This is the latest profile in our CodeX Startup Snapshot series showcasing entrepreneurs and their startups. Today’s subject is Dan Rubins, founder and CEO of Legal Robot, which launched February 9th. Rubins demonstrated Legal Robot at the Dec. 10th 2015 CodeX meeting at the Stanford campus, and was also presented at the CodeX Pavilion and the “Legal Disruption Lighting Rounds” at Legaltech New York earlier this month. — Monica Bay
Dan Rubins, Founder & CEO of Legal Robot, launching in February, 2016.
Home base: San Francisco
Education: B.S., Molecular Biology & Biochemistry, University of California, Davis, 2006. (Dean’s List). Also studied at the University of London, the CFA Institute and The University of Queensland (Australia).
Past Work: Organon Professional Services; Wells Fargo; McKesson. Mentor at the Founder Institute.
First startup: I started a web design company in the midst of the dot-com bubble at age 16. Strange things were possible in those times.
What problem does Legal Robot solve? We provide automatic legal document review using artificial intelligence. Legal language is hard to understand, so we summarize it, break it into manageable chunks and present it more visually.
Audience: We’re pursuing consumers, businesses and lawyers. These are diverse groups with different needs, but the underlying problems are universal. With law, the typical user experience with documents is abysmal, whether you’re a practitioner or a consumer of legal services. Legal Robot also helps underserved communities that are usually impacted disproportionately.
What motivated you to pursue this startup? I’ve lived through the inefficiency of corporate legal processes—and have also seen people use legal language to exploit others.
What does it cost? Consumers pay $14.99 per document ($9.99 during beta). Business and legal professionals will be offered usage-based subscription options with application program interface (API) access and volume discounts.
Funding: We started out bootstrapping, and subsequently received angel investment. (Editor’s note: Angels are individuals who provide seed funding for starturps or entrepreneurs in return for ownership equity or debt repayment).
What is your biggest challenge? The technical challenges are significant—model selection and working with legal language; most natural language processing tools are trained on plain english, not highly structured legal language. However, the biggest challenge has been finding sufficient data to feed our machine learning models. This seems common across the industry, just ask any company trying to analyze U.S. Case Law. The problem exists in the academic world as well: reproducible research at the intersection of artificial intelligence and law is constrained by insufficient standard datasets.
What do you need right now, in six months, in a year? Now: Enterprise customers looking to conduct experiments with their business. In six months: We’ll be growing our team over the next six months and will be looking to hire talented engineers and legal professionals. In a year: International advisors and contacts will be invaluable as we roll out the product globally.
What is next? In the next couple months, we’ll launch our enterprise and legal professional products, then begin building different language models to prepare for a global presence.
What have you learned that you wish you had known five years ago? Just ask! People, on the whole, are overwhelmingly willing to help. There are better ways to ask for help, and it’s important to hone this skill.
Who influences you more than anyone else? My wife, business partner and high school sweetheart, Megan Satterfield-Smith (co-founder of Legal Robot) has been my sounding board and voice of reason for the last 15 years. Startups are hard and it is important to have a strong support system. One of the most common causes of startup demise is founder disagreements; too often, founders ignore the value of a track record.
What two people are your most important mentors: Paul Graham (computer scientist, venture capitalist and essayist) and Elon Musk (founder, CEO and CTO of SpaceX; CEO and product architect, Tesla Motors; co-founder of PayPal, and more). Both continue to demonstrate what firm conviction in truly big visions can accomplish. Musk is also a master of media and sales; it’s really quite impressive to witness.
Book that changed your life: Zero to One, by Peter Thiel, a Stanford Law School alumnus. I never believe everything I read, but I truly appreciate books that help redefine my world view. Zero to One made me want to solve much bigger, more important problems than I previously considered.
Advice for other entrepreneurs: Be sure you have a real business model and a sufficient market size to support your loftiest of aspirations.
What scares you? The movie Contagion. I have a background in molecular biology, so it’s utterly terrifying and potentially very real.
Where do you want to be in 10 years? Five Years? Next Year:
10 years: Building the next big artificial intelligence startup. Five years: Continuing to work on and witness the effect of Legal Robot on closing the justice gap. Next year: At the Andreesen Horowitz office with Marc and Ben, signing the term sheet for our seed round. 😛
Favorite vacation destination: Lake Tahoe. There really is something for everyone; from active sports across season to just relaxing in a beautiful place.
Favorite musician or group: The Eagles. Great song writing and they never seem to get old. Also: fewer egos than most groups. Also, Eric Clapton—he has amazing talent and I respect the way he overcame his struggles. There’s also incredible history there.
Favorite quote: All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. —Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Your mantra: Action conquers fear.
Who would you want sitting next to you if you got stuck for three hours on the tarmac in a 737? Lorne Michaels, of Saturday Night Live. Comedy has a way of revealing people’s raw self by putting them in uncomfortable situations—we could all learn to be a little more uncomfortable. I want to know whatever lets him witness so many failures (and the good ones, too) and still every week motivate people to experiment, reinvent themselves, and create something unique.
What didn’t I ask you that I should? You should ask people to explain their business model entirely in emoji. Here is ours:
Edited by Monica Bay, CodeX Fellow. Email: mbay@ codex.stanford.edu. Twitter: @MonicaBay.
Top photo (Lake Tahoe, Emerald Bay): Wikipedia.