More women tech entrepreneurs just what industry needs

Software development has long been known as a “boys’ club” but women leaders are making their mark on the industry too. Their perspectives may be what the field needs to build more sustainable successes.

“Silicon Valley entrepreneurs may sprint from idea to minimum viable product in as little as three weeks, then seek funding,” said engineer and serial entrepreneur Mona Datt.

The founder of legal research analytics platform Loom Analytics said women take time to do market research and otherwise lay foundations before building a product and a business. “In my opinion, women bring stability,” she said.

Natalie Worsfold, product manager at case-scenario-modelling software startup CounterMeasure (a play on Counter Tax Lawyers, CounterMeasure’s “incubator” where Worsfold works as a tax litigator), echoes Datt’s sentiments, noting that women are better than men at listening, empathy, seeking advice and building relationships. However, “there are fewer women in the legal technology space,” she said.

Technology companies commonly ship viable, less-than-perfect software. Feedback from users helps developers improve the software faster than they could if they kept working on it in-house. Worsfold knows this, and still has difficulty with this facet of software development. “It’s hard to ship something imperfect that’s helpful for 70 per cent of your customers.”

Some visitors to Counter Tax experience confusion when they learn the law firm office also houses a software development company. “People don’t seem to understand who we are,” she said. “Our situation requires a little more explanation.”

Laura van Wyngaarden serves as chief operating officer of contract analysis tool developer Diligen Software, a graduate of a better-known incubator, Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone. She noted another method of improving the product: integrating with other systems that lawyers use.

In 2018, Diligen integrated with case and practice management system Clio, as well as document management system NetDocuments. “NetDocuments clients can bring documents from their document management system directly into Diligen for review,” van Wyngaarden said.

Iteration is the name of the software development game, especially when the developer breaks new ground. For example, client feedback prompted Datt’s team to facilitate research into questions like these:

  • What types of cases have judges heard?
  • What litigation have specific companies engaged in?
  • What lawyers have represented them?

“You develop your arguments differently depending on the history,” she explained.

Lawyers don’t perform risk and decision analysis in any consistent way, so CounterMeasure is creating a tool to facilitate this analysis. “It’s a countermeasure against bias, or falling in love with your case,” Worsfold explained, adding that a better case structure helps lawyers “see outcomes for clients in terms of dollars and cents.”

Lawyers and developers must work side by side to ensure the software they create is relevant to users. “The lines are deliberately blurred,” Worsfold said of CounterMeasure’s office setup. “We develop the product using a constant feedback loop.”

Datt employs lawyers but she also runs her transcription company eDecree out of the same office. Profits from eDecree funded Loom’s foray into the market.

Women may find themselves accumulating familiar entrepreneurship stories. Officially, Loom Analytics came by its name as a reference to many threads of data being woven together to form patterns. In fact? “We had to pick a name off a whiteboard at 1 a.m. the night before we launched the company, and Loom Analytics was the only name on the whiteboard that was not trademarked,” Datt said.

Datt decried the “you can have it all” women’s lib attitude. She limits her workdays to nine hours. She’s grateful that her mother-in-law lives with the family, which includes 9- and 5-year-old girls. She totes her laptop to tackle work during any spare moment she can find.

“You cannot do it all alone,” Datt insisted. “You have to make choices. If Loom doesn’t grow at the pace it could because I have kids and the other business, that’s OK.”

Van Wyngaarden understands Datt’s perspective. “For any entrepreneur building and running a company, it requires an absolute commitment,” she said.

When asked how other lawyers might add technology entrepreneurship to their portfolio, Worsfold said. “I got into this through my interest in process improvement. If you see a problem and know other people are also experiencing the problem, be willing to explore options and find solutions. Too few people talk about the problems in the practice of law.”

This article originally appeared on The Lawyer’s Daily website, published by LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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