Relativity – channelling the enthusiasm at kCura

kCura’s growth prompts thoughts about how companies and industries (and empires and whole civilisations come to that) start and grow, and how they must keep moving forward to stay at the top.

The accepted wisdom, promoted by Gartner in its Magic Quadrant for E-Discovery Software of May 2011, is that there will be no new entrants into the eDiscovery / eDisclosure software market. A number of factors appear to support this idea: the cost of entry is too high; corporate counsel and law firms are, in general, looking to reduce the number of providers with whom they work; whilst the technology improves every year, the improvements are refinements of a by now fairly standard set of core technologies, with attention focused on wringing more speed, more accuracy, and greater usability out of them; the trend is towards consolidation, as players merge or acquire each other, and any new players will come in by buying an existing one;  there are not enough skilled people to float a new eDiscovery player; the emphasis is on better ways of meeting clients’ objectives, of becoming more consultative and of improving both the user experience and support rather than on inventing new technology.

Oxford CanalIt would be foolish, of course, to look too far ahead in this as in any technology-driven industry. I live by a canal, for example, which, when it was completed in 1790, was the last word in transport infrastructure, the latest venture in a short and intensive spate of development which had underpinned fast industrial and sociological change, making it possible for the first time to bring food, fuel and raw materials into the cities which grew as a result, and to carry the products of the factories out to new markets. On the other side of my house is the railway, which reached Oxford 50 years later and  made the canal more or less redundant overnight. Over the next 120 years, railway technology barely changed – engines became faster and more reliable, and infrastructure and safety were improved, but the pioneers would have recognised the railways which they invented right down to the point when they were wiped out in their turn by cars, trucks and buses. Other industries show similar patterns.

Much the same happens with companies. New players appear, work hard at developing new ideas and grow, becoming, perhaps, the industrial giants of their time, before either falling apart under their own, by then ponderous, weight, or being overtaken by more agile rivals. The history of the British Empire followed the same pattern, and it seems likely that the supremacy of the whole Western world is going the same way. Furthermore, the wheels are turning faster, and one can go from nothing to domination and back again in a very short space. Longevity lies in constant reinvention and in retaining the ability to keep the freshness of youthful success whilst expanding and prospering.

I have not looked back at my archive, but I suspect that I have written in these terms before about kCura, the makers of the Relativity eDiscovery software for analysis, review and production.  The earliest reference I made to Relativity was in July 2008, when I first met its founder and CEO, Andrew Sieja.  He came to see me in Oxford, and we walked up the canal and by the railway which gave me the parallels which appear above. If I had had any spare money, I think I would have invested in kCura on the strength of his ambition to make it succeed. It was not the technology which would have parted me from my money –  Andrew may have known where that was going, but I certainly did not – but the ambitious yet wholly credible roadmap.  This is what I said at the time:

What interests me about a provider is not whether their products or services are the best but whether their web sites, explanations and demonstrations help prospective users to understand what can be done for them. The aim is to make suppliers allies in the collective fight to help lawyers see what is possible. A poor demo or a lousy web site – and there are a few – does not just lose that company a sale, it can put people right off the whole subject.

KCura’s web site is a model of clarity, including an on-line demo of Relativity which helps illuminate the wider subject. I commend it to you, and if Andrew Sieja is as entertaining a demonstrator as he is a companion on a long walk, you will not find the demo a waste of time.

Have a look at that website now. It remains a model of clarity; it helps prospective users to understand what can be done for them; it  includes a Partner list (several lists, in fact, under different headings) of other providers with whom kCura has allied in a way which has no equal across the industry (I am not much given to hyperbole and you rarely find me saying of anything that it “has no equal” but this array of partners, and those included in the Relativity Ecosystem warrant that description).

The excuse for my most recent conversation with Andrew Sieja was the announcement of its partnership with Applied Discovery which I mentioned briefly when the press release came out and promised to come back to. The first line of my notes reads “The channel is our business. 88% of revenue comes from the channel”. Andrew was, he said, very proud to get Applied Discovery as a partner, as a long time player in the market with “a ton of their own technology“.

He gave me some statistics to back my sense that kCura is growing. There are now 56,000 end users of Relativity. A growing number of clients are already using Relativity Assisted Review, kCura’s text analytics tools – that percentage grew from 3% to 11% throughout 2011 and from 12,982GB to 50,453GB by the end of December. The company now has 215 employees with many more posts planned.

The growth is not all in the US, with the UK, Switzerland and Australia specifically mentioned as areas of expansion. Relativity now has its own representative in the UK, having appointed Steve Couling (whom I know from his time at LDM Global) as its new Director of International Sales (that is, for anything not in North America).

Let us wind back to my starting point – how do companies stay ahead at times of accelerating change, when today’s young thrusters are tomorrow’s old hat?  How do you keep the youthful enthusiasm of a start-up when you have 215 employees and need an international sales director?  One answer lies making allies of those who are also, in some respects, your rivals, and working with them to expand the cake for all.  Another is to work hard at being a company which good people want to work for. Perhaps the most important, though, is to make your clients and users feel that you are on their side. As I write, there is a video on the Relativity home page in which Andrew Sieja gives a brief overview of the company and its software. It ends with the stated ambition to “ensure that you have a positive experience with our software”. That will do as a statement of intent.

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