Interview of Matt Holm, CEO of Tali, an Alexa-powered time keeping bot for lawyers, by host Tom Martin of LawDroid. Vol. 1 of LawDroid Conversations with Legal Tech Leaders.
Here’s the transcript of the Interview:
Tom Martin: Hi. I’m Tom Martin. I’m the Founder of LawDroid. I will be interviewing LegalTech founders about how they came up with their ideas, how they plan to be successful, and what their plans are for the future. My first guest is Matthew Volm who is the Founder of Tali, a great Alexa skill that helps you to keep your time. If you’ve ever practiced as a lawyer and had to bill your time, you know that this is a real pain point for us. Tali, using a voice interface, makes it so simple that it’s something that you’d really enjoy to use. With that said, let’s get started with our first interview.
Well, welcome everyone. I’d like to introduce you to Matthew Volm who is the Founder of Tali. I’ll let you talk a little bit more about that, Matthew. Just tell us a little bit about what Tali is and what it does.
Matthew Volm: Yeah. Thanks for having me, Tom. Tali is a voice-enabled productivity assistant powered by artificial intelligence. In short, Tali lets lawyers and other professionals track their time throughout the day using only their voice on any Amazon device including their smartphone. We completely eliminate the chore of manual time entry, make everything hands-free, and make it really easy for you as a lawyer to input and track your time and also understand your productivity.
Tom Martin: Very cool. I just recently got four Alexa Echo Dots for my house and put them around the house so when the girls are not listening we could intercom them and tell them to come down for dinner. Tali, it’s a skill, right, that works on Alexa?
Matthew Volm: Yep. Tali is a skill built on Alexa. We are going to look at building on other platforms as well such as Google Home and Apple Siri now that they’re coming out with the HomePod. There’s even other tech giants like Samsung that are coming out with smart speakers as well. We will be building on other platforms. But Alexa is by far the most advanced at this early stage and the one that we started with. Yeah. In short, she’s a skill that we built on the Amazon voice services platform that allows you to, like I said, contract your time using nothing more than your voice throughout the day.
The other great thing about Alexa and Tali is that you can actually link Tali to your Amazon account, so anywhere that your mobile phone goes you can talk to Alexa and therefore talk to Tali. You don’t actually have to be tethered to your desk to use Alexa or to use Tali or any other app or skill that you have downloaded.
Tom Martin: Neat. The natural question is: How did this occur to you? Where did you get the idea for … Are you a lawyer?
Matthew Volm: No. I’m not a lawyer, but I’m fortunate enough to be married to one, which is where the idea came from. I’ve been describing it as it’s one of those things where it was accidental entrepreneurship if you will. It happened where I would see my wife, who does civil litigation at a mid-size law firm here in Portland, Oregon, track her time manually on Post-it Notes, pieces of scratch paper, or a legal pad. To ultimately go through this weekly or biweekly ritual where she’ll take all of that information, sit at our kitchen table, and spend a couple of hours basically doing data entry, just manually inputting her time into her practicing system.
I kept asking her like, “Isn’t there an easier way?” Or, “There’s got to be a better way. That seems really painful.” She said, “No.” Just based on the systems that they had available, there wasn’t. One day I was in our kitchen. I was putting something in the oven. I was telling Amazon Alexa that we have in the kitchen to start a timer for something. My wife just so happened to be at the kitchen table manually inputting her time.
Randomly and actually without even thinking I just was like, “Hey, what if you could just use Amazon Alexa to track your time throughout the day?” She thought it was a great idea, that it would solve actually a lot of her problems. Not only with getting her time into the system and tracking her time making that easier, but also capturing more of her time because she felt she was losing a bunch of six-minute increments along the way because she couldn’t decipher what was on the Post-it Note, or she lost the Post-it Note. Or if she just followed-up via email with someone on the weekend and was never able to get that time in.
She thought it was a good idea. Originally I connected with two of my other friends to just build her a prototype to solve some of her problems specifically. But then as she started to share the solution and the idea more broadly within her law firm, and then as I started to share it more broadly, I realized that there’s this huge pain point around time tracking that is really across the legal industry and beyond. It doesn’t matter whether you bill by the hour, whether you do flat fee cases, whether you do contingency work. Within legal, time is money. It’s really critical to understand where you’re focusing your effort regardless on what type of law you’re practicing or what kind of fee arrangement you might have.
Tom Martin: Right. That’s a great point about lost time due to the inconvenience of keeping it.
Matthew Volm: Yeah.
Tom Martin: Because when you’re going through the day, there’s a lot of things that are just so micro in terms of what it is that you don’t think to record it or keep track of it.
Matthew Volm: Yep, yep. Exactly. It’s the email that you responded to quickly on your iPhone before you went to bed. It’s the random client phone call you took late at night or on the weekend. There’s a lot of little things that can definitely add up, which is where the mobile app comes in really handy. Then the other piece is actually while you’re at your desk using the device, it’s really fluid to just verbally communicate what you’re doing and when you’re moving on from one thing to the next rather than having to separate yourself from what you’re doing to write it down or to go into a system and actually enter it.
That’s another great thing with voice. Even when you’re away from your mobile device or not needing your mobile device and at your desk is that you can just really fluidly go from one thing to the next and know that Tali with Alexa will capture your time for you.
Tom Martin: Neat. I guess where do you come from to this? What were you doing before being involved in this development?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. Like I mentioned that I’m not an attorney. I’m married to one. I’ve actually spent my entire career within healthcare and healthcare technology. I’ve spent the last 10 years doing a variety of things, working for hospitals and health systems, working for management consulting firms, working for health plans and other health solutions companies. I have a business background, primarily finance and strategy. I come at this problem from a very business-oriented aspect, which is seeing a problem that exists and trying to leverage new and innovative technology in order to solve that problem and automate business tasks to generate a favorable ROI.
I don’t have a technology background. I’m not the engineer. The other two guys on my team both of whom are coincidentally named Matt. That was not a job requirement either upon [inaudible 00:08:48].
Tom Martin: Sounds like one.
Matthew Volm: Yeah. But we got three Matts on the team. We have one who’s a full stack engineer. He can do front end work, back end work. He’s really responsible for building Tali and for building the application and architecting it in a way that makes a lot of sense. Then another Matt is a product manager or our Chief Product Officer. He’s really responsible for designing the product, listening to customers, listening to clients, hearing their feedback, understanding how they want to interact with Tali in order to solve their problems, and building the product around that. They’re really the technical talent on the team. I’m more on the business side.
Tom Martin: But I think it’s important to point out, especially to people that might be watching this that are thinking about their own idea, that you don’t have to be the tech talent.
Matthew Volm: No.
Tom Martin: You don’t have to be the IT person, the developer to actually start the ball rolling.
Matthew Volm: Yeah. One of the things that I’ve learned a lot throughout this journey with starting Tali about six or seven months ago … Getting some seed funding from a VC within the first hundred days. Going from something that was ultimately a side hustle to something that’s now a full-time job … is that it’s not one of those things that you can force and that you as a founder or co-founder are never gonna have a hundred percent of the talent. You’re not gonna be able to build it and market it and sell it and do everything that you need to do.
I think the most critical thing is listening to what your potential customers and clients want and need. Also, internalizing where you need help in order to build something that will solve their problem. For some people that’s on the technical side. Others it’s on the marketing side. Others it might be finance and strategy. But at the end of the day you’re gonna learn a lot of stuff along the way. You’re never gonna have all of those boxes checked.
The most critical thing is just compiling the right team. I think that was why we were able to find an investor early on where we didn’t really have anything more an idea, a prototype, and a demo video that was made on an iPhone. But we were able to compile a really strong team, communicate what our vision was and tell the right story. I think at the end of the day that the sooner that you can do that and the quicker that it all makes sense that that’s the most critical element at least for success, however you want to define that early on.
Tom Martin: All right. Well, that brings up a lot of questions. I think the first one though is, let’s talk about the team a little bit. It sounds with your experience that it was already a full blown team and relationships that you had there that existed, and it sounds like it was very easy to get the other two Matts involved. I know that one of the stereotypical problems that most founders have who are the business founders is getting that tech partner. Getting that developer who would work with them. There’s even meet-ups and things dedicated to trying to find that technical co-founder. How did it come together for you? How did you know the ins and outs of that?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. The other two Matts I actually met was at my day job at the time. We had a relationship preceding Tali, and we were friends at work. I understood the work that they did. I guess a couple of things that drew me to them was that within our day jobs we were separately trying to work on a product where we would bring this notion of conversation UI to healthcare. We were all working at a healthcare technology start up at the time. We were working on a project around bringing conversational UI to healthcare to solve some problems and really to make healthcare more simple.
As I came up with the idea for Tali and I looked at, “Well, it’s similar to that, right? We’re trying to bring conversational UI to an industry to automate tasks and make things simpler.” That was one reason that I was drawn to them. But the other nice thing about each of us is that we all understand a little bit of what the other person does. But if you take any of us away, you won’t have a fully formed team that can execute really strongly. I think that was another reason why we all clicked really early on is that I wasn’t speaking to someone that was an engineer and didn’t understand anything on the business side. At the same time, the engineer or the product person weren’t speaking to me about anything that they were trying to do without me having some understanding of the problems that they were trying to solve as well. That helped a lot.
But at the end of the day, I keep going back. It’s one of those things that’s a little bit of instinct and mostly gut that you’re relying on to pick those people early on. That’s something that’s not gonna stop. It’s gonna continue as you look to bring on new employees and other people to your team. But it’s definitely the most critical decision that you can make as an entrepreneur early on is who do you want to help you go down that path and go along that journey with?
Tom Martin: That’s really fantastic and lucky that you had those guys that you were already working with and had a preexisting relationship with. You’d also mentioned within the first hundred days having access to some funding.
Matthew Volm: Yep.
Tom Martin: That’s to me always a quandary with start-ups. On the one hand, it seems like a goal for most start-ups is to get funding. It validates the idea and the commercial interest in it. But then on the other hand, it potentially can mean giving up control or some of it for the funding. There’s also the issue of bringing in the first dollar to have a profitable business. Then once that’s going and there’s money coming in about whether or not it’s necessary to seek outside funding. It’s like this tension between these two things. In your experience, how did that come up? How did it make sense to do it?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. We were exploring a couple of different things early on, a few accelerator programs and some other alternatives. We were getting interest and feedback from a variety of folks. Folks were taking our meetings. They were taking our phone calls. That was all a really good sign. Obviously there was some interest more so in some areas than there were others. But I think for us we looked at the fact that we all had start-up experience before, but we were all first-time founders. The main thing was really the credibility aspect, the fact that we would be bringing someone else along for the ride, along for the journey, having a vested interest in our success. That was really critical.
The other piece was, like you said, credibility as we go out in the marketplace and we’re talking to clients, customers, potential partners. It gives you a lot more credibility there as well. But a lot of it, too, is driven by the fact that we’re three guys, first-time founders. We know that we’re not gonna be necessarily setting ourselves up for the highest likelihood of success if we don’t have someone else at the table to help us make those decisions.
It’s been great so far to know that if we’re all trying to determine what the best course of action is we have someone else who we’ve known now for several months. But their only notion of us is as a founding team of Tali. They can look at it through an unbiased lens where I may not be able to because I’m married to an attorney and she’s giving me feedback. The other guys don’t understand maybe the legal aspect that well, but they have their own thoughts and opinions on how to design it.
There’s just a lot of things where as we bring our own diverse perspectives to the table to make situations, it’s great to have that outsider who, again, can come in, lend their thoughts so that we can derive a lot of value from that opinion as well.
Tom Martin: Okay. Now we actually met in person for the first time at Legalweek in San Francisco. You had a table set up. I know at the time, it was, I think, the first day or something, but I was interested to see how that went. Did you get a lot of interest from lawyers and law firms? Was it more interest from law firms versus smaller shops? How did that go?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. We’ve been getting interest from folks really across the spectrum within legal but then outside of legal as well. Everyone from the solo to small firm practitioners, which is where a lot of the interest lies. But we’ve also been having multiple discussions with larger national and regional firms looking at co-development opportunities and other ways that we could run some pilots or do some testing within their four walls as well. It’s been great up to this point. We’ve got a website up and running where we’re able to accept pre-orders. Right now we will be launching our products following the Clio Conference at the end of September. It’ll be available for use in October.
Clio’s actually our first integration partner. The awesome thing with that is that you can track your time with Tali throughout the day. Then within our Tali dashboard one click you can sync all of your activities and send them directly to Clio and will automatically match-up clients and matters and activities and task descriptions for you. You never have to manually create a time entry again within Clio if you’re a Tali user, which is pretty cool. That’s been great. Obviously Clio services a lot of the solo and small firms. That’s where a lot of interest has been for Tali.
But like I said, we’ve seen a lot of larger firms interested as well because at the end of the day again everyone has a problem around time tracking and around input. Either it’s people don’t get their time in on a regular basis. People are losing time. People are spending too much manual effort on time entry. Those are problems that big, small, or otherwise you have as a law firm. I think they see the value in Tali eliminating a lot of that friction. Some are obviously more forward thinking and tech forward than others. That’s really where the-
Tom Martin: That’s for sure.
Matthew Volm: … willingness to adopt comes in.
Tom Martin: Okay. Let me ask you what I’m sure a lot of people are thinking about is: How are you gonna make money on this? There’s pre-orders, but what’s the model? Is it mostly subscription? Is it a flat fee? Is it per usage? If they have a lot of billing items and they get charged per billing item? How does it work?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. There will be a free version of Tali out there for anyone and everyone to use, which will allow you to track your time with Tali throughout the day either through the device that sits on your desk or through your mobile phone. You’ll then have access to all that data through the Tali web application or the dashboard to which you can play around with it online. You can download it to a CSB. You can get a daily email summary. That will be something that’s free for everyone and anyone whether you’re an attorney or an accountant or a freelance or anyone to use.
Then the subscription model will come in for the third party integrations that we do. For Clio example, we’ve got other legal specific ones that are on our list. That’s where the monthly subscription model will come in. Right now we’re going to market with the $30 per month monthly subscription fee per user. That will include whatever integration you want. Right now, like I said, we have Clio. That should generate a huge ROI because we’ve heard some people tell us that they spend up to 20 hours of manual effort every month just doing time entry. If you’re billing at $200 an hour and we can save you five hours of manual effort and let you bill that time instead of do a manual task, that’s a thousand dollars of revenue that you could potentially generate that you can’t right now or that you aren’t right now. There’s a huge ROI there at $30 a month.
But then also if you look at just capturing the point one, the point two that we were talking about before, the incremental time, the great thing with Tali is that essentially we’re saving you manual effort, but we’re increasing your output. Who wouldn’t want to work less and improve their production?
Tom Martin: Doesn’t everybody want to do that?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. Exactly. Yep.
Tom Martin: Right. Well, that’s great. Okay. One version, the free version, is gonna be keeping track of everything. But if you want to get it into the practice management software that you typically use, you’d have to pay for that?
Matthew Volm: Yep. Yep. The nice thing with the free version is that even if we don’t integrate with your tool yet … Say you’re a PracticePanther user or Rocket Matter or MyCase, one of these other solutions that we don’t integrate with yet … most of them do allow for you to take a flat file, a CSV or an Excel file, and upload it into their system. The nice thing that you could do with Tali in the meantime is get something set up where you could just take the data dump from Tali, put it into an Excel file that’s formatted in the right way, and upload that to your tool to take care of that integration on its own. Still, that’s something that you do the initial setup, should save you time and then obviously Tali is a free product at that point. Then for us to do the integration, which we will have for a lot of those other solutions, is where the pay product will come in.
But the other thing we’re doing with the pay product is that with a 90-day commitment we’ll give you a free piece of hardware. We’ll give you a free Amazon Dot that you can obviously use for Tali and for anything else that you want, for music and all that other good stuff that you can do with Alexa.
Tom Martin: But it’ll definitely require a lot more work to get it manually out of Tali and then put it into practice management system as compared to having the third party integration.
Matthew Volm: Yep.
Tom Martin: Yeah. Definitely.
Matthew Volm: Yep.
Tom Martin: Okay. What I really love about Tali is that it’s just so focused. It’s very clear, this time management and savings in terms of clocking your time, eliminating a lot of non-billable hours. It provides a lot of value on just that specific issue. Given that, I’m wondering on the roadmap, do you have a plan to expand its functionality? Or is that not even something you’re looking at right now? Just want to see that this is successful and that you build this particular business as much as you can and then add stuff on? What are your thoughts about that?
Matthew Volm: Yeah. What we love about voice is that it makes the capture component really easily. By doing capture really well, you obviously should have a much more robust data set at your fingertips. What we really want to do is actually allow you to do something with that data so not only use AI to take what you said and translate it into what you meant and then push that through to Cleo or your billing system. But also then use artificial intelligence to look at that data and help you become a more productive attorney, accountant, law firm.
That’s really the next step for us is: How can we make input as easy as possible, which voice is a huge component but there’s also text. There’s also chat. There’s also collaboration tools like Slack that we could build integrations with. You can tell Tali then how you spent your time in a number of ways, whether you want to use your thumb or your voice. That’s one component is just making it really easy to capture time.
But then the other component is using that data so we can actually produce relevant insights and analytics for you as a lawyer or you as a managing partner of a law firm. To actually help you become more productive and make that really seamless and frictionless as well. Not one of those things where you have to wait until the end of the month. Then you got to pull a bunch of reports to figure out how people spent their time and whether you need to write down bills. We want to actually use the data that we’re getting in real time to help you understand how your firm or how you as an attorney are operating so that you can obviously make decisions and make better decisions in real time rather than having to go through any sort of manual effort to pull reports and do things like that. We really want to focus on making input easier. Then using that data to help you become more productive.
Tom Martin: Excellent. You’d mentioned that you’re taking pre-orders. When is the launch date? Or is it-
Matthew Volm: Yep. We’ll be launching in October. Hopefully October 1st following the Clio Conference at the end of September. Through then we’ll be giving away, like I said, free Amazon Dots to anyone that signs up for Tali for law with a 90-day commitment. You can also get on the list for the free version of Tali. To the extent that we have early assess before October, we’ll be granting that to some people as well. Up until that point, those are the two things that I will be looking at. But the two things we’re really excited about as well leading up to the Clio Conference and then the eventual launch in October.
Tom Martin: Wow. It’s very exciting.
Matthew Volm: Yeah. Yeah.
Tom Martin: Well, I think that about wraps it up. I’m really excited about what you’re doing. Like I told you at the conference when we met, I think it’s a really brilliant use of conversational UI in a very simple way that creates a lot of value. Those three things combined I think bode well for your start-up. I wish you the best of luck.
Matthew Volm: Yeah. No. Thank you, Tom. I appreciate that. That’s our goal at the end of the day is to just make something simple that delivers a lot of value and hopefully eliminates some pain and frustration for lawyers along the way. Yeah. I appreciate that feedback and obviously appreciate all the thoughts and everything you gave today, too.
Tom Martin: The website address, is it: Tali …
Matthew Volm: Yeah. The website address is: TellTali.com. T-E-L-L-T-A-L-I.com.
Tom Martin: All right. Well, Matthew, with Tali at TellTali.com, thank you so much for being on the show. I really appreciate it. I look forward to hearing more about how things go.
Matthew Volm: Yeah. Thanks, Tom. Appreciate it.
Tom Martin: Thank you.
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