Oathello founder Jennifer Hourihane discusses the world of fintech and the latent potential for entrepreneurs in Dublin.
Jennifer Hourihane began her career in law, but quickly found herself leading a start-up called Oathello.
She founded the business in 2016, with the aim of removing what Hourihane calls “a lot of ancient relics that exist in the legal system”, which create bottlenecks and impede transactions. Now, it has developed into a platform to accelerate the process for the signing, execution and completion of documents online.
“I would have started my career surrounded by paperwork,” she tells Siliconrepublic.com. “That’s ever-decreasing for lawyers and hopefully for consumers at large by the time that our work and the work of many others in this space is done.”
Because Oathello was founded by an individual with a background in law, with an initial aim to make working in law a lot easier, you might be inclined to categorise it as a legaltech start-up.
However, Hourihane, who participated in the fintech cohort at the Barclays Accelerator in London, says she has an aversion to categorising her business as a either a legaltech or a fintech start-up because neither title fits the firm appropriately.
“To me [legaltech or fintech] companies are changing a system or attaching themselves to a system relating to the movement of money, debt or capital for important life or company events. That has always been my focus, anyway,” she explains.
“We had legaltech bandied around for a while. I find that classification a bit difficult. We view ourselves as a utility start-up. Paper is a utility and we have written an API that brings that utility to a more modern place and a more acceptable place.
“Finance is attractive to us. We have attached ourselves to that system, so to that extent we’re fintech. To the extent that we’re working with law firms, they can brand us legaltech.”
Our CEO @Jenhourihane sharing the Oathello journey at the @Barclays/@techstars Dublin open evening along with @endala of @courtsdesk and Daniel Loftus of Urban Fox. Great event with some old faces and new ?? @ChrisAdelsbach @martinlcass @PeteTownsendNV pic.twitter.com/pNA3gF7EM1
— Oathello (@oathello_law) September 19, 2019
Learning from other founders
After taking part in the Barclays Techstars Accelerator, Hourihane finds herself much more involved with financial services companies than she initially expected to be. Entering a fintech cohort in the accelerator programme, despite her unwillingness to pin a label on her start-up, has had benefits, she admits.
“The good thing about classifying companies in terms of what they’re playing around with, is that it creates a cohort effect.” This effect, which she experienced during the accelerator, put her in close quarters with a group of founding teams that she has learned from.
“The sharing of knowledge there is critical. It helps you avoid many, many dark holes that you’re at risk of falling into along the way, because there’s a lot of difficulty in making something out of nothing,” she adds.
“Regardless of all networking and funding in the world, talking to other founders that might just be coming up against the same battles is really powerful – although that sounds so cliché.”
‘Not everyone is a Collison, but there are a lot of talented people who have the ability to set up companies whether they’re venture-backed or not’
– JENNIFER HOURIHANE
Hourihane believes more people recognise that fintech doesn’t just mean payments anymore. Today, fintech companies and the likes of legaltech, proptech and insuretech can be one and the same.
“Fintech is ultimately all-encompassing and should not be ignored as a classification just because you think you’re in one vertical or the other.”
Latent potential in Dublin
According to Hourihane, working in those kind of cohorts, or any hub aimed at a particular array of start-ups, raises a lot of awareness about the various intersections between companies focusing on these tech areas.
“There’s a lot of latent potential in Dublin among some really talented people with huge deep domain expertise, who don’t necessarily know how to maximise that.
“Fintech hubs carve out a space for people to come in and realise their full potential. There are a lot of companies out there that don’t even realise that finance or insurance could be really important areas for them to focus on. They’re coming from innumerable other verticals, whether that’s property or, in my example, law. They don’t know what their full potential is yet.”
One way of tackling this issue would be for the Irish start-up scene to reach out to university students in the way that professional services firms do, according to Hourihane. This doesn’t just mean science and computing students, but students across all subjects.
“I think the Irish start-up scene is too focused on funding and not focused enough on the development of talent coming out of university. I think a lot of people are getting pigeonholed by the university system too soon, rather than exploring the possibility of building new products, for example.”
She adds that while universities do make an effort, there needs to be more focus on students studying law or similar subjects.
“Not everyone is a Collison, but there are a lot of talented people who have the ability to set up companies whether they’re venture-backed or not.”