These days the hardest part about starting an Internet company probably isn't getting the investment, it may well be securing a domain that isn't completely wacky or doesn't end with .info.
Avvo is a new legal vertical startup, based in Seattle, that just raised $3 million from Benchmark Capital as an initial round. Zillow CEO and Benchmark partner Rich Barton will join the board as a result. The company started life earlier this year as "LegalRev." Avvo is apparently short for "Avvocato," which is Italian for lawyer. Unlike many startups these days, there's at least a relationship between the name and the substance of what the company is doing.
So what is the company doing? I've spoken to co-founder and products VP Paul Bloom several times over the past couple months and he won't reveal what the "secret sauce" is yet. There are already numerous legal verticals, most notably the 900-pound gorilla Lawyers.com. There are thongs of other sites, including the higher profile FindLaw and the pseudo reverse auction LegalMatch.com.
The legal category represents about $1 billion in annual ad spending in the print yellow pages in the U.S. It's the single largest revenue category for the directory industry and about the sixth most frequently used by consumers, according to the Yellow Pages Association. Lawyers have also been some of the most aggressive users of paid-search and are some of the early adopters of PPCall.
From a consumer standpoint, there's pretty clearly a great deal of room for improvement online over what exists today. It remains incredibly difficult to find an attorney with any degree of confidence if you're just using the Internet. Avvo says in its press release, "[W]e are dedicated to helping consumers better navigate the highly confusing legal industry, and we are building something that no one else has built before."
Hmmm . . .That's a pretty strong claim.
Social directory sites such as InsiderPages, Judysbook and Yelp all have lawyer listings and ratings. These sites offer the equivalent of word of mouth referrals, which is one of the primary ways that attorneys are hired. What they lack is the specialized background information on the attorneys (where they went to law school, their trial histories, their clients, their professional affiliations). Most of this information is public and even readily available. Sites like Lawyers.com and Findlaw have the CV-type information (e.g., where they went to law school), but they don't have the consumer reviews.
So if I had to guess, I would bet that Avvo is going to combine the two types of information with whatever other public data are out there. I might also guess that they'll add some sort of "reverse auction" or RFQ/RFP service, although you don't necessarily want that in the legal profession because legal competence is typically inversely correlated with the need for work.
I'm just guessing about all of this but I'm eager to see what they do differently – both as a former lawyer myself and as someone who recently (within the last two years) had to hire a lawyer in a different state.
We'll have to wait and see what that is.