Kevin O’Connell and Jordan Bryan are the founders of legal tech start-up Version Story, a version management tool that powers modern legal collaboration by helping lawyers who work in teams to compare and merge many document versions and organise a document’s history.
Kevin started his career as an M&A lawyer at Simpson Thacher in New York. Following that he then went on to work as a software engineer at LinkedIn, where he met his now co-founder Jordan who also worked at LinkedIn as a software engineer.
What motivated you to start Version Story?
When working at Simpson Thatcher I spent a lot of time manually tracking and merging document drafts. It saddened me to see so many smart lawyers working on tasks that did not require a lawyers’ judgment.
Truthfully, the COVID-19 pandemic kicked us into gear. Without a commute, I suddenly had two free hours every day. I used this time to do problem scoping calls with lawyers and consumers of legal services.
The problem of tracking multiple document versions caught Jordan’s attention. As a programmer, Jordan knew the problem of tracking code versions had been adroitly solved by git. He was amazed that lawyers did not have a similar tool. So we decided to pursue git for documents. Shortly thereafter went through Y Combinator (YCW21).
How do you see your product fitting in within the legal industry?
We have validated that a need for Version Story exists across all legal verticals, from sole practitioners to in-house legal teams to big law firms. All lawyers deal with the problem of tracking, comparing, and merging multiple versions.
Lawyers in big law firms need Version Story to turn document drafts in email threads into consolidated versions to save in their Document Management System.
In-house legal teams need Version Story to consolidate drafts, often in different formats, into consolidated versions to save in their Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) system.
Lawyers at small and medium sized firms often don’t have a designated redlining tool. They find Version Story useful for consolidating multiple drafts and also for simple redlining.
How has your product evolved since you started?
Version Story today is arguably just a much better version of the original low-fi prototype we pitched to Y Combinator. We have continued to receive greater validation that our interactive canvas is the correct solution to the problem of tracking multiple document versions.
But under the hood, a lot has changed. Gracefully handling the interactions between Word and PDF documents is non-trivial technical problem. We have architected and re-architected our system multiple times such that now we can process even the most complicated files that pass through our system. We have also iterated on our user interface innumerable times. During the MDR lab we went through at least 10 product iterations.
For example, going into the lab, our app made a number of important features available through an ellipsis menu. We completely rethought our user interface, replacing the ellipsis menu with an actions toolbar. Another iteration involved batch comparisons. Several paralegals and trainees at Mishcon often have to run large batch comparisons.
For example, to effect a change in governance, the team often have to send corporate consents to twenty or more parties. Each consent is based off the same template. So they need to compare these twenty documents against a base version. It turns out Version Story makes this process really fast and easy. So we did a product iteration to intentionally support this use case.
What achievements and challenges have you seen so far?
We have users and paying customers active in each of the main verticals of small law firms, in-house legal teams, and big law firms. The MDR Lab is without question, our biggest achievement from 2022 as it provided an unparalleled opportunity for rapid iteration on our product. We now have a highly performant version of the product that can meet the needs of any organization, large or small. Version Story went from being a tool loved by lawyers who found us on Product Hunt to being used by senior partners at a major law firm.
The broad applicability of Version Story constitutes one of our greatest long-term strengths. In the near term, it presents our greatest challenge: deciding which tranche of the legal market to focus on initially.
What is your long term goal for Version Story?
Broadly, to make it easy and, dare I say, fun, for lawyers to track and collaborate over multiple document drafts. More specifically, we would like to replace email as the primary channel that professionals use to exchange document drafts when collaborating.
What advice would you give to those starting out in the legal tech industry?
- Follow the playbook and talk to people. Start with conversations to identify the problem you’ll solve. Then talk to users once you have a prototype. Then talk to customers once you have a product. There’s a reason why everyone offers this advice: it works.
- Invest the time to build skills; disregard the myth of the prodigy entrepreneur.
- Lawyers are not anti-technology. They’re anti-nonsense.
Keep an eye out for more exciting news on Version Story’s journey here as they continue to grow.
If you are interested in applying to MDR Lab’s Improve Programme, read more here.