8 November 2018

Why I want to automate the world's paperwork

A lot of people are probably interested to know why we focus on smoothing the process for things like employee contracts and client paperwork - fairly run-of-the-mill office work.

My own personal history plays a big part in it.

I started off my career sifting - literally - through dusty box after dusty box to find documents for lawsuits.

I inhaled photocopier fumes for hours on end, printing reams of paperwork associated with selling a business - only to discover some small typographic error which required us to bin, edit, reprint and start the cycle all over again.

The frustrations continued as I moved up the corporate ladder. Start dates for employees were pushed back because HR weren't organized enough to get the paperwork sorted. We'd lose deals because we hadn't locked in the contract by the time someone left the room.

Deadline pressure became heavier and heavier because someone would lose track of which documents needed creating, printing and signing.

The whole process just seems flawed. It only existed because there wasn't a better way - or if there was, we didn't know about it.

Maybe I felt this more keenly because of my background in tech. Throughout history, society grows by creating technology to do the things that humans can't do - or that we can't do well.

Either way, the experience gave me a healthy distaste for doing things by hand.

It clearly isn't just me, though. There's been an explosion in business tools over (roughly) the past decade: Xero for accounting, Stripe for payments, Slack for collaboration, appear.in for customer screen-sharing, and many others.

I'm not sure whether these drove customer demand, or were in response to it. I suspect the former - we didn't realize that was what we wanted until someone showed us.

Either way, I think these platforms have allowed a new flavour of business to emerge, one that is:

  1. international, designed to operate 24/7 across multiple timezones from the very beginning
  2. "leaner", choosing technology in favour of headcount where possible
  3. closer to customers, through reducing the number of layers between buyers and decision makers
  4. more flexible/open - to users (in the sense of API integrations), employees (through remote working/collaboration) and developers (by releasing software under permissive open source licences).

This is a great development, and something I wholeheartedly embrace. None of it, though, really helps on the paperwork side of things. We're still e-mailing, editing, printing and signing Word documents. We're still making the same errors. We're still waiting until we're in the office, at a computer, to get things done.

So I figured it's time to tackle that problem head-on. I want new employees to have fun when they're signing their papers to join a company. I want clients to get their legal documents on the same day they pick up the phone to their lawyer. Most importantly, I want it to be fast, and I want it to be something that people only need to do once.

If that's something that gets your gears turning, I hope to hear from you.