Aug
28
2020
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Steno raises $3.5 million led by First Round to become an extension of law offices

The global legal services industry was worth $849 billion in 2017 and is expected to become a trillion-dollar industry by the end of next year. Little wonder that Steno, an LA-based startup, wants a piece.

Like most legal services outfits, what it offers are ways for law practices to run more smoothly, including in a world where fewer people are meeting in conference rooms and courthouses and operating instead from disparate locations.

Steno first launched with an offering that centers on court reporting. It lines up court reporters, as well as pays them, removing both potential headaches from lawyers’ to-do lists.

More recently, the startup has added offerings like a remote deposition videoconferencing platform that it insists is not only secure but can manage exhibit handling and other details in ways meant to meet specific legal needs.

It also, very notably, has a lending product that enables lawyers to take depositions without paying until a case is resolved, which can take a year or two. The idea is to free attorneys’ financial resources — including so they can take on other clients — until there’s a payout. Of course, the product is also a potentially lucrative one for Steno, as are most lending products.

We talked earlier this week with the company, which just closed on a $3.5 million seed round led by First Round Capital (it has now raised $5 million altogether).

Unsurprisingly, one of its founders is a lawyer named Dylan Ruga who works as a trial attorney at an LA-based law group and knows first-hand the biggest pain points for his peers.

More surprising is his co-founder, Gregory Hong, who previously co-founded the restaurant reservation platform Reserve, which was acquired by Resy, which was acquired by American Express. How did Hong make the leap from one industry to a seemingly very different one?

Hong says he might not have gravitated to the idea if not for Ruga, who was Resy’s trademark attorney and who happened to send Hong the pitch behind Steno to get Hong’s advice. He looked it over as a favor, then he asked to get involved. “I just thought, ‘This is a unique and interesting opportunity,’ and said, ‘Dylan, let me run this.’ ”

Today the 19-month-old startup has 20 full-time employees and another 10 part-time staffers. One major accelerant to the business has been the pandemic, suggests Hong. Turns out tech-enabled legal support services become even more attractive when lawyers and everyone else in the ecosystem is socially distancing.

Hong suggests that Steno’s idea to marry its services with financing is gaining adherents, too, including amid law groups like JML Law and Simon Law Group, both of which focus largely on personal injury cases.

Indeed, Steno charges — and provides financing — on a per-transaction basis right now, even while its revenue is “somewhat recurring,” in that its customers constantly have court cases.

Still, a subscription product is being considered, says Hong. So are other uses for its videoconferencing platform. In the meantime, says Hong, Steno’s tech is “built very well” for legal services, and that’s where it plans to remain focused.

Jan
09
2020
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How some founders are raising capital outside of the VC world

Hello and welcome back to our regular morning look at private companies, public markets and the gray space in between.

Today, we’re exploring fundraising from outside the venture world.

Founders looking to raise capital to power their growing companies have more options than ever. Traditional bank loans are an option, of course. As is venture capital. But between the two exists a growing world of firms and funds looking to put capital to work in young companies that have growing revenues and predictable economics.

Firms like Clearbanc are rising to meet demand for capital with more risk appetite than a traditional bank looking for collateral, but less than an early-stage venture firm. Clearbanc offers growth-focused capital to ecommerce and consumer SaaS companies for a flat fee, repaid out of future revenues. Such revenue-based financing is becoming increasingly popular; you could say the category has roots in the sort of venture debt that groups like Silicon Valley Bank have lent for decades, but there’s more of it than ever and in different flavors.

While revenue-based financing, speaking generally, is attractive to SaaS and ecommerce companies, other types of startups can benefit from alt-capital sources as well. And, some firms that disburse money to growing companies without an explicit equity stake are finding a way to connect capital to them.

Today, let’s take a quick peek at three firms that have found interesting takes on providing alternative startup financing: Earnest Capital with its innovative SEAL agreement, RevUp Capital, which offers services along with non-equity capital, and Capital, which both invests and loans using its own proprietary rubric.

After all, selling equity in your company to fund sales and marketing costs might not be the most efficient way to finance growth; if you know you are going to get $3 out from $1 in spend, why sell forever shares to do so?

Your options

Before we dig in, there are many players in what we might call the alt-VC space. Lighter Capital came up again and again in emails from founders. Indie.vc has its own model that is pretty neat as well. In honor of starting somewhere, however, we’re kicking off with Earnest, RevUp and Capital. We’ll dive into more players in time. (As always, email me if you have something to share.)

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