Startup Corner: DW Reporting in Focus

BI and data analytics provider DW Reporting launched in January 2013 and is one of the more established players in our startup focus. Here, in the most comprehensive of profiles, founder Dan Wales talks Formula One analogies, growth strategy, restructuring, what ‘DW’ stands for, data, AI and what temperature the office beer fridge is.

How would you describe your company to a friend?

We are often asked what we do, and when we respond with BI and data analytics to the non-technical man on the street, faces frown and minds wander. We then roll into our Formula One example, that’s mainly because we are huge fans and the explanation is quite simple;

“You know in Formula One all those guys in the pit lane during a race watching the charts and graphs, and reacting upon the information?”

“Ah yes so you work in Formula One? Which team – Mercedes? Ferrari?”

“Well no, (we wish we did!) we create the same for law firms, turning their business information, mainly financials and customer data into insightful, digestible and actionable information.”

The penny drops and that’s usually enough context to expand in some further detail (assuming they are interested of course!) around the KPI’s, performance gains and trends in which law firms operate.

Responses are mixed, but there is mainly an overriding trend as to why. The association of law with data analytics is often one that is difficult to gel together – Lawyers just argue in court, right?

And if you had to describe it to a techy?

We are seen as the market leaders in software agnostic financial Business Intelligence and data analytics, for law firms.

When were you founded?

We launched in January 2013, and have just seen our 4 year anniversary, which raises a valid question regarding are we still a start up?

In summary, our business mentality is to have fun and enjoy what we do, whilst remaining committed and focused on our objectives, with a goal to be the best at what we do – we continue to do that and build, which is a key factor.

Growth is another and one that is very tangible. This begins with getting the business established and ‘off-the-ground’ so to speak (it seems a long time ago one was huddled around a electric fire in the garage), but also to demonstrate and prove longevity, market awareness, software development and financial performance.

Our ethos is to try and ensure that our latest project (whether this is internal or external) is always better than the last one. With that in mind, businesses always undergo change and presents challenges, it’s how we respond to that which is ultimately a measure of our success, taking our albeit very summarised view on what a start-up actually looks like. I hope that we don’t actually stop being one, as it is working well so far.

By who?

The company names kinds of gives it away, and is always a question that is asked – what does the DW stand for?

DW Reporting, was founded by myself, Dan Wales, however, it’s not as egotistic as one might think, he says. With justification, the initial plan was to only really be a one/two man consultancy lifestyle business, the rest they say is history.

But depending on who’s asking we can always say ‘Data Warehousing’.

Who are your key managers/senior execs?

Our leadership team consists of myself the managing director, Jon Roscow – our commercial director, and Rob Stote – director, North America.

We’ve recently restructured internally and promoted within creating two senior manager roles, appointing Samuel Sheldon as our Technical Manager, and James Baldassarra (who was our first daunting hire back in 2014) as our Services Manager.

What is your growth strategy?

This is a great question, and one that changes year on year. Our growth to date has been quite remarkable and, being honest, has continued to exceed our expectations.

There is no exit strategy, I believe the minute you set one is the moment you start to fail, so we simply take things as they come and whilst we are still having incredible fun, continue to do what we do best.

Having said that you must set goals, in order to better yourselves. I refer to 2016 as our ‘tipping point’ year – from a zero (financial and technical) start up position in 2013, we continued to grow our headcount, infrastructure, client base and revenue streams as well as improve processes and product lines and establish some key partnerships.

We launched our first office outside of London, in Canada along with a lateral hire using this as an extended launch pad into North America. Our team is now 16 strong with plans to exceed 20 heads by Q2.

Our revenues continue to double year on year, taking us to approx. £3m in 2016/17. It will be a challenge to continue this trend into 2017/18 but our global market opportunity is still relatively untapped.

Product growth is also key to us and our flagship offerings are currently:

Quantum: Business Intelligence, has huge growth potential, adding new modules to our existing offerings and extending our enhancements to real time user driven ‘drag and drop’ self-service functionality. Furthermore, educating businesses on the value of their data and more importantly the quality of this too, going well beyond crap in and crap out mindsets, and encouraging process reengineering and efficiency gains, a byproduct of BI itself.

Evaluate – Matter Pricing and Budgeting, in the short period our v2.0+ product has been available to market, we have seen incredible interest and collaboration and, via customer feedback we have a very exciting product roadmap, as well as several firms signing up. The mindset of management, coupled with market competitiveness has forced lawyers to think beyond utilisation, revenue and essentially putting bums on seats. Profitability and resourcing is now also a key factor (it is ok to say no we can’t do this work at this price), which we are facilitating and forecasting by means of historical data and user inputs, along with the lean (and in some instances the automated) delivery of legal projects. Down the line our Evaluate service may extend in an LPM offering as well.

Looking forward, it’s difficult to analyse the effect AI has on the legal industry right now, and that is not through ignorance, but simply that there is so much opportunity for firms to get BI right, moving away from manual, labour intensive, repetitive and reactive reporting tasks, so that’s still our focus for the time being but will we continue to watch and review the role of AI in legal.

However, taking what we do with structured data, the next logical step I suspect will be to explore the ability to integrate with unstructured data and AI to enhance the contextual analysis and performance forecasts within the business of law, and the practice of law itself. I refer to this as taking ‘soft data’ to the next level, we’ll continue to keep one eye on this area, although it does look quite vendor top heavy, but with one or two stand out players!

Standing still is not an option for our team, we pride ourselves on our ability to innovate, deliver and to enhance user experience. I suspect our product lines at some point will expand as well as our team and geographical reach. Technology is a huge component of what we do, the continuing advances in tech assists greatly with our growth. We are primarily a Microsoft shop, so must give a big shout out to their ongoing R&D in the data analytical space which is fast and very exciting.

Have you received investment?

We are self-funded. DWR was launched with £500 to build a website and get some marketing collateral together. Taking the football analogy of Financial Fair Play (FFP), we live within our means, recycling our revenues into solid and sensible investment opportunities, which at present is mainly product development, along with all the small other things you don’t necessarily think about when starting a business.

Who are your target clients?

95% of our client-base is law firms, which range in size. Our biggest being 2500+ lawyers, to boutique 10 lawyer firms. Our clients also range in geography and demographic, from multi-currency 30+ offices around the world to just the one and single GBP/USD income lines.

We have a handful of professional service clients and some legal vendors themselves.

Our default target audience though is law firms and our message is quite simple. If you have data, then let us demonstrate the true value of this asset to your business.

To date our offerings have been mainly financially focused and the core entry point but we are seeing a shift and the inclusion of marketing/BD metrics is growing tremendously, which opens many opportunities.

Have there been any key changes in direction since you were founded?

Like many others, we began DW Reporting as a services organisation, ‘guns for hire’ in the legal financial BI space. Around 18 months in, we reached a turning point driven by three core factors;

•             Business valuation
•             Market demand
•             The fact all law firms want the same thing, to a degree

With that in mind, we began to develop product funded by our services revenue, taking us where we are today, with services now only accounting for around 10% of our income.

That said, our focus on the legal market, along with utilising data efficiently has not changed.

What are the key challenges you face in your market?

We tend not to get too wrapped up in political and economic events, or views, it’s not something we can influence so we have to essentially go with the flow.

Having said that the past 6 months have been interesting with Brexit and the US election. We’ve had to respond accordingly and will continue to review our approach and economics if required, with the positive view that this is actually an opportunity for many firms. Being agile is key here.

Our key challenge as a business however is resourcing our growth and satisfying market demand, without compromising our core USP and quality. It is a nice problem to have but being honest is the one thing that has prevented many good night’s sleep, however, it is getting easier.

Another challenge is obviously being aware of our competition within the legal BI space. We’ve seen some big players without the domain expertise try their luck in legal (seeing this as an untapped vertical), which hasn’t really worked out – but they have significantly more funding and resources, likewise smaller ‘copycat’ outfits.  We just need to keep on our toes and we like competition, it is a healthy thing to have. However, if we continue with what we are doing, and without sounding complacent, we are confident in our business, our people, our products and growth objectives.

What are the most exciting developments you’ve seen in your market in the past year to 18 months?

I think in all walks of life we are seeing data (aided significantly by smartphones) being captured in varying forms, this in turn is being transformed and presented (sometimes in a targeted fashion) seamlessly, educating the consumer, and also enhancing the user experience as to how to be driven by data, with ease. Sometime this process is so intuitive and slick we don’t even know the experience is happening.

Transferring this into the workspace, expectations are changing and the question is often being asked as to why firms cannot give ‘apps’ or ‘web-based’ solutions like they are getting at home, or on their phones, tablets etc. It is recognised that there is simply far too much linear paper based reporting within law firms and, as such, there is now much less resistance to change and ‘big brother’ views.

This has aided in the growth of BI and analytical offerings across many legal applications, and these are now seen as a mainstream must have rather than a nice to have.

Tell us something that people don’t already know about the company?

Our office beer fridge is set to 7 degrees Celsius.

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