Enda Leahy: ‘I got frustrated with the whole thing and decided I’d try fix it’

30 Sep 2019

From left: Sean Barton, head of dispute resolution and litigation at McCann Fitzgerald, and Enda Leahy, CEO of Courtsdesk. Image: Bryan Meade

We spoke to Courtsdesk co-founder Enda Leahy about how he moved from journalism to fintech, and the next goals his start-up plans to tackle.

Over the last two weeks, we have published a series of interviews with Irish founders who have participated in the Barclays Accelerator, run in collaboration with Techstars, which provides emerging fintech businesses with experience and support during a 13-week programme in London.

The first was UrbanFox’s Daniel Loftus, who spoke about the phenomenal quality of fintech companies coming out of Ireland. The second was Oathello’s Jennifer Hourihane, who talked about why there needs to be more support for entrepreneurs in Irish universities, because “not everyone is a Collison”.

Finally, we spoke to Courtsdesk co-founder Enda Leahy, who developed a platform that would collect publicly available data from the courts system and the Companies Registration Office, allowing users to easily search for information and documents. Initially designed with journalists and researchers in mind, he realised it could be a perfect fit for professionals working in financial services and insurances companies, too.

‘We found the problem exists pretty much everywhere’

“We’re trying to help people access previously unattainable court case information and make it useful and relevant, particularly for businesses and professional researchers,” Leahy explained.

“That could be news organisations – all of the national newspapers use us. Or it could be law firms. Most of the big law firms use us for case tracking and such, and then other bigger enterprises like banks would have lots of litigation and lots of reasons to be interested in what happens in the courts. It’s about trying to understand the courts, a source of information that has previously been opaque.”

Prior to co-founding Courtsdesk, Leahy was a senior news correspondent with The Sunday Times. As an investigative journalist, he became accustomed to using the various sources of information available. In his business now, he compares that work to corporate due diligence.

“Effectively, it comes down to being able to search authoritative information and always being perplexed that I couldn’t search the courts, despite how hugely important they are to society, to businesses and to the news agenda,” he said.

“So, I got frustrated with the whole thing and I decided I’d try and fix it.”

With his co-founder, Alan Larkin, Leahy found some early investors and managed to secure backing from Enterprise Ireland. When they built an earlier version of Courtsdesk in 2017, it immediately began to receive traction from a number of people who also encountered the same issues.

“We found that the problem exists pretty much everywhere outside of America. We’ll start in the UK, where we’ve had a huge amount of interest from law firms, news agencies, and so on.”

‘Get out of bed early and go to every meeting

So, when did Leahy realise that a service aimed at journalists and researchers could be of great benefit to the likes of major banks?

“To a certain extent, I understood that it affected financial services, but it came about because of some great mentors – particularly in Accenture and in Techstars.

“We did a very early incubator programme called the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab, and the reason we did a fintech incubator was because a guy called John Coolican [senior principal of innovation at Accenture] came along to one of my investor pitches and said, ‘You’ve got to be thinking about financial services here’.”

So Leahy and Coolican teased out a few ideas, and the Courtsdesk co-founder realised that his product was much more valuable to other industries than he had initially thought.

His said that his time spent in the Accenture Fintech Innovation Lab helped him immensely, much like his experience in the Barclays Techstars Accelerator.

‘We’ve found ourselves more into the data and integration services, so we’re working with big consultancies, helping them understand how data can help them’

Describing the Barclays Accelerator, Leahy said: “It hugely expanded our network, particularly in the UK and it really helped us drive much better clarity of what our value proposition was.

“If you look at the investors we have now, we have a ‘who’s who’ of really significant, important people in banking, financial services, legal services, insurance and so on. Most of that came about because of the Techstars Accelerator.”

With the accelerator, Leahy said that Courtsdesk went from being a “company with big aspirations, but a small product”, to being a “company with a huge, amazing team that really helped us get in the door and understand what we were doing much, much better”.

For anybody that’s considering entering the Barclays Techstars Accelerator at any point in the future, Leahy said: “Go in ready. Be ready to do some kind of transacting. If you go in too early, you’re going to find yourself hugely frustrated. You really need your product to be able to actually do something.

“After that, be really hungry. Go in and talk to everybody. Get out of bed early and go to every meeting. There’s a lot – we had something like 150 meetings in the first three weeks. They call it ‘mentor madness’ and it really is totally mad, but totally brilliant.”

Leahy said that every 20 minutes or so, he was jumping from meeting to meeting with people in government and people managing portfolios worth billions of dollars.

“The Google Calendar looked like some kind of bizarre post-modern art experiment with a rainbow cornucopia of the meetings. You couldn’t possibly follow it! You had to drill down into hours. Not even days or weeks, but hours! It was bonkers,” he joked.

‘We already have some leads’

The future plan for Courtsdesk is a UK launch, while developing a few new parts of the business. “We’ve got a couple of new data services. Short term, we have been selling access to a purpose-built search and tracking website service,” Leahy said.

“Now we’ve found ourselves more into the data and integration services. So we’re working with big consultancies, helping them understand how data can help them. That’s really in an Irish context.

“The medium term – and by that I mean next year Q1, Q2 – we’re launching into the UK with archives of case data we’ve been collecting and we already have leads with some very, very big companies over there, which is very exciting.”

On top of that, the company’s plans beyond 2020 touch on further expansion. “European countries next, I think! We’ve started talking to companies operating in the likes of Spain, Portugal and Italy,” Leahy added.

“We won an award last year, European Legal Start-up of the Year, which opened a lot of doors for us and really brought people to us. We’re looking forward to operating off the island of Ireland, looking increasingly into pure data products.”

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic