“No one should have to go to court alone.”
Kristina Jones and James Jones are the co-founders of Court Buddy, an online platform that instantly matches consumers with pre-screened solo and small-firm lawyers for court appearances or court-related matters. Once matched, Court Buddy facilitates all attorney-client communications through its app, CourtBuddy Chat, and handles all payments from consumers to attorneys through CB Direct Pay. Court Buddy also provides financing for consumers.
Court Buddy has received tons of press and accolades since its launch in 2015 — including awards from the American Bar Association and, most recently, a 2018 “People’s Voice” Webby in the law website category.
Court Buddy has also raised more than $1 million in venture capital investments to date, making it one of only 34 funded startups led by an African American female co-founder to do so, according to digitalundivided’s ProjectDiane 2018 report, a biennial survey of black women founders and entrepreneurs in the US.
GingerBread Capital recently spoke with Kristina about Court Buddy’s meteoric success, the advantages of venture capital backing, and some tips on what makes a business partnership with her spouse work.
Tell us a little about Court Buddy.
We are filling the gap between high-priced lawyers and legal aid for people who need court-related legal services but can’t afford the $300+ an hour and $5,000+ upfront retainers fees that attorneys typically charge. Court Buddy matches people based on their specific needs with the best attorneys who can provide these services a la carte, at a fixed and reasonable price. We also offer financing for people who want to spread out their flat fee over three, six, or 12 months. We are taking away the dreaded fear of a legal bill through transparency and predictability.
Why did you get into this business?
No one should ever have to go to court alone. Yet there are 129 million Americans who do so without legal representation each year. James, who has over 10 years of experience as a litigator in court, had a front row view of people going in front of judges alone, which resulted in a bad legal outcome, which could have been easily avoided with counsel by their side. James presented the idea to me of creating a way for the two parties to find each other quickly and the creative in me kicked into full gear. At the time we built Court Buddy, I was an advertising art director so my mind was always in creative solution mode. When you learn people across this country are suffering and do not have access to something that can literally change their life and their family’s outcome, and you have the ability and the team to create a tool to alleviate this pain, your personal mission immediately changes.
Why did you and James choose to go the venture capital route in building Court Buddy?
We launched Court Buddy in South Florida, and that market gave us the opportunity to test our new platform. In less than two years, we were in 30 states, all based on demand. Supporting that type of growth requires financial backing for things such as hiring key personnel and marketing budgets which enables you to scale faster to help even more people. VCs also provide more than an outside investment. They bring a wealth of resources and expertise to guide you along, to help you understand some of the more intricate aspects of business, and to refine your goals and advise you on how to manage effectively and scale your operations.
There seems to be much more awareness now of the huge gap in VC dollars going to businesses led by women, and especially women of color. Why do you think the industry and the media are finally taking notice?
I think a lot of it is about timing. We’re in a moment where conversations about diversity and inclusion, and the #MeToo movement are inspiring people to demand that where they work and what they invest in reflect their values and their beliefs. The stats around the number of women and number of women of color who receive funding have also been an eye opener to us all and has inspired change. Women are starting businesses at a higher rate and more women are stepping into investment roles to support these women. The tides are changing and I see the pace picking up even faster with investors like [Gingerbread Capital founder] Linnea Roberts, who is introducing her vast network of successful women to investment opportunities that they did not know existed.
How do you personally feel about being part of that narrative?
I’m seeing another purpose in my story that I hadn’t anticipated when we first started. We’re breaking barriers. And the fact that others are being inspired by what we’re doing, it motivates me to keep going.
You and James are partners in business and in life. How do you make that work?
One thing I hear a lot is, “How can you work together? I could never with my spouse!” What makes it work for us is understanding that our strengths are opposites. We don’t step in each other’s lanes, we let each other shine, and we respect each other’s strengths. It’s also important to be transparent with each other and to check in frequently for feedback. We stay grounded by focusing on our underlying goal, which is growing Court Buddy, helping more people, and building a great company with great employees that believe in Court Buddy’s value to the market. We believe what we’re doing is so important to the health of our nation’s legal system and the people the system should be serving.
What does Court Buddy’s future look like?
A household name. We are building the largest network of quality affordable attorneys. We are creating tools that can identify when our customer will need an attorney and we can immediately connect them to the attorney that can provide the right representation for them. We want to continue to help consumers be more informed about what is going on in their cases and to track their case’s progress on our platform.
Court Buddy is available in 46 states now and we anticipate being nationwide soon. We will continue hiring more people, make sure that we are partnering with quality attorneys, and develop stronger relationships with the court systems and legal aid organizations because those partnerships are imperative to reaching more folks. Three years from now, we envision Court Buddy will be part of the whole court system, with many more people aware of what we offer and the value we provide, and we envision that everyone will be able to access this system.
What do you advise other aspiring entrepreneurs who are seeking venture investments to grow their businesses?
You have to be careful to prevent “mission creep.” The most important thing is to listen to your own internal voice. Don’t let the naysayers sway your vision and the reason you started your business. Also, make sure you partner with the right people in the beginning. It’s a lot like dating. Be aware of any warning signs up front!
What advice do you have for other women who are running their own businesses?
Do the hard stuff, the stuff that’s not fun, but the stuff that you need to be doing. There may be days when you have to make 100 calls to better understand your target customers or to make your first sale. Carve out time every day to make them! What you put in is what will propel you forward.