[quote style=”boxed”]Build a product that’s easy to use and easy to get started with. Provide a user experience that’s practical and comprehensible for consumers as Internet products. This sort of user experience (UX) is generally not provided by business software. When customers have it, they’re delighted.[/quote]
Martin Ertl is the Founder and CEO of Contractually, a company that makes it easy for co-workers, partners, and signees to edit, share, and discuss contract revisions and negotiations. He also practiced law at Davis LLP, a full-service national law firm. Martin earned a degree in physics from the University of British Columbia and a law degree with distinction from McGill University.
Where did the idea for Contractually come from?
I have experience as an attorney. I was a physics major before that. I moved from the laws of God to the laws of humans. I also previously co-founded a cloud software company called Navarik that helped Fortune 10 energy companies manage workflow and data flow for global oil shipments. I’ve seen firsthand the pain and possible mess surrounding getting contracts prepared, reviewed, and negotiated between organizations with lots of people and lawyers involved.
Each day, I lived with the mess of back-and-forth Word documents and email threads that stretched from here to Jupiter. I dealt with a lot of people who didn’t use the “track changes” feature properly, and it created conflicting changes that had to be reconciled manually. No one knew who had the most recent version. I thought there was a better way to do this, especially with advancing web technologies.
What is your business model?
We want to use and provide software as a service (SaaS). We charge monthly based on the number of users and options to access premium features and data integrations. Pricing plans guide most of our business model. We price plans for large organizations and enterprises, starting at $5,000 per month for up to 75 users. Prices start at $500 per month for up to 15 users and the use of Salesforce integration. We also price plans for small businesses from $5 to $100 per month. We cater to all sizes of businesses.
What does your typical day look like?
The first thing I do is hit the “snooze” button. After that, I chat with my kids over breakfast. Then, I take the SkyTrain to the office and reply to overnight emails. What follows after that consists of lots of coffee, team meetings about product, and sales. I also hold one-on-one meetings with employees, prospective hires, or customers. I can then catch up on board member calls. After that, I head home for dinner and help my kids with their homework.
In the evening, I usually get real work done, such as creating sales follow-ups, decks for sales presentations, budget updates, and board meeting prep work. My night is capped by watching Netflix’s “House of Cards” until I realize I’ve already watched all of it that I can. Then, I switch to “The Bourne Identity.”
How do you bring ideas to life?
I think a lot and create things best by talking about them with others. I feel like a damn genius with a big whiteboard, a marker, and at least one participant. The logic behind that statement? Creative genius = (number of participants)^10.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
There are so many. Digital tools are going mainstream in the enterprise and in society. Self-awareness and digital presence are becoming requirements for success.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I worked at McDonald’s in high school. I learned that being a cog is no fun; it’s unrewarding and unfulfilling. I also learned that people and customers are awesome, and that co-workers can either be incredibly fantastic or incredibly awful.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would build an application programming interface, such as a data gateway, first. This way, I could focus efforts on the key workflows and data flows that are required for the contract process. It would have been easier to build a web interface around that.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Focus on the future — not the past.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Build a product that’s easy to use and easy to get started with. Provide a user experience that’s practical and comprehensible for consumers as Internet products. This sort of user experience (UX) is generally not provided by business software. When customers have it, they’re delighted.
What is one business idea you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone should create an educational product that helps students meet Common Core educational standards. It should target parents and students, including those outside of the U.S. Could you get your U.S. high school degree online, regardless of where you are in the world?
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
When looking globally, there’s so much to change, especially at the levels of access to educational opportunities, healthcare, and small business capital. I’ve picked a somewhat more modest thing to change first by focusing on the mess around creating, closing, and managing contracts and legal documents.
Tell us something about you that very few people know.
I like Kesha’s music and went to the Burning Man Festival. I also backpacked in Honduras for two months, but I journeyed without a backpack because it didn’t arrive with me. First order of business there: Buy underwear, pants, shirts, and socks by using my (then) very limited Spanish.
French is my native tongue. I can speak Spanish (somewhat) and a smattering of German. I can also explain how the U.S. Electoral College works.
What are your three favorite online tools, software, or resources and what do you love about them?
1. Slack is a great communication tool to keep our team humming along.
2. Evernote is like an overflow for my brain. It’s also good for note-taking and team note-sharing.
3. Doodle makes it easier to book group events and meetings.
What is the one book you recommend our community should read and why?
“Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card is a great, provocative story. “I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves,” he writes. It’s an interesting thought to apply to product creation. You need to understand customers and users incredibly well. If you do that, then you have something that’s a reflection of them. It fits them naturally.
“Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell is also great. It stresses the importance of environment and culture for success. It generally talks about those factors for individual success, but I think the same points apply on a broader scale for organizational success.
List three experts who have helped you as an entrepreneur and why?
1. Boris Mann is a web entrepreneur and managing partner at Full Stack. Boris understood the vision and the opportunity with Contractually and helped us redesign the alpha product into a commercial product. He helped us think through how to market and sell it. Boris is also a terrific sounding board for talking through problems such as scaling the team and putting good tools in place for team communication, customer engagement, and technical marketing. Boris thinks big.
2. Bill Dobie is a software entrepreneur and the CEO of Stage 3 Systems Inc., a company that builds software systems for the maritime shipping industry. Bill was previously CEO of Navarik, a company we co-founded. Bill has been a huge influence on my thinking and approach to product creation, design, and harnessing web technologies to solve business problems. Bill also thinks big.
3. Lance Tracey is an entrepreneur and a founding partner at Full Stack. He was the co-founder and chair of PEER 1 Hosting, which was acquired by Cogeco in 2013 for more than $500 million. Lance is also is a co-founder of the Sutton Realty Group, one of Canada’s largest real estate brokerages. Lance is a great source of commonsense advice (e.g., “You can never communicate too much” or “You need to say something to people at least three times before they hear it”). He’s also been a terrific supporter for me personally as an entrepreneur and encourages me to think really big.