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Cultivating Your Co-founder | Jerry Ting from Evisort

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Jerry Ting was a lawyer in Boston who spent much of his time reviewing contracts. It was tedious, repetitive work. He sensed much of it could be automated with artificial intelligence—a technology he knew nothing about.

Fortunately, he had a client who was a graduate student at MIT who knew plenty. “So I emailed him,” Jerry says, “and I said, hey, look, I’m just curious. I think there’s a big problem here. But I don’t know if the technology exists. Would you mind grabbing coffee?”

They met up in Harvard Square and discussed the problems and possible solutions. What followed is a story that doesn’t get considered enough—how to find a co-founder.

On this edition of Founders Journey, Jerry talks about how his relationship with his partner grew organically over time, how they carefully developed the business idea, and ensured the future success of the venture without writing a single line of code and overcommitting themselves. Eventually, they became the first two employees of Evisort. Today there are a hundred.

More information: https://www.evisort.com/


Jerry Ting is Founder & CEO of Evisort, an AI-powered contract analytics platform backed by Microsoft that automates contract review and management for enterprises like Brooks Brothers, Fujitsu, Cox Communications, and TravelZoo.

Prior to founding Evisort, Ting had professional experiences in banking, consulting, law, and tech sales at Credit Suisse, the Boston Consulting Group, Fried Frank, and Yelp. Ting is a graduate of the Harvard Law School and the University of Southern California.

He is also a member of the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list as well as the Silicon Valley Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Jerry Ting 0:00
The last thing that I’ll say here is like the difference between culture of Boston, New York, LA and the Bay Area is that the Bay Area lakes, think about big ideas. And they’ll give you a chance. And I really appreciate that.

Alexander Ferguson 0:18
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our Founders journey series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Teraleap.io. I’m joined by my guest, Jerry Ting, this is part two of our discussion, definitely go back and listen to part one, where Jerry’s talking about their platform Evisort, which is an AI powered contract management solution, helping enterprise and mid market companies manage all that awesome data. And it truly is an AI solution. And in some fascinating discussions, listen to part one, again, to understand that the difference and maybe even some regulation that you want to have around it. But I want to dig a little bit more into your journey. Jerry, you said, on the first part that you started as a lawyer, and he didn’t want to start a business. So like, I want to dig into that story a bit more like how did it be? How did that step by step you met your partner? And then you’re just like, Alright, let’s let’s start a business. Like, let’s go find some funding, like, what was that process?

Jerry Ting 1:16
Yeah, so I, I started my business, actually, with one of my clients, I was a lawyer, and he was a data scientist. And the idea was, Hey, I’m spending a lot of time as a lawyer, manually looking through documents, manually reviewing documents, is there a way to use AI to help me understand the data inside of contracts? So that wasn’t an initial right. And what happened was, I actually, it’s funny, the first point that I start with is, how to find a co founder. And I think that that’s actually, you know, funding is, in my opinion, an output of the model where there a lot of inputs, where funding is one of the later steps. And so if I, if I can, I always like to start with how we how I got a co founder, because without a co founder, you’re just a crazy person with an idea, right? And so you need one other crazy person, they make it a make it a two crazy people makes it makes it super easy to make it a team. So for me, I actually was nervous, right? Because he was my client. And he was high profile at MIT. And so I emailed him, and I said, hey, look, I’m just curious, right? I I’m just a curious guy. I think there’s a big problem here. But I don’t know if the technology exists. I don’t know if it’s technically possible to fix this. Which would you mind grabbing coffee? If you know the answer? I don’t know. If you do if you do. Would you mind grabbing coffee 30 minutes, and let’s just kind of train notes. He was actually finishing his graduate degree at MIT at the time, it was finals week. And so I nearly didn’t get this this could have ever been it never existed. If he’d give me 30 minutes, he showed up to the coffee shop in Harvard Square. And we talked for like an hour. And we talked about what exactly is the pain? You know, what am I seeing the marquee of what are people doing today? What are the challenges that just really make no sense lawyers sitting there late at night reading contracts, hundreds of pages, manually looking for words and looking for patterns? Yeah, I think that that’s, that’s a place that was started on the founder journey, Alex is, how do you get one other crazy person to believe in your idea.

Alexander Ferguson 3:22
And they see the problem, and they buy in from it

Jerry Ting 3:25
in a volume. And I think that that was what got us started was I was able to tell her very succinctly. Here’s the problem. Here’s the current solutions. Here’s the market opportunity. I don’t know lawyers can charge $800 an hour. And he said, Wow, that’s a lot of money. Right? And so, you know, if you if you do something is worth it is the payoff there? And then do you like each other? And I looked

Alexander Ferguson 3:51
around guys, was it an instant connection? It was just like, Oh, yeah, this just jived?

Jerry Ting 3:57
No, I didn’t know that very well. I was just clients. I was lonely. I’m sorry. He was my client. So we’re very professional with each other. The entire the entire relationship leading up to that meeting, I walked away from that meeting, saying this, like a little bit of more energy in my life is something’s happening, right? I don’t know if it’s real or not real. It’s like when you join a new sports group, and you say, hey, maybe I’m making new friends, right? There’s a little bit of excitement in the air. And I remember texting him afterwards and saying, Hey, good meeting you. Right? And then what I thought was, okay, well, he’s halfway, you know, for us to commit to doing something. By the way, I was all the way in I didn’t know if it was worth it. Right. So I start doing research. I started Googling. I started calling mentors. I started

Alexander Ferguson 4:41
interviewing my boss, what year was this? That that discussion first happened?

Jerry Ting 4:45
2016 Okay, yeah, that’s the year we started the company. And five years went by, similarly in a blink of an eye actually, but it felt like yesterday and

Alexander Ferguson 4:58
how quick was the process from You had the idea you met with him to Alright, let’s start company was it like a week, a month a year.

Jerry Ting 5:06
That’s the common thing that people don’t people don’t understand really about starting companies is that there’s not a, there’s not a switch. You when you’re when you’re starting a startup, you’re just kind of like hanging out, you’re doing research together and you’re spending more time together, it’s a, it’s actually a quite a beautiful thing, because it’s very natural. for both of us. We’re in school, you know, I was in law school, he was getting his graduate degree at MIT. And for us, like we both really didn’t have time. And we find ourselves getting dinner together, we find ourselves googling and doing research and send each other emails at 11 o’clock, one o’clock, how have you thought about this? What do think about this, and it just started is like a snowball that picked up steam, right, and it became a snowman. And so when we really, quote unquote, became a real company, who was when we followed our corporate charter, with the state of Delaware. And that’s when we we’ve been working together for months already. At that time, we called I think, 100 prospective clients. And we said, Wow, if we actually get a client, we don’t have a bank account, which we should probably become a company. That’s something that’s what we’d be claiming

Alexander Ferguson 6:14
you were actually calling and finding clients before you actually have had a company existence. We did. We I used to

Jerry Ting 6:21
be a salesperson. And so I said, hey, let’s not write a single line of code. Let’s not like waste time writing code, if no one wants to buy it. And I think that’s a thing for a lot of founders who, especially like us were technical in nature. The idea was like, let me just go build it. Let me go build it, can I build it? What’s the best code that we can use? Or we’re using deep learning models? Are we using like a, you can naturally go down that rabbit hole? But the question that I urge every founder to ask or any entrepreneur would ask before you start a business is if we can do it? Will somebody pay for it? Because if no one wants to pay for it, then then you’re working on a science project. And that’s great if it’s fun for you, but it’s a hobby. It’s not a business.

Alexander Ferguson 7:06
Yeah. Now, fast forward, you you realize, wow, there’s interest. You’re like, let’s start a bank account. When did the funding come in? And how did you make that happen?

Jerry Ting 7:17
Yeah, when I started fundraising, we had only a small number of clients. And it was still very much at the What do we want to build a face? We had some basic things built out. Clients are using it, but it was it was a prototype to be candid. And so for reasons difficult when you when you for me, I don’t I don’t come from a venture capital or technology background where I was supposed to be a lawyer. I didn’t know anybody. And so for me, it was figured out, hey, what are VCs? You know, what do they do? What do they look for in a company? And for me, it was I started cold outreach into the VCs. And that never works. If you’re if you’re emailing a VC, then you’re probably not going to get a meeting. But what I didn’t start doing was figuring out who’s in my network. Can I ask for one referrals? Luckily enough, I I knew a couple people who were former entrepreneurs that, you know, have retired or has sold their business. And I wanted them and I said, Hey, do you do you know, any, any investors? And it was by basically calling on my network, begging them for intros, where I remember we got three interviews in two said no one said yes. And we went to meet with that person. And I just kept banging on doors. And that we eventually met with I think about 1010 VCs, and we got three term sheets. So that’s a pretty high conversion ratio. But it was a lot of hard work. And I traveled between. So we’re out in Boston, I flew to the Bay Area a couple of times, and was able to get my first first term sheet out of the Bay Area. And the last thing that I’ll say here is like the difference between culture of Boston, New York, LA and the Bay Area, is that the Bay Area lakes, think about big ideas. And they’ll give you a chance. And I really appreciate that.

Alexander Ferguson 9:08
From from that hard effort and work, you got those term sheets, you start rolling, building the team from there. That’s probably the next endeavor. You’ve got you got the other crazy person who decided to be or your co founder and get things rolling, but to build out a team. First, I’ve actually how big is the team today?

Jerry Ting 9:27
We’re just about 100 people.

Alexander Ferguson 9:30
There’s only 100 people going from two to 100. What would you say is the biggest lesson learned that you could share advice.

Jerry Ting 9:39
Hiring is probably the most important thing you can do as a founder. And I think this is where I see founders go awry. When they get to sort of the growth stage of a business is you see them just trying to record whether the people who start companies they’re not normal people, right. There are people who work exceptionally hard They, they have a outweighed a sense of optimism, and they’re probably very capable, or else they wouldn’t start a business. And so, I see a lot of founders and I, and I’m now investing actually other companies. And so I actually help other founders get to about 20 people, and they’re still acting like they were a two person company. And that’s when they start to struggle is when they try to do everything themselves. And so for me, the big learning was, how do you hire people that were the best at what they do? Where it’s not you teaching them but them teaching you? Right? And then how do you build trust with that person, and then eventually delegate and give them the responsibilities that you once had? For me, when we first started, I was a salesperson, I was the marketing person I did the website, I, my, my cell phone number was the the call us number on the website was my cell phone. Right? It really, it was a one stop shop, and that my co founder was writing code. And I had another co founder, there’s three of us. And he he was the glue, he was between the product and sales and operations, he was one of them, the glue behind me doing sales and my co founder building technology. When we got bigger, what we had to do was I told my team, every six months, you should be firing yourself, in one way or another. And I think that that was a philosophy that really helped us skill, and helps us continue to scale today is I still have to remind myself, Jerry, I know you like doing this, but you can’t do that anymore. You have to let the five people you hire do that. Because one, they’re better than you. And two, you should be doing other things in the role changes every six months. And so the reason why I say fire yourself in some capacity every six months is if you’re still doing the same thing you were doing six months ago, your companies are growing very quickly. And that’s probably okay for the first year or two year. But that’s not what I mean, when I say venture backed startup, venture back started, we went from the two people to the 100 people, really our growth was in the last two and a half to three years. The first two years r&d was can we build the tag? can we prove it out? Do we have product market fit, right? But when we when we started selling in the early months of 2019, that’s when we actually had a lot of growth. And so I actually hired a lot of people through COVID re and so for me, I’m still going through a lot of this change. A lot of now,

Alexander Ferguson 12:27
what have you realized is the best area for you to focus on and have kept as far as not given that job away yet.

Jerry Ting 12:35
It’s fun reason, because you can’t outsource that as a CEO. It’s recruiting executive talent, and is working with your biggest customers and your most strategic partners. Those four areas I would do until I’m no longer working here, which is hopefully a very long time from now. And let me explain why I think those four roles are actually the same role. Those four roles, you’re the chief sales person, you’re either selling the company to a candidate, to a partner, a customer or an investor. But I’m actually saying the same thing. I’m talking about the one year vision, the three year vision, the five year vision, I’m talking about our culture and what it means to work here and be a part of our journey, whether you’re a partner who, you know, the thing I learned also, that partner is basically an extension of your team. So my team is talking to them every week, and we’re training nodes are working together, we’re working on deals, supporting customers, and customers, they have to buy in to our vision, right, you’re you’re a small company, you’re growing quickly, but you’re still a small company, a customer is taking some level of risk, by giving you a chance, they need to know that they’re part of something bigger than just a piece of software. Right. And, and investors. I mean, that sort of pulls everything together is you know, why give you an investment for for a company where they could be investing in 100 other companies. So for me as a CEO, I think my role is to be the chief evangelist to be talking about all aspects of the business, whether it’s finance, or upcoming products or branding in position, how do we compare against competitors, and all of that rolls into the CEO office?

Alexander Ferguson 14:13
Because salesperson to all the different individuals, your internal folks your partnerships and and for for fundraising. Speaking of sales and marketing, over the past you said it was like 2019 that’s when you started to really see growth. Is there any sales or marketing campaigns are efforts that you saw really shine tactics that really worked? That you could share? So yeah, this is something that works really well. Particularly like I guess it comes to enterprise or mid market organizations.

Jerry Ting 14:44
Yeah. Before COVID it was different. You go to conferences, you meet people, shake hands, you do the Missouri way. I remember before COVID we would go to conferences, and people say I don’t believe your tech works. That’s okay. That’s cool. Well, I have a laptop and I have a phone, I can tether my phone and get Wi Fi to my laptop. Let’s upload something right now. And I remember I did that for SVP of a fortune 500. company. And she said, Well, it and she was she was she was a tough, she’s a tough person. She said, let me go find it. Let me go find a derby contract. If you had a team of 10 people once or somebody send the dirties contract, you have the jury, and they’re saying, well, and we find that she says, she had a deal from last week, should I send that deals contract the jury? And I said, Oh, okay, what am I gonna get here in my inbox. And it was a, it was a long contract. You know, it was over 100 pages scanned, many different versions of it. And I remember sitting there at the booth, and I uploaded the contract. And she pushed me aside, actually, and sat in front of my computer. And she manually read every data point that we pulled out. And she had her team, she asked him his name, that is a expression and the team knows, because they just negotiated a deal, didn’t write the contract, they literally were the authors of the contract. And that’s what we got our first launch client was was the Missouri way. And so I think, from a marketing perspective, you know, advertising conferences, webinars, phone calls, it’s not about the tactics, you know, you’re gonna have to do all of those to have a good marketing mix. It’s about what is the message that you’re giving to your customer? What is that aha moment, where you walk away, you say, wow, I saw something that can really impact my business. And I think that having a crisp, aha moment, is the key to marketing. And for us, because it actually works. We asked everybody send us a contract. Well, let’s let’s let’s do the Missouri way.

Alexander Ferguson 16:46
I love I love that story, as well as the concept, you have to give them an aha moment where they see at work, you have to be ready, and it actually has to work, obviously, otherwise, you got other problems you have to work on. Now, last question here for you to wrap up. As a business leader, are there any books that you’ve read or are reading or podcasts or audiobooks that you can recommend?

Jerry Ting 17:10
There’s a book I read in my senior entrepreneurship class at USC. That was called the monk in the riddle. And it’s an interesting book, because it’s written by an author, who was one of the earlier lawyers for Apple. And was was a lawyer that saw so many big tech companies come through the Bay Area, and then eventually started his own businesses and also became an investor. And I think there was one part of the book that I just want to encourage everyone to think about. And I’ll summarize it here. He said, as a young lawyer, I walked into my office, and there was a long hallway. And the young associates, the first year associates sat closest to the elevator because the elevator deemed and you, you get bothered by it. And then there was a middle of associates. And at the very end of the hallway, there was the people who owned the law firm, the senior partners, and they’ll walk in every day to walk by all the first years in the middle levels, and they’ll feel a sense of pride. I used to be a first year I used to be on level, my offices ended up quarter now, you know, I made it. And the author then says, that’s when I knew I wanted to quit a law firm. Because if you can see your entire life unfold in front of you, in a hallway. You know, life is pretty predictable. I’m not saying that I don’t like law firms or consulting firms or banks or any places I’ve always we have always it’s more than metaphor, right? It’s more the metaphor of maybe it’s because I’m a millennial, but it’s one of metaphors. If I work hard, I want to have an exciting life that’s maybe not predictable, maybe high mountains and high peaks and low valleys. But if I want to call it and I just walked down the hallway, that for me, I want to do something else. And that’s what started the company for me.

Alexander Ferguson 19:01
That is quite an impactful story to end on is like what Where’s your life headed? And can you have a sense of adventure? And who knows what, what will come next? Well, I’m excited for what does come next for you, Jerry. I know you have a glimpse of it. But who knows, right as you continue to develop and where AI goes. For those that want to learn more about Evisort, listen to part one of our interview, go to Uptechreport.com to get that episode, or go to Evisort.com and be able to get a demo there. Thanks again, Jerry. for your time. This is awesome.

Jerry Ting 19:30
Yeah, thanks, Alex.

Alexander Ferguson 19:31
We’ll see you guys on the next episode of UpTech Report. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you subscribe to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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