Joshua Browder (Edition # 21)
Joshua Browder (Founder & CEO at DoNotPay)
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DoNotPay is “The World’s First Robot Lawyer.” Founded by Browder at age 19, DoNotPay began with the initial goal of fighting parking tickets. Now, DoNotPay is a multi-purpose platform that helps consumers cancel subscriptions, sue robocallers, file for benefits, claim unemployment, collect compensation, and more.
The interview took place via a call between Joshua and Gaby Goldberg (Contributor at The Takeoff) on June 24.
You can find Joshua on Twitter @jbrowder1.
We hope you enjoy today’s Edition.
(Estimated read time = 8 mins)
Gaby: Thanks so much for hopping on this phone call with me, especially with just a few hours’ notice! To start off, what is DoNotPay, how did you get started with founding the company, and what’s your mission?
Joshua: I like to think of DoNotPay as the world’s first robot lawyer for consumers. What that means for us is helping people fight corporations and beat bureaucracy — getting money back and avoiding legal paperwork. I started the company almost by accident when I was at Stanford, because I got a bunch of parking tickets — I was coming from the U.K. and not knowing how to drive. I learned that, in the legal system, if you know the right thing to say, you can get out of a lot — like my terrible driving — but you shouldn’t have to pay a lawyer hundreds of dollars to do it. As a software engineer, I realized this could so easily be automated. That’s where I started. It was just for fun, really, but I soon realized that this problem was much bigger than just a few parking tickets, so I started to expand to other areas of the law.
Gaby: Wow, that’s an incredible story of how you got started. Especially considering you don’t have a formal background in law, were there any challenges in tackling this type of problem?
Joshua: There are so many regulations in the legal industry that make people scared to innovate. Specifically, if you're a lawyer, you’re subject to all these different professional rules. Because of that, I think a lot of attorneys are scared to innovate, because maybe they’ll do something wrong and lose their legal license. For me, I just wanted to save people money, so not having that industry experience didn’t really hold me back.
Gaby: It’s incredible that you could use your background and perspective to your advantage in that situation. Along those same lines, you started DoNotPay when you were 19 years old — what were some of the challenges you faced in the earlier stages of founding and growing the company?
Joshua: One of the biggest challenges was actually just getting the product to work. I was an engineer, but I wasn’t really good at any cutting-edge AI or anything like that. The problem with DoNotPay is that there are so many defenses you can choose from, and the user may not necessarily know to click the right defense. What we did very early on was have the software match you to the right defense on the backend, and we incorporated these APIs from IBM Watson and Google. Learning to use all the APIs was one of the biggest steps for DoNotPay, because it meant we could have the same level of technology as, say, a team of PhDs, without actually having to build it ourselves.
Gaby: I saw you mentioned in another interview that the impact of COVID-19 has actually boosted demand for some of the services you offer. Can you elaborate on that and talk a bit more about how things have changed in the last few months?
Joshua: There are two main areas: the first is our COVID-specific products, like helping people claim unemployment and get rent extensions, and those products have just been as a result of COVID-19. But also, the general product of fighting back against companies has also skyrocketed. For example, things like memberships: in 2019, maybe 1 million Americans wanted to cancel their gym membership, but now in 2020, everyone wants to cancel it. I think big companies are using consumers as a lifeline — they’re struggling themselves, and they’re passing those struggles on to the consumer. With airlines, for example, when they cancel flights, they’re refusing to issue refunds and are instead giving out travel credits, saying “Hope you like it.” All of these factors combined have led to our customer service products doing very well right now.
Gaby: Of course, you recently announced the exciting news that DoNotPay raised a $12M Series A round. What has growth looked like so far for the company, and where do you think that growth will go now that you have this additional funding and support?
Joshua: Growth in the past few months has been great. I would say we measure our success by the number of subscribers we have — it costs $3 a month — and so we’ve doubled since April in our subscriber base. As for where we want to be, and I’m probably biased, but I think everyone in America could benefit from DoNotPay. Right now, we have a list of 50 products that we want to build, and one day, hopefully everyone in America, and even in the civilized world, can use our products.
Gaby: My next question is advice-related for our main audience at The Takeoff, which is mostly undergrad, like me, and some grad students. What advice would you give a current student who’s interested in breaking into tech and potentially starting their own company?
Joshua: It’s two things: the first is very cliche, which is to just get started! I could never have imagined that DoNotPay would ever become any sort of company when I was just fighting my parking tickets. I would say to just pursue an idea; you don’t need anyone’s permission. And the second thing, which ties into the first: as a college student, you have a very unique advantage to someone else starting a company, which is that you have almost unlimited time to make an idea work.
If someone is out of college and trying to start a startup, they have to raise money straight away; they have all this pressure, and it has to go from 0 to 100 very quickly. With DoNotPay, I basically took it really slowly at Stanford and figured out what would actually work from a business perspective. It wasn’t that the idea for DoNotPay was entirely unique — there were plenty of predecessor companies that failed for one reason or another — but by taking it very slowly, I could take the time to see why those competitors failed, and before raising any money or doing anything that applies pressure, I could go for a different strategy. For us, that meant focusing on 100 different areas of consumer rights, rather than one.
There have been companies in the past that get you out of your parking tickets, or delayed flight compensation, but I knew from the beginning of DoNotPay that we’d have to focus on a broad suite of things to be successful. That wasn’t obvious, but because I could do it so slowly as a student we figured that out, and we didn’t have to shut down the business by making mistakes that other companies in the past had made.
Gaby: I have a few more questions — out of curiosity, do you have any favorite books, movies, podcasts, or anything of that nature that have been influential in your life as a whole or in your career?
Joshua: In my career, no, but in terms of general learning, yes — I love to read. My favorite book is a book called The Wonga Coup. It’s a historical story about this group of people who come together in this entrepreneurial pursuit to take over a country in Africa.
Gaby: I’ll have to check that book out. Lastly, a question about social media — one of your most popular Tweets highlighted a pretty crazy text exchange between a landlord and tenant, and it really showed the importance of having legal protection from a product like DoNotPay available to the masses. I’m wondering, how have you viewed Twitter and other forms of social media as a way to spread the word about DoNotPay and grow brand recognition? (See below for the tweet)
Joshua: It has been so crucial for us, and I think Twitter is the absolute best social network for founders. It’s not just on the consumer side — for DoNotPay, it’s been huge because I can highlight these stories and products that anyone can relate to, like the landlord scenario. But also, there are lots of other founders, like Austen (Lambda School) and Domm (Fast.co), who use Twitter so much and their companies are very popular. So I would say that every founder should be on Twitter — I even see a lot of founders where, the day after they start a company, they’ve launched a Twitter account, and that really helps them.
Gaby: It really is incredible to see how using Twitter and other socials can contribute to the growth of a company from the very early stages. Alright, those are all the questions I have. Thank you so much, Joshua! This has been really fun.
Joshua: Thank you so much!
** Please note that our interviews may be edited for length, content, and clarity **
I’m on Twitter @gaby_goldberg 👋