This article is the first in a new series from the American Bar Association Business Law Section’s Rule of Law Working Group, exploring the intersections between business and the rule of law from a client perspective and discussing how attorneys can support businesses’ rule of law missions. The Business and the Rule of Law Client Diaries Series is looking for more businesses to feature. Readers working for businesses interested in the rule of law are welcome to get in touch.
1. Tell us about your company: Who are your founders? What is their vision for the company and, perhaps, the company’s vision for the world?
Jussi Vento, Volument Co-Founder and CMO: Volument is an insight-led, privacy-friendly web analytics tool designed to help anyone create more engaging content and curate better online experiences. We want to transform web analytics and make it accessible to everyone, not just experts.
Volument was started to solve a very specific problem: the internet is suffering from privacy issues, clutter, and bad usability choices. (Usability is a measure of how well a specific user in a specific context can use a product or design to achieve a defined goal.) Web analytics tools are supposed to improve usability. Instead, a fairly untested obsession with personal identity has led to data analysts stockpiling personal data without any clear goal in mind—adding to online clutter and undermining online privacy. We want to hit the reset button on web analytics to make it work for, rather than against, the internet.
Volument is a Finnish company. The idea for Volument came to Tero Piirainen when he counted the number of different report views inside Google Analytics. He felt frustrated by the poor user interface, information overflow, and significant privacy concerns. After creating jQuery Tools and Riot.js and co-founding Flowplayer and Muut, Tero set out to build a web analytics tool he didn’t hate. Lauri Heiskanen joined him as the company’s backend guru and second founder. Tero and I connected around a shared frustration with the impact that web analytics was having on the overall health of the internet. Tina Nayak joined as our fourth founder and CEO, infusing her passion for user-centered business development into everything we do. The four founders share a frustration with products that put marketing before design, an interest in helping people at all levels within an organization understand users and their needs, and a commitment to leaving the marketplace (and the internet) a little better off than when we found it by disrupting practices that don’t serve businesses or consumers.
2. When does law come into your thinking or your plans? How do you rely on the law/the rule of law?
Volument aims to make legal compliance with privacy regulations simple for start-ups and for small and medium enterprises; we are innovating to help people and businesses comply with data protection regulations. So law and the rule of law are very important to the work that we do. Law plays a huge role in helping us advance our aims–as much as a product like ours works to enhance legal compliance.
3. What is your business’s engagement with the rule of law, sustainability, and/or important social issues?
We see ourselves as a mission-driven business. We like to think that we are building a better way to understand how people interact with websites and ultimately make the internet a better place. We don’t necessarily use big-ticket ideas to describe what we do, so we don’t talk about “rule of law,” “sustainability,” or “DEI” too often. At the same time, if you attend any of our meetings, you will see a diverse team that expresses a genuine passion for equity and inclusion. Equally, we might not list “upholding the rule of law” as an action item on meeting agendas—but certainly we talk a lot about how conventional web analytics tools are gaming the internet against small businesses and everyday people and how we can fix that.
The meat and potatoes of all of the big ideas listed in the question matter deeply to us. Creating a more inclusive, safe, diverse, and sustainable digital world drives all aspects of the work we do—from the design choices we make, to the people we hire, to the other companies we partner with.
Oddly, it’s not a given that we will necessarily look to lawyers to help us advance our mission or broader social aims. We enjoy working with lawyers who can make the connection between the causes that drive our work and more theoretical concepts. We rely on our lawyers to understand our mission and broader aims, so that they can help guide us through the legal aspects of making our vision a reality. It also helps when lawyers know how to speak a language that we care about, one that encourages us to seek them out when we want to advance important causes.
Often, lawyers might miss the connection between the values that drive us and broader concepts, like the rule of law or democracy. Those kinds of lawyers are more interested in talking to us about bare-bones compliance and what we can and cannot do. So whether or not we get lawyers involved really depends on the kinds of lawyers we are engaging with.
4. How do you engage with lawyers, and at what stage of innovation? What part of your vision do you share with lawyers?
Law comes in right away for us because of the compliance-driven aspects of our mission. But lawyers, not necessarily. Lawyers and the law can be intimidating. So sometimes getting lawyers involved too early in any process can feel like more trouble than it is worth. Lawyers can be challenging to engage with because they use a lot of legal jargon. They also tend to assume that entrepreneurs don’t understand the law, which can be frustrating.
Trust is very important for us when we engage with lawyers. We tend to engage with lawyers throughout the course of the development of our products and services—especially for a product like Volument that aims to support laws. But we don’t always get what we need from a single lawyer. We talk to scholars, experts, regulators, and practitioners to work to build our own understanding of the issues. And that’s what we are looking for most often, to build our own understanding.
When we find lawyers who can see the underlying potential that all laws have for improving the business environment, we hold on to them. Especially for a product like ours, we want to understand not just the “what” of the law, we also want to understand the “why” of the law. Why are data protection regulations framed the way they are? What is the law trying to improve here? How is the law trying to make business work better? How is the law trying to make society function better? Using a more practical example, we would be interested in knowing not just that the law requires cookie banners but why cookie banners are required at all. We have asked many lawyers that question. To be honest, the quality of the answers varied—and even regulators gave us answers that were either plainly wrong or largely unsatisfying. Only a few lawyers were able to have a conceptual conversation with us about why a law exists and how it functions.
5. What advice would you give business lawyers on the best ways to partner with you to advance the causes you care about?
It’s always great if a lawyer understands the market. This feels like it should be non-negotiable, but it’s not something we find that we can take for granted. So for one, understand the market, and not just the Market with a capital “M” or general market conditions, but the ins and outs of the specific niche we are competing in—what is the product, who are our competitors, what will the market look like five or ten years from now.
Second, try to understand what it is that a business cares about, beyond the jargon of both law and business. It is important for lawyers to understand that entrepreneurs don’t necessarily chase profit. We think it’s more accurate to say that entrepreneurs chase dreams, and these dreams might have the potential to turn a profit—but the dreams themselves are rarely about profit. Profit is a currency; it’s a flex that innovators can use to communicate value. We can take our profit margins to capital markets to tell bankers and investors: look, we are doing something; something is happening. Help us. But it would be dangerous to imagine that profit is something that innovators use to describe their goals or measure the effectiveness of their products.
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, profit flows naturally from value. If you can think of a way to make something, anything, better than it was before, people will probably pay you for it. So it’s the people who are obsessed with tinkering and improving things who build profitable companies. It’s that drive to add value, to make things better, that really drives success.
We would advise lawyers to share in that drive to make things better, advise us from that drive, and keep that underlying drive in mind at all times. This might help them more easily connect important concepts that drive the law to the practical tasks of running a business day-to-day.
6. Any last comments?
Volument is beta-testing our web analytics tools. We are gradually inviting people to try our platform. If you’re interested to find out how Volument works you can sign up for early access on our website, or just reach out to me on LinkedIn (Jussi’s LinkedIn Profile) or email us at [email protected]. A single web analytics tool cannot ensure full legal compliance, especially when used alongside more conventional products and services. But Volument can help ensure that web analytics isn’t what holds back compliance.