I'm really impressed with John Suh, CEO of LegalZoom. For someone whose entire business was built on delivering quality legal advice, it was refreshing to hear him talk about the legal needs of your business as a necessary evil. I really enjoyed my interview with him:

Most entrepreneurs fall into the trap of falling in love with their product. But John Suh has most certainly fallen in love with his clients and recognizes what sound legal advice means to most entrepreneurs: a necessary evil that you must have in order to focus on the things you're most passionate about.

"As an entrepreneur, I think of accounting, taxes and legal as necessary evils," John Suh shares with a laugh. "Which is to say that I believe legal can be a strategic priority for specific businesses. So, for example, if you have intellectual property to protect, legal could be front and center of your strategy. So it can be a very strategic asset or resource for certain kinds of companies, largely related to intellectual property. For other types of businesses, we live in a world that is relatively civilized, highly regulated and with lots of laws in the US. And therefore, you need to know how to navigate through [these laws] and as an entrepreneur ... you've got to do these things."

Think In Terms of Minimizing the Pain and Delivering Consistent Quality
It's fair to say that John Suh didn't join LegalZoom because he loved the legal profession; quite the opposite. He uses the example of a root canal to explain his vision for what LegalZoom could be for most entrepreneurs.

"What if we could take this necessary evil and make it magical and effortless," he asked. "Just step back for a second. If you're going in for a root canal, and you're thinking 'Oh my God, this is going to be this painful thing and I just want to get it done as quickly as possible with as little pain as possible' and they said, 'Oh, actually here's a pill, take it and go away. We're done.' Now you've taken this anxiety opaque area with a low expectation experience and you say to yourself, 'Wow, I didn't know it could be that easy."

Having used LegalZoom myself, I can attest to what John Suh is describing. As an entrepreneur, you know you need legal services, but most of us have had an expensive hourly-based experience where you're not even sure just how high the legal bill will likely go. Now imagine having access to most everything you need from a legal service for a full year (including the ability to talk live to the appropriate lawyer) for less than the cost of what a typical lawyer would charge for an hour? That's what John Suh means by "taking the pill and going away." If you've never used LegalZoom, it's almost crazy how little they charge for as much value as they deliver. It's no wonder they have exploded onto the scene.

Taking Care of the Legal Basics So that Entrepreneurs Can Build
"You have to understand employment law," says John Suh." You have to understand liability. You've got to understand the basics so that [the law] doesn't get in the way of you building your product." And that's what's so refreshing. The perspective that legal isn't the end-all-be-all, but rather a basic building block of any business.

"What we want to do as entrepreneurs is to build," John Suh explains. "This stuff is stuff we know we need to do, so let's do it as efficiently, as quickly and as conveniently as possible, so we can get onto the things that drive us and help keep the passion going. I happen to think [legal] is a necessary evil as an entrepreneur." Unless you're into patents or are a lawyer yourself, most business owners are not thrilled to spend their time dealing with the legal requirements of the business. It's nice to know you have viable alternatives to increasingly high hourly fees.

Affordable Access to the Legal System Is an Entrepreneur's Fundamental Right
"Even though you've doubled the number of lawyers, access has diminished by 80X. What's happening? We believe access to the legal system ... is a fundamental right," says John Suh. "Without which, our economy and this democracy don't function as intended. And what we've shone a light on is that most middle class and 99% of small business owners have been frozen out of the legal system."

So what can you get from LegalZoom? "Let's make sure taxes work for you. Let's make sure you're in the best possible position to do what you want to do in life. Part of that is to eliminate the pain, and then focus on the healthy. And if you can do that in a way that's designed around the customer experience, deploying technology and great people, all of a sudden you can create something special. And that's what we aspire to."

And Yet, Affordability Was the Happy Outcome of LegalZoom's Primary Objective
"When you can leverage scale in a highly specialized area, with a lot of volume, you can now leverage technology to create consistency of quality. For us, the primary application of technology is the consistency of quality," John Suh explains. "The fact that it reduces cost, or makes it a more convenient or effortless experience is actually secondary to the consistency of quality. We want to make sure you have the right document for your particular situation."

Version 1.0 to 3.0: From Online Document Factory to On-Demand Legal Access
LegalZoom has reinvented itself three times in order to serve the needs of its customers. "In chapter one of LegalZoom, we were largely an online document factory," John Suh explains. In this first iteration, LegalZoom was advocating that if you had a great lawyer, you should use that lawyer. But if you didn't have a lawyer or couldn't afford one, then rather than go unprotected, you could get the online documents you needed via LegalZoom.

In building the first iteration of their business, LegalZoom discovered that their customers didn't really want to take on the legal process themselves. As John Suh explains it, "What I really wanted was a flat fee, paid by a credit card with a guaranteed delivery time from someone that I trusted." While the first iteration was good for most people, how would you even know if you needed something more than the online document factory?

"So in chapter two of the business, we added lawyers," John Suh explains. "And now when you get your document, you can ... consult with a lawyer to make sure this is the right document for your needs and if there is any additional customization based on your particular needs." Version 2.0 of LegalZoom combined the online document factory with access to lawyers (by state) that would allow you to consult to ensure you had what you needed. In essence, LegalZoom had combined the best of both worlds and moved from a transaction business to a subscription model - remaining at an incredibly affordable price.

And finally, in the third iteration, LegalZoom reimagined their entire business by incorporating a lawyer from day one. So rather than starting with the "do-it-yourself" model where you guess which document you need and then ask a lawyer if you did it right, in version 3.0, you consult with a lawyer up front to ensure you get what you need from the start.

"In chapter 3, it's about creating technology-enabled lawyers dedicated to your needs," he says. "So now we're in a much deeper partnership with our customers. Because once I understand your family or your business, I can give you much better advice."

Fall In Love With Your Customers - Not Your Products!
If you're not already using LegalZoom, you owe it to yourself to check them out. Moreover, if you take one thing away from this article, it's that successful companies fall in love with their customers (and the needs of their customers); they don't fall in love with their own products. Make sure that you are as in tune with the needs of your customers as John Suh is with the needs of his customers. That's why LegalZoom has been around for the past 15 years and is still reinventing itself - now for the third time.

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Published on: Nov 28, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.