In this episode Tyson speaks to Noah Waisberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Zuva, an AI company that helps people pull data out of contracts using their API which comes with 1,200 fields straight out of the box and can plug in to various existing applications.
They discuss Noah’s ‘fairytale’ journey from New York corporate lawyer to two-time start-up entrepreneur, his experiences as a Canadian CEO living in Paris, and how and where he does his best thinking.
Digressions include Noah’s ability to come up with intriguing business names, how kid-learning compares to machine-learning and his surprising penchant for organic, unflavoured, protein powder.
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…
Please note this transcript was automatically generated and has been edited for length and/or clarity.
Tyson: Excellent so Noah Waisberg welcome to the next episode of the Legal Dispatch, great to have you here. this is always my favourite part of the week to, kind of, meet really interesting founders such as yourself. just before we kick in, I will give you a plug for those out there that want to follow you on Twitter it’s @nwaisb so but it’s spelt n-w-a-I-s-b for those on twitter and for LinkedIn I think you can just search on your name right so Noah Waisberg. So welcome!
Noah: Yes, thank you for having me.
Tyson: Yeah, so maybe in the very beginning it’ll be great just to get an introduction., you know, tell us what you do, who you work for, and maybe just a little bit about your history, and we’ll dive into that a little bit as well in the podcast but yeah let’s just set some foundations if we could?
Noah: Sure so I’m Noah Waisberg and I’m a co-founder and the CEO of Zuva. Zuva is an AI company that helps people pull data out of contracts easier than they could otherwise, in a very specific way. Our technology right now, our in-market product, is an API that enables people who would like to get contract intelligence into their software to put in place ours which comes with 1,200 fields straight out of the box and enables you to, kind of, install that functionality into another app which we think is, kind of, cool and fairly different.
Noah: Before that I was the CEO and co-founder of Kira Systems which grew to be probably the biggest contract-analysis player focused on professional service firms, especially legal. We had 18 of the top 25 M&A firms in the world as our customers when we sold to Litera in Sept-, August, September of 2021 we also had parts of all the big four and a whole lot of other alternative legal service providers that used Kira to review contracts faster & more accurately. So I did that from 2011 until 2021, prior to that I was a lawyer, corporate lawyer at Weil Gotshal in New York and that was, kind of, my first full-time, sort of, real job post-school.
Tyson: Yeah so I mean like fascinating story it’s like a it’s like a fairy tale isn’t it it’s exactly 10-year, kind of, journey maybe it’s not a fairy tale for you, but from the outside it is I guess…
Noah: Oh there’s challenges along the way, you know…
Tyson: Yeah, I mean like, you know, I, kind of, like an akin to, kind of, building a house which, I’m just finishing a house after seven years and I’m exhausted, like you must be an absolute glutton for punishment to go, you know, come back and do it again!
Noah: Yeah, it was kind of interesting a couple of my, sort of, peers from Kira, like my co-founder and one of our, sort of, our earliest Senior Exec both took time off afterwards. Yeah, like the first part of Zuva was pretty intense. So we did spin off and we got to take 34 of the Kira employees but that included, like probably 28 or 29 of those were product people – and there was like by me, my EA, and like an awesome IT guy right? And that’s it. And other than that there were like no administrative people, and Kira people gave us some support but like, we were very lean administratively. And fortunately we were able to hire up quickly and, you know, fill out a bunch of different roles so it’s gotten better but those first few months were pretty hard and pretty exhausting and I was like what am I doing at some points. But at other points I was like, overall I was still really having fun, and it just like was a really good team and a really good problem and I was just enjoying setting everything up again from scratch. Really I wouldn’t have done it, but I just thought the opportunity was really a neat one like we had for so long thought that Kira obviously got pretty solid traction inside the legal market but we thought that there was such a big adjacent market with other people who need data out of contracts and it was just such an amazing opportunity to be able to get, number one, kind of, like a copy of our underlying contract-finding technology from Kira as well as like some different things that we’ve been working on there that we hadn’t really brought to market. so to get that stuff and then 34 like really strong teammates was just, kind of like, an opportunity, I guess including me, it was an opportunity that just seemed like I should keep pushing through even though I was tired.
Tyson: Yeah, and I guess that must be a testament then to a really good relationship with the people that you sold to to, kind of, have that trust and, you know, and I guess to allow, you know, because typically with those sales it’s a very, kind of, tight binding non-compete like, you know, I’ve had friends who have done that in other areas of businesses where they basically have had to go and hibernate for until this, kind of, non-compete comes off and before they can, kind of, enter into anywhere near the space that, kind of, that you have so it must have been a good deal…
Noah: Yeah, I think it was a good deal, I think I give them like Litera and HG who are, kind of, the private equity firm behind them, a lot of creativity for just being willing to be creative around a deal. Like what happened they, kind of, came to us offered a price that was fair but not one that we were inclined to take because we were, kind of, inclined to keep pushing the business and so we initially, kind of, were going to go back and just say no, and then we reflected on it and we realized that they only needed part of our business, right, like they were only really interested in part of our business and that we could sell them that part of our business and not the other part of the business. And we didn’t think it would even hurt them based on what we knew about their mission which was to, kind of, become like one vendor for law firms and so as we, kind of, looked at their business what we realized was we had these other parts of Zuva that really excited me and really excited my co-founder and really excited some of the people on our team within Kira, that if I were Litera, I would have actually shut down, right, like it just it would be inconsistent with their mission and they cost a lot of money. So what we were able to, kind of, offer them was an ability to get our business but with a bunch of the sort of unnecessary costs that wouldn’t have interested them stripped out immediately and also to sort of make a pretty unique deal where it wouldn’t go to like some, kind of, auction format and get price competitive so it really enabled, kind of, Litera I think to get an asset they felt like at a price they were willing to pay and us to, kind of, get a price that we were sort of happy with in the context of getting into this broader deal as well so it was a really cool deal and I give them a lot of credit for the creativity and, kind of, courage to go do something that a lot of other people might not have.
Tyson: Yeah, and congratulations to you like I’m like, as a serial entrepreneur myself, like it’s so hard to sell companies. I’m really always excited to start them and build them but selling them is, it’s not, that’s no easy feat so congratulations…
Noah: Story’s not done yet!
Tyson: Yeah, yeah, exactly and we’ll talk more about Zuva for sure I mean like I’m really interested, you know, you’re Toronto based and we chatted before about how, you know, you spent some time in New York but right now you’re in the in the beautiful bourgeois city of Paris… Tell me like what does the day in the life of Noah look like? You know, what is your, what is that, what happens every, you know, I imagine it’s very varied and different but, you know, give us give us an example of, you know, of a day in the life?
Noah: So it’s much less varied during the, kind of, Covid period because in pre-Covid times I travelled a lot for work one of the things about running a company out of Canada is that nearly all your revenue, if it’s a healthy company in legal tech, your revenue is nearly all from elsewhere. right so I think about 95 percent of our revenue was non-Canadian which meant that even though we had very nice penetration in Canada, like I think five of the seven Seven Sisters firms were Kira customers, it still meant like 95% of our revenue was coming from elsewhere. So that meant I was on a plane a lot but during Covid times things are more regular. First thing to know about me is I am very much a night person, right, so my strange, as you mentioned, I am working from Europe for a couple months, from Paris for a couple months right now as we speak, and just sort of taking advantage of lockdowns and office closures to work remotely. And what I found is it works amazingly well with my schedule, because nothing like, right now we’re speaking at 1pm Paris time, and it’s like one of the few times that I have a meeting before, say, like two or three or even four… And as a night person that works super well. I try to, other things that I try to do, I’ve got three young kids, and I try to make sure I spend time with them when not traveling, which again very easy these days. Yeah, especially like pretty rare that I book anything during their, kind of, bedtime and dinner time and then the third thing I try to mostly take my weekends off. That wasn’t always the case early days of Kira I grinded through them, but I found that I can work pretty intensely during the five days that I’m on and I still will generally put in maybe, by weekends off I mean I still might work a bunch on like a Sunday night or something like that, but and if I have to, like, I’ll do it, otherwise like during the deal or something like that I certainly can, but I just try to get a break then. And number four I try to exercise a fair amount like at least sort of three more intense exercise sessions a week if I can. So those are the, kind of, things about my day, but generally like more afternoon-y, kind of, stuff like not, alas, in the pre-kids days I could maybe wake up pretty late these days it’s a little bit harder to do that but I do tend to just be more productive late in the day so it wouldn’t be I know some of my teammates have to get them used to the idea that like just because you get a message from me at like, you know, 1 or 2 a.m. like just don’t stress it. So the nice thing about being here is I’m six hours ahead of time and it works out perfectly right like you send a message at like 2 a.m. and it’s like 8pm like a, kind of, civilized hour.
Tyson: Yeah, I must take a leaf out of your book because for the, pretty much, for the whole of the lockdown we went the reverse way, so I went to the Caribbean and spent the lockdown in the Dominican, but that meant I had to wake up at four every, you know, actually 3.30 every morning because that was when London was coming over. Yeah it was tough I mean it was great because you had it all the afternoons with the kids and, you know, the beach and that was fantastic but it is exhausting to get up at 3.30 for, you know, months on end…
Noah: Yeah, I had like a week-long stretch where I was further west so it’s, kind of, the same type of experience and I found that it’s hard. It is nice to have that afternoon off but it did not work perfectly for my schedule…
Tyson: Yeah and I understand you’re a night owl and like me too, but and I also understand, you know, kids have no mercy for the sleep-ins, like I can sympathize with that for sure, but like what are your morning habits like? Do you, do you, meditate, do you get a cup of tea, do you get a croissant, or?
Noah: -laughing- I have pretty much the same breakfast every single day. It is always like plain, generally lower fat, yogurt with protein powder and some fruit. I switch up the fruit but that’s about it, not a big sugar person… So generally an unflavoured protein powder. I can, come to me for unflavoured organic protein powder recommendations and I can hook you up! And anyways, just do that often a few days probably three days a week go to my gym from back home here I’ve been varying up that a little bit. And then otherwise just sort of sit down and work for a while. I’ll try to do some calls, depending on if I can, walking. Right, like switch some meetings from being like a video call to a walking call. Especially, like, if they’re internal like with someone who I haven’t spoken to before probably stay with video but if it’s someone who I know relatively well might well do it as a walking call and try to encourage the other person to as well. Yeah generally, you know, do the sort of family bedtime and then pretty often in the evenings I’m back at work until it wouldn’t be that weird for me to work until like midnight or one or two…
Tyson: Yeah, just on just on the walking one, like, I mean obviously as a CEO – and you’ve been one for quite long a long time and obviously very successful – you ,I mean, you have to have that helicopter view, but then obviously still be tactical when you need to, but not too tactical, I think as a CEO. But like you’re talking about doing the calls when you walk, is that do you think, like you do a lot of good thinking when you’re moving your body, as opposed to, and do you think, do you, I think that thinking part do you do that collaboratively or do you do that, you know, by yourself and then come with an ideas where is your best thinking happening?
Noah: Yeah so that’s a that’s a very interesting question actually so one of the things that I found with the walking calls is they’re good for thinking, not as good for sorting through, like, structured agenda items if that makes sense? Like, if it’s something you have like a hard set of agenda items probably doing them not walking like sitting down and maybe even with like an actual agenda, notes and stuff like that is a more effective way to do it. But if it is, kind of, thinking thinking, I find a walk can be an effective way to do that. Sometimes talking to someone, sometimes not. Like I definitely have some teammates where my thinking has progressed a lot through, sort of, batting ideas off of them, so walking and talking to them can be pretty effective. You know, as an overall thing, I think one of the quirks of being a start-up founder is like – and like executive at a start-up company – is like people assume maybe that like, you know, all you’re doing is innovating all the time. When in fact like a lot of the power comes through not innovating, right, like it’s just like picking a few things that you’re going to do and then just trying to be pretty careful about figuring out what those few things you’re going to do are, and then just doing those few things and not doing everything else. So like not going off in lots of different directions and actually just staying focused. So like in fact I’m not going to say like creativity doesn’t matter because I think there are lots of times when you can think up more clever solutions to problems, but I don’t know that you’re necessarily trying to like spur creativity as much.
Tyson: Yeah, yeah, yeah…
Noah: I think it comes more naturally, right, and it’s like the, you know, relentless focused execution, that is the harder and perhaps more important part for a lot of start-up people.
Tyson: Yeah I imagine I mean everyone has this romantic idea that every start-up is just like Steve Jobs right everyone’s creating this this apple which I imagine is also incredible hard work as well but like that, you know, that it is a very creative, kind of, strategic, fun, innovative, way to work.
Noah: Yeah if you if you read about Jobs like towards, well first of all, like reading about Jobs towards like the latter half of his career – first of all I don’t know that like it was a fun place to work, but I think it was like yes, where people did the best work of their lives – so I think that is like a really positive thing but I think if you read about Jobs through the years like in fact, like he had creative moments, but I think a lot of his thing was just like a maniacal focus on the details, like on execution. Like it’s not like we have to come up with a new product, it’s like actually we need to do less products and we need to do them exceedingly well… I said on an Apple computer and looking at my iPhone…
Tyson: Yeah, exactly, yes me too… But yeah like I’ve just finished reading Bad Blood as well I don’t know if you’ve heard about it? Which is on the other scale, right, which is everyone thought she was Steve Jobs however she was executing smoke and mirrors potentially…
Noah: Yeah that one… Yeah, that is a story that like – I’m not going to say it makes you feel good, because I like obviously not good or anything like that – but like there’s times where running a start-up’s really hard right? Like you can have like, you know, we had periods where we went like our end of year numbers were like two people, two like two people, three people, four people, like then it was like eight people, 20 people, 30 people, and 18 months later it was like 100 people. And then it was, you know, every day more and that’s like it’s really hard and stuff is breaking all the time during that period, right, because even if you have it right, at say a 30 size like you grow that by 50 and all of a sudden everything is broken, and it’s not like you’re growing up by 50 you’re actually like tripling it or something like that right, so stuff’s breaking all the time and I remember I was in the midst of a period like that which like in retrospect was actually a pretty good period, like we’re growing, well there’s like some issues that I remember reading Bad Blood and just being like, you know, it could be a lot worse!
Tyson: Yeah in Swedish they have the saying like Elon’s problem which is like first world problems. I think yeah it’s a good problem to have the growth one, I think for us at SYKE right now it’s the same, like we’re growing really quickly and, you know, Alastair and Lewis are, kind of, you know, the COO, CEO, they’re I think they’re experiencing exactly what you’re just talking about, you know, when you build for 50 and it’s like holy crap, you know, now we’re on towards 80 and then, you know, we’re 160 like et cetera.
Noah: It’s really challenging and like stuff’s breaking all the time and you just can’t fix it right away and you just have to like choose things to fix first, and leave other things sucking for a while, and ideally you choose right but you don’t always get it right like, you know, that people get really unhappy when you get it wrong.
Tyson: Yeah, maybe changing it up a bit, like, when you think of the word “successful” who’s the first person that comes to your mind, and why?
Noah: Well, you know, probably we were just thinking we were just talking about Steve Jobs so probably due to a recency effect he’s going to come to my head. But I think it’d be pretty hard not to credit him. I think I probably would incline at this stage of my life towards thinking about lots of entrepreneurs who’ve been really successful so Steve Jobs or Elon Musk or like Frank Slootman. Like those guys really stand out to me as people who’ve been successful in different ways, but I think there’s probably lots more unsung ones that I might be able to come up with if I had a little bit more time. But just somehow I happened to like we were just talking about Jobs and just reading Slootman’s book like yeah Musk gets pretty hard to get away from these days…
Tyson: And speaking of books obviously you’re an author yourself…
Tyson: And AI for Lawyers, which is a great book very, kind of, practical, like I mean I’m really interested at what, you know, obviously you went from this lawyer right to this this AI entrepreneur. You know, what was the internal conversation that you had with yourself in your mind or maybe it’s to your wife I’m not sure, that said, “you know, what I’m done with the law firm I’m going to make the leap” what was the moment that made that happen and what was the conversation you had with yourself?
Noah: So, I had been thinking about – like as much as anything I ended up in law as a bit of a default – I had been in a PhD program in political science prior to going to law school and I realized it wasn’t what I felt like doing for the rest of my life, and I’m a fairly practical person I guess and it – I realized that I was like exceedingly well qualified to go to a good law school and like questionably qualified to get anything else. And so I figured I would take the LSAT and see if I did okay, and then apply to a limited number of schools if I did okay. And I did that while still in my PhD program on the thought that I could just finish my PhD and try to get something from there. I ended up in law school but it was, kind of, like I like I think many people go to law school a bit of a default, like for me it was like a bit of a quirky default since a lot of my family members like including my dad, like my grandfather, my aunt, and stuff had been lawyers and judges, so it was something I was like pretty familiar with. But it was something where even though I thought it was a good job, and really interesting, and noble, maybe because so many of those family members had done it I, kind of, resisted it. But at a point it seemed like the right thing to do, and so I went, did that and ended up at a large law firm, Weil Gotshal, which I really liked, great place. I still have like a ton of really close friends from there, I learned a ton doing it, but it wasn’t what I felt like doing for the rest of my life.
Noah: When I looked at the partners there, many of whom really impressed me, like were super smart, it didn’t seem like the best way to sort of work. Like, ultimately, I remember one of the partners we worked with and like we had something come up on a deal and she sort of cancelled, like she had rented she – her 45th or 50th birthday or whatever was coming up and she and her husband had rented like a private island and like they were all excited about this trip – and like something came up on this deal that like, you know, in retrospect was not like probably the biggest deal of her career, right, like it was like an average run-of-the-mill deal like it was, kind of, important but not like, you know, a career-making deal by any means. And she like cancelled her trip right and I would just see that, kind of, thing over and over again, and it just it did not seem like the partners did very well but it did not seem like the best way to make money. Like even at the end of the road like these people seemed like they were working exceedingly hard, super stressed, like there just wasn’t, like it’s not a great business, right, like you’re selling your hours and the hours of a limited set of associates who work for you. And so I thought it wasn’t what I felt like doing for the rest of my life and that I should leave and so then my question was, and I felt like doing something business-y, and my question was should I start something myself or should I get a job in an existing company because I felt like I had a lot to learn. And so I, kind of, spent like a year probably doing informational interviews talking to people who left legal jobs mostly and ended up, I had a talk with this one guy Wes Voorhees who, kind of, like inspired me that you weren’t going to be able to if you felt like leaving law that you wouldn’t be able to figure out what to do next in your sort of evenings and weekends that it was a big enough task that you needed the mental freedom of quitting and just sitting and thinking. And so I did. Eventually, in fact like there’s more of a story to it than that, but I just quit and sat and thought and when I quit I had been thinking about doing one lawyer efficiency business started to, kind of, work through that after I quit and sort of travelled and rested for a bit.
Noah: And then realized that that one wasn’t going to be a big business started to think about another one that basically some people have built since and I think has turned into like an okay business but not a great business but it didn’t excite me that much, but then started thinking about contracts and I realized that they could be a really nice business. Like when I’d quit first of all I didn’t think it was what I felt like doing for the rest of my life, but secondly just law seemed so inefficient and that was both unfun as one of the junior people who had to do that inefficient work, but seemed very unsustainable. And so because it was unsustainable I thought that, kind of, offered the opportunity to sort of profit from the change, and so got going on contracts which excited me and I thought felt fit the theory very well that I saw junior corporate lawyers spend huge amounts of time reviewing contracts that they made mistakes on this super important work. But that they tend to be looking for the same things over and over again and so because of that we thought there was an opportunity to build software to help people find that stuff and pull it out. And so that’s it was, kind of, like a desire for change plus the right idea got me to start Kira, and with Zuva it was again just seeing like an opportunity and an opportunity to work with a great, like to take an opportunity that I thought was really exciting and go at it with a really great group of people that seemed like worth taking again.
Tyson: And I mean obviously, you know, we talked about you starting the new company you’ve jumped straight back in again, no rest for the wicked. And you must have learned some gigantic lessons with Kira… Yeah not to mention just being a father as well but anyways that’s a different topic but what would you say is your biggest fa- your favourite failure, that you have what did you learn and I guess maybe what are some of the things that you’re bringing to Zuva that, you know, that you’ve, kind of, put to bed at Kira?
Noah: So one thing that I like to think I can tell you about times when we made big mistakes with Kira, but one of the things that I always think about is there’s a scene in Game of Thrones and I don’t know if you watched that show at all but?
So, you know, at the point in Game of Thrones when Theon Greyjoy and Bran Stark are talking, and Theon’s like I’ve done all, at the tree right, and it’s like getting close to the end and Theon was like “I’ve done all these terrible things like I just feel so bad” and Bran is like “you are here because of all the things that you’ve done right so and like that’s who you are and in fact it’s brought you to this point where you can do something really important” and I think about a lot of the mistakes that we’ve made that we made with Kira along the way as sort of that. Like in fact we made these mistakes, but the mistakes, kind of, like well they may not have been the individual best decision at that point they sort of caused us to do things that worked out quite well. And I think with Kira overall the business worked out very well.
Noah: So, you know, like I, my our shareholders generally got a pretty nice return, you know, I think we made actual like people adopted our solution more than most legal tech problems I think we, kind of, established segment like probably had a pretty big impact on establishing what looks like a fairly large contract analysis segment right now. Got a lot done, so there’s things that we did wrong like for example in the early days we sort of decided that we were going to target corporate lawyers with a tool that would help them review whatever contract they put into the system, right, and in fact there are like a lot of easier ways to solve that problem like you could just target insurance companies and just target like insurance contracts which wouldn’t be that different, and so it’ll find them easier, or you can make people tell you like what type of contract they were putting in which could also make it easier, but we opted for this like super-hard problem. And it turned out our technology did not work well for it at first, right ,so we then spent like a super hard, kind of, two and a half, or like it sort of took us two and a half years to get the technology to work right, like one thing we might have done instead and like probably the more sensible thing to have done would have been to say like okay, well we have technology that doesn’t work that well is there someone who will buy technology that doesn’t work that well? As opposed to, kind of, like keeping ourselves relentlessly focused on this harder problem of a set of people who needed the technology to work really well. And that, kind of, cost us a couple years of making money right and like just added stress and added a ton of business risk. On the other hand we eventually got to the end of the road, right like we got the technology to work and here we sit today right. Like running another company that’s basically founded off this first technology that we built, where we put all this intense effort into it. So it was a mistake but I think like most of the times mistakes work out pretty well, my one exception to that would be sometimes you make hiring mistakes where like they’re mistakes right like there’s not necessarily that much of a silver lining to them they just hurt your business.
Tyson: Yeah I think I was I was chatting to another Dad just before this call actually and it was actually about school and his kid is having a lot of problems with the school and it’s like literally an identical school to where our kids go, but the teacher is amazing so I think, you know, you can have good, bad people in good organizations, good people in bad organizations, but what is key is having good people around you and that’s, kind of, always at the core. The other thing I was about to say is I definitely think that, you know, just keeping that momentum, one foot, you know, like almost like one foot in front of the other just keep on going, all the time and, kind of, not quitting is really, even if you are getting, you know, even if it’s not going so well all the time, is incredibly challenging. But very inspiring in terms of that and if you think of like, you know, great basketball teams or great sporting teams that they very much live with that ethos as well which I find quite inspiring.
Noah: Yeah there’s definitely significant ups and downs but like and so, you know, the promise you get to this point where like, you know, during the ups that the down is coming, right, but then equally during the downs like it tends to get better…
Tyson: Yeah a bit like bitcoin… But what about what about if I was to say what would be your theme song like, you know, if you were to pick one theme song that encapsulates Noah, what would be that what would be the song?
Noah: -laughs- that’s a hard question! I think it would probably be upbeat, since I am generally, you know, not every single moment, like there are for everyone those downs, but I think I’m pretty positive and upbeat. So I think it would be something upbeat… But I don’t, I’ve never really thought of what my walk out song or something like that would be, but yeah I think I think it’ll be upbeat. I’ll have to that’s a good question…
Tyson: What about if you were to give a TED talk, and it’s not about contracts or law or things like that, what would be the subject that you would pick, and why?
Noah: I think the thing that I would be most likely to do a TED talk on is I have this idea around from running a machine learning company while having children… So I should add that we started Kira in – started thinking about it in late 2010 got going on in early 2011 – had my first kid in sort of second half of 2012. And I think the experience of sort of teaching a machine learning, while watching a human learn has been, kind of, fascinating, and so if I was going to do a TED talk I have an idea around that that I think could be a good one, that I’ve been meaning to write up but alas have not yet.
Tyson: And are you drawing parallels between the two in terms of…?
Noah: So I think like one of the interesting things is, you think about, there’s like three different ways that people, or sorry that machines, learn, right. The first is you sort of tell it explicit extra instructions like rules what to do. The second is more like a supervised learning situation where it’s like you’re telling it something, like for example the way we teach Zuva to find new information in contracts is we give it examples of what it’s looking for and we say like “this is an exclusivity clause” right and “this is not an exclusivity clause” right so giving that, kind of, repeated information. And the third choice is through more of like a deep, or sort of an unsupervised learning. So you got like rules, supervised learning, and then unsupervised learning where you’re just giving the system a whole ton of data and it’s figuring out most of its patterns. Five years ago, ten years ago, like most of the industry applications would have been more rules based, they’ve switched over to more machine-learning, some supervised. But today actually, getting to be a lot more unsupervised. You think about a kid, and it’s like it’s basically all unsupervised learning. Like there are occasional things where you give them strict rules, but like mostly that’s not working, right, in terms of instructing them. There’s occasional times when you’re like “this is how you wave” right, like “wave like this”. But mostly like kids are just watching the world around them and learning that way and they’re super powerful, and you like most of the things so most of their complex life is picked up in this unsupervised learning, kind of, way and so what it makes me think about is just how like much room we have to improve what computers can do as they become more like kids in using, as we get better at using unsupervised learning techniques.
Noah: Probably the closest that I would, like, if you think about doing a TED talk it’s both like “what’s something interesting” that you think about but that like they might actually have as a TED talk, and I think it is most likely that I end up doing one on that right now, but that probably says something about my life not being as interesting as it might be yet…
Tyson: No, no, it’s great. What about, where does the name Zuva come from?
Noah: Ah, well, when we started with doing the spin-out, we needed to think about a new name for the business and we had, kind of, like two choices. So Kira meant “ray of light” in Sanskrit and so one possibility was to choose a Sanskrit word, or something different. Right, like same language, but just like sort of different meaning. And so we came up with a bunch of words that way, and sort of settled on a Sanskrit word that we thought was appealing and, kind of, had a meaning that worked and we liked it, but the other thing that we thought about was like, is there a way to express the same concept as Kira but in a different language? And so we, kind of, started thinking about those like ray of light and illumination type concepts, and seeing how they were expressed in different languages. We ended up finding the word ‘Zuva’, which means sort of like sunlight slash daybreak in Shona, which is a language of Zimbabwe. And we thought that it was really appropriate, because it was saying the same thing, right like we’re still fundamentally a contracts AI company, but we’re saying it in a different way. Like we’re just trying to both what we’re doing in terms of our software is different than what we did at Kira, but also I think how we’re trying to do it as a company, like there’s just things that we’ve learned that we are trying to do differently with this new business, and so a different language seemed like an apt, kind of, metaphor for that. So we also liked how Zuva was, kind of, distinctive and aggressive, and not aggressive like it’s going to beat you up, but it’s like it’s not the cautious choice. And I think as a company like we are trying to do something that is different than I think a lot of other companies are doing and we’re trying to do it in a more exciting way, right like we’ve had an okay outcome already and so we’re really trying to push it and maybe do things in a less risk-averse way than we might have with Kira at this stage.
Tyson: Yeah that’s a cool name. I like, I was learning about the Zimbabwean word ‘ubuntu’ as well just the other day which, kind of, means it’s like it means the power of the people moving forward and, kind of, you know, thinking positively and things you can accomplish with the group. So yeah like it’s bizarre that this week has been about Zimbabwean tribal words but…
Noah: For what it’s worth, yesterday I did a little tourist expedition to the Palais de Tokyo which is the contemporary art museum and they have a whole, like the theme of their,, or one of their, main exhibits on right now is ubuntu!
Tyson: Okay there you go yeah there you go there you go…
Noah: A country that alas is having a hard time right now…
Tyson: What about one final question before we wrap up which is, you know, like I don’t think you’re quite as senior as me, like in on the age, but like but what advice would you give to your younger self, you know, fresh out of out of law school if you were to do it all again what would you say?
Noah: I would say most, not every single one, but I would say more of my regrets at this stage in my life are things that I didn’t do than that I did. So, you know, you really like your life when you can do, like it’s just do stuff with your life. like it’s short. and the periods you can do stuff are short. Right like it’s just my life, like I love having kids, and like everything right now, but it’s just my life is different now than it was before. Like totally great in a different way, but it’s like you’re in a different phase of your life and you really need to treasure the other phases of your life and take most advantage of them.
Tyson: Yeah, I think that is a time in your life isn’t it which is, you know, you’re not always a single person or maybe you’re in a relationship or whatever, but there is a time in your life where you’re, kind of, going that you’re, kind of, that young left university, you know, maybe first second job where you’re learning lots but you’re really present usually amongst yourself like, you know, yourself really well and also you’re not responsible for lots of other little humans at that point in time typically so it is a special time to do stuff I agree. Yeah really good.
Noah: I think that’s what I’d say. Other thing that I’d say that I think I was okay at, is like relationships matter. Like there’s people who like I don’t think that was the reason for kira’s success or anything like that, but there’s definitely like friends and people you’re friendly with and people you’ve known for a really long time can definitely, like, people that I used to work with, and the like can be pretty helpful to you in time, and so being a decent person in your engagements with others can make a pretty big difference later on…
Tyson: Yeah, yeah, I agree. All right we’re a little bit over time but thank you so much for yeah thank you so much I really appreciate it some great insights and yeah and like, you know, absolutely go and enjoy the croissants and the crepes and some wonderful snails.
Noah: It’s a pretty great eating place – like it is amazing how much better like just the baguette from the like random place on the corner, like is significantly better than anything I can get in Toronto. Like just like order of magnitude better from like not even going like, you know, the crazy place or anything like that just like the one up the street…
Tyson: Yeah excellent oh well I’m very jealous I could I could definitely do with some right now….