The problem with trying to reconfigure complex legal documents is that they are so, well, legally complex. The language is confusing, highly specific, and has not changed in years or even decades. How hard could it be to simplify a number of documents like NDAs, consulting agreements, loan agreements, rental agreements, and sales agreements? Even with a bunch of brilliant legal minds, let me tell you, it was damn hard!
Mark Twain once wrote, "I didn't have the time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long letter instead." These are words that I live by. When I went to college, I was a lousy writer; the kind that gets his head handed to him in freshman English. My formative moment as a writer was during a sophomore English class at Wesleyan. The entire semester's grade was based on three papers, each two pages in length. We had an entire semester to perfect six pages. I cannot tell you how much time I took writing those three papers. I had to make every word count. I agonized over every comma. Looking back, the class helped me write more clearly by saying less.
Pulling together the initial documents for Shake was very much like writing those two page papers. In charge of this Herculean task was Vinay Jain. Vinay, a lawyer, start-up founder, and freelance journalist before attending law school, was one of our first and most important hires at Shake. The other half of our writing team was Jared, our resident legal expert and professor. At every meeting, we trimmed and trimmed. Simplicity was the mantra. But it was hard. And it wasn't just about cutting unnecessary words.
Paradoxically, we worried that people would not be comfortable with or take seriously agreements that were both short and easy to understand. We also took pains not to water down the legal strength of the agreements while we trimmed the unnecessary legalese. At Shake, we applied a key principle of the consumerization of enterprise: Keep all the features, but make the product or service better by making it simpler and more efficient. Sounds easy, but it's painful. Just like my sophomore college papers, every word was either deliberately kept--or discarded.
Like the Mark Twain quote, the process did take a long time, but the results were worth it. Our documents are written in plain English, legally binding, effective, and simple.
The market is there, the financing was complete, and the product is under way, but how do we continue user testing and learning as much as we can before we actually launch?