Tell us about yourselves Quentin and Alex.
Quentin - We are both entrepreneurs; I set up my own successful law firm in 2004, and Alex built the site for Ajuve following the development of the concept a few years ago. Additionally, Alex has a major role in another successful start-up, Crowdfund Campus, which has given him first-hand experience of taking an idea from concept to reality. That is invaluable.
You’re a father and son duo, what’s it like working together?
It’s excellent. We don’t tread on each other’s toes because we each have a distinct role in Ajuve. For example, while I am mainly responsible for the processes and conceptual structure, Alex as a developer has made the Ajuve website a reality.
Where did the idea for Ajuve come from?
My experiences as a lawyer have put me in no doubts that something had to be done about the out of touch world and formality of the court system, particularly for small claims. As a result, I had the idea of an entirely online platform that would mean that business people would be able to treat dispute resolution as a normal part of the business process. No dusty distant court rooms, just a few clicks of a mouse over a cappuccino.
How did you get the concept off the ground?
A lot of hard work and false starts! Initially, we put the idea to third party developers, but we were let down over funding and development delays. Eventually, we took it in-house and have funded its development and built the site without third party involvement. That was how we could ensure the site was quality controlled from the outset and vetted by Bargate Murray, my law firm, for compliance purposes.
The legal sector is notoriously “old school” and is not usually associated with the online service sector. Were you concerned that potential clients would question your legitimacy?
Trust and confidence is also lacking in small claims handling. I think there is evidence that the courts are interested in an online solution, but have not thought it through or done anything about it. We can be nimble and fill that gap.
Many people are daunted by the court process, how difficult was it to make the process as simple and understandable as possible, especially as it is online?
The court process is too complex for small businesses. Arcane procedures, cost and complexity can and should be swept away – as we have done. Ajuve has retained the essential features to ensure justice is done, but removed everything that gets in the way, causes delay and increases costs.
What is the biggest obstacle that you have overcome?
The biggest obstacle has been public acceptance and adoption. We are now at the point where such acceptance is accelerating, but we have to work hard even now to get across our message to more people. We need to inform and educate. Think of Ajuve like an inoculation – once you put Ajuve dispute resolution clauses in your contracts, you can forget about the problem and feel a tad smug that both you and your counter-party have protected yourself against the potentially huge expense and wasteful complexity of outdated court procedure, without sacrificing quality and enforceability. What’s not to like!
It must be immensely rewarding to know that you’re the first to ever do something, what advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs who might be scared to take the leap?
There are so many great ideas that never get developed that it makes me weep! If you are unsure what to do, there are plenty of helpful online resources, but remember, hard work and commitment are the most important investments you can make in your start-up. You do not have to be the first, be the best.
When you’re not settling disputes, how do you relax and unwind?
Quentin - I am also a photographer. In 2008, I wrote a book about another great start-up idea, the microstock photo libraries, which went on to be a best seller for Elsevier: “Microstock Photography: How to make Money from your Digital Images”, under a pen name, Douglas Freer. Great ideas like that excite me even if they can annoy those wedded to the old way of doing things. Can you detect a similarity?!
Do you have any plans to expand the business to cover other practice areas?
Yes, we have plans to expand Ajuve to cover mediation and other ideas too secret to mention! We want to develop Ajuve to become the leading dispute resolution platform which is accessible to anyone, from anywhere. We also have ambitions for overseas development, such that Ajuve becomes the Google of online dispute resolution globally.