered about the hourly rate, and more bothered about obviously finding time to learn new product. So, I think that's an easier sell than actually to law firms. But I think there's this interesting mix of market pressure, client pressure and it's definitely already having an effect. Legal's one of those industries where it's one of the last things to be changed. So clients, they're dealing with their accountants through software, HR's got a software system. You've also got CRM in sales. You think legal's that industry where it still hasn't got that winner. It hasn't got that way of understanding contracts in that manner.

So there's definitely client pressure. There's an expectation that "why are you not like all the other companies that I deal with" that's forcing them to understand the need to change. So that's obviously the good start. But I think in terms of how you actually get the lawyers to change behaviour, it's what we do as a culture internally. I think it's just got to be one step at a time. It's got to be marginal improvements, rather than complete replacement.

I think change as a concept scares a lot of people. It does physically cause a fight or flight response when you're presented with quite big change. So I think one of our core principles as a product is to always compliment existing technology and start with the basics. For example, every lawyer pretty much uses Microsoft Word. So we created a Microsoft Word Add-In that means that it doesn't feel foreign. It doesn't feel scary. It doesn't feel like it's something completely different. It is the same word processor you've always been using, but, oh, look, you've got access to certain information and it's more intelligent with our plugin.

Then, once you've started to use that and you've understood the concept to what we do, we can then take you outside of Word, or we can then start to plug into Teams for example, and start to make that more intelligent. We've got this five phase plan about how we take a legal department from completely manual to almost like intelligent data-led everything. I think that's one of the big differences about how we approach it, to some other people who say, "Here's a big system, a bit of training. There you go. Now change your behaviour and learn and do everything differently." I think that's what's been the problem historically.

Ben Malloy

Yeah. Cool. Cool. When did you start the business? When was it founded?

Tom Dunlop

We founded it in 2018 really, in terms when we started to form our prototype version 1 of what, I guess the concept is... "Can we summarize a contract? Can we create an easy to read summary from a very long document?" That's where we started. We got our first of round of pre-seed investment in Q2 of 2019. Then since then, we've really ramped up and selling it for the past 18 to 20 months really, has been where we've actually had a dedicated salesperson/team selling the product.

Ben Malloy

So obviously you've started out in legal, working in legal. Then, when you've started Summize, you've changed your role entirely to be a tech CEO essentially. I'm just really interested to find out how you found that change and where you learnt about it, if there is any way you can learn about this kind of thing.

Tom Dunlop

Yeah. I think the great experience I had prior to moving to Summize was the fact that I was a legal director or GC of fast growth tech businesses. So generally speaking, I was working very closely with the founders, the CEOs of these scaling SaaS businesses. That allowed me to learn from what they did, learn about the culture that they did. Also, it's almost like rather than reading a book or listening to the podcast, it's very much about living and breathing it next to them in the same room. That really helped me shape the skillset that hopefully transferred over to Summize.

But I think the other side of it was, I was very keen early on, in terms of stepping into the CEO role, was to make sure that I was aware my strengths were and where my weaknesses were. That's led to a few things. One, we've recruited experienced commercial salespeople in particular, just because that wasn't an area of expertise for me personally. I think they always talk about that being a strong trait or a strong focus area of the CEO was to recruit a very good team. So I've made sure that's a big priority.

But otherwise, day-to-day, I think in terms of... yes, the role of a lawyer is very different to a CEO and the transition is different. Ultimately, there's a lot of similar skill sets. There's a lot of the weigh up the priorities, weigh up the risks, weigh up the variables and then produce an opinion or decision on what to do next. The main difference is that rather than me just making a decision or advising a business on the downside and the risk to do with it, it's more about the creative vision, the building blocks about where we're going to go, a lot more about the commercial appetite with the risk being just one element that I'll consider.

So, I might have a conversation where we're weighing up all these things. I will put my lawyer hat on quickly and just advise myself of the potential risk, but then very much switch to the CEO seat again, and then make a decision that way. So, yeah, a lot of similar skillsets are fortunate to have been the companies I was in, and then surround myself with very, very good people where I'm not so strong.

Ben Malloy

Brilliant, brilliant. It's interesting because surrounding yourself with innovation on a daily basis basically, it's amazing how much of an impact that can have on a person.

Tom Dunlop

Yeah. I think one of the kind of... Well, we've got a culture internally that's continuous improvement, where everything we do, we look at and try and improve by 1% of the time. That's a big cultural thing that we put in, but a lot of that came from (and in many ways, this is something, a personal development tip that I've had)... was in previous jobs. I was so busy with the day to day that I never really focused on me as a person, developing myself, learning, and thinking a better ways to do it. You just do the job.

I think joining a tech business, and one of their philosophies was just constantly about how can we one, prepare for scale? So you were almost planning for the future and preparing systems and processes for the future. There's certainly how can we just do things better? I think that mindset, I call it that entrepreneurial mindset, even if you don't become a founder, is so important to any, well, one start-up, but a business really. Being surrounded by that and having that as your culture and naturally causes you to look at what you're doing on a day-to-day basis. That's ultimately how Summize was born, was me looking at why am I manually reviewing 500 contracts? This is a ridiculous waste of my time, an expensive waste of time. That must be a better way. That's where it came from.

Ben Malloy

That's amazing. That's so cool. It's funny because as a CEO and a leader, you have to almost constantly have to look outside of the business to see what's coming in the future and how you're going to work things in the future. Then also, you have to run the business day-to-day as it's going. So, my question is, how do you balance that out? How do you look ahead at new developments and things you're going to bring into the business whilst also leading a team of people?

Tom Dunlop

You work a lot of hours! No, but I think it's a combination of a few things. Coming back to before about one of the key focus areas of me is to recognize where I'm not strong and also recognize where is my time better spent, and the same as everyone in the business. When we hire people or plan ahead or plan the head count for the year, a lot of it isn't necessarily just about revenue. For example, just about how can we get to the next stage of revenue growth. At the moment, one of our core business objectives is just to be Series A ready.

What we mean by that is obviously get to revenue target, but we need to make sure the machine is built so that when we put money into the business, it's already there and it's feeding the machine, rather than the money being used to build it. So, a lot of the hires we've done, the reason we've done them is because then it frees me up to focus on the more future, vision, market, where we're going strategically. Also, you mentioned about Rich being on the podcast as well. I think we hired him early on as well as a visionary tech person that can look out for those new technologies and obviously inform a lot of my decisions on roadmaps steering the ship.

So, it's recruiting good people. It's recruiting strategically to allow you to free up time. For example, how can I get the best out of the CRO we brought in? Well, his time is probably not best spent day to day training the most junior staff in our sales team. His time is probably best spent really keeping the revenue machine on track and building the revenue machine recruitment. So maybe we need to recruit someone to enable him to do that. That's our policy really is to think like that, in terms of our recruitment strategy.

Ben Malloy

Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant, brilliant. It'll be really interesting to see Summize in two or three years time, even six months time, to be honest. It's pretty amazing how quick Summize is growing and the plans for the future. It's incredible to see. But I just think, to finish up, Tom, I've got a bit of a game, which I'm going to spring on. I hope you don't mind, but you've got no choice, because it's my show and I'll do what I want!

So, as we've been talking, I've been jotting down a couple of keywords, right? Then I'm going to say the keywords and you've got to tell me your immediate thoughts on those things.

Tom Dunlop

Immediate, just initial kind of, okay-

Ben Malloy

Just immediate, initial thoughts on these words.

Tom Dunlop

I feel like this could go anywhere!

Ben Malloy

I know. Exactly.

Tom Dunlop

So we'll... how it goes.

Ben Malloy

Okay. First one. You ready?

Tom Dunlop

Yeah.

Ben Malloy

Badminton.

Tom Dunlop

Doesn't pay well.

Ben Malloy

Legal.

Tom Dunlop

Old-fashioned.

Ben Malloy

Summize.

Tom Dunlop

Unicorn.

Ben Malloy

Amazing. Last one. Rich Somerfield.

Tom Dunlop

Visionary.

Ben Malloy

Amazing. Excellent. Well, well done. You passed.

Tom Dunlop

Thanks. Thanks. Tough. I felt the pressure.

Ben Malloy

That was a lot of fun. Thanks a lot, Tom, for coming on the show. I've really enjoyed it. It's been really, really interesting and yeah, all the best for the future with Summize. We'll definitely catch up soon.

Tom Dunlop

Yeah, no problem. Thanks, Ben, for having me.

Ben Malloy

Thanks for listening to Venturi's voice. If you like the show, give us a follow on your favourite streaming platform.

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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