ALTA Member Profile | Ben Rosswick, COO, Smarter Drafter
Tell us a bit about your background.
I come from a banking background, so, on the surface of it, nothing to do with the legal or technology industries. But, there’s a lot of knowledge that’s common to running any business so I didn’t come to Smarter Drafter empty-handed. I use a lot of the analytical and management skills I acquired in my previous career but in a much more dynamic and enjoyable context. Banking is also a very customer-oriented industry, so I bring that same ethos to Smarter Drafter where our success has been driven by helping to solve our customers’ problems.
Describe a typical day in your life.
After dealing with the kids in the morning (I have a 5-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl), I usually dive straight into all the time-sensitive tasks at Smarter Drafter. That includes dealing with customer requests, any outstanding tech issues and doing the daily financial reconciliation. The rest of my day is typically divided between managing the software development, sales and marketing and strategic outlook of the company. It’s that type of variety that makes the job so interesting and a constant challenge.
Do you remember the moment your journey with Smarter Drafter began? When was it and what did you think about Smarter Drafter at the time?
David (Smarter Drafter’s MD and founder) and I have been friends since childhood so I was a part of Smarter Drafter’s journey from the beginning, even if it was only as a sounding board for ideas, although I later became an investor, too. The idea behind Smarter Drafter – automating legal document drafting – was really exciting to me as I love solving problems, particularly ones involving inefficiencies. In 2018 when I was contemplating my move back to Australia from Hong Kong, Smarter Drafter decided to accelerate its software development so Dave asked me to manage that and take on a few other roles that suited my background (finance, operations) so I jumped at the opportunity.
Smarter Drafter has achieved some major milestones – well done. How did the team find the process of convincing investors and target accounts of its value in the early days?
When Smarter Drafter first came along there were very few document automation tools aimed at smaller firms. Our early success was actually very rapid and took us a bit by surprise. The plus side of that was that we realised that we had the right product and the right message to communicate its value to customers from early on. No-one wants to spend time manually drafting complex documents so it was a fairly easy sell to get the lawyers to outsource this to automated tools.
Early success with customers also meant early success with investors who (naturally) extrapolated that success into a very exciting future. Since then there’s been a lot of solidifying our processes and making sure the company’s success is more scalable. That’s made us a better business but has also slowed down our growth. Thankfully we’re cashflow positive now so raising capital isn’t as big a factor in our strategic thinking.
Australia is a ‘relatively’ small market when compared to the rest of the world. Where do overseas markets sit on the priority list – and what are your tips/thoughts on growing a business globally out of Australia?
Starting a business in Australia has plenty of pros and cons. On the plus side, it’s a very sophisticated market, so if you have a good product, you’ll almost certainly find the right channels to market it and there will be demand. You can get access to the right skills and, from a regulatory and tax point of view, there is quite a bit of support for startups in the tech sector.
On the downside, Australia really is a tiny market so unless your product is naturally borderless from the outset, you’ll come up against limits pretty quickly. That’s even more true in the legal industry where there are regulatory boundaries to expanding overseas.
Making our business global has required us to rework quite a few elements of our software and my best tip for anyone starting a business today is to ensure you do ‘internationalise’ your product from the outset. That makes expansion faster and cheaper and will not only open up international markets for you but also make you a more attractive acquisition for any existing overseas players.
Entrepreneurship can be rewarding and challenging in equal parts. From your time with Smarter Drafter, what do you believe is the most important skill or quality for a founder’s success? Are there any other skills you’d encourage a founder to develop?
The most important thing for a founder is to be resilient. That sounds contrite but I can say with near certainty that there will be at least one occasion in every startup’s journey where things will go wrong and you’ll start to question everything. Having the confidence to stick with it and make any necessary changes is absolutely critical. Believe in yourself, your abilities and the people around you. Know that the occasional failure is a feature of every business and do your best to learn from it.
You’re about to go back in time to give yourself one piece of advice at a time of uncertainty. What do you say to your younger self and when?
If I could do this only once I’d probably tell myself to buy Apple stock in 2001 but, if it had to be Smarter Drafter related, I’d tell myself to worry less about pitching to investors and spend that time and energy building the company instead!
What are 3 things you will be focusing on this year?
This year is all about launching our stand-alone automation tool, Rulestar. It’s the culmination of years of work and will give any company, anywhere, the ability to automate any written content. It’s very exciting and we are in the midst of putting the final touches on the software and the marketing strategy. Watch this space!
Where can we stay up to date with what you’re doing?
Thanks for your time.