Startup Corner: Ayora talks fee-earner revenue management

Ayora leverages advanced data analytics and AI to help fee-earners track all of the financial aspects of their matters to make their ‘second job’ as revenue managers easier. We found out more about Ayora including details about its tech, leadership team, investment to date, and – of course – a fact that not many people know about it. 

How would you describe your company to a friend?
Our product, the Smart Lockup Assistant, helps lawyers keep track of all the financial aspects of their matters. That is a critical but challenging area for law firms given that busy lawyers need to balance client work with all the admin – we make it easier for them to perform their “second job” as revenue managers!

For example, the Assistant can see when the team’s work is veering out of scope (or budget) and make it easy for the partner to update their client. It can also spot where an interim bill could be justified, or notice where credit control could benefit from a partner’s helping hand to collect an overdue invoice. The Assistant is much more than a notification tool – it can generate (but never send) draft emails, simplify and organise collaboration between the fee earners, their PAs and billing teams and provide rich context, straight into the lawyer’s inbox. In the background, the Smart Lockup Assistant uses its data engine to perform complex statistical computations that form the basis of its recommendations – because no two matters are the same!

And if you had to describe it to a techy?
We are building a decision assistance system that uses advanced statistical computations to infer inflection points in unstructured processes (legal matters), and at the right time, activates personalised workflow management tools to remove decision-related friction. Our product is composed of three layers: the data layer (which infers inflection points using data science and ML), the agent layer (which interacts with the relevant fee earners) and the Management Information layer (which provides rich analytics on matter lifecycle). The Assistant draws on insights from behavioural sciences to promote engagement and motivate the fee earners to act on its recommendations. Our product embeds itself in our customers’ existing tech stacks – we ingest data from Practice Management Systems and leverage internal tools such as email, MS Teams and PowerBI to deliver our insights.

When were you founded?
Late 2022

By who?
Stefan Ciesla and Dr. Gordon McKenzie, PhD – a former financier and a surgeon-turned-engineer respectively. Stefan spent almost a decade in investment banking and PE-backed corporate development, and latterly specialised in M&A at the intersection of financial and professional services. He also had the privilege of working alongside many leading lawyers in the process! Gordon started his career as an academic surgeon, but couldn’t shake off his passion for building things. Following a PhD combining applied machine learning and decision science, he transitioned to an engineering career. Prior to co-founding ayora, he was a senior engineer at a deep tech spin-out from the University of Cambridge. Both Stefan and Gordon share a passion for improving organisational decision-making and leveraging technology to promote positive change.

Who are your key managers/senior execs?
We are a small team – our third colleague, Kevin Duff, PhD, is our Lead Platform Engineer. Kevin is an experienced software developer with background in physics and scientific software development. Following his PhD in computational physics at Cambridge, Kevin worked for some of the hottest British unicorns and early-stage startups before joining the founding team at ayora.

What is your growth strategy?
We support blue-chip law firms – our ideal client is a forward-thinking, international or large national law firm looking to enhance its financial outcomes, make the most of its practice and matter management data and ultimately make its lawyers’ lives easier.

Have you received investment?
Yes, we raised a substantial angel round in late 2022. We are fortunate to count many highly accomplished PE-backed executives among our backers.

What are your key achievements to date?
We have managed to hit many important milestones in our journey to date. Early on, we invested in our security environment and secured the ISO 27001 certification – no mean feat! We then won a spot with MDR LAB, Mishcon de Reya’s accelerator. That was a transformational experience that allowed us to ship an MVP in record time and then rapidly build the Smart Lockup Assistant on solid foundations.

Who are your target clients?
We support blue-chip law firms – our ideal client is a forward-thinking, international or large national law firm looking to enhance its financial outcomes, make the most of its practice and matter management data and ultimately make its lawyers’ lives easier.

Have there been any key changes in direction since you were founded?
We initially set out to build a generic corporate treasury toolkit, but soon realised that the legal industry is the niche we want to target. Whilst our focus on helping improve financial outcomes is a clear legacy of that earlier path, we now see ourselves as a decision-assistance business first and foremost.

What are the key challenges you face in your market?
Our biggest challenge has been to balance rapid product iteration on one hand, and technical debt on the other. We know that this is not unique to us, and made the brave decision to re-factor our earliest MVP post-beta testing. We have been able to move extremely fast thanks to the feedback loop provided by MDR LAB, and are confident that the foundations we have laid down now will pay off in the future.

What are the most exciting developments you’ve seen in your market in the past year for the past year to 18 months?
No prizes for guessing… LLM technology & ChatGPT have opened lawyers’ eyes to a revolution in the industry.

Firms know they have to engage with the tech to avoid being left behind, and the lawyers themselves are stunned at the proficiency of large language models in performing routine legal tasks.

The key going forward will be separating the products that actually solve key problems for users and those which promise the world and deliver little of value.

Tell us something that people don’t already know about the company?
Ayora is named after the main town in the Galapagos Islands that hosts the Charles Darwin Research Station. Beyond being a magical place, it’s an important centre for scientific study that greatly contributes to our understanding of how the world has evolved, and where it might go next.