Tuesday, July 7, 2009
Interview with Bill Kane, Mumboe
One of the most active parts of the technology market nowadays is the software-as-a-service market, where companies are developing application software which can be accessed via the Internet, and is usually sold on a monthly or yearly subscription. One of the local companies attacking that market is Mumboe (www.mumboe.com), an Austin startup which has created a software-as-a-service application for tracking legal contracts and agreements. We spoke with Bill Kane, CEO of the firm, about the company.
First of all, for our readers who aren't familiar with Mumboe, can you describe your service?
Bill Kane: Mumboe is an on-demand application, which helps businesses, departments, organizations, and enterprises store, track, and manage their business agreements and contracts. On-demand means it's really, really simple to access and start using our service, with just one, two, or three users, and that it can grow infinitely to handle as many people as you need. At its heart and soul is a repository, where we've created a place which supports custom folders, agreement types, user definable fields, and more. It's searchable and scalable--everything is indexed and reachable, as is the metadata, and it's very configurable and customizable to give the power to the user. Administrators can access and create and customize the product to their own needs. What is out there tended to be rigid--here it is, use it if you can--but for our application, most people need to be able to customize it. We've built tools so that you can customize this without us having to do custom coding.
How'd the company get started?
Bill Kane: The company came about from a couple of different things. Our linguist had experience doing software development, and had some experience with contract management in healthcare. Basically, large repositories of data. Our linguist was looking at massive health data records, and was running NLP--natural semantic parsing-- a linguistic method used to extract data, rather than waiting the weeks or years it might take people to do it. Looking at that kind of technology--which had only been used for academia and medical research--we wanted to take that and somehow put it into an on-demand, online application. The other thought was how we could make an online application, that wasn't cumbersome. That's one of the big knocks with an on-premise solution. Not generally, but often, small and medium sized businesses might not have the time and capital to buy a really expensive solution. We didn't create this idea--there are people like Salesforce.com, Quickbooks Online, Freshbooks, 37Signals with Basecamp, and other applications-- the software development world has started to move towards that idea.
Where did the linguistics experience come from?
Bill Kane: Our head of linguistics is Anne Marie Currie. She has been involved with this type of development for her entire career. Her undergrad is from Harvard and her Ph.D. is from UT-Austin. When I met Ann Marie, she was doing linguistics in a more, "enterprise-y" way, but she loved the idea of putting the power of linguistics on-demand. We wanted to see how we could look at repositories of business data, which are relatively similar in form, and automatically extract key data from things like NDA's, leases, sales agreements, and other contracts. We wanted to package this in an intuitive user interface and make getting data into the application simple, fast, and easy. Anything you could do to cut down the time for implementation, training, and use would empower the user. We also wanted the user to be able to configure the application quickly and easily. The bottom line is when we save people time, we are saving them money.
How does pricing on this work--it looks like you have both a free and a paid version?
Bill Kane: Mumboe Express is totally free, and lets up to three users manage ten documents. It's really a way for users to use Mumboe in a team. Obviously, with only 10 agreements it's not for you to use long term, but it's certainly enough to figure out if it works for you before signing up for the paid version.How are you funded?
Bill Kane: Angels. We're very fortunate to have a group of a dozen folks--about a half a dozen of them in Austin, and some other angels in New York City, Nashville, spread out. The guy who led the charge is G. Walter Loewenbaum. He's a very experienced entrepreneur who founded Luminex here in Austin. They believed in the idea, and the idea of bringing other technologies to the cloud. With cloud computing, a small company can bring a powerful application to a huge market. Our idea was that we could bring this to the masses, and not have to have 400 people working at a company. Companies can do really powerful things with 10-20 people, and from an investor's point of view that sounds pretty good.
What's been the toughest part of the business so far?
Bill Kane: Unfortunately, in this space, it's not like ERP and CRM, which everyone knows what they are. One of the biggest battles we've had is educating people--such as general counsels for corporate legal departments, or a COO--on how this can change how you do business. It helps you tighten the ship, so you know where everything is at, and so that it's seconds away--not days or months away. For example, if you need a document, often--if you knew where it was--you'd have to call Iron Mountain, who had to pull a box out of storage if you hadn't had time to digital things. Or, you'd have to figure out where you put it on a shared drive. What gave us this idea, is there are so many people out there--nonprofits, foundations, universities, you name it--who have real estate, corporate, and legal data--massive amounts of data--and really don't have a good way to track it or store it. Milestones are also a big thing. And there is the common experience of missing important deadlines like auto-renewals or key contract deadlines and milestones. A company only has to experience that pain once for them to understand the value of Mumboe. In the past organizations used complicated spreadsheets to try to track and manage data, but they usually learn this is an inefficient way to manage important information. The other alternative was a complicated and expensive on-premise system. With Mumboe, now they have a simple, easy, and affordable alternative.
What are the next steps for the company?
Bill Kane: Like any startup, it's sell, sell, sell. We're trying to evangelize and convince people that this will really make a difference. From the technology point of view, we've got a laundry list of things we'd like to do. We're talking to all of our users, and figure out what makes the biggest impact. We're getting as much user feedback as possible, and developing things they need. Among some of the features we're working on, we're making it easier to get data into the system. We'll announce in August a feature that makes it easier for people to get docs into the system, so rather than just uploading them one at a time they can use bulk upload tools. Ultimately the most important thing is for people to try Mumboe. We're confident, once they try it, they'll use it.