A Q&A About KLDiscovery’s Culture, Programs, and Partnership Opportunities

Monday, May 20, 2024 by KLD Team

Bryan Kreitz, President of Business Development at Trinity Legal Discovery and a Nebula Partner in KLDiscovery's Nebula Partner Program, interviewed KLDiscovery’s CEO Chris Weiler discussing topics ranging from KLDiscovery’s partnership programs and the partner experience to entrepreneurship in the legal technology industry and how GenAI is impacting the legal landscape.

The interview below has been edited for clarity and brevity.


Bryan: I wanted to take a few minutes to learn a little bit about you and help people see the person behind KLDiscovery, if you will.

Chris: Absolutely. I appreciate your time; love what you and your wife run today. I had the pleasure of spending a lot of time with you and your wife up in New York during Legalweek. So that was fantastic learning all about you, especially on the personal side.

I think that's important. No matter if it's a partner like yourself or clients or your employees, I think the more you can know about people, the better relationships you can build and the more productive [we] can be.

Bryan: I totally agree. That's a good segue about partnering up. Tell me about how the idea of the partner channel came about.

Chris: Not many people know this, [but] we bought a company back in 2016. The name of that company was Interlegis. I believe they’re out of the state of Texas.

And that was really the very start, the skeletal start of Nebula® back then. Between trying to set a road map for development and where we wanted to take the platform—because that's really important especially in the early stages of building the back end of these platforms—we started to invest each and every year after that.

As Nebula picked up steam and it got more traction, obviously it made sense that we would reach out and partner with folks who wanted not only a great experience from a platform perspective, but really a holistic experience with our customer service, our operations people, and all that. I think Bryan and his team can attest to that. We have a 24/7/365 approach to supporting Nebula. Nebula itself is a fantastic platform, but when you surround it with great people on our side working with great people on the partner side like Bryan, it really is a great experience.

The partner channel, and subsequently the franchise model we will be working on this year, is just a normal outgrowth of us building the systems we have, whether it's Nebula, Client Portal™, or some of the automation we built in the back office. [We share] that with amazing professionals like Bryan and his team so they can expand their business.

Bryan: On that note, it was interesting to talk to you in New York. Expand a little bit on the franchising program because it's very unique for this space.

Chris: Yes, it's honestly one of the things I had been thinking about for years and years, but when you roll out a franchise there has to be some special sauce with it, right?

When you think about franchises, most people think about, the Jiffy Lubes of the world or a restaurant or dry cleaners, or something like that. And when you think about professional services, [it’s] not something that comes to the front of the brain as making sense from a franchise perspective.

But what we've done here at KLD, and it's really coalesced over the last 2 or 3 years, is [create] this awesome experience where we have Client Portal. I know you know all about that. Every customer we have who works with us and uses our services and software is in Client Portal. A customer can wake up and they can at any time during the day look at a specific matter and get any sort of data they want on that matter. It's a real-time snapshot of like 40 different metrics. This will be included in invoices this summer, too. And automatic email alerts to notify our customers on budget thresholds they may have established in Salesforce or maybe processing levels, different bars they want to be notified [about] before they give us the OK to go to the next level of processing; whatever it may be.

Our mindset was we have this amazing thing. So if we get an entrepreneur or an adjacent business that doesn’t have the capital—today I don't think you can even license Relativity Server as a new entity, you have to license RelativityOne—[and give them] the opportunity to work with us, the franchise owner does business development work and has KLD do the rest of the work—[with] a lens into all of it through Client Portal, I think it's just something that's unparalleled.

The other thing we're giving franchise owners access to is something we call PIP. It stands for project information portal, and that's basically our Azure-based operational tracking system we follow for every job across the globe. And it's second to none, I would say it's like a ServiceNow of the eDiscovery world, but it's bespoke to what we do.

I think there's upwards [of] 40 or 45 permutations of different types of jobs because they can grow through the operational side of KLD. And so really when you think about a partner, if a franchise owner wakes up every morning and their worry is—I've got to get more business, I've got to take someone out to lunch, I've got to do a demo, and they're really worried—they're the care and feeding of the customers. [It’s] all they have to take care of and everything else is done [for them]. We have a very unique offering.

I think it's exciting. There are a lot of serial entrepreneurs out there, a lot of folks who may be disenfranchised with the companies they've worked with in the past or the companies they're working with now. Maybe their company got caught up in a lot of different acquisitions in their book of business and it whittled down to a third of what it was.

We're giving people the opportunity to basically hang their shingle out and say “Joe Smith” is open for business. And we do everything behind the curtain. They just worry about the customer relationship. Plus, there's a fully baked-in lens for the customer and the franchise owner to see everything we're doing real time, all the time.

Bryan: That's fantastic. One of the things you were talking about earlier is the customer service base of everything. [KLDiscovery’s] team has been on point with any questions we might have. Any crazy searches clients might come up with that sometimes we're just like, how do we do this? And your team has been right there to hop in and help out.

I will say one of the key points is the customer, the team you have built is phenomenal. And I'm not saying that just because you and I are talking right now, because you know me well enough to where if I was having issues, I would actually tell you I was having issues.

It's been great. The team's always been very supportive of us. I'm excited to watch how the franchise program and even the partner program grow through the coming years. 

In that sense, tell me a little bit about what wakes you up in the morning. What gets that blood flowing like a good cup of coffee?

Chris: I'll make one comment on the service side and I would agree with you there.

I think once you're a company in this space over a certain size, there's no way that company's going to provide the level of service a company like TLD [Trinity Legal Discovery] could do. It’s just not really possible.

I think the challenge, especially with the mega companies like us [and some of our competitors], is how do you scale the business and try to keep as much of that customer-centric approach as possible? That's multi-layered. I think it starts with having the right culture, hiring the right people into that culture, the care and feeding of those employees. I think KLD has, much like yourself, a servant leader attitude when it comes to serving employees and clients.

Again, to the folks who will watch this, I started off just like Bryan. I had a company back in 1993 I started. The branches off that tree—that original tree, On-Site Sourcing—are many and varied out there with folks who were part of this industry before eDiscovery was even a thing.

When you're in the metaphorical room together, you can't top the service [aspect]. So really the challenge is how do you get as close to that [service level] as possible, to what TLD can do, and scale the business to become a really big company. I think that we've threaded that needle really well.

I wanted to double back and answer your question about waking up in the morning, I really believe, and I know we talked about this in New York, but I feel like when you have the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, to run a business—that's a sacred trust in the sense that, especially the way I know both of us look at it, we are entrusted [by] people that work for us; their families, their educations, putting a roof over their head, paying their rent, paying their mortgage, be[ing] able to go on a vacation, save money, things like that. I think that's an incredible trust, we have a bond [with] the people who work with us.

When I think about that and the opportunities I've had—I think I'm on my 31st or 32nd year doing this in this space—when I wake up, I think about all the families who depend upon the decisions I make every day. I think that's first and foremost.

Right after that, to be honest, and I know you feel the same way and your team does, too, it's the customers. You get really close to these people and they have families and lives, too. And really your goal is to try to make their life and the things we do for them as seamless as possible.

I've been doing this for 32 years. Now I'm to a point where I have three children: 36, 34, and 30 years old. My sons work for the company. We have friends of our family who work for the company, all sorts of typical stories of companies.

But our management team, our executive team has got to be the most tenured of the bigger companies out there. I think if you're [with] the right people—like in a partner situation, I think I probably spent more time with Bryan during Legalweek than I did anybody else—but if that's the responsibility, you [have] to be accountable for that.

It's not hard to get jazzed up and make it happen, especially in this space where things change all the time. If you go back to when I first got into the space, it was all paper, Xerox copiers, that kind of thing, and dates labeling with labels or the stampers. Then that evolved to scanning, bibliographic coding, mostly offshore, but we had some domestic shops, including what we had at On-Site. Then [we had] the first makings of eDiscovery back in the late 90s, and then certainly picking up steam to where we are today. There's never a dull moment in our space.

That alone, the inflection points and the changes, like I remember driving into work September 11th and it was a beautiful day here in DC. Our office was in Rosslyn, [near] Arlington, Virginia. I had just passed the Pentagon probably 20 minutes before I got in the office and looked up on the TV and saw the world-changing events going on before our eyes.

[After the initial shock and horror of what happened, I thought] what am I going to do? What is the company going to do? Because over 80% of our business originated from New York and Washington.

If you're in this long enough and you're taking risks, there is never a dull moment. Literally, as you know, sometimes you can't sleep. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and you're like, oh my God, did that job go out?

I remember in the early days where we had these urgent productions that needed to go out. This is when we were obviously smaller and I'm going to actually meet FedEx. I would just drive to the office and see if FedEx really picked up.

I think if you approach being an entrepreneur in the right way—anyone who has a business, and you’ve been entrusted [by] employees and have customers who depend upon you and vendors, very important vendors no matter who those are—I think you wouldn’t have a heartbeat unless you get really pumped up about that.

I know that's a long-winded answer, but I [was] entrusted [with] this almost 32 years ago and every day I'm like, how did I even get here? I'm sure you feel the same way.

Bryan: A lot of times. One of the things I found out about you when we were in New York pertains to your employees. Tell me how many employees you have and what you have done with each [of them].

Chris: [For] full-time employees, I think we have about 1,350. And one of the things I started back in 2018 [was meeting with every employee because] culture was extremely important to the LDiscovery business. We had 300 employees; I had met all those folks.

We had an annual party either in Austin, Texas, Washington, or Philadelphia, and I got to meet them again, talk with them again. I knew them, knew their families, all that kind of stuff. When we came together with Kroll Ontrack, there were an additional 900 people I had to meet.

I realized I couldn't offload the responsibility of trying to figure out what made these new employees tick, what they liked about the company, what they didn't like about the company, and what they wanted to see in the company. I drove culture home and the different foundational pieces of KLD.

Literally, I traveled around the world in the sense of just going to different offices and checking [in]. While I was there, I took the time to meet with every single employee, and I have met with or talked with every single employee in this company.

We just bought Cenza, a great company in India. I still have those 160+ people to talk to, but I've kept up with that and [it’s] just been amazing.

I think the real transformation was I when I started calling people back in 2018, there were a lot of upset people. They wanted this. They wanted that. This wasn't going well. We had just come together, two companies in the space. There was a lot of pertinent feedback from folks that I routed up the chain of command very quickly. Then there was a point in time towards the end of that first crunch of calls and meetings, probably the fall of 2019, where folks would get on the phone and say I don't really need to complain, but my son wanted to know if you like unicorns and what kind of car you drive. Because my son has been watching TV and says all CEOs have nice cars.

I'm like, well, I have a Chevy Silverado, I do like unicorns, and my favorite color is purple. So the [calls] started getting a little bit more imaginative and creative.

But it's been great, and every once in a while, someone will have something to say that will make an immediate impact. But really, it's become the gratitude tour in the sense [of] just being able to take the time to say thank you to folks. Tell them I'm here. Tell them I'm immediately accessible via Teams or text, which very few people try out.

But when they do, I [respond] right back and they’re like, oh my God, I didn't think you were going to call me back. When I started On-Site, everybody had hoof boxes, whatever the weather was. It was pouring, thunderstorms, hot, cold, whatever; bag liners. I think when that's the kind of customer service mentality you have, it never leaves you.

Bryan: Well, and I think that's one of the things that makes you different in this industry.

One of the things I learned about you and your company is the amount of people who have been acquired through small companies [and] have stayed with KLD, and continue to grow with KLD, which is unbelievable because you always hear about these big acquisitions, especially in this space and people are just jettisoning. They don't like the culture, they don't like this, they don't like that, or you know, it doesn't go how they want it to. But, [KLDiscovery’s] ability to maintain and retain [the] people you bring on is just impressive. Is there a secret sauce you have?

Chris: Our philosophy has always been when we buy a business, the first thing we want to do is help the business and the business owner increase sales. Typically, there's a tail on what that business owner can make if they hit a certain threshold in sales.

The most important thing is we want to bring the incredible network of KLD to your doorstep and to your customer's doorstep, and to your prospect’s doorstep. Because if revenue is driven up, then no one has to go because you're going to need everybody.

It's when folks keep the revenue either at the level you bought it at or, most of the times, the revenue goes down because like you said, people leave, customers get disenfranchised. Why? Because bigger companies can't give the service a TLD would give—and they're going to go find somebody who can give them that service.

I think we go far in the sense of really trying to make people feel at home. I know every acquisition we've done, I've followed up with one-on-one talks with people in conference rooms about, like, how did you like the company you worked for and what didn't you like? Some of these are easy ones in the sense that we need a new coffee pot. Back in the day I remember just fixing up the break room, something like that. Maybe an employee of the month, something that was very simple, straightforward, that was an easy win. Sending people to training, that’s always an easy win because you want folks to be trained as much as possible.

At the end of the day, and I hope no headhunters listen to this, but our attrition right now is like 2.2% this year. So it’s extremely low. And people are like, how do you have such low attrition, especially with [the fact that] it's never a straight line in how you run a business here. I think it's because we have worked so hard on the culture and we do care about people.

I know you and Keith Burke—Keith's company is one of the companies that we acquired—I mean, who can be a better person than Keith Burke and the people who worked there? It's just amazing. These people you meet and, again, once they join the family, you want everyone to be happy and you want people to be successful, and you want people to grow. That's the most important thing. You can't run a good business if there are disenfranchised employees or disgruntled employees or people whispering at the water cooler and all that kind of stuff. You need everybody to be on the same page.

We just work on it. We work on it just like we work on Nebula, just like we would work on a client's project. We really, really work on culture.

There's a book called The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. Every single employee we hire reads the book and we tell them, look, this is the culture and how this company works. When they read it, they get it. It's a simple book by a gentleman who has written a lot of books around talent, team acquisition, and things like that, motivating employees and leadership. But it just hits home with people. I think if you just keep on hitting that nail, good things are going to happen.

Bryan: So Keith approached us in 2020 about acquiring us. He followed up with us and could see the potential in Trinity at the time. Rachel and I were like, no, we're good. And he came back a little bit later and was like, hey, how about partnering with us? And I said, OK, let's see what that looks like.

And to your point, even though KLD and TLD are completely two different entities, [KLDiscovery’s] mentorship and how you work with us is almost seamless. Even companies you don't acquire, like your partners and your franchises, [it’s a seamless experience for] people thinking about partnering with you. It’s just a different level. Because it's not, “alright, we're going to give you this footprint of Nebula and go figure everything out.” Your team was there with us each step of the way as we went through. And the friendships I have started with a lot of the people on your team has been amazing.

We're tracking $2.6, $2.7 (million) this year. With a company like yours that does close to $400 million—that you would take the time for a smaller company like us and that you and your team are committed to our success, it just blows me away. And again I'm not saying that to fluff you up, but just that you would take time for the smaller companies and let us know we are valued, whether we're doing a million, 2 million, 20 million, you are a valued part of KLD. That attests to the level of culture you bring to the community, if you will.

Speaking of that, if you could go back in time [to] 20-year-old Chris or even when you first started 33 years ago, is there anything you would change or what would you tell younger Chris to prepare him for where you're at now with culture and success and things of that nature?

Chris: People, movies, different series you see on Netflix—people always want a crystal ball. They want to look into the future. I am so glad that I didn't look in the future because I probably would have taken a 30-year nap. I think the biggest thing is, is if it's meant to be, it's going to happen.

I think the younger me would probably press too hard in the sense that, when I started On-Site at age 30, you feel a lot of pressure, the weight of the world on your shoulders. I didn't really have a mentor. But I would say, just don't get too high with the highs and too low with the lows. Do it the right way and if it's meant to be, you will be successful along the way in life. Try to treat everybody like you would treat yourself. I think that is an extremely important lesson because what goes around comes around. And so, I don't know, I've always been very determined. I've always had a lot of grit, perseverance, things like that. But I don't think anything other than my faith would have prepared me for what I went through the past 30-plus years.

You know from running TLD, running these businesses, it's not the 4th of July every day. I mean, you're worried about everything under the sun and we just went through a balance sheet restructuring this year, which proved to be challenging. We’re at a point now where we are looking at a brand new balance sheet and a runway in the next 3 to 5 years. Everyone's super excited, but I never knew how much I had to learn.

[In talking] to a young Chris, I would always feel like I'm really wise and—I do read a lot—but it's just because of the experiences I've been through and that I put myself through. So the last 30 years, just a lot of experience. I say, look, young Chris, it's going to be topsy turvy, it's going to be up and down. Don't get too high at the highs, don't get too low at the lows. Work really hard. If it's your destiny that this is going to work out, [it will]. Don't put too much pressure on yourself. Just continue to work. Treat people really well.

As we have these companies, not everybody works out being an employee for us. I think the big thing is just treat people as well as you possibly can on the way in and while they're with you. And I always tell people like, look, if there's a better place out there for you, God bless you, move on and be super successful and be super happy, and be happy for that person when they leave the company. I remember right after COVID, there was a ton of attrition all of us suffered. And I know some of the managers would get really upset, especially with people who we thought we really took care of. But happiness is a very individual thing, and people have families and they have to make the best decisions for themselves. So I always wish people well, always followed up with people. There are so many former employees of either On-Site or KLD out there in the world. I’m happy for all of them.

One day I would like to have a massive party for like 10,000 people, all the ones that we crossed paths with and just say, hey, way to hang in there, because this is a tough business, man.

Bryan: Very much so.

Chris: It is a tough business and it is a nonstop business. And, if you're approaching it the right way, you’re going to get burnt out.

For me, it's like when you first start a company, you get all hopped up, a lot of adrenaline. Oh, I started my own business. OK, calm down, kid. Calm down. You do realize you're going to be humiliated many, many times. You're going have X amount of failures. 9/11 is going to happen. In my first company, my first partner took his life back in the late 90s. How do you ever get over that?

You need to go through so many different things and I'm just blessed to be at the point we're at right now. And I grind every day and I just want to do what's best for the KLD house and all the partners who are part of that. I don't think people understand on the partner channel, like, it's not our insidious conspiracy theory plan to bring on TLD and then try to infiltrate your customers. We want you to grow your business. We can get our own customers on our own. How can we help you? What can we give you? How can we assist you? I think there are a lot of folks in this space who maybe would have taken a different approach there. But we just want people to be super successful because if you're successful, we're successful. Relationships last a lifetime.

And again, God bless everyone that has been part of the On-Site KLD family, whether they were internal with the company at one point in time or they were our partners or vendors. Some amazing people out there. They continue to grind to this day in a very tough business and it's just amazing. So, it's been a heck of a journey.

If anyone from ALM is listening to this, I do expect in a couple years to get a lifetime achievement award at Legalweek. I don't know how people get that. I've been doing this for 32 years. What do I have to do, stay until I'm 70? I'm 62 right now. Almost 62.

Bryan: Hopefully they do listen, and if it does turn out that you get one after this, I'll take partial credit for getting this set up.

If there's a vendor listening to this, or somebody interested in the franchising or becoming a partner, what's the best way for them to reach out, where should they go to get more information?

Chris: On our website, there's a franchise tab where you can fill out [a form]. We'll contact [you] immediately. It'll probably be Danny Zambito, our COO, or a contact like Keith Burke. It's going to be someone who can provide you information right away.

Franchising is highly regulated business, so there are things called FTDs we have to send folks. But that all happens in a New York minute.

The bottom line is, again, going back to doing a lot of box work back in the day, none of the folks here—like Keith Burke, he was slogging boxes around, and Danny Zambito, he's a guy who cut his teeth doing paper—these folks are going to get back to you immediately. And we want you to be successful.

If you're out there and you're in an adjacent business and you have eDiscovery opportunities, this is perfect. We've got a top infosec program. We have we have RelativityOne. We have Relativity Server. We have Nebula. So your choice of platforms, [with] 24/7/365 [support]. We have a platform that helps manage all our work globally. The sun never sets on the company. Especially with US work, we have EMEA folks pick it up and then the US, then APAC, and it goes back around again.

But the bottom line is just fill out the form [on the website] and then Keith Burke or Danny will contact you. We’ve got all sorts of information and it's really [a] great opportunity. And we're not done chasing you and Rachel as far as M&A stuff. We'll get you one of these days, but until that time just keep on building it.

Bryan: Yeah, our cultures are a lot alike, and I think that's one of the reasons we've enjoyed working with you so much. So, if there are partners or franchisees listening or potential [ones]—know there's nothing Chris is giving us [just] for good words, right? This is just us [talking] with a partner.

I've been in this industry since 2004 and have been through multiple relationships with different vendors. This is just my true testament. The fact of going to Legalweek and meeting some of your higher ups, Chris, and the team saying, oh, you're Bryan with Trinity, or you're Rachel with Trinity—hey it's great to meet you. It blows me away. I’m thinking we’re just this little deal. And the way you make people feel, whether it’s a partner or franchisee or somebody you've acquired, hats off to you for building the type of team you can be proud of. You know you're doing the right thing because that's what we're doing, right? We're taking care of our employees so they can take care of our clients.

And there's a lot of, I don't know if synergy is the right word, between our companies. I've truly enjoyed these last—actually it's going on 4 years now that I think about it—and so, hats off to you.

This is just my honest opinion. Chris and his team have been amazing and you would do well to at least reach out and talk to them and see what they have to offer. Like you said, you have Nebula, you have Relativity One and Server. It gives me as a vendor the ability if a client says, well, I don't want to use Relativity. OK, I've got Nebula. It gives you that ability to be flexible and knowing your team stands behind that [is great] as well.

Chris: Yeah, that is true. And we'll keep on fighting a good fight just like you. Like I said, this industry— GenAI is the next big thing, right? How is AI going to impact this space? I think generally eDiscovery's somewhat in an upheaval over that, how exactly that's going to land, and how it's going to impact companies. But I can tell you I've been doing this for almost 32, 33 years and I have successfully taken companies from microfiche, microfilm, legal copy scanning, bibliographic coding, to the early eDiscovery days when we developed this platform called Duke that was processing a tipping machine back in 1999 to 2001, to present day. And I think that it's just one more incredible leap for what is a really great industry to be in.

It just never sleeps, so we don't sleep either. We truly are a global company now with an operation in India, which will give us more advantages in a lot of different ways. We just work night and day for folks. So look, we're blessed to have you as a partner. You're an amazing couple, you and Rachel, and you're doing amazing things, man.

Bryan: Thank you.

Chris: I already feel like we're half-brothers and you know you guys are just great partners with us. So we will keep on doing what we do.

Bryan: Yeah. Well, Chris, I truly appreciate your time. Maybe we do this again in a year, see how things are looking with GenAI. But until then, I appreciate it. Have a great rest of your day.

Chris: Alright sir. Thank you.


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