An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Kiwi Camara (founder and CEO) of DISCO, which was honored in our:
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Texas
- 2021 Best Tech Startups in Austin
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Texas
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Austin
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Houston
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Houston
Tell us the origin story of DISCO – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
I started a law firm in Houston with my best friend from law school. In litigation, legal teams go through a discovery process: finding the important facts and evidence in emails, documents, presentations, voice mails, you name it. As you can imagine, cases frequently involve millions of files and terabytes of data – a review job that is simply too big for human teams. Unfortunately, the technology then available to review and identify relevant information across all this data was pretty terrible. Products were difficult to use, very few had any cloud functionality so on-premise solutions were required, they were slow, and they were ultimately very expensive. Working with these e-discovery tools was one of my greatest frustrations as a practicing attorney.
My undergraduate degree is actually in computer science, so I knew there had to be a way to put technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning to work to make the e-discovery process faster and easier. We decided to build a cloud-based solution ourselves as an internal tool at our firm that made e-discovery easier, faster, more cost effective, and was designed to work the way lawyers work. In 2013, I made the leap from practicing attorney to full-time legal-technology entrepreneur and haven’t looked back!
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
I’ve learned that many of the initial challenges I encountered are typical for founders of technology companies who have a big vision, but a less articulated or obvious path to success. First, I had to convince early employees to take the leap of faith with me and join DISCO. For some, they were leaving behind lucrative legal careers for something far riskier. I’m so grateful for those who believed in me, and of course I also fully understood and supported those who weren’t ready to risk it all and join an early stage startup!
Once our initial team was in place, we had to build and scale the product function. In the beginning of DISCO, this meant me (a lawyer) in a room with amazing engineers to whiteboard new features. As DISCO has grown and the product process has scaled, I’ve had to let a lot of the product development work (which I love) go, while still making sure we are delivering product experiences that feel magical to lawyers. Over time, I built a product team that includes world-class engineers as well as a team of lawyers with the insight and expertise to make sure we’re addressing the real challenges lawyers are facing, both at law firms as well as across in-house legal operations. We will always be laser-focused on making products that lawyers love to use.
Finally, having a great product is one thing; getting it into the hands of paying customers is another thing altogether. As we were starting out, I had to learn the sales function and initially ran it myself. This was a big learning journey for me and I had a few false starts as I built out our initial sales organization. Once I found a true sales professional to take on and grow our sales team, we were able to create a wonderful go-to-market operation that knows how to reach and engage legal teams to help them understand just how different DISCO is compared to everything else on the market.
What does the future hold for DISCO?
In Q4 2020, DISCO secured $100 million in new financing which we are using to take big steps as we continue our aggressive growth. In the short term, we are scaling our go-to-market functions in the U.S., while expanding our partner channels as we gain new clients in international markets. Over the past few years, we’ve invested heavily in product development and continue to introduce new products outside of our core e-discovery platform. Solutions like DISCO Case Builder and DISCO Managed Review are continuing to gain market share, and we’re investing in R&D to meet growing customer demand for even more technology solutions that help improve the practice of law.
In the longer term, we know that DISCO e-discovery was just the first step in delivering great technology to address the needs of the legal market, just like selling books was the first step for Amazon using technology to transform retail and create the ecommerce category. We are expanding our legal-tech offerings and our customer relationships to automate more and more parts of the practice of law, freeing great lawyers to focus on the things that only they can do. I think we’re in the middle of a revolution in legal work on the scale of the industrial revolution or the information revolution. Technology is transforming the legal practice and lawyer productivity. I’m excited to be a driver of this change.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Austin?
I love Austin, and this is an amazing time to be here and growing a tech company! Austin feels a lot like how Silicon Valley felt during the original dot com boom, and the city is attracting a ton of talent from other parts of the world. It’s also exciting to see how entrepreneurs and visionaries from existing companies are taking advantage of this moment to start new companies here in Austin. Of course, the political and regulatory climate in Texas makes it comfortable for building a big business, something that I hope continues even as our population grows.
I think less known outside of this region is how strong the venture capital community is in Austin. There is a tremendous pool of local investors like LiveOak, along with famous Valley investors like Jim Breyer, who have been super active at funding new Austin startups and helping them grow.
Historically, Austin hasn’t had a lot of “startup-to-industry-behemoth” successes similar to the Bay Area or Seattle, with Dell being the big exception. However, if you talk to founders of the current crop of late stage companies in town such as DISCO, Homeward, Everlywell, and Ojo, you will find this generation of founders is very much focused on building multi-billion dollar outcomes that will then power the next generation of startups. We’re creating the kind of virtuous cycle of innovation that drove the rise of Silicon Valley. I’m excited to see where this takes Austin over the next decade.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Someone gave me the advice in the early days of DISCO that all the graphics and customer quotes and so on in your fundraising deck pale in importance in comparison to the shape of your revenue growth chart. So my first piece of advice is to remember that in the early days, the only thing that matters is building a product that delights users, then turning those users into customers, growing those customers, and getting them to tell their friends and colleagues. That’s what creates amazing value, and everything else in the early days is a distraction.
Second, don’t start a company if you can live with yourself doing anything else. I think most great founders start companies because they have to, not because they want to: they simply couldn’t live with themselves if they didn’t do it. This kind of determination and faith is critical because starting a company is hard. You will experience higher highs and lower lows and there will be no one to lean on and no safety net – the results or lack thereof will all be on you. You will feel you are going from fire to fire for years, and the odds of success are low. But at the same time, amidst all the battles and struggles and chaos, remember to lock in your memory the happy moments. Celebrate the big early wins and the time with your early team – you will want to remember those things, and the memories will gather luster with time as successes build and the struggles fade away.