Founder feature: Dominic Woolrych, Lawpath.
Fresh from announcing a $7.5m raise, Dominic Woolrych, Co-founder and CEO at Lawpath, discusses startup life, being a work-in-progress, and his antidote for loneliness.
“Surround yourself with people on a similar journey and learn from shared experiences”, says Dom.
On being a founder.
How did you come to be a founder of Lawpath?
I started my career as a lawyer, working in some of the largest commercial firms in Australia. While working there, I noticed that the legal industry was basically only servicing a small part of the population, which was the people and companies that could afford it. Yet, there were many people and small businesses that needed access to legal services, but couldn’t meet the expenses.
At the same time, I was seeing other industries migrating their services online, using softwares to automate tasks, and realised that the same principle could be applied to the legal industry.
Getting the band together - the early days of Lawpath (2014) outside Tank Stream Labs
I then joined Tom and our other co-founders. We all had similar ideas at the time, and that’s how we decided to create Lawpath.
Our main goal was to help small businesses, and by implementing a piece of software that would allow customers to complete certain legal tasks themselves, we could reduce the price of traditional legal services.
Initially, the business was an online platform to connect customers with lawyers. Yet, over the last five years, we started developing more and more tools for SMEs and it slowly morphed into an SaaS business.
Tell me about a time when you’ve been really challenged as a founder?
The first two years of the business were very difficult. We had the overarching idea that we wanted to democratise the access to legal services by making it more affordable. But we didn’t quite know how to do it. We did not have the tools.
We were building different products, testing them, but they weren’t really taking off. It was a very challenging period, because we kept failing and we couldn’t help but wonder if it was ever going to work.
I remember us thinking ‘Is it the wrong time? Is it the wrong place?’. Yet we knew there was a need in Australia for what we had to offer, but maybe it was too early. Maybe, the public wasn’t yet comfortable with a software tool completing their legal tasks.
After some time, we started seeing people getting more and more used to accessing accounting, banking and insurance services online and we realised there wasn’t a big step for them to migrate their legal needs online as well.
The Lawpath team outside their Surry Hills office on Kippax Street, 2018.
It took a long time to find the product-market fit, and once we found it, that's when we started growing. It took perseverance to develop a product that people actually wanted to buy. I believe a big part of what got us through this period was the fact that we are a team of co-founders that pushed each other forward when it was needed.
Share one of the key differences between being a very early stage founder and the role of founder on the Series A to Series B growth journey?
I definitely used to get more involved in the details of the business when we were an early stage startup. Mostly, because we weren't enough people to do everything.
My role now is guiding the mission and leading the general direction. But most importantly, my job is making sure I am delegating functions and placing trust in our team’s execution.
The real startup life.
What is the best thing about being a founder at this point in the Lawpath story?
I believe one of the best aspects of running a fast growing business is that your role changes constantly. Every six months, it seems you have a new role, suited to the company's new needs. So being a startup founder means your job will always be interesting.
What I love the most at this point is the team we've created, and the fact that everybody that works at Lawpath, genuinely wants to work there. I’m truly proud of the strong culture we’ve built.
I also love the concept of building something. I think the reason I originally became a founder was that I wanted to create a meaningful project, grow it, and overcome the challenges involved in the process.
Tell me about a time when you had to let go of something in order to grow as a founder and a leader?
My initial role at Lawpath was related to designing and optimising our product. As we started growing, I was finding it hard to let go of that initial role, until I realised I was becoming the bottleneck. All the product decisions had to go through me, which certainly was slowing down the processes.
Team shot in Lawpath's Surry Hills office on Riley Street post their $4.4m capital raise, 2019.
Delegating is always challenging, because it means giving up a little bit of control. Yet, I put a lot of effort into becoming comfortable with delegating responsibilities and accepting that the result may not be exactly how I wanted it to be.
Recently, I found a new section of our website that I didn’t know existed! The team had done it and I was not involved in the decision-making process. When I saw the section, I had the amazing feeling of knowing there's an entire team making good decisions and delivering great results.
So I learned that, as long as you achieve the same outcomes, sometimes it doesn't actually matter how it was done. And if delegating means the company can move forward, faster, then it is absolutely worthy.
What is your approach to satisfying the requirements of the business, your own needs, and those of your friends and family?
To be honest, I still haven’t completely figured out the whole ‘work-life balance’ concept. I’m not even sure if I agree with that expression, because when you’re running a business, that is your life. It is very hard to automatically ‘turn off your brain’ when you get home after a complicated day for your business.
With that being said, I strongly believe that it’s important to integrate the other parts of your life into your business life, in order to make it sustainable in the long term.
I was not very good at this for the first few years. But this last year I made sure I exercised regularly, spent quality time with my friends and family and did something creative on the side. I actually learned through the Upside Founder Program the benefits of doing a weekly 'habits check-in' between co-founders.
Every Friday morning, Tom and I sit down for half an hour and talk about what we've been doing, not related to work. We talk about books, music, the podcasts we are listening to or if we meditated that week. It’s almost an ‘accountability check-in’ in terms of living a sustainable life and it works really well for us.
Running your own company is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and for that you need to be able to sustain yourself for the whole run.
Yeah, that was a f#@% up.
They say that failure is the best teacher. Tell me about an experience of failure that you are thankful for.
I’d say an experience of failure that taught me a valuable lesson was the wrong approach to Product Development we had at the beginning of our journey.
When we first started, we would come up with ideas of new products that we thought we’re going to radically change our business and would make Lawpath successful, but then we would launch them and nothing would happen.
After this occurred a few times, I noticed that ‘what I think the customer wants, is not always what they want’. This was especially challenging for me to understand, considering I’m a lawyer, and therefore thought I knew which products would satisfy the customers’ legal needs.
From this, I learned that you need to listen to customers and their requests. Since then, our products are entirely based on our customer's feedback. Some of our biggest wins have been products or features that I would not have predicted their success.
Paying it forward.
What practical advice would you give your pre-founder self about what lies ahead?
‘Don't stress the small stuff’. Looking back, I've spent so many sleepless nights wondering why we weren't growing as fast as we wanted and worrying about why we hadn't raised more capital from investors. And in the end, it all worked out.
I know I can say this in hindsight, but things always seem to work themselves out. At one point, Tom and I were one day away from having to shut down the business because we'd run out of money. And then, an investment deal came through at the last minute.
I’d tell myself not to stress about the details, because it’s not just about the outcome, you also have to enjoy the journey.
If you could recommend one thing to do in preparation for the founder journey what would it be, and why?
My first piece of advice would be to understand the importance of having a solid product before starting to raise investment. The reason behind this is that as soon as you raise capital, there's a lot of pressure for the startup to grow. And you certainly don't want to find yourself in that moment having to go back and rejig your product.
More important than that, I’d recommend surrounding yourself with mentors and people in a similar situation as yours.
Running a business can get lonely. With this, I mean that sometimes you feel a lot of weight in your shoulders and it’s important to share it with somebody that can relate to that. In this sense, it’s great to have co-founders or a mentor group.
Luckily, there are well organised programs that help founders prepare for the journey and great mentors out there, always willing to help.
(Re)sources of inspiration.
Tell me about a time when the going got tough - what are the things that kept you going?
Definitely working with a good team and having a supportive family has helped me during difficult times. And I know this sounds a bit cliché, but I never really considered failure an option. In the face of adversity, I always knew I had to keep pushing.
I definitely subscribe to the idea that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. Every time you go through an issue, you come out the other side and you are better for it. I think this is why second and third time founders eventually grow successful businesses, because they've been through it all before.
What are your go-to tools and resources that help you be a better founder?
I like to read business and entrepreneurship books, stay on top of a few blogs and listen to podcasts. I generally don't listen to business or self-help podcasts, I’m more interested in autobiographies and biographies about successful business people. I find listening to their stories inspiring and insightful.
I’m also part of organisations like the Upside Founder Program. I find it useful to be part of a group of people that can share their stories and grow from common experiences.
Dom's Ellen Moment: the ever-growing Lawpath team in their current Surry Hills office on Foster Street, 2020.
Think about the statement, “I am my own work in progress.” In what ways have you made progress in the last year?
As I mentioned, last year, I tried to focus on the idea that the startup founder journey is a marathon, not a sprint.
Sometimes, working six effective hours is better than working ineffectively for ten. So I’d say I made progress in the last year by trying to be that type of person.
Another important accomplishment has been the recent changes in my leadership style. I've been actively working on placing more trust in people, while recognising that when you empower your team, they often get better results than if you do it yourself.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from the Upside Founder Program that you are bringing into your founder and leadership role at Lawpath?
Certainly having included the 'habits check-in' practice and meditation into my daily routine. These two things that I brought from the program into my life have helped me greatly.
Upside has many guest speakers coming in and sharing their stories. As a founder, sometimes you think you're the only one having certain problems. Then, you hear these stories and realise that your challenges are actually quite common and you don't need to reinvent the wheel. Usually someone's already found a solution and you can apply it to your business. So Upside has given me the opportunity to be part of this.
In one phrase, what would you say to other founders about Upside?
Upside gives you something crucial: the ability to surround yourself with people on a similar journey and learn from shared experiences.
We’re all a work in progress.
Upside Founder Programs help founders become the very best leaders for their businesses as they grow from Series A to Series B, and beyond. Applications for the 2022 program close November 24th. Apply now for the 2022 cohort.
Upside Founder Programs are generously supported by KPMG High Growth Ventures.