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Founders Friday – Building a Successful Product-Led Growth Business

Play Video about Nicole Clark @Trellis- Building a Successful Product-Led Growth Business Video Transcript: [Music] welcome to founders friday uh this is a tell-all for folks that are in a revenue producing role and they invite experts who are responsible for driving revenue for their business to share their experiences with us over here our goal is to educate and entertain so remember to share your secret sauce keep the responses punchy let's have some fun My guest today is nicole clark she's the co-founder and ceo of trellis research based out of los angeles trellis research is democratizing access to the law by making state trial court records and legal data more accessible as a necessary step to bring greater transparency to our judicial system they offer a unique product a searchable data analytics platform with ai based insights that litigators can use simply to google insights into judges rulings Motions and dockets so nicole thank you so much for joining us today on founders friday uh let's maybe just kick it off with uh you know share share with the audience your journey to founding trellis research and what you did before before you started the company sure so i was a litigator uh prior to trellis i did a lot of work in labor and employment which is entirely litigated at the state court level state trial Court and so i was in state trial court constantly and i honestly just couldn't believe that it was so difficult to access information at the state trial court level um one thing many people don't know is sort of when an attorney gets a case and they send them an email internally at their firm that says does anyone have any intel on judge whoever they've been assigned to And then that is the way that lawyers are making strategic decisions about litigation and it just kind of blew my mind that that was happening so i continued on for for a number of years wondering why if lawyers weren't more uh data focused and utilizing and making sort of data back decisions happened to know some some uh intelligent engineers and just started complaining about the problem that really there was this entire really the Largest court system in the world that was entirely untapped that had that's fragmented across thousands of individual courts and there's no single searchable database for it and so what we did was we started pulling data and i continued to use it in practice um we pulled from sort of the courts that i was appearing in most often at that point and for the next couple of years i used trellis in practice for my my own Use case really sort of validating um that this was in fact uh a real business and was going to give me a competitive advantage and so just you you build this out for yourself first is that correct that's how this started wow yes absolutely and for for a number of years determined that uh yes it is valuable before i had the courage to actually jump and launch trellis that's amazing that's amazing so How long were you using the product yourself before you decided to launch it more publicly it was a full two years and there was two things going on then one i was validating but also we were amassing a substantial data set that made more sense for us to go live with fantastic um and now um you know you've recently raised a substantial series a round so congratulations on on that um and you know our uh audience typically Consists of founders and folks that are in senior roles uh that that watch this the show uh share a little bit about what that fundraise journey looked like and what were some of the challenges that you had to overcome that were somewhat unique to your situation and uh in in something that you know the rest of us can learn from i think every fundraiser is going to have all of its own unique circumstances and obstacles associated with it Um it's funny i look back when at an early company i remember thinking that companies that made it to series a that was a real company and now we're here and we're still so early and it's it's so funny to think about uh sort of my thought process and how that's changed since then um a is obviously more numbers based so they that along with an early stage company where we've had sort of various pricing Model changes and just making sure that we had um really developed metrics to go forward with um which of course we're maturing now and and now we can do but it was a lot of work to to prep for it for sure yeah yeah and uh i know that i've met your co-founder uh elon and you know uh maybe share a little bit of how the two of you met uh and and a little bit of the of the dynamic of how the two of you worked together i actually read a quote From him that says nicole's like a kite and i'm the string so i would love to understand what that what that really means from no perspective absolutely so um i was actually a solo founder for about a year and a half and i was working with an executive coach who said i've got someone that i think you need to meet and really at that point i started working with alan as a technical advisor he was there to really help with Strategy communication between the engineering team and myself and slowly we started working together and he had such just ridiculously analogous skill set to exactly what we needed that the puzzle pieces seemed to fit and we were almost sort of more valuable together with the two pieces that we had and it was just obvious it was obvious to us it was obvious to the investors we started growing rapidly And so right around then is and we've been working together about a year and a half at that point come on as a late stage co-founder and really build out this business with me so that's how we did it and how we work together um we're very very different and i think that's important in co-founders i think you should have differing skill sets um And so i think i i can dream really big um and i can keep dreaming and the nice thing about alone is that he puts it into sort of you know executable steps so that we roll back what is my big vision and then really what do we need to accomplish next and then get to get those things done and it's really helpful to be able to have the combination of you can see The vision so far out but you also know what to do in the meantime to sort of get to the next steps to continue marching forward yeah um it's uh the dynamic that's very interesting and i'm glad to hear that i think the it from our perspective it's very very similar if you were to meet my co-founder ahmad you know he dreams big as do i but uh he's also the one who keeps me grounded In reality on what's going to happen next to get to where we want to be so i think that impatience and that uh you know that urgency to keep moving is so critical to to building a great business um now tell me a little bit about why is it so hard for litigators to get access to this data uh and what does the world look like without trellis so right now um if you were uh litigating in in trial court and basically a helpful understanding is That there's always state and federal courts both have trial courts both have court of appeals and then roll up to the supreme court and at the trial court level on the federal side there's one unified system for all the federal courts across the nation on the state trial court side every single county has their own court so if we take california for example los angeles separate from san diego separate From san francisco every court hosts their data separately maintains it separately there's no integration uh across any of them there's no structure and what that means is you have a bunch of fragmented systems where you can't actually pull strategic information so that's why it's very very difficult for lawyers right now absent trellis the way you would try to get any of this data and it's still difficult you would have to know a case number you'd have to Go to the county where the cape court where the case was pending and you have to know the case number to pull up information on that case which means if you know the case number you already know the case exists you already have some information about it so you can't think about things strategically or zoomed out in a way and really trellis takes that that sort of limit away do you want to search by judge do you want to search by legal Issue do you want to search by opposing counsel how about a combination of those things and really get some some insights across the nation very cool very cool and and what are some of the challenges that you faced uh in digitizing this data so you know what format does it exist in and obviously to bring it online uh what are some of the hoops you have to jump through to make that happen um it is it's not sort of a hoop that You jump through and then you're through that is a constant struggle i look at the way that it's so difficult as part of why we have a business right if this was easy it would have been done already exactly um it's it's incredibly difficult every single court hosts their data in a different format there is absolutely no structure what we have to do is basically create the structure on our side and map the data back to trellis as the single sort of unified Data set so the normalization of the data the data health that's a constant and now think about that for sort of thousands of different courts it's a massive ingestion and structure system yeah got it so very interesting and just the problem that you described clearly needs a solution so glad that travis is out there now you were your own first customer how did you then go about acquiring kind of the next set of uh Customers that could validate that uh that approach that you were taking uh for you so where you have the confidence to go invest your time and and uh effort into this so very early on um i decided that i was going to jump from my job to be able to sort of devote full-time bd attention to this because being a litigator takes a lot of energy and i just wasn't able to do both at the same time and so i told my firm that i was at that Um i was going to launch this new business and they actually had watched me over the last two years while i was using the product win repeatedly so i'd won all my motions during that time and they were able to connect the two and they said hey why don't you stay on site bring your engineers on site and for a couple of months we just worked from the firm's offices really having an iteration and feedback loop Directly with the attorneys so they were our customer number one got it got it and then uh and so you know you've obviously acquired a number of early past early customers you've quite a number of customers we talked last time um and uh actually spent you know some time on your website and it was very interesting that i could simply just go to the site and start searching for data and immediately start using the product Without having to even give up my name or contact information or any other information so the gate to get in and get you to use the product is is you know fairly fairly easy to get through now you know there's a whole movement around product led growth and this whole plg motion that everybody's fascinated by so tell me what are some of the key learnings around around this sort of acquisition and conversion process uh That you've come across as you built this out well i think particularly and i can speak to what i know which is building in for sort of the legal vertical uh as our first stop and it is incredibly difficult to find distribution into lawyers and law firms and it's a very slow sort of painful sales cycle and when we first started the business i thought we'd be enterprise b2b would be that direct sales and then i hit the Sales cycle and there was just no way it was very clear that we wouldn't make it to our next fundraise uh in one sales cycle to be able to prove to the investors that this was valuable data yeah so what we did was we tested a whole variety of different things one of which was we created judge biography pages just basic bios on judges no one had done that before and those started getting so much traffic that we ended up having sort of Thousands of different landing pages into the product and then of course alone my co-founder was the founder of doc stock which sold to intuit very similar seo freemium customer acquisition model that he successfully exited and so we have that knowledge base that's able to help and we ultimately decided we would just open open it up and let customers come to us i knew as an attorney and i knew that my colleagues were starting Their research on google so how do we get them uh from how do we get them to come to us basically and then how do we give them enough of the product for them to determine value before they have to put a credit card down and so there's always that interplay there of how much do you give away for free and when is it too much and but how do you make sure that people understand value um and make the decision themselves right Yeah yeah very cool and um and nicole you know as as customers sign up like you know obviously like i noticed i could just go in there and start using the product and just you know start start signing up now what signals do you look for to figure out which customers are actually serious about what they're doing here and and then you need to convert them over into paid accounts so what what are the signals that you typically look for Where your team looks for it's a variety um so one is going to be sort of the the type of usage what are they searching um there are a lot of things that are more obviously sort of professional legal research as opposed to just running a general search but it's going to be the amount of usage the number of logins whether they signed up for a free trial um and then what they actually did on the product were they looking at Analytics were they searching were they downloading documents those are all sort of intent signals to us the biggest of which is when we watch uh customers from the same domain from the same entity all start to sign up around a similar time and so we'll have 10 or 20 folks from the same organization that's a signal that then it's time to go in to sell talk down to that organization so that's your internal referral process that gets you uh clued In that there's an opportunity here so that's that's really cool yeah got it so um now you know one of the things i hear about as i uh dig deeper into the plg motion and talk to some of the folks in this in this domain there's this myth out there that the product team essentially takes over every function and that you don't need sales or marketing at that point um i think i think you recognize that Reality is very different but it'd be great if you can share your perspective on what does that internal dynamic look like and how does it evolve between the uh go to market side of the business and the product side of the business yeah so i think plg super early on is is really necessary it's very very difficult as a small organization to have a large sales team um and so to the to the extent that you can start to get customers in that way um Themselves through the product that's essential in order to really grow large enterprise contracts you're going to have to have sales involved it's a different relationship it's a longer term sales cycle i look at our plg as our as our lead gen funnel really it is basically folks that are in the funnel that are paying us while we're potentially growing their organization later on and so it's it's a dynamic you're absolutely Right where you you have to figure out when is the right time to make the handoff and to have a human start to interact with a customer got it so it's not an either or motion you started out with the assumption that you're gonna go build a b2b enterprise sales model well you have to do that eventually but this is a great way to get you started first where you can get a lot of strong signal about what your customers are Actually doing before you bring in the enterprise sales person into the into the mix is that is that fair no that's exactly right and i would say i was dude i was our enterprise sales person up until now right um and it's okay and you're always gonna be as well i'm always gonna be i know you always think um but but it was it was helpful for me because i got to understand the playbook of how you start Someone from a freemium individual and you grow them into a large multi-year enterprise contract and now with that learning now we have something that we can actually create a playbook on and make more scalable but it's definitely there's there's a lot of work and a lot of strategy that goes on from figuring out the plg motion to figuring out how you scale sales awesome okay uh i want to shift gears a little bit so you know there's a lot of Talk about uh diversity in the workforce and particularly in the tech industry um so as a woman entrepreneur and uh you know founder of of a successful business what advice do you have for women who are trying to make it in the technology sector um well it depends on if you're so so if you're just trying to to look for a position at a really strong tech company and you want to sort of continue your career growth i think You're in a great place right now i think that um everyone is recognizing that diversity is super important and that we need to start diversifying so i think go after your dream job i mean i i really say that or get in at an organization um early that you can see has potential and as you go and develop your career you're going to be able to rise in the ranks as the company grows so i would definitely say that in terms of uh female founders and how we how we Sort of create diverse workforces or in general and male the founder too right um you actually have to you it's it's sort of a chicken and egg problem you have to have some diversity in order to attract more diverse candidates in and so that's just something to think about from the very start is how can you have um from early early on a little bit of diversity in your team that will make it much easier to grow that diversity as you get Bigger got it got it now i think that's uh really good advice both for uh founders as well as for uh you know whether you're looking for a job or being an entrepreneur yourself uh as a woman as a diverse candidate what's a great way to to grow your career now i want to come back to you a little bit um so and you know we did a little bit of research and found an article where when You were asked about your life motto yeah you essentially are coded as saying that life unfolds in proportion to your courage so i mean i mean it's very inspiring to to hear that but i would love to hear the back story that led you to that uh that conclusion you know what what how would you characterize that to to where that is your personal story tell us a little bit more about that It's interesting you know i would say i didn't i didn't start out saying i'm going to be an entrepreneur i'm going to figure out a problem to solve and build a business off of it it was very very different i went to law school i you know had a very risk-averse career in general was trained in being risk-averse and so it took a lot of just a ton of the ability to build up the courage to say i'm going to jump from my super Stable job at a young child like i'm gonna make i'm gonna go and do this and basically start from scratch i had not had any experience uh as a founder in the startup world prior to that and so it was those two years of me validating the product that really gave me the courage to jump but it's one of those things where it's almost you know jump and the net will appear like you have to take the leap in order for the universe to come Through and help give you the pieces to move forward that's uh that's wonderful uh and so what's next for trellis research uh where does it go from here growth i mean we now get to focus on its you know growth and scaling so we are now 12 states 365 counties we want to cover another 10 um and really just continue we have so many additional analytics to build up on top so coverage customers and then features and Really growing and taking the company to the next level it's super exciting fantastic uh well this has been an awesome conversation and nicole i've learned a lot from this discussion i love the fact that you started out building a product for yourself and used it uh for a long time before you started to open it up to others uh and just uh you know demonstrates how grounded this is in reality as you're building this out And as you said every stage of the company is different it's great to have a co-founder that is highly complementary to the way that you think about things and keeps us grounded so love the story tell us a little bit about how people can find you if they were to want to get in contact with you about either trellis or uh reach out to you directly absolutely so for me in particular i'm on linkedin and you can Also i'm nicole underscore eight underscore clark on twitter um and then the company itself if you just want to come and check out i i'm a nerd even if you aren't in the legal industry it's really interesting to search the trial courts you can search the president and see the interesting lawsuits that come against them or celebrities there's all kinds of really interesting stuff in there newsworthy um so that's easy just jump in and start searching at uh Trellis dot law search that's perfect and i'm not a litigator or a lawyer and i found that fine going through some of this data was so fun and interesting to as you just said as always it's great to connect with you and hear your thoughts uh and to our audience uh you know if you have any thoughts on trellis research definitely go check out their website and look into what they're doing if you have any questions about How to run a plg motion for your business we'd love to help you and help you figure that out you can find us at uh nicole thank you so much for your time today this has been wonderful thanks a seam great being here thank you [Music] you

“I look at PLG as our lead gen funnel. Basically the folks that are in the funnel are paying us well, and we are potentially growing with their organization later on. It is a dynamic where you have to figure out when is the right time to have a human start to interact with a customer.”  


Nicole Clark

About The Guest

Prior to founding Trellis, Nicole Clark was a business litigation and labor and employment attorney who handled litigation in both state and federal courts. She regularly represented multinational corporations in claims ranging from high-profile trade secret disputes to complex class-action litigation. 

Frustrated by sending internal emails and collecting anecdotes on judges in order to make strategic case recommendations, she built Trellis to solve her own need for access to data, information, and analytics at the state trial court level. Prior to law school, Nicole attended Bard College, beginning her college coursework at the age of sixteen. She graduated with honors from University of Massachusetts Amherst with a BA in Journalism, and received her Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law in Newark, NJ. Nicole sat for the Bar Exam in California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, and remains licensed to practice law in all three states.

What We Cover

Having access to the right data can improve every organization or business. In this episode, Nicole takes us on a journey on how she digitized litigation data initially for her own use, that eventually led her to founding Trellis to democratize the use of that data for every litigator. 

How do you take a bunch of fragmented legal databases that exist at the county level, and pull the data to research a specific case? The key is to create an effective and efficient data structure and normalize and digitize the data across these systems. 

Nicole shares the challenges of acquiring data for litigators; she speaks on data integration, the importance of a product that sells value, and Trellis Research’s secret sauce to their successful PLG motion. She also shares her own story of moving from a litigator to a founder and CEO. 

Through the use of Trellis, unlimited real-time data is easily accessible for every litigator.

What You Will Learn

The need for normalizing legal data, and the origin story of Trellis Research

How do you set up a Product-led Growth (PLG) motion for your startup?

What signals to look for to convert free customers to paid accounts?

Are PLG and B2B Enterprise motions mutually exclusive or complementary? 

When is the right time to use a PLG approach vs. direct enterprise sales model?

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