Brad Burrow: Hello, thanks for joining us on the In A World with Real Media Podcast. I’m here with Jeff Dreiling and Eric Kelting of Complete Legal. They’ve been in the legal industry since the early 2000s and they launched Complete Legal in 2014 with the mission of serving small and medium sized firms. They launched with two people in a small office and have grown to 25 employees, many from the legal industry, who are committed to serving their clients. Guys, we’ve been working together for a while now. I remember back in the day when … what was the company called back then? I don’t know, maybe don’t want to mention it.
Jeff Dreiling: No, no, it’s the [crosstalk 00:00:35] I refer to it, yeah.
Brad Burrow: I remember those days, and we were as a company really getting into litigation support from a video and animation standpoint. So really and that all came from one client that was doing a lot of IP work in Chicago Bay Connect at the time. Then the guys, like everybody in the legal industry leave and go start their own thing and go a whole different direction. Now we were out of the IP Litigation Support business. Is that how it goes? Is that the way it is with you guys? People just move around all the time?
Jeff Dreiling: We have a joke in we can never count on a project literally until we have a signed agreement, issue the bill and receive the check. Because so much changes and attorneys will leave when things are sure deals, and you’re sitting there built up for something huge, and the letdown is immense. It happens all the time in legal because things outside of your control dictate your success even though you’ve done everything right, the case settles. It goes away.
Brad Burrow: It’s so true, and how do you as a business owner, you can’t even plan for that really.
Eric Kelting: It’s difficult, I used to think it was our industry, very young, immature industry and incestuous industry, but it actually we follow the attorneys and that’s a very old professional yet attorneys are very transit by nature. I had a Litigation Support Manager of a large Kansas City firm tell me one time that she didn’t work for a 450 person law firm, she worked for 450 solo practitioners all under the same roof. Yeah, attorneys are very, you know, they’ve got their practice group, their support team, their clients, and they tend to move around quite a bit and start their own law firms, that kind of thing. Our industry seems to follow suit.
Brad Burrow: Which is why it’s so hard to sell to them too, isn’t it? You can’t just sell to one big firm, now you’re selling to each individual attorney.
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, and not only that, but you have, in large part, even the non-attorneys working in the law firm, let’s say, paralegals, they’ve got, in most cases, a four-year college degree. Plus, if they didn’t know they wanted to be a paralegal when they were 18, they’ve gone back and gotten a two-year certificate. We’re dealing largely with a client base or a prospect base that has got post-secondary degrees, and so they’re educated and they’re probably as a group, the most skeptical people in this country. Because they see all the things that go wrong, and so when you’re walking in as a salesperson, you’re not starting at zero, you’re starting at -10. You have to be willing to and go through the effort of building a relationship of trust, which sometimes can take years just to get to zero for the right for them to listen to buy your product or your service in our case.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, it’s so challenging.
Jeff Dreiling: It is, but glass half full side of that is, is that there’s opportunities for a couple of guys like Eric and I to be in this industry and to do amazingly fun things that we never thought were possible. Because a big multinational corporation can’t just come in and create it better than we do. If they could, they would. But because it is so much hand to hand combat, because it is so much customization, it’s a crack in the sidewalk that allows people that are willing to risk at all and work and do whatever it takes to actually be successful and not come from any prestigious university. Eric and I are both from the University of Kansas, it’s a great school, but when you see that on a resume, it’s not going to get the attention of Wall Street, right?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: But in this industry, it doesn’t matter, it’s are you willing to do the work? Can you give of yourself and be transparent to the customers both personally and professionally? So that the congruence of the image they have of you works so that they can trust you. That’s the reason I love it is the reason most people that are smarter than me and have more money than me would never even think about doing it, right?
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s interesting. This is a podcast about storytelling, that’s what we like to talk about here at Real Media. How does that story resonate with the people that you’re trying to talk to? Do they respond positively to that?
Eric Kelting: Yes and no. Yeah, I did a lot in the early days, in the early years of Complete Legal. Complete Legal starts because Jeff and I were in this industry for a number of years, we worked for regional and national companies and constant mergers, acquisitions. We changed name several times, rotating door of CEOs, and just got very-
Brad Burrow: It had to be frustrating, yeah.
Eric Kelting: It was extremely frustrating, and I think that’s when we crossed paths with you and I think we’ve realized towards the end how little control we had over our own destiny, even though we felt like we were making a huge impact here in Kansas City. And we had a client base that loved us and we felt like we had a lot of control here, but we really didn’t. Complete Legal starts because we get burn up, burnout, chewed up, and leave and are sitting around lunch one day talking about can we still make money with this type of business, starting at this time?
Brad Burrow: Questioning everything?
Eric Kelting: Yeah, we’re like, “Well, yeah, if you did it our way.” We just we saw a need here in Kansas City for that small to mid sized law firm that needed support, that needed a number of services that companies like us as they were getting bigger and bigger and bigger and where private equity was saturating our market. Had no interest in servicing that segment, and so Complete Legal starts as that hometown company in our story and being local and having roots here and having our client base here was really important to our clients. I think as we’ve grown, we’ve had to mature away from that a little bit. But that story still resonates with our local clients a lot.
Brad Burrow: Attorneys like the fact that you’re a local firm that’s building up and would you agree with that?
Jeff Dreiling: They do, but it’s also one of the biggest obstacles that we have to overcome and-
Brad Burrow: Greatest strength and the greatest obstacle at the same time.
Jeff Dreiling: It is, they’re intrigued by it and it’s almost like when we first started our business, we didn’t do a ton of research because it’s the industry we lived in and grew up in. But we did go back to some of the larger clients that we thought we had some of the best relationships with and said, “Hey, Eric and I are thinking about getting the band back together and doing this right. What do you think about that?” He was like, “Oh, that’d be great. Whatever we can do to help just let us know.” We went into it even more naive than normal, and when we started it was like, “All right, we’re open.” We called those same people back and they’re like, “Hey, good for you, we’ll be rooting for you.” It was like, “Well, wait, that’s …”
Brad Burrow:</u You were supposed to be sending some business our way, yeah?
Jeff Dreiling: I think it was that early in our careers that we were like, “Okay, we just took a pretty big jump on a bunch of assumptions and assuming positive answers to questions that we are probably too afraid to ask.” Because at that point, we were going to do it no matter what, we’re just trying to justify the reason.
Brad Burrow: A typical entrepreneurial move back there.
Eric Kelting: When you’re big enough to support our needs, give us a call.
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: It hurt but it was great because it very quickly set the tone for Eric and I of like, “Hey, if we thought this was going to be easy and we thought that the rules of business didn’t apply to us, we got slapped really hard, really, really early,” and saying, “Hey, what you did 10 years ago or yesterday does not matter. These same people that trusted us with their professional lives are going to have to learn to trust us again with this new company because it’s different.” And it was, and I think that was hard but it was great for us early on. Again, we had to reprove ourselves.
Brad Burrow: Have you guys found that this starts like a train, it’s real hard to get it going and slowly it starts moving, but pretty soon it picks up momentum. Then once you get it going, you can’t stop it. Is that what’s happening with you guys as well?
Eric Kelting: Yeah, I’d say [crosstalk 00:09:15]-
Jeff Dreiling: There are some big signs, yeah.
Eric Kelting: Yeah, there have been times where it’s been just like that, and sometimes that train starts to slow down again. Now-
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s true.
Eric Kelting: We’re coming into it, we’re about four and a half coming into five years old, and so, yeah, we have definitely lived that. I’d say the first two, three years just-
Brad Burrow: Hard getting it going, isn’t it?
Eric Kelting: Well, but then once it got going it was out of control and it was hard to manage the growth. Looking back it was that was really hard to do.
Brad Burrow: You’re trying to pull the reins in a little bit?
Eric Kelting: A little bit at times just because we were getting too big too fast, and those are good problems to have, and we would ask our buddies or mentors or people that we trust, and then we would say, “Well, these are our problems, we are growing too big, too fast.” We get a lot of people looking back at us going, “That’s not a problem, That’s a great problem.”
Brad Burrow: It sure sounds like a great problem but maybe not so much when you’re actually running the business.
Jeff Dreiling: Well, that’s the thing is that it is the excitement from zero to how we’re going to do this is, it’s awesome, it’s like a drug. When you’re in the middle of that, you’re just trying to survive. When you’re in survival mode, at least for me personally, it’s hard for me to slow down and think about being thoughtful with decisions on hiring and spending.
Eric Kelting: Strategic, yeah, a lot of gut decisions when we stop … Well, yeah, in the early days-
Brad Burrow: No more gut decisions, that’s all.
Eric Kelting: In the early days, we made a lot of gut decisions and that was easy. We always say that it’s a small ship, if it crashes, no big deal, no one notices. But as the ship got bigger and bigger-
Brad Burrow: It can’t crash.
Eric Kelting: … and harder to turn and more eyes were on it and then I think we went through a period where gut decisions were not the way to run the business and it was the only way we had been running the business. We went through a phase where we had to grow up quickly, or start to get the company to grow up quickly.
Jeff Dreiling: You said went, that was like past tense, right?
Brad Burrow: We need some counseling guys.
Jeff Dreiling: We could, I work harder on my relationship with Eric than any romantic relationship I’ve ever had, I can promise you that. But it’s true because we are on that roller coaster together, and people that know Eric and I are usually amazed at the fact that we can be as close friends as we are and business partners and not fake it. The reason is, is because we fight like brothers, but we support each other like family. It’s that simple and in a lot of times when we tell people that, they think automatically like, “Oh, I got it, you guys are smart.” Well, no, no, that’s the truth. There’s no that wasn’t a line, that’s not a throwaway, like deflection of a compliment, I’ll take all the compliments. That’s the truth is that as we grow and challenge each other, that’s how we’re able to get out of the … handle the growth mode, our guts checked off each other, and luckily, made enough right decisions to keep us in business. Then, quite frankly, our trust in each other allowed us to say we’re doing this wrong, we have to change, and that’s-
Brad Burrow: And being willing to listen to that?
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, Eric’s one of the very few people in this world that I will listen to when he gives me bad news, because most people when they give me bad news, I’m like, “Look, I don’t want to hear you complain.” I could sit here and think of problems for the next three years straight and mention them to you one at a time. Anybody can do that, that’s easy. It’s like how do you see past that and see a way around and then believe in it so much that you can motivate others to follow you. That’s what Eric and I do for each other in different areas of the business, but that at the end of the day, as long as we have that, I feel we could overcome anything and we regularly try and test that.
Brad Burrow: As a small business owner, like all of us are, it’s adversity is really what drives you to become better, right? I can think of the same thing with our company, there are a lot of competition for what we do, so I’ve had to redefine our business model over 20 years and maybe four or five times. It’s every time that I do that the business seems to grow a little bit more. It’s like you would never choose to go through some of the things that you go through, but if you look back it’s like, “Wow, I needed to go through that so I could do this.”
Eric Kelting: Has it gotten easier over those 20? You said you had to pivot four or five times?
Brad Burrow: I don’t think it’s ever gotten easier.
Eric Kelting: See, yeah, that’s hard to figure that out. Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, it doesn’t get easy, Brad, but what I think I’ve learned is that it gets less scary and-
Brad Burrow: Because of your experience of going through it over and over and over.
Jeff Dreiling: And just knowing that the team that you have around you, like as humans, we do not crave change, we crave consistency. But for us four and a half years into this business, we’ve probably torn it down and scaled it and had to rebuild everything we do from the ground up internally at least three times in four and a half years. Each one of those was for a different need or reason, but each time it gets less scary, but it seems to be a little bit more work.
Brad Burrow: I see, and do you feel like your growth potential is better each time that you do that?
Jeff Dreiling: Yes.
Brad Burrow: So it’s worthwhile?
Jeff Dreiling: That’s the whole point, it’s not just growth potential. For us, we look at growth potential not just as revenue and profit, which obviously that’s what you’re in business to make sure there’s enough revenue to create a profit so you can keep doing what you’re doing at the minimum. For us, it’s the people because we are 100% service business. Anybody that listens to this podcast or that gets an inclination can start a business competing against us tomorrow. Most of our revenue is transactional, there’s not contracts, we’re as good as you think we are today. Yesterday doesn’t matter.
Brad Burrow: Every month your-
Jeff Dreiling: Every month we started, you know, we have some recurring revenue but it’s not contractual, so we could theoretically start at zero every month.
Eric Kelting: And at the mercy of litigation cycles and lawsuits that we have no control over if they … A case can go away immediately. Now I try to describe this industry to other people, I was compared to a copier salesman, you sell copiers and you don’t get the contract at hallmark, you come back in three years when their contract’s up and you try and resell it again. In our space, you’re selling to a law firm, to an attorney, whatever it is, but then you’re really you’re tracking a case. If that case settles or the defendant pleas, the case is gone immediately. The need for our service is gone, and it’s not coming back until that attorney has another case for a need with our services. Yeah, in a moment’s notice, our need can be gone.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, it’s a little scary.
Jeff Dreiling: It is, and that is one of the things that creates the opportunity, is that it’s not a safe, it’s an industry that most people don’t even understand or know that it exists. But for us, because that barrier to access was literally you can open a business tomorrow and say, “This is what we do.” We were able to do this and probably the most important part of Complete Legal other than the obvious things than the employees and the customers in that order, is the fact that we believe in upward mobility for all of our employees. Literally, every interview that Eric and I sat in from day one through today, we’re thinking what is this person’s next step? Where could they go? Now we know what job we’re hiring him for, but if we can’t project with some experience and with some coaching and with some maturing in the industry and in life, if we can’t project their next level, we will not hire them. Because that’s how we die, that’s how we stagnate, and that’s how we lose really good employees is by not only creating those opportunities, but pushing them to get-
Brad Burrow: Challenging them, yes.
Jeff Dreiling: Yes.
Brad Burrow: One of the questions that I had for you guys is do you find yourself in situations where an attorney will hire you guys and you know way more about their job than they do? I know you’ve got to walk on eggshells talking about this, but I would imagine that you’re in situations where you’re teaching an attorney how to do their job at some level.
Eric Kelting: Well, we try to tell folks and tell our attorney clients is that we know technology really well and we know the sliver of where we exist in the litigation process and doc review, forensics and things like that. We know that really well, we don’t know the law, we don’t know the area of expertise or subject matter that the attorney’s practicing. No, that’s actually one of the, I think, the great things of working in legal is that you’ve got so many areas of expertise. You’ve got, as Jeff described earlier, you got some very intelligent, educated people. It’s a really good, it’s really a fun group to work with. But we know our piece really well, so it’s not that we know more about the lawsuit or something, but we know our thing, we’re subject matter experts in our piece. A good lawyer and our good clients aren’t intimidated by that.
Jeff Dreiling: No, it’s an expectation now with the clients that we’ve been working for, for let’s say, a year or two years. At some point, it stops being like are these guys for real to wow, that went really good, that felt good to the expectation. Then all of this is unsaid, which is what makes it difficult. But at some point that expectation switches from that to, “Hey, where were you on that one?” The question wasn’t asked, “Am I making mistake?” By our client, but their expectation is we’re going to keep them from making mistakes without being told. We truly have to view ourselves as part of this case team. Not part of this firm, not part of the practice, but on this case, we got [crosstalk 00:19:20] we have to establish ourselves as equals because if we don’t, then we can’t do what they’re paying us to do.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Do you guys study things? One of the things that I do, I talk about this lot when I’m pitching a project to somebody, is things like movement, help our brains retain messages differently when we see movement. That’s an argument for motion graphics and things like that. Do you guys get into the things that are happening in a juror’s mind when certain things they see or react to or anything like that as a way for your attorneys to say, “Okay, this graphic is going to have more impact when these things fly in or whatever?” Do you get that?
Eric Kelting: Yeah, we’re starting to, so with the addition of trial support, trial services and trial graphics, about year, year and a half ago, we started to enter that arena. In that with the storytelling at the end of the case, most of what we have done historically in our industry is at the front end of the case. With adding trial support, it’s coming at the end of the case, and where most folks walking around assume that’s where lawsuits happen is in the courtroom. Because we all watch TV and it’s really cool and a lot of fireworks. We are starting to have those discussions and we’re starting to provide the support and services there around enhancing exhibits, enhancing evidence, telling a story, using graphics, using animation and PowerPoints, using different things to make a complicated subject simplified for a jury. Even most recently, we did it for a bench trial, so just for the judge.
Eric Kelting: It was a complicated subject matter, it was a boring subject matter for most of us, and we did a lot of graphic support to try and tell the story of the corporate defendant in this case. Then you’ve got an influx of you’ve got more and more millennials on juries, and so the demographic of a jury is changing. The younger the juror gets, the more important those things become. Because that generation’s very used to digesting information that way.
Brad Burrow: Completely different.
Eric Kelting: It’s a game changer.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, we worked on Sprint vs. Vonage, which was a big, big SHB, and they won a huge settlement that we did all the trial graphics for that deal. It was taking packets of data and explaining it visually so that a juror can understand what happens when the packets go through the internet. There was IP being breached because of that, and we had to literally break it down to a level where an eighth grade, somebody at the level of eighth grade could understand what was happening with voice over IP. I wonder with you guys, if it’s the same thing? Is we’ve got to know how to communicate that to somebody at that grade level.
Jeff Dreiling: It’s the exact same thing and it is not just in the trial process or in our trial support team, but that’s how we sell. Is that we have to educate our customers as to what they are facing and what the upside is and what the downside is and how we can help achieve that upside. The only way that I know how to do that is through storytelling, which is really a sneaky way during the sales process of educating somebody that thinks they know it already, right?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: That’s it. Not only do we have to educate highly successful, financially highly intelligent, highly educated people, but we have to educate them without them feeling like we’re teaching them. Because, in most cases, their natural position is that what is this guy going to tell me that I don’t already know? By using examples and stories and talking about it, that’s probably the biggest tool in my personal toolbox from the sales or consulting standpoint.
Brad Burrow: I feel like you’re the Yoda of legal support.
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, very much so except for much more long winded, yeah.
Brad Burrow: One of the things I wanted to get into-
Eric Kelting: I’m trying to figure out how I can turn it into an insult though you stamped me.
Brad Burrow: That just came to me, sorry guys, I apologize for that.
Jeff Dreiling: It’s all right, Star Wars references are always appreciated.
Brad Burrow: Should I do the …
Eric Kelting: There we go, so the rim shot might have been good there.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, bada bing. One of the things that we’re starting to get into as a company is VR, so we’re using gaming engines now to … I’m really interesting to get your guys feedback on this because it gets to be cool talk about on the podcast. But where we can use gaming engine, so let’s say we set up a train hitting a car at a crossing, well, we can now animate that whole thing but live in front of a jury move the camera angle. Now you can see it happen from the engineers point of view and you could move it now you see it from above or over here. Do you guys see, like from a technology standpoint, your industry moving that way or using more tools like that to really impact the jury I guess you could say?
Eric Kelting: I think it’s, I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve read anything on VR and legal, so I’m probably a little dated. But I know that there’s I think that VR has been introduced in Japanese courts as evidence.
Brad Burrow: Oh, really?
Eric Kelting: I don’t think it’s made its way to the US yet in a courtroom, it’s probably been used in mediations or arbitrations, or I think it’s been dabbled.
Brad Burrow: Is it too subjective or something like that? I know there are certain terms that the attorneys use and say we can’t use that.
Jeff Dreiling: There might be a reason like that, but in order for a new technology to make it to a courtroom, it’s got to survive a case that to get to trial, you’re talking three to 10 years. It has to be a case worth enough to invest that kind of money because virtual reality in a jury trial and the federal court system is not going to be cheap. You’re going to have to educate the judge, let the judge understand, “Okay, this is okay, let’s let this happen.” And that it depends on how vehemently the opposing counsel would disagree to it because if I’m opposing counsel and someone wants to-
Brad Burrow: You’re not going to want that.
Jeff Dreiling: … use something that hasn’t been used, there’s no precedent to use it and it’s going to destroy my client. Well, I’m going to do everything I can to keep it out, that’s my job. So technology and legal is amazingly behind just about every other industry I can think of. There’s guys walking around as a superintendent on a construction site utilizing technology 10X more than your average litigation attorney. Let that sink in for a second, and it’s not because they don’t care, it’s not because they’re not smart enough to see the benefit, it’s because the legal system is set up to be slow on purpose. The legal system is set up to adapt slower than the rest of our society on purpose, and that’s really good in some areas. That’s a good thing because we don’t get sold a bill of goods in the legal industry, and then let laws and people’s lives be affected by it generally, right?
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: But it’s really bad because of that same system that litigates and actually reinforces or creates some rules and laws around the country through the judges is also not anywhere close to being set up to adapt to today’s just lightning innovation and disruptive technology being released. Where? Oh, by the way, a lot of the facts for the lawsuits reside and it used to be where you could just open up a file drawer and pull out your Williams file, and then that goes to your attorney. They review it, they produce the opposing counsel, whatever’s relevant in this case, and that’s discovery. Now it’s like, “Okay, when we introduced emails about 13 years ago, officially, okay?” How long has email been around? In 2005 was the first time the federal court system acknowledged that electronic data or electronically stored information aka emails and Word docs are a part of today’s world, therefore, have to be considered in this process.
Jeff Dreiling: Before then you had to argue that you needed emails. In 2004, you could be making this argument and somebody could say, “Well, it doesn’t say you’re entitled to it, so I’m not going to allow that.” We’ve come so far since then to where now the questions are, “Hey, how do I get the information off my refrigerator to prove I was at home at 11:00 last night?” The Internet of Things, as it’s known, is your car knows what song you were listening to, at what volume, at what speed when the accident occurred, and if your phone was being used or not because it’s connected as well. There’s so much information that should theoretically make lawsuits and criminal prosecutions so much more black and white, but until the court system can catch up with the technology of today, it can’t be maximized for good or for bad.
Jeff Dreiling: But on top of that, there’s now people don’t even email inside offices anymore, they use tools like Slack, and project management tools where you can communicate within the tool. That’s cool for all of us from a business standpoint, but from a litigation standpoint and from an e-discovery standpoint, that is amazingly complex. Because we not only do we have to figure out how to get this data out of Slack and present it in a way that we’re used to seeing it, which would be linear, and most of these things don’t exist in linearly and web-based applications. But we also have to figure out how to subpoena it from Slack, they all have different rules of what they’ll produce and what they won’t. You have to figure out how to integrate it, and then you have to figure out in a lot of cases how to get a judge or a Special Master, if it’s a really important argument, to say, “Yes, this is the same as email, it’s electronically stored information, bring it in, and let’s do it.”
Brad Burrow: What’s the average age of a judge these days? Probably 60, 70 years old, probably?
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah.
Brad Burrow: I don’t know, I’m guessing but-
Jeff Dreiling: Greater than that, greater than those primarily using emerging technologies.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, and so they’re going to say, “What? I’m not going to use that, right?”
Eric Kelting: Yeah, and it’s why I think it’s one of the issues that legal’s going to be … the legal industry is facing and that is, yeah, judges are 60s and 70s, and the senior partners and men and women with their name on the door, if you will, they’re in their 50s or 60s. You’ve got an industry that’s still very much controlled by an older generation that hasn’t had to … didn’t grow up with and really hasn’t had to embrace some of the technology that’s out there.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. I’m going to wrap up here pretty quickly. Tell me what you guys have going for the future? What are some of them and what you feel comfortable with talking about, I guess? We don’t want to have to be killed because we said something to the podcast but-
Eric Kelting: Yeah, can we get a whiteboard in here first, I’m a very visual person.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, I gotcha. Yeah, I’m really interested to hear what your thoughts are?
Jeff Dreiling: It’s a great time to ask that question because Eric and I always ask each other that question, and usually it’s, “I’m not sure, but let’s keep working on it.” I think that through that process, again I’ve got to the point completely go right now is other than my children, the thing in my life that I’m the most proud of that I’ve ever done … I think Eric can probably say somewhere in his top five that would hit two.
Eric Kelting: Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: We’re going through that process now of having a great company that we’re proud of is awesome, but now it’s how do we open that up to more customers and more clients? That’s not some fancy way of saying we need to sell more, what I’m saying is, is how do we keep the culture and the DNA of what we have and what our team has created with us, and how do we scale that? How do we scale that without losing the identity that got us to where we’re at? You’ll probably know this, you’ve been in business a lot longer than us, but the banking system isn’t set up for people like us. We are owner operators-
Brad Burrow: There’s another podcast we can-
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, but for us as an owner operated company that is self-funded, Eric and I own the whole company, which is great when you think about it and then when you actually live it, it’s like, “Okay, banks don’t really like service based businesses that really have no appreciable assets other than people and what’s in their heads.” Every new technology that comes along dictates training software and people to handle that, so that takes money. We have to outlay the money first and get really, really good at it before we ever sell it. That is becoming a challenge to our growth, and when we stop growing, our employees lose the opportunity for growth. Our job as the owners of this business and the leaders of this business is to figure out how to continue the growth without losing our identity, or we will start to lose our people. If we start to lose our people, none of anything that we talked about matters.
Eric Kelting: Yeah, a lot of what got us started, and not just being local, but really just putting clients first and customizing solutions and listening to their problems, and solving their problems. That isn’t a Kansas City only narrative, and that story has resonated. We have started to do business outside of Kansas City across the region, and even across coast to coast. You know this, you’ve been doing this a lot longer, growth for growth’s sake is bad, but growing, healthy growth is good. So trying to figure out what that looks like, where do we go next? What makes sense? What creates opportunities for our employees? What makes the company stronger? Which is good for our employees was also good for our clients, and how do we harness that and do that correctly and not just based off gut.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, it’s tricky. Well, and you can grow yourself into bankruptcy.
Jeff Dreiling: Oh, yeah.
Brad Burrow: If you’re not careful, you can get in a situation where now you’ve got this big nut that you got to cover because you’re trying to cover the growth and your core business isn’t just went …
Jeff Dreiling: Well, it’s like any business owner can tell you, it’s you’re not a true entrepreneur until you throw an Amex card down for payroll. Although, our payroll company does not-
Brad Burrow: Gosh, you gave me a heartburn man.
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, our payroll company does not accept Amex but the first year-
Eric Kelting: But if they did?
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, a lot of points there.
Eric Kelting: Yeah, no kidding [crosstalk 00:34:19]-
Brad Burrow: Hire more people.
Jeff Dreiling: The first year we were in business, it was not uncommon once every two weeks for Eric to be like, “Hey, we’re a little bit short on payroll, get your checkbook out, I need 850 bucks,” and that’s how we funded ourselves for growth. Well, good and bad, we can’t do that now, so that’s part of the grow up process. It’s not just about our company and what we want, it’s there’s real lives affected by our decision. You get real serious real fast when you’re looking at people that have children and husbands and wives to take care of it depend on us not to make dumb decisions. It puts a little bit of more focus on being strategic for me, which is something that I don’t come to naturally.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, but it’s great. It’s you guys have grown a lot through that whole process, it’s awesome being able to take care of other people. That’s one of the things I like, even though, we’re small but still there’s families that are counting on what you’re doing. It keeps, it’s that little edge, it keeps you focused on what you need to be doing, would you guys agree?
Eric Kelting: Well, I was going to say I’m sure you’re the same way, your company’s the same way. The folks that we have that are part of the Complete Legal team could go get jobs anywhere. They’re an amazing group of people that are extremely talented. Heck, they could probably make a lot more money in other places, but they’re Complete Legal because they believe in what we’re doing, they believe in the vision of the company, they believe that they’re making a difference. It’s not just a job to them and they’re not just an employee to us, they’re a member of our team, they’re a member of our family, and I’m sure your team here is the same way. You’ve probably got folks that have been here for all 20 of those years. It definitely it does keep you up at night sometimes because that matters a lot more than just an employee. It’s because it’s not just a job. When you’re working for a small-
Brad Burrow: Sleep, we don’t need sleep, right?
Eric Kelting: Yeah, right.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, wake up in the middle, yeah. That’ll be another podcast-
Jeff Dreiling: Another podcast.
Brad Burrow: … we got two more podcasts that we need to do I guess.
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, I honestly think that everyone always gives you advice on the things that matter, but don’t like, “Hey, you need to get your stuff in line, make sure you have an org chart, make sure you do this.” The real advice and what I found myself seeking out new mentors to try and deal with, and having a hard time with in general is how do you deal with the stress that you’re carrying around? Because I’m having a problem with it right now, and to get people to open up and say, “Yeah, you know what, I was stressed out and here’s the steps I took.” Because to be successful either you have to be super, super, super smart, really, really, really dumb, that’s easy if you’re one of those. Unfortunately, Eric and I are somewhere in between and so we get ourselves in situations where we don’t realize what we’ve created, and then we have to deal with it.
Jeff Dreiling: That’s where you lose your sleep and that’s where really an open mentor that can talk about that situation maybe a little bit different but not what they did to get out of it, the feeling they had when they’re in it, and how they worked out of it is the hardest thing to find and the most valuable thing that I look for.
Brad Burrow: I think that’s what makes us different as entrepreneurs, though, is when those things happen and we struggle with it. We fight with it and we go through this process, but out of that comes something that, hopefully, is going to make us better either personally or our businesses better. I can totally relate to that where I’ve had issues I’ve just struggled with for months at a time, and then finally got to the point where why am I struggling with this? Or I’ve figured out something. The whole stream stage concept that we have came from something just like that second. I have got to figure out how I’m going to compete, and every night going to bed going, “Oh, crap. No, I’m fine, honey.”
Eric Kelting: You’re not just competing with competitors, you’re competing with iPhones and YouTube and access to equipment and-
Brad Burrow: Right, then one day, “Ding, let’s do this.” And then that process took a couple years but, yeah, it’s what drives the innovations, the pain in the side that drives you to change.
Jeff Dreiling: I think that one of my friends told me this one time and I didn’t appreciate it at the moment, but it’s like society and a lot of people will tell you that learn to be happy or set your goals, reach them and then enjoy where you’re at. Learn to be content, and I would say that for 15 years I was like, “Okay, there’s something wrong with me.” Like literally I was convinced-
Brad Burrow: Because you’re never content, right?
Jeff Dreiling: … I’m like, “What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just … I have a great thing right now. It’s not perfect, but nothing’s perfect. Why can I just say this is good enough?” To the point where I almost drove myself insane, and now what I realized is that I’m so happy that I’m stubborn and didn’t accept that because I will never be content, or it will never be enough. We’re not talking about money, we’re talking about growth, success, fun, challenge, all the stuff that we’re complaining about that we love. The key is, is never stopping the growth but learning how to be content along the way. I’ve never heard anybody else say that before, and I didn’t appreciate it at the time but every day now I appreciate that advice more and more.
Brad Burrow: It reminds me of a movie, I got to do this movie quote but it’s a Steve Martin movie, Parenthood, have you guys ever seen that?
Jeff Dreiling: Love it, yeah.
Brad Burrow: Some great lines in that but grandma, there’s the scene where grandma at the end she’s in Steve Martin’s life just going crazy and has lost his job, and his wife is chasing the kids and all this stuff. He’s sitting down with the grandmother that’s just observing all this and, “Life’s like a roller coaster, you just got to enjoy the ride.” He’s like, “Oh, grandma, so smart. You got to enjoy the ride.” But it’s so true.
Jeff Dreiling: It is.
Brad Burrow: It’s like you have to enjoy the ups and the downs and be in it to really to be enjoying it.
Eric Kelting: I started saying years ago, “I’m happy, not satisfied.” That was I’m happy with what we’ve done, I’m proud of what we’ve done, I’m very proud of what Jeff and I, and I’m proud of our team. There’s a lot of things to be proud of, but not satisfied in the sense of there’s still more we can do. Because I think if you are satisfied, you stop growing, if you stop growing, you’re actually going to be declining. Because there’s no such thing as just staying constant in business. You’re either growing or you’re declining, and so, yeah, pushing through and trying to reinvent yourself every four to five years.
Brad Burrow: It seems faster these days.
Eric Kelting: I know.
Jeff Dreiling: Hey Brad, I’ve got a question for you before anything.
Brad Burrow: All right, yeah, hit me.
Jeff Dreiling: Going through this journey for us has been a learning experience to say the least, but we’ve had each other throughout the entire process for a million reasons that have come up.
Brad Burrow: Better or worse.
Jeff Dreiling: Yeah, and sometimes worse, but always in the end better. You are the one making your decisions, and I’m sure you have people whether they be friends or mentors or coworkers to bounce things off of, but I’d be curious as you hear Eric and I talking about how we do things and all that, when you’re processing that, are you thinking back to things that you’ve done on your own and who you bounce at? Do you have different people you bounce different things off of? Do you just think yourself into reality? I’m curious how you handle that?
Brad Burrow: Yeah, well, at one point, I had a partner in this business back when I started in ’97 and I ended up buying him out in 2005. What I found was that he was very content to just get a paycheck, and I was always driven, it’s like I always wanted to take it farther and do more and do more It got to the point where he insisted that we’d be paid the same, everything’s it was 50/50, which I learned not to do that again. But so finally it got to the point where I was doing 75% of the work, all of the sales, really carrying the burden of the whole business, and yet we were partners. It became a divorce situation, but then I had the freedom to go out and do things on my own, and I made some good decisions, I made some bad decisions. Now, I do own the company and I’m the buck stops here kind of guy, but I do bounce ideas off people all the time.
Brad Burrow: I have a really close knit set of what I would call mentors. Some people in the creative industries, different industries, and things like that and I say, “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this. I’m thinking about doing this. What I found is I’ve been very transparent maybe to my detriment in some cases about our situation. I’ll share, this is happening, this is happening. What do you think about this? What do you think about this?” What I’ve found is that people really want to help. That’s how I’ve done it. I wouldn’t mind having a partner like you guys that you can bounce things off of, there’s probably a little bit of safety in that. But, to me, the partner I had was not safety, it was a ball and chain pulling me down to the bottom.
Jeff Dreiling: Was an anchor, yeah.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, so I needed to get away from that situation but I thought many times it sure would be nice if I had somebody alongside of me that really could contribute so it’s not all on me.
Eric Kelting: If I’m hearing you correctly, you want us to buy into Real Media and we’re in.
Brad Burrow: Did you bring your checkbook.
Eric Kelting: And as long as I can play with all this equipment.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, it’s yours, take it all.
Eric Kelting: You’re willing to do 75% of the work apparently, so we’re in.
Brad Burrow: Yeah.
Jeff Dreiling: Well, no, I was pleasantly surprised to hear your answer because you were forced to get outside your comfort zone and ask for help from people but we’re not sitting here unless we’re not wired the same way. Because when we first met you, everybody threw their cards in the middle of table and we didn’t waste time and we tried to do business, right?
Brad Burrow: Right.
Jeff Dreiling: We tried to solve problems together. That’s what we’re in this for. But something that you said that struck me was that you mentioned that you had your partner, you were 50/50, and you were doing all of the work and 75% of the sales and I had never stopped to think about, “I’ve had a lot of emotions towards the guy over here and in our partnership, but one of them has never been resentment.” I can’t imagine how hard it was to scale a business while you resented your partner. I just it’s amazing that you got out of it and made your mistakes and you’re still here, that’s awesome.
Brad Burrow: Well, and that’s one thing. It’s funny, I had dinner last weekend with a gentleman and his wife, they’re starting a title company in Florida of all places. They’re living here but they’ve started this company and it’s doing pretty well. But they’re frustrated with some things, and they thought about giving up and I said, “Do not give up, you can’t give up.” That’s the one thing with Real Media is that I’ve never given up. It’s like, “What am I going to do? I can’t just go … I could go work for somebody, I suppose, but this is what I know, this is what I do, I’m not going to give up.” It’s that mentality that’s helped me get through the valleys and, hopefully, one of these times I’m going to hit on that thing or that direction that’s going to help us scale and explode. But it’s taken 21 years for us to get to where we are now. I don’t regret it, I love what we do. I love my job, I love coming in here every day-
Jeff Dreiling: You have a purpose in your life, which is much more than I think. I think that’s the best thing that Complete Legal gave me was a full outlet to throw myself into that allowed me to make my mistakes and pay for them. But, also, there’s no restrictions on, “Well, this is the way we’ve always done it.” Eric and I have a joke, there’s two ways that people can deselect themselves from employment at Complete Legal. One of those ways is to say when given an alternative theory of how to do something that might be better, faster, more efficient, whatever, is to say, “Well, we always do it this way, or this is the way we’ve always done it, so no.” That is the one way ticket out, we don’t believe in that. It’s easy when you’re three months old, but as you get older, you have to stick with that because this is the way we’ve always done it is the number one way to be bankrupt in our industry because it changes non-stop. You cannot have that mentality, even if use different words, that mentality is poison, it’s cancer.
Brad Burrow: Right, I like what you were saying if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward.
Eric Kelting: You’re moving backwards, yeah.
Brad Burrow: It’s those kinds of conversations that lead you to places. For me, it was the stream stage ideas. In our industry, the competition for what we do is growing exponentially, the barriers to entry to get into our industry have come so far down. It used to be you’d have to spend a million dollars to have an editing system and everything you need to do high end production. Well, that kept a lot of people out of the business, and the margin stayed high. But then all of a sudden technology changed and now you can go to Best Buy and Walmart and buy a little camera and a laptop, and, “Hey, I’m a video production company.” Which then our audience got a lot smaller, our margins got smaller, so I’m thinking how are we going to compete?
Brad Burrow: The stream stage concept came out of that, so I need to be able to compete at a much lower price point, still provide high quality and quick turnaround, because everybody wants their content quick. So that’s how that whole thing came, and that would have never come about had I not been forced to think that way.
Eric Kelting: But it also sounds like you have an amazing support group around you, and you’re willing to, you said you have some mentors, and even the couple you had dinner with, that they were sharing with you their frustrations. I think so many people are like, “How’s business?” “It’s great, it’s great. Well, everything’s great.” Well, no, it’s not. Even if it’s great, that’s never [crosstalk 00:49:00]. We just shared earlier, we were growing so fast that we were having problems and you can have problems from rapid growth. I get it, in the age of social media that everything’s a facade, and you put out the image that you want the world to see personally and professionally, or as your company. But to have a group of folks around you to say, “Actually, I’m struggling with some stuff.” Our margins are declining, the barrier to entry is changing, and to be able to have folks that you can actually open up to I think is important.
Eric Kelting: I think that’s one of the things that we continue to try and find others around us that aren’t just the other person, especially, if they’re not in the industry to just get an outside perspective and to say, “Hey, actually, this is what we’re struggling with. These are the problems we’re facing.” And trying to get … Because there’s some very, very smart people in this city that have a lot of amazing advice and amazing experience. I’ll even, to her credit, my wife has got some amazing feedback and opinions, and usually it’s very level headed, I’m like, “Gosh, it was that easy.” But just not being in the business all day, every day, they can see the forest through the trees where we can’t.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, step back, see what’s happening, where you’re in it, and you can’t see some of the things that are happening then.
Jeff Dreiling: Well, and I think that was a big that was a big hurdle for Eric and I to overcome is to realize that, at least for me, I’m so emotionally invested in this business and that’s awesome and that’s dangerous. So expecting Eric to be my sounding board for finding that balance was a little bit better than doing it in my own head, but just a hair because he’s just right there with me. I think, for Eric, to have his wife to bounce that off of, for me to have my girlfriend to bounce things off of that know us and know our essence and know life, they’re both very smart, successful people in their own realm but completely separate from what we do. To get their outside opinion on our work situation, but knowing who we are, and what we can do, what we can handle and challenging us, and I think they both do that, has been really interesting to watch as well.
Brad Burrow: You guys take that-
Eric Kelting: We take that.
Brad Burrow: … advice pretty well?
Jeff Dreiling: Well, I usually fight it. I like to fight it really hard.
Eric Kelting: Why? Is Tracy going to call in right now?
Brad Burrow: That’s my wife’s name too, by the way. She’s real good at that too, by the way. It’s like asking questions that you’re like, “Why do you have to ask me that question?”
Jeff Dreiling: That’s a good question and I hate you for asking.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that’s right.
Eric Kelting: I’ve got to leave now.
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Okay, that was a good question.
Jeff Dreiling: I think for Eric and I, and again, I’m sorry, but I’m curious because you do have a lot of the same threats and opportunities that we have but with a lot more history in a completely different industry. But I think, for me, where I realized we had to do something or I had to change the way I was thinking about it was the first two, two and a half years. It was scary, but the rewards were so big you didn’t stop to think about the fear. Because you’re doing, you’re building something out of nothing, you were growing. I was fulfilling some dreams of mine and some goals, and it was awesome, it was so rewarding emotionally. And everybody around us saw us as the startup company that had shunned all funding offers, because we wanted to have no … We didn’t want to owe anybody anything, there’s different ways we could have grown our business faster but we would have been beholden to somebody or some people or a group of people and we just didn’t want to do that. We wanted to be free.
Jeff Dreiling: Everybody looked at us and they’re like, “Oh, look at you,” and they would pat us on the heads, not for real, but theoretically pat us on the heads. They wanted us to be … We started at a one or a zero, they wanted us to get to five, they were rooting for us to get to five, because when you’re at a five, you’re there, you’re safe, you’re in business, your employees are getting paychecks, you’re getting paychecks. The second people think that you’re a six, you might as well be a 10 and they’re pulling you back down to five. For us, I think because we identified and invested very early on in marketing as one of our vehicles for, again, so people could feel more comfortable trusting us, marketing’s huge for that.
Jeff Dreiling: We got the perception that we were a 10 when we were a 5.1, but the reaction from associates and acquaintances and some customers and some employees was that we were a 10 and they were trying to pull us down to a five. I think that was the hardest thing for me to understand and come out of with having the same view and not being bitter or angry.
Brad Burrow: One thing that I wanted to say as I was hearing you talking, one of the things that I’ve struggled with as an owner is not going negative all the time because you get beat up and you get hammered so much in fighting back. What I’ve had to do is really intentionally stay positive. I don’t know if that’s something that you guys struggle with at all, but there’s power in that, there’s power in being positive in a situation where things aren’t that positive. But you’re believing that good things are going to happen and you’re believing that there’s good outcomes coming and the right people at the right time and all those things. That tends to happen, and I’ve had it happen the other way where you’re believing negative things are going to happen and they happen. I’ve really tried and probably in the last, I don’t know, couple years at least to default to the being positive outlook guy instead of the negative outlook guy which I’ve had to relearn, I don’t know-
Jeff Dreiling: Well, when if we turn the mics off, I’d like some coping mechanism. Because, no, because it’s the nature of the chair, the position. You get problems that no one else sees, that you really can’t or shouldn’t share with anybody, and there’s no reason to, there’s no reason to share some of the issues that you’re dealing with that day. Whether it’s the employee, the bank, the building, the landlord, whatever it is, it’s important. It maybe puts something about the business or the business in jeopardy, and it’s your problem to figure it out and solve it and it’s, yeah, I know I struggle with that a lot which is, “Oh my god, we’re dealing with x, y, z,” and try not to-
Brad Burrow: This isn’t going to go well.
Eric Kelting: Yeah, trying to make sure that our folks don’t see that and feel it because they don’t need to, and we don’t want their attitude to be affected because they’re going to be on the phone with a client in the next five minutes and we need them in a great place. No, that is absolutely something that we struggle with, and it’s not even just as owners, like when we were managers. You get problems dumped on your desk and you have to sort that out and without letting it affect the rest of your culture or your office.
Brad Burrow: It’s not easy.
Eric Kelting: No.
Brad Burrow: It’s hard to do.
Jeff Dreiling: But, Brad, you hit on it and I 100% agree with what you said is that you found yourself being negative, you realized it, you had to change it, and the only way to change it was just really blind faith in the fact if I start thinking positive, maybe it’ll work or it will work. It’s going to work. But how long? Like six months, a year? At some point, that becomes your default reaction, you don’t have to do it anymore. But you have to work at it, and it’s not easy. By nature, I default to the positive side of things, which is most of the problems in my life have been created by that. Is because I was too positive, I refused to look at the downside, and so I did what I thought was right. That is better than the alternative, but it’s still not the best. With us and our partnership we get is if either one of us gets too high or too low, we’re there to fully … Sometimes-
Brad Burrow: To balance [crosstalk 00:57:19]-
Jeff Dreiling: Sometimes Eric has to pull me up. Usually, I’ll have to say, “Eric, can you pull me up,” or vice versa. Or when I’m like, “This is going to be easy, we’re going to do X, Y, and Z. Let’s go ahead and do this because this is happening.” Eric will be like, “Wait, wait, wait, so we have a signed contract?” I’m like, “Well, no, I haven’t even talked to them yet but how could they say no to this?” He’ll be my brakes, but that does allow me to be that positive and not have to regulate myself sometimes which is, quite frankly, an amazing gift that I get because I get to go take that and give it to the employees and Eric is there to make sure we don’t fall. That’s why for me doing this with a partner, I can’t imagine doing it without.
Brad Burrow: That’s working really good it sounds like with you guys, yeah, that’s exactly right. There’s other people I have to help me through some of those things but I’ve had to reprogram my thinking in some of those areas and, “Okay, it’s going to be okay.”
Jeff Dreiling: You hit it right.
Brad Burrow: In 21 years I’ve gone through a lot of things that I’ve made it through. Well, I’m going to make it through this, that kind of that thing.
Jeff Dreiling: If you look at any entrepreneur that does anything, either they’re going to find somebody that was super, super smart that just was out thought the industry and couldn’t have been a bad enough manager to fail, or you’re going to find people that are like you. That you know what, I’m not sure how I’m going to get there, so that’s the last negative thought I’m going to have and now I’m going to say here’s how I’m going to get there. You’re going to go will it into actuality, and when you lose as an entrepreneur, when you lose in business is when you give up. The people that win are the ones that against all odds, all logic, say, “No, I got this.” Then go do it, and it happens every day. But it’s such a hard, scary process to go to, it’s not to get rich quick thing. If you’re trying to get rich quick, what happens when there’s trouble? You bail for the next get rich quick.
Jeff Dreiling: But if you’re truly passionate about what you do and you’re truly passionate about how you do it and the people you do it with and the people you do it for, that’s where I can find my positivity because I know at the end of the day that by figuring out a way to be happy, figuring out a way to say this is the solution and believe in it, it’s going to make my life better. It’s going to make our employees lives better, and more importantly, we’re going to solve the problem that the client paid us to solve. That’s what we’re here for, and none of the rest of it matters if we don’t do that.
Brad Burrow:That’s right, and that’s got to be the focus for every business, isn’t?
Jeff Dreiling: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Brad Burrow: Yeah. Well, guys, I’m going to wrap it up there. This is Jeff Dreiling, Eric Kelting from Complete Legal. It’s been really awesome, I didn’t really think it was going to go this direction but I really this is awesome. I’d love to do this again.
Eric Kelting: Yeah, thank you for having us, we would love to do it.
Jeff Dreiling: Eric and I love to go real deep, real fast.
Brad Burrow: Yeah, that was great. Well, thanks for listening and we’ll see you on the next podcast.