By Editorial Department.
Scott Seidewitz is CEO BlissDivorce, Principal and Founder of The Seidewitz Group
For the past 20 years, Scott Seidewitz has been helping large tech and pharmaceutical companies develop growth strategies based on a better understanding of their customers. His firm The Seidewitz Group counts Intel, Intuit, LegalZoom, Merck and Amgen as clients. He is also the founder and CEO of BlissDivorce, a legal tech startup that helps couples get divorced without the cost, time and conflict of attorneys. Scott has a graduate degree from MIT and is a former P&G brand manager. He lives with his wife Beli Andaluz in Las Vegas, where he is training for his first amateur MMA fight.
Scott, as an introduction maybe you can tell us something about yourself, about the things you do on a day-by-day basis, and so on. My professional life changed dramatically three years ago. Before that I had a rewarding but fairly traditional carer path. MBA from MIT, six years in brand management at P&G and then I spent the better part of 20 years advising large tech and pharma clients on growth strategies.
Then I co-founded and became CEO of BlissDivorce, and almost overnight everything changed. I went from having an established team and lots of resources around me, to wearing 15 different hats. All of a sudden I was a product manager, fundraiser, salesperson, recruiter and so much more, because that’s what you do at the beginning of a startup.
Fortunately, I was able to find a great technical co-founder, my former client and good friend Dan Hirsch. And together we built BlissDivorce into what it is today: one of the most disruptive legal tech startups ready to redefine not only divorce, but more broadly how legal services are delivered to consumers.
You are the CEO of Resolution 8 Technologies. Resolution 8 Technologies is developing the next generation of AI-based online dispute resolution technology. Your first application is BlissDivorce, which empowers couples to work out a full divorce agreement without the cost, time and conflict of attorneys. How does the Platform provide value? And what is this role of technology, human expertise, and innovation in this approach?
There are a couple obvious ways BlissDivorce provides value: we cut the cost of divorce by 80% and the time by as much as 90%. But maybe even more important is the dramatic reduction in the conflict and trauma the current system imposes on families. At root of what we do at BlissDivorce is helping families make it through a very difficult, trying time without the financial and emotional devastation of the current system of divorce.
What’s really interesting from a business standpoint is how we do it. We’ve developed the next generation of online dispute resolution technology, which we call Relational Dispute Resolution™. This technology empowers couples to work out their disagreements through our platform, without bringing in attorneys, mediators or other humans. It’s amazing how much the conflict goes down when two sides independently interact with a computer instead of fighting with each other.
In our pilot market in California, a beta version of our technology was successful in resolving 60% of divorces without the need for mediation or other human intervention. And these were not simple divorces—the average asset size was just under $1 million. Over time we plan to bring that number up to 95%, improving our algorithms through machine learning and by deploying new technology.
When you succeed in resolving most divorces without humans involved, you are not only doing a great service to families. You’ve also a built a business with incredibly profitable unit economics.
How does BlissDivorce differ from similar initiatives? What’s the added-value BlissDivorce presents?
What differentiates us is our Relational Dispute Resolution technology. No other online divorce platform uses technology to resolve disputes.
There are sites where you can prepare the documents for an agreement you’ve already reached. But that’s not helpful for the majority of couples who need to work out disputes. Then there are sites that bring in mediators, private judges or even attorneys to work out disagreements. And of course the problem there is you end up back in an expensive, slow, often high-conflict process.
By resolving disagreements with technology, and only bringing in humans when needed, BlissDivorce dramatically reduces the time and cost of divorce. More importantly, we also greatly reduce the conflict, so families can move on without the pain and suffering of the current system.
If you have to choose 3 unique selling points which 3 should you choose to describe your business and why?
Well I’m going to repeat myself a bit here!
First, BlissDivorce enables couples to resolve disagreements without the conflict of the current system of divorce. This spares families a great deal of trauma, and allows them to move on in a more positive direction.
Second, there are huge cost and time savings. In our pilot market, we succeeded in cutting the time to go through the divorce process by 90% and we cut the cost by an average of 80%. Finally, we are changing the way legal services are delivered. When most people hire an attorney, they have very little understanding of what’s going on. And because attorneys charge by the hour, you never know what you’ll pay. We’re turning that on its head. We empower people with information and technology, so they can take control of their own legal matters. We do this at a fixed fee so you know exactly how much it will cost.
What are your plans (if any) for rolling out BlissDivorce world-wide? Would that be a serious option for you? Are there any differences compared to the US market which might hinder a roll-out to other continents?
Our plan was to first build our business and our brand in the 25 largest US states, which account for more than 80% of US divorces.
But interesting how word gets out! We’re currently in discussions to bring our platform into Latin America and have had some interest from an EU-based venture. So while we don’t have definitive plans at this point, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if BlissDivorce was in the EU and South America in the next two to three years.
The legal profession is changing and professionals need to be more business and tech-savvy. What do you see as the biggest challenge for the legal professional in let’s say five years from now?
Being customer-centric. As a business person it’s been disconcerting for me to see how many attorneys treat their customers.Instead of focusing on providing value and delighting customers (as we do in the business world), there seems to be a culture of maximizing billable hours and legal fees. If the legal profession doesn’t start thinking more like a service business and focusing on meeting customer needs, there is going to be more and more disruption from tech companies like BlissDivorce.
I am sure you closely watch the US legal tech startup community. What’s your advice for someone thinking about starting a new legal tech or legal start-up?
Think big. Don’t think like a lawyer.
Lawyers have been doing things pretty much the same way for hundreds of years. Most legal tech innovations have been about streamlining current processes and enabling the current competitors.
But real disruptive change comes when you imagine whole new ways to deliver services. When Airbnb and Uber and Tesla came along, they weren’t enabling the current competitors. They were creating whole new forms of competition.
Legal tech needs more Airbnbs, Ubers and Teslas. We need more entrepreneurs who aren’t afraid to challenge the current system and make legal services more accessible, more affordable and more comprehensible to the general population.
There is a lot of discussions ongoing about disruption in the legal market: a big bang against incremental change. Some say the legal market is on the verge of a disruptive force that will have a huge effect on the market. Then again, others say change will be an incremental process and the market will evolve naturally. What are your thoughts on this?
Right now the legal system is not accessible to nor does it serve the interests of the average person. As long as innovations in the legal market continue to be focused on streamlining and perpetuating the current system, there will not be big change.
Big, disruptive change will come when the focus of innovation shifts from empowering current players to imagining whole new ways to deliver legal services. Just think about the impact of a generation of entrepreneurs dedicated to using technology to put legal services in the hands of consumers. It would be a seismic shift in the legal market, and it would be great social good. Like so many other markets that were once controlled by the rich and powerful, democratizing legal services will give everyone greater access to the justice they deserve.
We thank Scott for sharing his knowledge and opinion in this interview.