Meet Toronto-based Mona Datt, 38, co-founder and president at Loom Analytics, which launched in June, 2016.
Is this your first startup? No. I also own eDecree, a transcription and data entry outsourcing company for the legal and insurance industries, with clients across North America. I started 10 years ago and still own and operate it. I’m still involved with the long-term, high-level strategy for eDecree, but I have an excellent team responsible for the day-to-day management of the company, which allows me to dedicate more time to developing Loom.
Are you involved with Stanford Law’s CodeX? I am new to CodeX, and I’m looking forward to our virtual meeting today (Dec. 1) when I’ll be speaking to the CodeX group about Loom.
Education: I graduated with a Bachelors of Engineering from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in 2000.
Are you a lawyer? No—I am an engineer through and through!
What problem does Loom Analytics solve? In Canada, legal decisions are published in an open case law database that’s freely available to the public. The level of access to legal data here is fantastic, but the data is only organized in the most minimal of ways (for example, it’s sorted by region and court level). It can be really difficult to perform useful searches and it’s almost impossible to get any kind of big picture, bird’s eye view of a particular area of law.
Loom Analytics is taking the existing body of case law and makes it smarter and more useful by aggregating and sorting the data. Instead of performing open text searches looking for personal injury precedents, a lawyer could use Loom’s system to see all personal injury decisions that were published in a given time span and then break them down by outcome. Instead of combing through individual decisions looking for ones written by a particular judge, Loom’s system can show all decisions authored by that particular judge and provide an at-a-glance snapshot of their ruling history. In short, we’re providing quantitative metrics on Canadian case law.
Audience: Loom is first and foremost a product for lawyers. We also think it’s going to be a great tool for legal researchers and legal academics. Outside of the legal sphere, it’s for insurance companies doing risk management.
How did you name it? We were floating a few names around a week before announcing the product and decided on Loom because the product is about presenting a big picture story based on threads of data from different documents and data sets. And for the nerd in me, LOOM = Legal Orders Of Magnitude.
Is Loom currently on the market? What does it cost? Loom is on the market in Canada as a subscription product, starting at $50/month for a basic subscription.
Do you have any patents? No.
What inspired you to pursue this startup? The team wanted to create a “Moneyball” system for law. We were immediately drawn to the challenge of bringing analytics and efficiency to the slow, tedious, process of legal research.
Do you have funding yet? We are currently self-funded, primarily by eDecree. Of course, we’re always open to meeting with interested investors. Now that we’re past the first year of initial development and are entering a growth stage, we’ve been talking to some potential investors, but it’s very important to us that we work with someone who is a good fit for this industry.
What is your biggest challenge re: the start-up? An analytics-driven approach to law looks very different than traditional research methods, so education has been our biggest challenge. I’ve found that when I sit down with someone and actually take the time to explain in detail what our system does—and what information it can provide—people get excited. But it’s a long, slow process, so we need to come up with ways to communicate the value of a metrics product like Loom outside of a one-on-one product demo format. Math isn’t the enemy!
What do you need right now? In six months? In a year? Right now, we’re looking for investors and clients. In six months, we’ll be investing more heavily in machine learning and will be looking for data scientists and architects to design and deploy our machine learning pipeline. In a year we will be looking for additional investment to enter the U.S. market.
What have you learned that you wish you knew five years ago? That a founder hasn’t truly built a business until it is able to survive without them in the day-to-day operations and sales. It can be hard to relinquish control, but if you want to grow and build and innovate, the founder eventually has to be dispensable.
What two people are/were your most important mentors: My first manager at ATI, Steve Skerlan, was my most important mentor. I graduated with a largely theoretical education in engineering, but he spent countless hours training me to become an excellent engineer in practice. As a junior engineer, it’s easy to feel unsure of yourself, but he taught me that with my problem solving skills and my engineering background, I had the skillset needed to pick up advanced and applied concepts. His belief in me is one of the things that eventually gave me the confidence to branch out on my own and take the risk of starting my own business.
What book changed your life? Although I love to read, when I think about something that really changed my life, what sticks out most is actually a made-for-TV movie that I watched when I was a kid: Nadia, a 1984 biopic about a Romanian gymnast. Sports were a big part of my life growing up (I was on the junior tennis circuit in India as a teenager), and seeing Nadia Comăneci’s grit and perseverance struck a chord with me. I still think of it as a constant reminder of what we are all capable of if we put our minds to it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs: There will be days you wish you just had a full-time job with a predictable paycheck. Ten years in and I still have days like that. Positivity and perseverance will serve you well in getting past those days.
What are you afraid of? Not having really lived.
What are you most proud of: I’m the kind of person who is never satisfied and is always trying to innovate and achieve more, so I hope the thing I’m most proud of is still in the future.
What would be your dream career if you were not an entrepreneur? Working in a venture capital firm vetting and mentoring startups.
What does your workspace look like? (Borrowed from Sam Gosling.) I physically moved my desk to a new space in our offices last week. That was the first time in three years I had picked up the never-ending pile of paper off my desk. I know because there was a piece of paper dated July, 2013 at the bottom of the pile.
Favorite vacation destination: Kauai, Hawaii is my absolute favorite. I’m a workaholic and it takes a lot for me to stop working. The last time I visited was in 2012 and within a half hour of landing in Kauai, I had mentally checked out of work for the entire week.
Favorite musician or group: A.R. Rahman, he’s an Indian musician who’s made some truly amazing music.
Favorite food: I love visiting India and getting the chance to eat real Indian street food.
Favorite quote: “Live life like there’s no tomorrow.”
Your mantra: Human beings are adaptable and can learn anything they put their minds to.
Who would you want sitting next to you if you got stuck for three hours on the tarmac in a 737? This would never happen in the real world of commercial airline travel, but I’d want the seat to be empty so I could actually check out mentally for once (and enjoy a glass of wine).
Mona Datt photo: Blair Gable (Canadian Bar Association).
Cover image: Clipart.com
Compiled by Monica Bay, CodeX Fellow and a freelance journalist and analyst, and member of the California bar. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @MonicaBay