Qualified solicitor Lauren Riley was so convinced that her app could revolutionise the legal sector she went toe-to-toe with Sir Alan Sugar in search of funding.
Now aged 29, she appeared in the tenth series of The Apprentice but missed out on a potential investment of £250k for her The Link App idea after being told “you’re fired” in week seven.
Undeterred by the experience, the entrepreneur funded the idea herself before completing two investment rounds from prominent angels and institutional investors. She has no regrets about appearing on the hit TV show.
“Despite the way it’s edited, it was good fun to film and a great process to be a part of,” she tells BusinessCloud.
“Both The Link App and myself have benefited from the general public getting behind us. My social media has been very valuable when setting up a business.
“My LinkedIn and Twitter pages between them have just under 20,000 followers. Things like that are valuable in business and I’ve managed to get a lot of press on the back of that exposure on the show.”
She continued: “For me, going on The Apprentice just made sense; I needed advice on how my idea should be brought to market. One of the biggest values of The Apprentice is the PR that surrounds it; I knew the benefits from the exposure were fantastic, so it seemed like a good idea.”
In terms of funding the app, she says: “It was a scary decision but I decided to completely self-fund my business idea and put my own money behind it. Now I’m a self-made entrepreneur!”
The app can be downloaded for free on Apple and Android devices and works by sending push notifications to clients at key points during a case. Riley believes The Link App has the potential to be used by every lawyer and solicitor across the country in 2017.
“The Link App is a communications tool revolutionising how law firms communicate with their own clients,” she explains. “The app is technology in two parts – there’s the desktop application and the mobile application – so the lawyers are using their desktops to push information through to their clients’ mobile phones.
“Client expectations are increasing and this change means law firms have to adapt. The Link App serves to increase productivity across the working day by keeping clients in the loop without the need for back and forth communication, which ultimately frees up valuable time.”
So how does it work financially?
“It’s free for the clients to use and we charge on a per-user basis for the law firms,” Riley explains. “Law is an industry with very traditional methods and after seeing the frustrations first-hand I knew there was a much better, more efficient way for law firms to practise communication with their clients.
“Client satisfaction is a huge problem because, quite rightly, if clients are not kept in the loop then they’re not happy. Lawyers have to have a stronger emphasis on communication and better tools with which to communicate and that’s where technology and The Link App comes in.”
The legal sector is perceived as being slow to embrace tech but Riley says that is changing.
“The industry has been painted out to be very resistant to technological change,” she says. “That’s probably fair to say historically, however now there is big movement in that space. The Link App was specifically created for lawyers by lawyers. It fits into their needs and levels of technology and understanding.”
Growing up on the Fylde Coast, Riley is a Northerner born and bred and has recently released The Link App in Manchester.
“From a young age I knew I wanted to be a lawyer and what I needed to do to get there. I followed a straight academic route – GCSEs, A-Levels, university and law school – to get the job I wanted.
“Having my own business was never on the cards – I wouldn’t have known what an entrepreneur was as a child so it was never something I aspired to be at a young age.”
A female tech entrepreneur with little experience in tech herself, Riley naturally encountered problems when setting up the app. She highlights just how crucial it is to bridge the skills shortage gap.
“It was always going to be difficult setting up a technology business, being a non-technology founder myself. From a technical perspective there are gaps in my knowledge and I’ve only been able to fill those gaps by putting the right team behind me.
“Hiring really high quality technical people has been a challenge because they are so sought after. Building a great team around me was the most challenging part of the process.”
As well as her entrepreneurial pursuit, Riley is also a public speaker. “It’s not an easy journey, but I can’t think of anything more rewarding than to set up a business of your own,” she says.
“To follow your passion and your dream and to watch it flourish is not without hard work, effort or ups and downs. But it’s a fantastic opportunity and an experience that you can’t replicate.
“I would advise budding entrepreneurs to know their strengths, play to those and co-found with someone who has complementary skills.”