Leverage Your Beginner’s Mindset: Using AI to Innovate a Vertical
In this episode of AI Unveiled, I speak with Jorn Vanysacker and Julien Steel at Henchman, a legal contract drafting and negotiating platform powered by AI.
Jorn learned some valuable lessons from his first startup. The product was too broad, needed customization, and they didn’t invest in mining insights from data. This time around, he and his co-founders wanted to build something that was truly plug-and-play and solve a narrow problem for end users. With this lens, they decided to build Henchman.
None of the founders had any legal experience and Jorn believes this beginner’s mindset has been a significant advantage in an industry ripe for disruption. It was a forcing function to obsess over speaking to and learning from customers.
Their product is a Word plug-in—a purposefully narrow UX for the end user. As lawyers draft complex contracts, Henchman provides edits and suggestions based on precedents—what someone in the firm has written in the past. With over 150 customers already, it’s working, and their focus is to make this narrow product better—more integrations with backend document management systems and better AI and insights.
Julien then speaks about the specific features and their federated approach to AI. One big change he sees in building AI-first products is the amount of time his team spends monitoring the output, customer feedback, and impact. It’s around 50% compared to 20% in his prior roles.
I hope you enjoy this episode.
This podcast was recorded in November 2023.
* 8:55 – What the law firm of tomorrow looks like
* 12:50 – The value prop of a niche knowledge base
* 17:32 – The AI powering legal tech
* 24:29 – Your beginner’s mindset is the key to customer obsession
GAURAV: What are the use cases that you’re solving today that are extremely inefficient and that you believe the platform can significantly improve today and in the near term?
JULIEN: I think the main use cases that we help solve are within the drafting and reviewing of these complex and bespoke contracts. The type of contracts that require a lot of unique bespoke work and that’s separated into two processes. So first drafting and then reviewing.
And the way you can see it is that lawyers who work on those often look at precedent information to incorporate and complete that agreement. And that is a very inefficient, time-consuming process. So Henchmen at its core solves that particular case because we’re right into Word. Whenever you’re looking into a new clause and you want to access your precedent information, you can just fire up a search query. And by applying the right filters you can find exactly what you’re looking for.
Within the reviewing use cases, we help you navigate through your documents, finding alternative clauses to a clause that you have received from your counterparty, maybe helping you benchmark that to a standard that you have within your law firm that you’re typically using. So those are the two main use cases within drafting and reviewing that we help lawyers with day to day.
JORN: I think it’s interesting to add that you would think that efficiency would be the main benefit. Like we do regular surveys with our customers and we expect speed to be the number one benefit that they recognize, but it’s actually the access to knowledge that our customers see as the main benefit of Henchman.
It’s really unlocking that collective knowledge within the organization. And that’s what Henchman is today. What we’re really passionate about is that because we understand their database better than anyone else does in a way, we will be able to match what they’re working on currently in Word to similar contexts from the past.
So to give a very concrete example, imagine that you’re working on a transaction. We would then recognize your entire database, find similar transactions in the past, and then suggest clauses and definitions that come from these types of transactions. So it’s all coming together so nicely in a world where you won’t even need to input any search queries anymore.
JORN: Because we, [the co-founders,] have no legal background whatsoever, we were really forced to interact with our end users to understand the legal profession a lot better than we did. You could say it’s a weakness, but I really think it’s a strength that we have today. The main strength that any product owner can have is being obsessed with the use cases, and being obsessed with the end user.
As opposed to legal professionals starting a business like Henchmen, like I’m genuinely asking myself the question now in this conversation, like, would they do a better job? Would they build a better Henchman? And I’m not convinced they would be building a better Henchman because they would build Henchman from their own experiences. They would assume too many elements.
At the very beginning of Henchman, two things were super clear. First of all, legal professionals have very little time. And they’re not the most tech-savvy people out there. So when you’re building tech for legal professionals, you don’t have to build anything that they have to set up because you know, it’s going to be difficult to get it set up. It’s going to be difficult to get it sold. So from the beginning, we were obsessed with building something that is truly plug-and-play and has a very short time to value. That’s why at Henchman we’re super obsessed with our customers and understanding everything they do and why they do it.