Christopher Daming, Owner of Startup Legal and TechArtista Member, launched Legal GPS, innovative all-in-one digital legal solution for DIY entrepreneurs December 2017 in St. Louis, MO. Daming took some time to answer a few questions for us.
What made you develop Legal GPS?
I started my own law firm, Startup Legal, a few years ago, which was focused on helping entrepreneurs. After working in TechArtista for a few months, I learned more from the members about their specific legal problems and how they were solving them. I’d have people stop by my desk with a quick question or come into see me when I had free “office hours” on Friday. Most of the time, the answer to their specific question was really easy. But, I realized there were several issues they hadn’t thought of when discussing.
They set up an LLC. So, did they had an operating agreement? And, did they assigned the IP to their company if they had multiple members?
They picked their business name. So, did they do a trademark search to make sure no one else already had the rights to that name already? Or, something similar?
I was noticing a pattern. Around that time, I had lunch with another TechArtista member, John Coveyou. I remember him saying something like, “You should create a bunch of videos about common legal topics.” I wrote it down as a potential idea, but was irritated at the time thinking that it was another person underestimating the complexity of law and the value of attorneys.
The more I thought about this, I realized that about 80% of all legal problems people faced were DIY fixes. The only problem was that (1) they first needed to be aware of the legal problem before it affected their company and (2) they needed guidance on how to solve it. If you don’t learn about the problem until it’s too late, then nothing can really be done.
My favorite analogy is thinking about your first love. Things were always going to work out and you were going to spend the rest of your lives together. But how did that work out? Probably not as you expected.
Or, let’s say you’re going through a divorce. Things are already toxic, so you’re not going to be able to convince your soon-to-be ex-spouse to sign a prenuptial agreement. You needed to do that when things were still going smoothly at the beginning.
The same goes for your business. Things always start off great, so you “know” you’ll never have any disputes. But, everything changes eventually and you will need to have the proper measures in place so that your company isn’t ruined after the first problem occurs.
I did interviews to learn more about the needs of the market and found that about 90% of entrepreneurs try to figure out their own legal issues via Google. Google is great if you know what to search for, but it’s the issues you aren’t aware of to research (I call them the “don’t know you don’t know” problems) that get people into trouble.
These are issues like your company being worth nothing because you don’t actually even own your IP; or your partner quitting the company but still owning half of it; or you hiring an employee or contractor to help and they end up giving your secrets to a competitor.
For example, one client never knew she needed a written agreement with her contractor and realizing a year after her company launched that her contractor owned all the important IP to her company like elements of her website and logo and that the contractor could sell that to her competitor if he desired.
It was found that people were making the mistakes attorneys could usually prevent. Also, most of the issues could be done by entrepreneurs on their own instead of having to pay potentially over $11,000 in attorney’s fees or taking precautionary legal measures to prevent legal mistakes that cause a business become insolvent.
People didn’t want to hire attorneys because they either (1) thought they cost too much or (2) thought they weren’t necessary. A few people told me in the interviews they didn’t want to spend $500 on a contract that the attorney spends 15 minutes on and gives me a contract template I could find on Google for free.
For some things, this is true. When I still had my “you need to hire an attorney” hat on, I would struggle sometimes explaining to someone why they actually needed the attorney for a contract template that they could easily fill out themselves.
I started thinking about a solution that could make sure people could “know what they don’t know”, then give them guidance on how to solve it themselves. But, I didn’t want to just solve a problem that didn’t exist, so I looked into sites like LegalZoom.com and found that they had a similar problem that wasn’t being solved. If you knew what contract template to look for on LegalZoom, then great, problem solved. But if you didn’t, or didn’t understand why you needed certain things in your contract or needed a certain contract, then those sites had the same problem Google had.
As a result, I founded LegalGPS.com to help entrepreneurs avoid making those legal mistakes they don’t know they don’t know.
We’ve spent about two years developing it and thanks to Jorik Ittmann’s constant variation of belittlement, encouragement and overall incredible mentorship--we finally launched our paid version last month with great success. (TechArtista members get 30% off LegalGPS.com)
Who do you see using this product the most?
LegalGPS.com is designed to help early stage companies get a solid legal foundation from the beginning, like freelancers, small businesses and startups. In general, a lot of our target market is in co-working spaces around the United States. But, we’ve also gotten more interest from other attorneys than originally imagined.
For more developed companies, the odds are they have a lot more complex legal issues that require an attorney for help. When you become a baller like Jorik or Guy (TechArtista members), you can spend $10k+ on attorney fees.
We’ve found that users gravitate more toward our product after they’ve already had a problem from a previous business. Those are the entrepreneurs that “know what they don’t know” and want to avoid other problems this time around.
Right now, a big part of what we’re doing is raising awareness about all these legal problems people “don’t know they don’t know.” It’s our mission to eliminate all avoidable legal mistakes made by entrepreneurs. As we grow, we’re going to segment our content to more niche markets and be able to cover all types of professions and problems.
We want to get to a point where Legal GPS is the go-to product for new companies. It’ll cover everything new businesses need to know and if the legal problem is something they can’t do themselves we’ll give them guidance on how to do it. If they need an attorney, we’ll explain what they need the attorney for and why.
What feature of Legal GPS do you like most?
My favorite feature is the Legal Checkup. Whenever we were developing the product, we focused exclusively on creating a bunch of content. But, I realized that if we just offered content, the only way people could “know what they don’t know” is if they watched/read/studied everything we offered. Unless you’re a lawyer, there’s almost no way you’d want do that.
We created the Legal Checkup to help expedite the “don’t know you don’t know” learning process. It’s a questionnaire that gives you a diagnosis which explains your potential problems with links to the solutions.
Legal GPS is in Beta-mode right now, but I love the version we have. In the next couple months we will roll out additional Legal Checkups to help hit on more narrow subjects to save people time and offer more value. Eventually, we want to have the equivalent of a legal checkup to cover every issue to maximize awareness and minimize the amount of time people spend researching and solving their legal problems.
This seems like a pretty straightforward online app. If someone has a problem that they aren’t able to figure out themselves, is there chat or someone to talk to IRL to help find the answers they’re looking for?
One feature we’ll offer soon is the Librarian Chat capability. We’ll have someone from Legal GPS online 24/7 that, if someone has a question, the legal expert can point the user to the most appropriate content to help.
Sometimes you may need an attorney. The issue here is about lawyer ethics and establishing an attorney-client relationship. I’m personally licensed in Missouri and Illinois but we have users across the country. If you’re in a different state than those two, I can’t ethically provide legal advice. Our plan is to partner with attorneys in the most populous states we can either refer questions to or offer a premium plan that includes a feature like a certain amount of legal advice with an attorney.
This is a feature we’re hoping to offer in the near future. For now, I personally email our users and give them my cell phone to call me if they have any questions. We’re rapidly growing and have created a Founder’s Group for our first 100 users, which gives those users priority as an appreciation for getting involved during the early stages.
What is the biggest legal mistake you see entrepreneurs make?
Two huge mistakes that permeate every other legal mistake are:
Waiting too long to take care of the problems
Relying on Google exclusively to solve your legal issues
When it’s too late, it really is too late. About half of my clients are entrepreneurs who come to me with a problem and then I ask, “did you do this, this or that?” And, it’s usually “No.” Then, the only solution is usually figuring out a way to try to buy out or sell to the person the client is in conflict with.
Regarding the Google issue, I wrote a blog that explore this topic more [Link]
The biggest points about why Google is such a problem are that you (1) have to know about “it”; (2) have to know the “why”; (3) and have to know the pain of not following the why.
Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re starting a new company. You Google what to look for and you find that you should file a document with a state to form an LLC. And you also learn that you need to do a search in your state database to make sure no one else has your name in that state.
Here, you have to know about “it” -- what’s the legal problems you’re overlooking? One is that you should’ve done a trademark search before settling on your business name.
If someone tells you to do that, more often than not it still won’t prompt you to take action. You have to know the “why”. Here the “why” is to make sure no one else has the business name you’re going to use. That still might not be enough to cause you to take action. Let’s say you’re only going to operate in St. Louis and you see that there’s also another company with the same name in California. You’ve done the trademark search and found that the person won’t overlap with your business because of geographic reasons, so you “knew the it” and the “why” but you’re still not taking action.
Then you have to know the “pain of not following the why”. Here, it’s because if someone has your business or trade name trademarked, they can later force you to change your business name. They can also sue you for damages, including any profits you might’ve had. They’ll say that the only reason you got those profits was from profiting off their brand and goodwill. Suddenly you’re faced with both a lawsuit and a requirement that you rebrand your entire business and lose all your goodwill.
You offer some free tools as well, tell us a little about that.
We have three free tools anyone can use.
The first is the Legal Score, where you are asked between 7-20 questions, are given a score and some ways to help you fix some of the problems based on your answers.
The second is our Complete Legal Guide for Entrepreneurs. It’s on our website right now as an ebook. It covers some common avoidable legal mistakes entrepreneurs make and gives tips on how to prevent or fix them.
The third tool is soon to be released, which is our Avoidable Mistakes page. We’ve put together a list of 129 avoidable legal mistakes we’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs make, depending on their business. We’re taking those mistakes and writing a blog about approximately 80 of the most common ones and will have an animated example video explaining how the mistake could cause problems attached to it. We also plan to have an ebook with all the mistakes listed in it.
Find out more and try it out at LegalGPS.com.