Compiled by Monica Bay
Meet Ken Button, CEO and co-founder of ContractSafe, which was launched out of beta June, 2016. Los Angeles-based Button, 48, is a “startup veteran,” he says.
Education: U. C. Berkeley, B.A., In 1990. U.C.L.A. School of Law, J.D., 1994. Admitted in California and the District of Columbia.
Past significant jobs: Associate: Winston & Strawn; O’Melveny & Myers. General Counsel and Chief Administrative Officer: ePolicy (fintech; software product for insurance companies). Co-Founder/President, Verengo Solar (residential solar installer).
Is this your first start-up? No. I’ve been in and around start-ups my whole career. I focused on representing venture-stage companies while at O’Melveny & Myers.
What problem does your startup solve? At Verengo Solar, we had consistent problems finding the latest versions of contracts; keeping track of important dates so that we stayed compliant with regulations; and didn’t mistakenly automatically renew deals. So we built ContractSafe—an easy to use repository with search, date reminders and simple permissions. We wanted to create a tool that matched how people work.
Audience: Start-ups to well-established companies, in a wide range of industries (technology, services, restaurants, construction, finance, in-house legal, finance and human resources). We also offer a private label to law firms and other businesses (accounting, insurance, etc.) where they can make it available to their clients as a service.
What does it cost? We offer plans from free to $499 per month.
Do you have any patents? Not yet.
Do you have funding yet? We’ve boot-strapped to this point. We’ve had investment offers and will likely do a small round to help accelerate growth.
What inspired you to pursue this startup? The idea came from our own frustration. At our last business, an email would go around at least once a week to the senior team asking who had the latest copy of an agreement or NDA. We also auto-renewed some contracts we shouldn’t have. We looked for an affordable cloud service to help us and couldn’t find anything we liked. So we decided to build ContractSafe.
Biggest challenge re: the start-up? Overcoming the negative perception in the market from the existing, over-built tools and getting people to take a look at ContractSafe.
What do you need right now? In six months? In a year? Now: More customers and user feedback. Six months: Scale marketing/sales and build out integrations with complimentary third party apps, such as Salesforce, Zoho , Netsuite, Bamboo, Zenefits , etc. One year: More sales—that will never change—and add artificial intelligence to automatically extract key terms and dates from contracts.
What have you learned that you wish you knew five years ago? How easy and important it is to test everything—new concepts, channels, creative and even people. It’s become much easier to run frequent, shorter tests, which helps you move faster and with more confidence.
Who most influenced you: I’ve always been a big fan of John Wooden and his approach to managing his teams. His Pyramid of Success, with its focus on integrity, drive, patience and team effort, has been influential for me and is applicable to any business.
Two most important mentors: The two founders of ePolicy—Lou Kwiker and the late Don Martin—were both experienced and successful entrepreneurs. I was incredibly lucky to work for them when I first went in-house. They taught me a ton about business and management, which was invaluable as I later started and grew my own businesses. (The company was bought and re-branded.)
What book influenced you? A recent book that was impactful is A Curious Mind by Brian Grazer. It distills the power of curiosity in a way I hadn’t thought about before. It has changed the way I think and influenced how I’m raising my kids.
Advice for other entrepreneurs? Don’t shy away from having a partner. It can be really helpful to share the workload and the highs/lows of starting a new business. Randy Bishop has been my partner at another company, BearTree Partners. The name comes from a Cal guy (me, the Bear) and a Stanford guy (Randy, the Tree). We have successfully partnered despite the Bay Area rivalry!
What are you afraid of? Moving too slowly. We’re addressing a clear market need, but there’s competition and we need to move fast.
What are you most proud of? On the business front, our last business installed solar for more than 15,000 families, helping them save money and replace their dirty electricity with clean renewable energy.
What would be your dream career if you were not a lawyer and entrepreneur? I’d do something in sports—either as sportscaster or in the front office.
What does your workspace look like? (Borrowed from Sam Gosling.) I’m not particular about this. I can work anyplace I have my laptop.
Favorite vacation destination: Italy. Italians know how to slow down and enjoy life with great food, wine, art and style.
Favorite musician or group: Bruce Springsteen. He is a unique mix of creative and business talent that’s kept him on top for more than 45 years. And he’s still playing three+ hour concerts and crowd surfing at 67 years old!
Favorite food: Ice cream. My first real job was working at an ice cream shop. I love all kinds, from fancy gelato to Baskin Robbins.
Favorite quote: “Never mistake activity for achievement.” —John Wooden
What’s your mantra? “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” —Bruce Springsteen (Badlands)
Who would you want sitting next to you if you got stuck for three hours on the tarmac in a 737? Richard Branson. He’s obviously been very successful in business and seems like he has a blast doing it. I’d love to have a drink with him and hear about his experiences building his companies.
Monica Bay is a CodeX Fellow and a freelance journalist and analyst. She is a member of the California bar. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: @MonicaBay
Cover image: Clipart.com