Synergist, one of the first contract negotiation platforms and an integration partner of Thomson Reuters, seems to have closed down. Its apparent demise is all the more notable given the slightly mysterious circumstances around how things ended.
As with many of the new wave of legal tech startups it launched back in 2015 and by 2017 was doing well. In 2017 it joined MDR LAB’s first cohort at the pioneering legal tech incubator. Also that year the company received €1,000,000 in the form of an ‘innovation subsidy‘ from the Investitionsbank Berlin – IBB – (Berlin’s state-owned business development bank). And we’ll come back to this money in a moment, as it plays a key part in the mystery.
Then, in 2018 things got even better, with the Berlin-based company, which was led by Australian, Ed Taylor, signing a business partnership deal with global giant Thomson Reuters.
Under the deal Synergist’s capabilities for online contract negotiation would be offered as ‘a fully-integrated extension of Contract Express and enable its customers to send generated documents to recipients and counterparties via its platform’.
That is quite a boost for a young company. Although, as one Thomson Reuters insider noted, this did not include the tech giant directly marketing Synergist. But still, a great start.
Back then Taylor and the company’s founding CTO, Mladen Stific, were seen giving talks, were often interviewed in the press – including several times by this site – and all looked very rosey. And then…..
….it all went very quiet.
While companies that overlapped with the same space, such as Juro, grew and grew, Synergist seemed to drop off the radar. Little was heard from them in 2019, and in early 2020 Artificial Lawyer made an effort to reconnect to find out what was happening.
The last contact was in February 2020, when Taylor replied to a request for an interview with: ‘We’re going through a process right now which should conclude towards the end of the month, perhaps we can chat then.’
And that was the last this site heard of them, until sources noted the company appeared to have gone dark. The site has gone down, emails sent to the company get bounced back, and even a source at Thomson Reuters told this site ‘they have gone bankrupt’.
Despite multiple efforts to contact Taylor – who now appears to have moved back to Australia – there has been no formal statement that the company has closed, hence the inverted commas above.
One of Taylor’s last public comments about the company came in a LinkedIn post from about 12 months ago, in which he perhaps prophetically stated: ‘Being an entrepreneur is a privilege. You wake up every day to work on things you care deeply about. What I didn’t realise was there’s an even greater privilege. Working with other human beings who share your cause….They trust the direction you set and follow you, sometimes even blindly, into the unknown.’
Artificial Lawyer eventually managed to track down Stific, the CTO, who had contributed so much to the company’s creation and initial success. When this site finally got through to him he replied that: ‘I have not been with Synergist for a while now, and it does appear to be closed, but how exactly that happened is not known to me.’
He added that he was now living in ‘a forest’ with ‘a shaman’ in Portugal.
Clearly that departure didn’t help the company.
Finally, as always, there is the issue of the money. As noted above, the company received a chunk of cash from IBB. However, according to sources this was not a simple equity investment where Synergist could spend the money and then if things didn’t work out they could just walk away.
It’s understood that the money came with some quite serious strings attached. Artificial Lawyer spoke to IBB in Berlin and they understandably said they could not speak about the case of a particular client – however, a spokesperson helpfully and indirectly said quite a lot by adding:
‘As a trustee of public funds, IBB is required to control the use of the funds and to intervene if the purpose of the subsidy no longer seems to be guaranteed.
‘As a rule, however, IBB is not the institution that jeopardies a project by demanding repayment, but only tries to secure public funds if the project runs into serious difficulties for other reasons.’
Now, given that Taylor is not responding to emails or social media messages, and the bank cannot give detailed information about the matter, and Mladen says he is out of the loop, we have to stop there. However, it does seem that it is indeed possible that Synergist did not meet its growth targets and that in turn led to some difficult conversations with IBB. But, without a formal comment from Synergist’s founders we cannot be certain.
And so, the story ends there, for now. No doubt Taylor could add more detail to the picture and clear up the mystery.
Either way, it’s a case of another startup launching with tremendous potential, making a lot of progress, and then it not working out. It’s a shame to see them go.
( P.S. Ed, if you’re out there, drop Artificial Lawyer a line, it would be good to get your input. )