UniCourt CTO Prashanth Shenoy Shares His Legal Tech Startup Journey with StartUpMitra
The legal tech startup market faces a number of headwinds outside of a flurry of recent headlines announcing a slow down in legal tech funding in 2022. Selling to lawyers is incredibly difficult. The sales cycles for law firms can go on from several months to even years. Not to mention, the legal industry has been actively fighting against technological progress for decades, considering technologies we all take for granted like the telephone, fax machine, and internet as existential threats to the legal profession when they first surfaced.
As a legal tech company that has been around since 2014, UniCourt has weathered the legal industry headwinds, overcome many of the traditional challenges startups must confront to scale, and pivoted to develop successful products that have led to sustained year over year growth as a company.
We’re thrilled to share UniCourt CTO and Co-Founder, Prashanth Shenoy’s latest talk with StartUpMitra in Mangalore, India, where he gives an in-depth look into UniCourt’s journey as a startup and how we bootstrapped a Legal Data as a Service (LDaaS) startup to $1 million in Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR).
In this blog post, we’ve transcribed some of our favorite segments of Prashanth’s talk with StartUpMitra and we highly encourage you to watch the entire talk that we’ve embedded for you at the end of the post.
What is UniCourt?
“UniCourt is a data company. We aggregate court records. Court records are public records connected to cases filed in the US. We get them from various sources and make them available for people to access to know more information on a case”
“These court records are hosted by courts, because the courts by law have to make them available to the public to view this data. But how it’s made accessible to the public is a gray area. There’s never really a clear line. There are about 3,000 plus courts in the US, depending on the jurisdictions and states and each court is sovereign.”
“Each court has their own website. If a lawyer needs information from a court in Los Angeles, versus in San Diego, or in San Francisco, they have to go to each of these websites. So what we do is we aggregate this data from various courts and put it in a database and make it accessible.”
UniCourt’s Pivot to Digital Marketing
“In 2017, we actually won a startup competition. And when we won that, we got to meet a lot of like minded people, and people in the industry. We spoke about our problems, everyone had gone through these problems. Some people had faced those problems in previous companies, so they made sure when they started up [again] they didn’t face those problems. But we got a lot of advice on, ‘Hey, you guys are a data company. Why not use your data to do the marketing for you?’ And this is public data. So in 2017, we decided to go the digital marketing route, the complete SEO route.”
“By mid-2017, we had put up about 25 million pages on Google. Google was very happy with it and crawled us a lot. About 18 million pages Google indexed, and the traffic just spiked on our website. We said ‘ok, here is something.’ And the idea was again, lawyers, litigation data, lawyers, right? But in the traffic spike, we saw a whole different behavior.”
“95% of the customers who were signing up were a normal Joe, who was looking for someone’s name, a relative’s name, and they ended up on our site, because there was a case filing against their relative, and they wanted to know more about it… Somebody who wanted to do a joint venture with a company, searched for that other company’s name on Google, and ended up with other contract cases they had, because they failed to meet whatever contract terms. So we saw a massive consumer traffic, and we were probably the first people in the legal industry… We openly talk about this, this is not some secret. There is a massive consumer market for this data.”
“Everybody, whether you like it or not, you are bound by law at the end of the day. And litigation, if you get into litigation, it’s not something easy. Most people don’t understand it. They rely on lawyers. And it’s something that has a high impact on your life. It’s a life-changing event. And we realize that. So a lot of traffic started coming to our site. We’ve started growing the consumer side. We said, we’ve tried selling to attorneys a lot, we’re not going to do it anymore. We’ll save that for a future date.”
“As of today, we have two separate segments. We have our consumer segment that’s totally separate and then we have our enterprise segment that’s totally separate… On the enterprise segment, we sell to large law firms, insurance companies, and even startups. Startups actually spend a lot on this data, because they can do a lot of other things… It’s taken us a lot of effort to figure out who these customers are, how to sell to them, what do they need. On the consumer side it’s just a web application now that they access. On the business side it’s completely APIs that they access.”
Bootstrapping to Reach $1 Million in ARR
“It took us 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019. It took us 6 years to reach that $1 million in ARR. Today, we have close to 11 million pages indexed on Google. We have about 2.5 million visits a month. 65% of that is mobile traffic. Of that 2.5 million, our conversion rate is about 1% on mobile and 1.5% on desktop. On desktop the conversion rate is much higher because of the nature of the product. We get about 30,000 leads a month. That’s how many leads we get.”
“Our conversion rate on the consumer side is about 4.8%… Of the 2.5 million sessions, 1.5% leads, and 4.8% gets converted into paid signups. But these are consumers. The average life is about a month to a month and a half. So now there’s a different challenge. For us to increase revenue, it’s not about just new signups. It’s about the customers that we have got, how do we retain them. At different stages, it’s different challenges.”
Playing the Long Game as a Startup
“We are a completely self-funded company. We haven’t raised any external capital. The way we were managing that is by not spending too much. The conscious decision we made of not raising funds… was probably the best decision. It also helped us to pivot and understand the market.”
“The longer you are in the market, even if you are slow, it’s okay. We have seen a lot of startups come up and die, but we have been here. We’ve been able to make some pivotal decisions on what we wanted to be as a company, and what the product should be. Most startups could not, because they had raised some funds, made some projections, and they had to stick to that route, and either that route succeeds or fails. A lot of startups don’t get to pivot because they have commitments from investors that they can’t override.”
“I don’t regret [not raising], because if we would have raised, we would not have taken this path. I’m pretty happy with where we are now. Now we don’t feel the need to raise, and that is probably the best place to be. We know more about what the product should be, and who our customers are, because we’ve been here for so long.”
Learn More and Connect With Us
We want to give a big thanks to StartUpMitra for hosting Prashanth and giving us the opportunity to share more about UniCourt’s path from a startup to enterprise provider of Legal Data as a Service. You can watch the full talk here.
If you’re interested in learning more about UniCourt, how Legal Data as a Service works, or have a question for Prashanth, Contact Us to connect and learn more.