In this Episode Tyson talk to Denis Potemkin – CEO and founder of Majoto – a contract design and automation startup. The idea behind Majoto was to transform how contracts look and turn dull static documents into functional tools.
Tyson talks to Denis about how he has managed to balance his work home life, his passion for downhill skateboarding, Elon Musk, and space travel.
If you enjoyed this episode don’t forget to subscribe in your favourite podcast app or on YouTube, that way you’ll never miss an episode…
Tyson Ballard: Welcome Dennis, to the next edition of the Legal Dispatch. My name’s Tyson Ballard. I’m the senior director of consulting for SYKE. Joined with me today is Dennis Potemkin CEO and founder of “Majoto”. For those of you who haven’t checked out Majoto, the address is majoto.io, and the Twitter handle is @majotolab, that’s M A J O T O L A B.
So welcome, Dennis.
Denis Potemkin: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Tyson Ballard: We’ve been friends for a long time and been chatting for a long time, but great to have you on the podcast today. Maybe if I can just, ask in the first question, just, maybe introduce yourself, and tell us, what you do and, and who you work for.
Denis Potemkin: So I’m Dennis, obviously I’m the founder of Majoto, so Majoto is a contract design and automation startup. So we’ll talk about that in due course, I’m sure. By background, I’m a lawyer. I’m a self-trained legal designer, legal technologist to some extent. I’ve been in private practice in-house and as a freelancer, and basically, I’ve been helping businesses do contracts better, for the last 20 years, and most recently as a consultant.
Yeah, I’ve learned a few things where I think the biggest impact comes from, and what works and what doesn’t. And with Majoto term, basically scaling and automating all those things I’ve learnt, especially in the last sort of four years as a consultant.
Tyson Ballard: Excellent. So what, what does a day in the life of Denis look like at the moment? Give, give us an average day from when you wake up to when you go to sleep.
Denis Potemkin: Well, yeah, it’s quite hard to give an average day because I try to compartmentalize my week into certain big-picture things that I focus on every day.
So I’d say at a kind of, you know, stepping back, Mondays when you have a long workshop with the development team to set the sprint for the week and review the previous. I have calls with the rest of the team to figure out what we’re doing and generally kind of setting myself up for the week and probably catching up on things that I haven’t done over the weekend that I should have done hangover from the previous week.
So a bit of catching up there. Tuesdays, I’m generally trying to focus on delivering client projects. We do some big design projects as well as kind of getting people to use the tech. We tend to focus on that. Wednesday, I try to keep free of meetings altogether so I can focus on the big picture stuff in Majoto, you know, new ideas and designing, workflows, etc.
Doesn’t always work, but I try to do that. Yeah. Thursdays it’s back to delivering projects. Fridays it’s recap with the management. Again, catching up with things. So, you know, that’s kind of, I guess my week rather than the day. I mean, the day in itself is then really kind of varied.
I tend to work pretty long hours. It’s sort of peppered thankfully by school runs. So, that gets me out of my desk. I try to fit an exercise before the lunchtime kind of school run, bringing the kids back again. It doesn’t always work like that, but I try and do that and then I tend to sort of work pretty late into the evening to compensate for the school runs that I sort of taken time off for during the day.
Tyson Ballard: I also know that we’re both in the LinkedIn group “Lawyers Who Shred”, and as I understand it, you are quite the downhill skateboarder. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how you got involved in the group?
Denis Potemkin: Sure. I think it was either going to be “Lawyers Who Shred” or “Lawyers Who Skate”. I think currently it’s called Lawyers Who Skate and I set up with Elizabeth de Stadler, who’s from Novation consultant, who was a mutual friend. I think I’m pretty sure I introduced it to her or at least inspired her to downhill skate. Although, I don’t know. I hope she doesn’t mind me sort of publicizing this, but I think she’s retired cause she’s had about three different injuries over the last year and a half.
And you shouldn’t laugh, but I’m sure she wouldn’t mind that we do a little bit. It’s terribly sad for me to see that. She says she’s retiring from skateboarding, maybe I can pull her. But yeah, I mean, look, downhill skateboarding, if anyone doesn’t know it, you’re on a skateboard, not one of those kind of small ones that you do tricks with.
It’s a slightly longer skateboard, different wheels, different trucks. And the idea is that you hurdle downhill at speeds from anything, you know, 15 km/h through close to a hundred or more for those who are really good.
I think my, the fastest I’ve done is 65 km/h. And you are basically checking, controlling your speed using slides, where the sort of the wheels and the board kind of slide across and that allows you to control your speed and do sharper turns and things like that. So it’s pretty exciting.
It’s quite dangerous. You’re obviously on the road, so if you fall, you really can hurt yourself. There’s cars, but I have to say, I do a bunch of board and wheel sports. mountain bike downhill, snowboarding, kite surfing, recently picked up foiling, like wing foiling, which is amazing, by the way.
But the downhill skateboarding is the one that probably gives me the most adrenaline rush because it’s just so immediate, right? It’s so close to the road. And the whole sort of physics of it is so immediate that it’s just amazing.
But I took it up very late in my life just about five, six years ago when I moved to Italy. There are some hills, I took my wife’s long board, it was a pintail and started doing downhill and that completely wrong board for that sort of sport. Then I got together with a bunch of friends who taught me a few things and, the rest is history.
Tyson Ballard: But I mean, in a sport like that, it is inevitable that you’re going to hit the pavement at some point. What’s the worst tumble that you’ve had?
Denis Potemkin: Well, probably the worst one. It was a really silly one. I mean, it’s always the worst ones that are always the silliest ones, right? And that was when I had a glass of wine and decided, and it was nighttime, and decided to go long on my pintail.
So it wasn’t even the downhill. And I just, you know, went down a little bit of downhill stretch that I’ve done dozens of times before, but I guess something went wrong probably because I had a glass of wine, fell and sort of basically ended up crashing into a gate. And I didn’t have a helmet, so I developed, you know, had a pretty bad gash in my forehead
So I had to call so my wife and the kids were away. So I had to basically. I felt a bit shaken, didn’t want to drive to the hospital, end up having to call, you know, friends to basically take me to hospital, spend the night in hospital. So basically every time I’ve had an injury, I’ve added a piece of protective equipment that I then religiously wear all the time.
It started with knee pads, then elbow pads, then the helmet. Now there’s a few other bits and pieces. I’m pretty careful. But I think the main thing is just, it’s, it’s about sort of very incremental progression. I think there’s an interesting parallel there with how we sort of actually in some ways built Majoto do other things in my life.
It’s like, you know, incremental progression means, reduces the likelihood of big mistakes. And you know that every time you make that incremental progression, you’re doing it right because it’s incremental. So that’s my approach. So it took me a long time to learn and I’m still learning.
But, I’m in one piece…
Tyson Ballard: Well, glad to hear it. I’m always like interested in kind of, you know, successful people that are well organized and kind of doing really well, in terms of their morning habits. Do you have any morning rituals or morning habits?
Is it a coffee? Do you wake up always at exactly the same time? What are your morning rituals?
Denis Potemkin: Sure. First of all, I should preface it. I consider myself going towards success as opposed to a successful person.
I think that it sounds like you’re sort of, you’re there and you’re resting on your laurels too. And I think my habits maybe perhaps reflect that I have some good habits and I’ve got some bad habits. And it depends on the day where I follow, you know, on a good day I will get up and I’ll, the first thing I do is I do some breathing exercises.
So these are the sort of breathing yoga-style exercises that I learned from my father. Nothing, you know, I’m not particularly good at, you know, I don’t know a lot, but I know that he taught me a few exercises that can really set you up nicely. So I’ll do those. I’ll then go and do some morning stretches and exercises, then have breakfast.
Take the kids to school, as soon as they come back, maybe have an extra cup of tea, come back and start working. So that would be usually about eight in the morning. I think the other sort of good habit that I do, again when I do it is, the night before, setting what am I going do, and prioritize the following day.
So that sort of allows you to kind of sleep on it. I mean, it’s a classic, I think it’s a well known technique, but it really allows you to sleep on the problems. And really when you wake up, you already know what you’re doing rather than trying to figure out what you’re doing. And then you can start in an efficient way.
So there’s good habits again. If it’s a good day and I’ll do around about 11, 11:30, 12, I’ll go and do some hours worth of exercise. And then again, on a good day, I’ll make sure I go to bed not too late because I do need my decent amount of sleep.
On a bad day, and this happens a lot, I’ll get up and I won’t do the breathing exercises cause I’m feeling tired. I’ll have breakfast and then I’ll also look at some, read some or listen some social media. And I usually think that’s a bad habit, because, so more often not what you end up listening to is a little bit on the negative side.
Even if it’s kind of realistic, even if something like the news, that is rarely inspiring. So, I guess the lesson there is ‘don’t get on social media first thing in the morning.’ It’s not a good habit or last thing at night for that matter.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, it’s true. It’s not nice to start your day in that. We have a rule in our house that there’s no phones until the kids are at school. So, you know, to have your breakfast, spend time with the children, drop them off on the school run, and then kind of dive into your, your bad habits potentially, if you want to.
Denis Potemkin: That is such a good rule, and I have to say, because sometimes we see the kids coming downstairs and the first thing they do is check the phone. In the case of my middle son, he’s checking the football score, it’s the first thing he’s doing in the kitchen rather than having breakfast.
And yeah, I’m guilty of the same thing. Now I excuse it for the fact that, hey, I’m checking my work emails. And actually that’s a good point. I think these things are really important because they don’t know a life where you don’t have that kind of device and social media.
And they’re building those bad habits right from the beginning. Whereas when we were younger, we had a little bit more of a headset, a fair start. It was easier to build good habits rather than bad
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, exactly. I was pretty ‘internet babies’. What would you find is the most interesting or challenging part of your role?
Denis Potemkin: I think, Tyson, there is everything, frankly. I mean, the simpler way to look at it is, you know, Majoto is my first startup. It’s not my very first sort of attempt to entrepreneurialism, but it is the first proper real attempt at building something.
And frankly, almost everything about it is really hard. Whether it’s the sort of the business side of it or the technology side or the product side or the spinning all the plate side of it, the people side of it, bringing the management team together and making sure that everyone’s kind of working in the same direction.
I have to say, there’s a lot of posts around how glamorous it is and also a lot of posts to see recently about how startup life and founder life, it’s not that glamorous. It’s all hard and 90% of what you’re doing is really hard and dull.
I don’t agree with that. I think there’s very little that I as Majoto founder that I consider dull, I think pretty much everything, 95% is really, really interesting. only because you’re learning so much new stuff. But I’d say, you know, definitely more than half of it and probably something like 80% of it I think is hard.
And I think it has to be, right? Otherwise, you’re not pushing the boundaries, not doing something really new. Comparing it to the consulting side of things I’ve done, and as you know, a lot of difficult projects and even as Majoto we do, you [00:15:00] design services as well.
And some of those projects are super challenging, but I can tell you doing complicated and difficult consulting projects, I think is nothing compared to, at least for me personally, compared to what it takes to do a startup. So that’s, that’s been a real eye-opener.
Tyson Ballard: That’s interesting. And I think, maybe that kind of leads me to another question. I’m always kind of interested in the internal conversation you had in, maybe it was either with your partner or in your head, that made you take the leap. What was the story behind that and what was the conversation you had with yourself and what made you actually make the jump?
Because, here’s so many people with great ideas, but not many people make it to getting a product out in the market and, doing the actual thing that they talk about all the time. So what was the internal conversation and how did it go down?
Denis Potemkin: Look, I think so much of it was around inspiration and I felt I wanted to do something about the problems that I was seeing.
And in my case, it was the problem of contracts and the fact that they’d take so much effort, time, money, dull, boring, churn by lawyers, all those kind of things that we know are wrong with contracts, and contract process. And I thought that there was a better way of fixing it better than what the current sort of prevalent approach was, which is all around , I guess I would characterize it perhaps, like it’s a little bit harsh and unfair, but around essentially digitizing the existing old processes.
So, you had word, you had email, and between word and email you managed the contract kind of process and life cycle, right? Maybe a storage system as well, for your BDS or whatever. And a lot of contract tech to my mind is digitizing that process.
Now, I know you will disagree, especially with what you guys are doing at SYKE and to a large extent maybe this is kind of changing to some extent, but at the time my perception was, ‘look, you’re largely systemizing, making more effective processes’, which are essentially the same kind of processes.
And by the way, maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe that’s the way you start, right? Because you got to walk before you run, right? You take and change that. But what I felt is that there was more to do in terms of making the whole thing more collaborative, changing the way contracts look and work, you know, targeting some of the kind of more fundamental problems.
You know, the fundamental problem, the way I would describe it now, I probably wouldn’t have described it in exactly the same way then, but I would describe now as the fact that people don’t understand contracts, and by that we mean the real users of contracts, not the lawyers.
Although frankly a lot of lawyers I think actually have quite a poor understanding of what they’re working with. People don’t understand contracts. The real users of contracts don’t understand. And I thought and still believe that that is the single biggest driver of all the process costs.
So, the fact that they take so long, or it can take so long, the fact that they can cost a lot of money, you know, the bottlenecks and long deals. To me, the biggest fundamental problem there is the content of contracts, not the process. So I wanted to address that and I had some ideas around something that was basically not based around a text editor.
Majoto was born of this idea that rather than starting with a text editor and then building workflows around it. Using a different kind of tool that’s sort of dimensional so that you can build in the instrument itself, rather than through the workflows. And that was the concept.
I started around this idea and I was very inspired by it. And it was around “could I actually come up with something, some sort of experiment or proof of concept that would actually illustrate what I’m talking about?”
And that’s how it started. So I never really even thought about “okay, I’m going to build a startup and I’m going to get to this” you know? “I’m going to focus on this, this, and that.” It was, it really started like that again, maybe a little bit like my downhill skateboarding, right? Then I built the MVP, the sort of a very, very simple thing that hacked together.
Then worked with a developer to put it into a more sort of proper coded thing. And then it went on from there. A friend got me in contact with a guy who’s done a legal tech exit, not in the legal space, but who’s a sort of a friend of his who became an advisor and investor.
And then eventually, after a few meetings and after a few months or year period that we were working on this, we thought “why don’t you try and actually pull together a bit of angel funding”, incorporated the company and really giving us a go. And we went from there.
And I think, we often talk about this with my wife, about sort of having babies, you know, if you knew everything that was involved. And having a baby starting from the pregnancy, the birth, and all the sort of lifelong struggle. That and joy of course, but all the lifelong struggle that your kids give you, would you ever do it?
No. Well, you may well decide not to, right? But you do it, you go ahead. You take one step and that step basically sets the scene for the next steps. And then in the end, you’re doing it and you’re loving it and it’s bloody hard. But you say “okay, I would not, I would never, ever take a different decision.”
Tyson Ballard: Absolutely. It’s the best. And, using the analogy of a child, like where do you think Majoto is at the moment? Is it a naughty teenager or what? Are we out of the nappies or are we at university? What is the stage of Majoto at the moment?
Denis Potemkin: I think we’re definitely out of nap. I would say we’re almost like at different stages depending on what problem we’re solving. So there are some problems that were probably still at nappies and some problems that were kind of fully fledged adults going. Market. Right. But other problems were somewhere in between, but I guess yeah, we’re probably at the late teens.
So not the early unruly teens, but the late teens where you sort of, you’ve got a personality, you sort of, think you’ve got some sort of direction. And you’re starting to feel a bit more confident, and you’re standing on your own two feet. But of course, you’re still young.
Tyson Ballard: Cool. I think sometimes it’s obviously really important to kind of, learn from your mistakes and making a mistake is, and having the not the permission, but the freedom to make mistakes, I think is really important. Because that obviously drives innovation. Like what would be one of your favorite, failures or mistakes and what did you learn?
Denis Potemkin: Right. I think anyone who’s sort of done been into products or startups, they’d probably be very familiar with this one. For those who are familiar with it, in theory at least, maybe as a point of emphasis, right? Because I was familiar with it in theory as well, there’s difference between having a thing in theory and, and learning of on your own skill, right?
Yeah. And that is, kind of showing the product and getting people to play around with it as early as possible. I think what I found is that I was showing it to people, but probably showing it to people who weren’t looking at it critically enough. And this is at, it’s kind of early sort of manifestation as an early MVP.
Not being sufficiently organized to have enough people looking at it in a structured way and trying it out and feeding back. The feeling is always, well, you know, there’s just that little bit more to do before I feel really comfortable with letting people put their hands on it.
It becomes weeks and months and you see, you’re never really ready. So getting people, not just showing it to people who may give a sort of a friendly response, but showing it to people who look at it in a structured way. And I think the other sort of part of it is also you showing it to people who’s a little bit like that.
I haven’t actually read the book, but there was that concept of the mother test or something like that? The idea is that you’ve got to get it to a point where people respond to it as if they’re buyers as well.
I was doing a lot of demos at one point. Again, this is with the previous manifestation of the product with the MVP. I was doing a lot of demos and getting a lot of positive feedback. People were saying, “yeah, this is a great idea. I love that.” But then somehow, wasn’t sort of going beyond that.
And I learned a lot later that actually the reason was that I wasn’t putting it in front of them as a potential sort of purchase opportunity in a way that forced them to say “yes, I’m going to use it” or “no, I’m not.” You know, this isn’t quite right for me. So it took me longer than perhaps I would’ve liked, if I were to do this again, to understand, okay, is this something that people would actually use or does there need to be something fundamentally different to do that?
So, yeah, I think getting it in front of people in the right way, the right kind of people in a sufficiently structured way that they give you the right answers as opposed to sort of giving you, yeah, this is great.
“You could fix this, it’s this, but would you actually use it? “People will often say “yeah, potentially I could use it” or “Yeah, I’d recommend it to someone else” but then they never do. And you think “well, what went wrong there?”
And I think the answer is not doing it in a sufficiently structured way.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, good point. What about if you were to give a TED Talk that is on something not in your area of expertise, what would the talk be about and why?
Denis Potemkin: I spend so much time thinking and living my work, but I think it probably would be something about skateboarding. And I’d use it as an analogy to talk about, either how to innovate, or, an analogy about how to take time off actually.
Because there are a couple of angles here which are important. One is one of the beauties of doing something, and it’s not just skateboarding, it’s any kind of sport that requires, I mean, you surf, right? So is saying surfing. Any sport that is quite technical and requires, a kind of progression for it to be kind of increasingly enjoyable, right?
Or anything that involves learning tricks. The beauty of that kind of sport is that you get completely lost in that process. And everything else in the world just disappears because your whole body and your whole mind is focused on figuring out this particular move or this particular trick.
And I think that is the best possible, way of resting and recharging. Because like I know if I go mountain biking while I’m cycling up the hill and panting, I’m like churning through stuff, right? I mean, my mind’s not clear. I’m churning through work. I’m churning through problems, I’m churning through discussion, previous conversations and figuring out “how could I have done that better?”
Whereas, if I go skating or if I’m, I don’t know, wing foiling or something there’s nothing. There’s just this in the moment. And that’s amazing.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, I do find, like for me, being present in surfing because if you’re not you’re going to get usually wiped out.
And the fact that obviously you can’t take anything digital into the water is a good thing. But quite often I am very present. I’m not thinking about the meeting in two hours or what happened yesterday. It’s usually like “this wave is coming towards me. Am I gonna catch it or not?” And then when I’m on the wave, catch the next one. So yeah, I think it is, the presence of it is, is really kind of meditative and definitely kind of resets you, that’s for sure.
Denis Potemkin: Yeah. There is another angle, which I think is part of it, and around the essence of innovation and what it takes to innovate. Did you ever see that? There was a kind of video that I think, I’m pretty sure it was Rodney Mullen, did this about, it was who, invented the Ollie? It was Rodney Mullen, wasn’t it? I think it was
Tyson Ballard: Rodney Mullen, yeah.
Denis Potemkin: So he did this video and we were showing this in a kind of, I think it was a little bit sort of intended for corporate audience around “this is how you innovate” And he was basically exploring how he came up with the Ollie, how he developed it. And he sort of showed that again, it goes back to this incremental process.
He was basically trying a different move and he just very gradually either started looking at shifting his feet in a particular way and just over like many incremental steps figured this thing out. So it wasn’t like some big inspirational thing. You didn’t sit down and said “okay, big picture, what move can I invent?”
And he also made the point that the only reason why he was able to come up with it is because he was so skilled at everything. And that sort of really granular level of skill allowed him to, at a very granular level, through these increments, come up with this incredible innovation.
To me that was, that was mind blowing at the time. And I do believe that is how true innovation is built, really. You’ve got to have some you know, a very fairly granular amount of underlying knowledge, to come up with something, not only to come up with an idea, but also come up with an idea that can be worked and can be workable.
There’s a bunch of people out on the LinkedIn sphere. You talk about boring innovation, and this idea that, rather than kind of pursuing shiny new tech, let’s call it, you focus on the boring innovation, which is about just kind of innovating around the basics.
And I kind of get that, because I think that that sort of ties in a way, back to the previous conversation about contract tech and the way they solve it. You know, maybe that sort of boring innovation is essential. I think a lot of what we do with Majoto also fits into.
But at the same time, we’re trying to do something a little bit different, but I think the process around how we got there and how we’re still doing it is very much these kind of days “alright, how do we, how do we take what we know? How do we take the knowledge and skills that we have?”
And how do we take it to that little bit next level operational. And with design, for example, we’re looking at how do you, for example, I know something about legal design, have certain techniques, right? How do I start operationalizing some of it so it’s not purely artisanal every time?
How do I start operationalizing it and maybe semi-automating it using a combination of human effort. And then eventually we’re hoping to kind of get to, increasing levels of automation. But it’s very, very, it’s gradual. I think it has to.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting point because, I mean, there is the romantic idea that innovation just happens with Big Bang and the tool you’ve got is a silver bullet to solve all your problems.
But in reality, especially in the legal tech space is that there’s so much work still to be done on almost, let’s say, the plumbing of your home. Which is the simple stuff to get which is going to take us such a long way in terms of, making life easier, quicker, faster, cheaper, et cetera.
It does sound boring, but maybe it’s almost like a child, right? Like if you are a father to a son or a daughter, you don’t always notice their growth, but actually they’re growing over time and they’re becoming more sophisticated and hopefully going to the toilet instead of nappies and learning more as they go to school, et cetera.
And maybe that’s kind of the journey that we’re on at the moment. I mean, just even this morning I was chatting with someone about, the conversations we were having six or seven, eight years ago was very new in terms of the legal tech space, in terms of contracts and matter management and spend analysis and front doors and things like that.
And they’re not new ideas anymore, but and so maybe they’re not so as sexy or so innovative, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to kind of bring that legal space up to most of the other professional areas of a corporate or a law firm.
Denis Potemkin: But also I think, once you layer on a few of these plumbing or boring innovation type of issues, the end result can be very sexy, right? I mean, I see this playing out like in a couple of contexts. Like for example, as a consultant, you’ve seen this as well, right? In terms of what you’re doing now at SYKE where a customer comes along and they either bought a piece of tech and it doesn’t work cause they didn’t go through the right process, right?
Yeah. Or, they want to buy a piece of tech where they’re going about it. You know, they sort of see this as a Big Bang innovation, right? “Okay, we’re going to procure a bit of tech and this is our big bang innovation.” Right? Yeah. But it doesn’t work like that way, because you’ve got to put in the groundwork, to make it work.
So that’s one area where I think that sort of idea of incremental boring innovation versus Big Bang completely plays out and is totally true. And then I guess the other way, which is closer to what we do, and you’ve seen this with some of the kind of showcase pieces where a company has gone and said, “okay, we’ve redesigned, we’re going to redesign our contract into something more visual.”
And they turn a very boring piece of, kind of wall of text stuff into something really fancy looking with lots of images and icons and fancy visuals. I mean, the prices of getting there is not Big Bang, right? Because I know that you’ve got to go through a certain process, but the outward result looks a bit Big Bang. We rarely do that with customers because usually they’re not ready to go from that to the Big Bang in one go.
What we sort of start looking at is a lot more boring stuff. Like “here’s a wall of text. Alright, we’re not going to redesign that completely straight away, but how about a different information arch?” And that even sounds dull. It’s actually one of the most exciting things, I think, because we focus a lot on information architecture.
I know that some of the top legal designers out there like to find a CETA is big on information architecture. And I owe in part my focus on that and part of her actually. But you can do a lot with information architecture without touching the language or the sort of the individual paragraphs.
I don’t know if I would even use the word transform, but you can transform a contract just through information architecture. And in terms of, it’s readability, it’s simplicity, you know, the production. So then, there’s information architecture, right?
Well how about “okay, you’re not going to put the whole thing into visual contract, but could you put in an agreement map in the front instead. An agreement map is more visual, just more exciting, kind of sets a completely different tone and also more useful of designed well than the conventional index.
So suddenly you’ve got a new contract with different information architecture agreement map. It is already a different animal to what you had before, and then you build on that and eventually you can get to something really exciting. But you’ve brought everyone along and you’ve tested it along all, all of these stages and you haven’t broken.
That sort of trust that is in the result is there. So I do think also in that space, that’s just yet another example where I think that the boring innovation or incremental innovation versus Big Bang. I’m a big believer in that process. So that would be my TED Talk would be something like that.
Tyson Ballard: Well, you just did, you just did the TED Talk!
Denis Potemkin: I should record. Oh, we’re recording this, right? You don’t have to send this back to me and write it down and submit it.
Tyson Ballard: Exactly. Will do. Great. I was interested in the beginning when you said you don’t, feel yourself as successful?
Actually, when I think of you, I think you are, but if I was to use the word successful, who is the first person that comes to mind and why?
Denis Potemkin: Oh god. Literally without even thinking about it and I don’t know, I hate this, but it would be those kind of very prominent types like the Musk’s.
And probably more so than there also anyone else at the moment, Musk kind of springs to mind and why? Probably, and not because I’m sort of on the fence about him, by the way. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been talking a lot about it with my son, kind of speculating on what he’s up to and what’s going to happen and all that kind of stuff.
But do you know why? The one thing I really like about him, apart from the fact that he’s completely, or at least seemingly completely irreverent about what people say about him. I think that’s fantastic. He does his thing and in his own style.
You’ve got to respect that he respects the man and all that. But the thing that really struck me about him is his kind of logic, his sort of explanation as to behind SpaceX and why he’s into space travel. This whole idea that one day if humanity is to maximize its survival, it’s going to have at least the ability to get off the Earth.
Otherwise there’s a built-in kind of lot, end date somehow. Even if you assume that it’s in the millions or billions, right? Even if you take the most kind of optimistic scenario, right? That we’re not going to overly pollute the planet or have nuclear war that will end mankind.
But that ability to be able to get off the planet, just like in the old days, that ability to get off that piece of land and explore new land is the reason. And that’s a good enough reason irrespective of the current economics or socioeconomics of it. And humanity has to do it.
Maybe because I was this big reader of science fiction as a kid, but to me that that sort of resonates. And, for me, that’s also very much the belief. You know, why would people get engaged in space travel? Aren’t there bigger problems to fix? Well, yeah, there are problems to fix, but you also got to do this.
Actually there was an interesting piece. So as AOV in, the end of time osculated, this idea that, so there was a sort of one branch of development that humanity took where space travel basically wasn’t possible. They figured out, beyond very basic, getting to the moon or to Mars, you couldn’t do it because of the very fundamental sort of problems with time and space and et cetera, and the time it takes and relativity.
And the idea is that as soon as humanity realized that space travel beyond a certain point was not possible, they basically lost the will to live. And yeah, there was a sort of crisis because they weren’t having babies and basically humanity died. That was the point. Whether that’s too preposterous or not, but I think there’s something there.
I think if I go back to why Musk and why successful? Well, because he has got a big vision and it’s a vision that is not necessarily a mainstream vision at all. I think if you can pursue a vision, especially if it’s a vision that goes against the grain or goes against a lot of grains, if not all grains and you can do it and like what you’re doing and get somewhere with it. I think that’s the definition of success.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, it’s really interesting. I think probably even more poignant the fact that I think that they’re predicting tomorrow, which is actually my birthday, the world will hit 8 billion people, which is like a pretty crazy number of earthlings on this planet.
And yeah, I used to have a book when I was a kid. Which was this incredibly detailed, picture book of course. It had all these drawings and architectural plans of all the spaceships that we would be flying around in by the year 2000.
Denis Potemkin: Yeah.
Tyson Ballard: So I remember as a kid having this real excitement about the future, in terms of that, because I think everything was really geared towards, innovation like spaceships and we used to have a show in Australia called: “Beyond and Onwards 2000.” *
And then obviously it went beyond 2000. It was just all the inventions that were happening. I don’t know if our children have the same interest, maybe that’s kind of due to the media. But the children of today don’t have that same enthusiasm towards the future that probably we had as the last generation.
Denis Potemkin: I mean, yeah, certainly in the eighties I think there was a real kind of, I don’t know if the idealism or optimism. And you see it in the culture. You see it in the pop music that was that coming out at the time.
You see it in the businesses that were born around then. I think right now you seem to have so many challenges, that I think that idealism and optimism, is harder to find and I think the kids are also, they’re bombarded. It’s like what we’re talking at the beginning, you know, they’re bombarded.
So social media, even when it bombards you with positives, it’s still, “Hey, these other people leading amazing lives and is my life as amazing as it theirs appear to be. Right?” Even at the positive end, social media can have a negative. So, the kids get bombard with this, I do think it’s. For them to have that sort of level of optimism that we now kind of naive sort of world where we are just, you know, not quite have access to as much information, a little bit more of a bubble.
Tyson Ballard: No, I mean, I still kind of feel like I’m an eternal optimist, but like a question kind of around that. What advice would you give to your younger self now? I mean, I’m not saying that you’re, you’re an old man, but you know, you’re no spring chicken either.
What advice would you give to yourself?
Denis Potemkin: I think I would say, spend enough time with people, to build good friendships and networks. Because when you’re young, especially when you’re single, you’ve got all the time in the world, to do that, right?
But as soon as you have family and kids, very busy jobs, there’s less time, to do that. And when I left my corporate role four or five years ago, that was kind of the real shock to the system. Because I’d spent so much time just at the cold face focusing on my company and my role.
I came out of it and I’m sort of breathing fresh air and I’m having to really build up a lot of those kind of networks and re-establish old friendships and networks that were neglected. And there’s a lot of effort doing that. And it was great, I’ve made some fantastic colleagues as a result of it. But I think, I probably would’ve moved further ahead more quickly if I didn’t have to do that because it was already in place.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, really good advice. I think friendships are incredibly important throughout your life. Like I’ve still got some really good friends that I make contact on a daily basis.
Friends that I went to kindergarten with bizarre, but we’ve drifted apart over years. We kind of come back, but it’s really nice to have those people in your life that have just known you forever. I think we all live crazy lives but it’s nice to have those people that just kind of, you know, have known you before.
Denis Potemkin: Yeah. I mean, some of that’s a long time ago. Some of the original, investors and people who supported and boosted my effort with Majoto were friends from university. Very early, kind of working life. They’ve been incredibly supportive. I even wonder if it hadn’t been for them, we may not have at least, it would’ve been a lot, lot harder to kick off.
Tyson Ballard: All right, so I think we’re getting towards the end. So final question. Um, what would be your theme song?
Denis Potemkin: All right so I’m very glad that you asked. There are potentially several theme songs. I spend a lot of time thinking of lyrical t-shirts these days, and my sales guys are like, “Is this really going to change the game on sales?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, I think it will somehow.” So this is the first, can you read that?
Tyson Ballard: So this is “your contract brings all the boys to the yard”, so that’s a take on the milkshake song, right? Yeah. I like it.
Denis Potemkin: So alright, another one as a tribute to the late and great Olivia Newton John.
Tyson Ballard: Oh, okay may she rest in peace. “Let’s get physical. I wanna get visual.” Nice. I like it. Is this the Majoto merchandise?
Denis Potemkin: Well, it’s kind of Majoto merchandise, except that it’s not branded. I want this to be independently desirable.
I know that there are some legal design friends who are waiting for these t-shirts, and generally I’m saying, “look, anyone who signs with Majoto, gets one of these t-shirts.
Tyson Ballard: If your terms were like, “my dreams, red, gold and green, red, gold and green, that one, that one has steeped me.”
What’s that song?
Denis Potemkin: Chameleon – Boy George.
Tyson Ballard: Ah, so essentially what you’re saying is that you’re an eighties child, apart from these hip hop in the eighties. Is that what we’re dealing with?
Denis Potemkin: You know, it’s funny, there’s two things really. But one is, say at the time, weirdly, I was quite geeky and as a child. So I wasn’t actually that big into a lot of this pop when I was at school. But then later, as an adult, when I listen to “a Karma Chameleon” or some of this stuff and I’m like “man, this is genius.” It’s art so genius and I never really appreciate it at the time, just how genius it was.
And I guess I understand why it was so. Yeah, maybe people didn’t think about in those ways, but there’s so much genius about it. We are recently at SA Stock, which is a SaaS conference in Dublin, we are talking to SaaS businesses and we are sort of showing some of these t-shirts and just generally kind of also just showing to people, “Hey, this is what you can do with your contracts and your Ts and Cs.”
And a lot of lawyers there. There’s a bit of a bubble that understand legal design and the possibilities. But there’s still a lot of lawyers who don’t really quite appreciate what you can do. Right? But in the business world, there’s even less. So there’s a big kind of education piece here to, to sort of show to people, “Hey, look, contracts don’t have to be like the way they are.”
There’s no rule, there’s no sort of legal requirement for them to be the way they are. They could be much better. Just on LinkedIn, just the other day, I mean, there’s so much discussion on it. My guy from the law machine, Andrew Stokes, did a great post around, cross references and definitions. I remember writing about two years ago about that, cross references contracts are full of cross-references. It shouldn’t be like that. They don’t need to because the tech involved in fixing for cross-references it’s quite difficult.
And even once you’ve got all the tech to fix it. You still don’t fix it because you’ll fix for positioning, but if the content changes, there’s no tech that completely fixes the problem of cross references. Right? The only way you can really fix it is to get rid of the boats.
Tyson Ballard: Yeah, and I know which comes down to the design.
Denis Potemkin: Completely. It comes down to the design. Because design is not, I mean, design’s not visual, design is the whole thing. It’s the language. Use it. I mean, Alex Hamilton talks a lot about balance. To me, that’s part of design, how you design a contract.
And design assumes also that it’s not happening on its own. Right? You’re actually intentionally, so there’s two things in design, right? You’re intentionally doing something to create something. And you’re intentionally doing it with a view to the end user. Cause that’s the whole point of design, right?
It’s to create something that works for the end user. Whereas the traditional legal method is, okay, I’m going to take a precedent, Frankenstein it probably adds even more problems on top of what we’re already in that precedent. And that’s it. I think all those things are in there and I think there’s a big education piece in the legal world and outside, but especially outside of the legal world.
So, look, this is what’s possible and we need to be doing it and we need to be doing offline without tech, and then we need to be doing it with the tech and making sure the tech can accommodate and work with it.
Tyson Ballard: And excellent. There are lots of, lots of great information and hot tips in there.
And, thank you so much for joining the Legal Dispatch. Really, amazing discussion as always. Thank you.
Denis Potemkin: Thank you. Great questions and generally good answers.