Agiloft CEO Eric Laughlin on Being an Early Pioneer in Customer-led Growth
Try to think of a pivotal milestone in life that doesn’t involve a contract: matriculating to college, getting married, landing a dream job, signing a big client. At any one time, there are trillions of contracts in circulation. Agiloft makes creating and managing all those contracts a lot easier. The global leader in agile contract lifecycle management (CLM) software, Agiloft allows organizations to create, share and edit all types of contracts – from legal and sales to procurement and HR.
Founded in 1991, Agiloft grew exponentially through bootstrapping and organic growth, becoming profitable early on. In 2020, FTV invested $45 million in the company, providing the company’s first outside capital. Today, Agiloft has over 800 customers including CDW, Doosan and Roche. With Agiloft, companies can ensure all their contracts stay up-to-date and compliant. That helps them increase efficiency, reduce IP risk and better serve their customers.
We recently sat down with Agiloft CEO Eric Laughlin to discuss why Agiloft embraced “no-code” and “product-led” long before those strategies became trendy. Here are some excerpts from our insightful conversation.
What problem did Agiloft’s founders set out to solve over 30 years ago, and has the company reached that goal?
Agiloft actually started out as a business process management (BPM) company, not a contract management business. Our founders Colin Earl and Bridget Conrad had a vision to make BPM software much easier to use. They saw that enterprise software was difficult to implement and, more often than not, left customers unsatisfied. So they built a no-code BPM platform – long before no-code was cool – and realized pretty quickly that many customers were using it to manage contracts. It was actually our customers who led us into the CLM sector. I guess you could say we were “platform-first, use case-second” or, in other words, early pioneers in product-led growth. We’ve always been customer-led since.
Colin and Bridget’s decision to build Agiloft as a no-code solution was prescient. Today, we have hundreds of customers using our platform to manage tens of millions of contracts. What they love about Agiloft is the flexibility – you don’t need any technical expertise to use it. Folks in HR, sales and marketing can create and manage contracts just as easily as anyone else.
FTV invested $45 million in Agiloft in July 2020, providing the company’s first outside capital. Since then, Agiloft has grown ARR more than 300 percent. What has driven this remarkable growth despite challenging market conditions?
We got to know the FTV team well before they invested, and their partnership has been foundational to Agiloft’s growth. We were looking for funds because Agiloft had been profitable for a long time, but we started to realize there were growth opportunities unavailable to us without raising outside capital. FTV really got to know not just our business, but also our people, culture and long-term goals.
The investment has proven more successful than we could have even imagined. Before FTV, we were a typical founder-led company. We got by with everyone wearing lots of hats. But now we’ve been able to invest in our people, organization and product. We have a real enterprise sales team, we’ve significantly boosted customer success, and we’ve invested heavily in our security team. This structure has enabled us to scale into new customer segments and compete with other big players in this market.
You joined Agiloft as CEO in 2020. What unique market potential did you see?
I started working with Agiloft about a year before I joined the company as CEO. I had served for many years at Thomson Reuters as a director of legal managed services, and then that business was bought by EY. While I was at EY, I created a system partnership with Agiloft – so I sat on the other side of the table and saw firsthand how revolutionary its CLM product was. When Colin and Bridget approached me about the CEO role, I jumped at the chance. Right after I joined Agiloft, the three of us began the search for a financial partner to fund our growth, which led us to FTV. For any founder who wants to bring in an outside CEO, I recommend looking in the easiest place first: people you know already.
What is one challenge you’ve faced as CEO in the last three years and how did you overcome it?
When I joined Agiloft, I saw a huge opportunity to serve large enterprise customers, in addition to the middle market, which is where the company had mostly been focused. I had myself overseen a large enterprise deployment of Agiloft at EY, so I knew the technology could scale. The product wasn’t holding us back; we just didn’t yet have the “grown-up” business structure necessary to serve enterprise customers with 100,000 employees. So we beefed up our finance, legal, sales, security and operational teams. Today, large enterprises are our fastest-growing customer segment. Scaling isn’t just about building a bigger and better product, but also about putting the processes in place to become a big company yourself.
One of Agiloft’s main differentiators is its no-code software that allows business users to create and manage contracts without involving legal or technical teams. Tell us a little more about how this product architecture works and why Agiloft went this route.
Our no-code platform is easy to use by design. On average, a quarter of employees in any company work regularly with contracts, so it’s important for them to be able to create complex contracts without coding knowledge. But what really sets our platform apart is that it’s flexible. When it comes to contracts, it’s obviously important to be agile because there are so many different steps to initiating, executing and monitoring contractual agreements. Our no-code platform allows users to change contracts easily with drag-and-drop functionality. Businesses are always evolving, and almost every change – a new customer, new hire or new partner – involves a new contract. With Agiloft, our customers can make flexible changes to their contracts at any time.
Everyone is talking about AI, but Agiloft has been using it for years to help companies import and understand thousands of contracts at once. Tell us a bit about the role AI plays in Agilofit’s business model and growth goals.
Contracts are largely made up of unstructured data, so we’ve been using AI for many years to spot patterns in that data. When a company creates a new contract, our AI automatically compares it to all the other contracts already in use at that company, looking for similarities and differences. Now, we’re using generative AI to help customers create contracts faster. They can type into our AI chat bot: “replace that standard third-party clause with our preferred clause,” and our AI will find their preferred clause and insert it. Our gen AI tool won’t and isn’t intended to put lawyers out of work, but it does a great job at the “first pass” of contract writing.
Agiloft has an usually high employee retention rate. What is one unique thing about your company culture that keeps employees coming back every day?
Our culture is the most important part of our business, and it’s allowed us to compete against deep-pocketed competitors. The number one word we use to describe our culture is “supportive.” We want our employees to feel empowered to be their full selves at work, and then bring that same supportive attitude to working with our customers.
And it seems to be working, because we have very little employee turnover and customer retention scores in the high 90s. Internally, we consistently have world-class net promoter scores and outstanding glassdoor ratings. I truly believe that the employee experience equals the customer experience, EX = CX. If our employees aren’t happy, our customers aren’t happy.
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