Living well is the best revenge. No one personifies that better than Abtin Buergari, founder and CEO of Washington, D.C., startup, Modus eDiscovery.
This is fantastic rags to riches story of a man who grew up in poverty and was working himself through law school until his ideas for doing his job better got him fired, and sued, by his employer.
So he took those ideas and started his own company, dropping out of college and living on credit cards.
Five years later, the company was generating $US18 million in sales and landed $US10 million in venture investment. It is now six years later, and he’s commanding a 200-employee workforce with 12 offices.
Still, he describes the journey as “a very hard six years. Gruelling. Going through moments of growth and through things that have taken me as far down and as far up as I could go,” he says.
Here’s how it all happened, he tells us:
Buergari was working as a paralegal while attending law school when he was recruited by a company that does what’s known as “electronic discovery” or “eDiscovery.” That’s the process of digging through emails, instant messages and other online documents to find information that can be used in litigation.
He was working on a Hurricane Katrina lawsuit for a customer. (Katrina sparked an unprecedented series of lawsuits aimed at insurance companies and the federal government.) The customer, an attorney, requested Buergari uncover documents as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible. Buergari had some ideas for using technology to sift through documents faster and cheaper and asked his bosses if he could try those ideas.
They shushed him.
That’s because eDiscovery is expensive for lawyers, and lucrative for those supplying the document review services. The average legal department spends about $US3 million per case for the discovery portion, law blog ABA Journal reports. They didn’t want their eDiscovery process to become faster and cheaper, Buergari says.
Buergari told them he could quit his job and become a consultant for his employer and tried to get them to let him try his ideas that way. Bad move.
“I was not only fired, I was also sued,” he said. His employer accused him of trying to steal their clients and their trade secrets.
Jobless, he quit law school. “I’m a law school drop out and a philosophy major. I’m like the most unemployable person in the world,” he laughs.
So he did the only thing he could think of to do: launched his own eDiscovery company. Good move.
When one of his customers paid him a $US1,250 for his eDiscovery work, he knew he made the right choice.
“I still have the check. I never cashed it,” he says. Then the checks grew from $US1,000 to $US10,000 and $US100,000. “We’ve got a couple of checks in $US1 million range, too” he says.
He created his own eDiscovery software and a cloud computing service where companies can store documents that need to be reviewed, a service he calls “hosted review.”
Today, Modus has processed terabytes of data for some of the world’s largest corporations and law firms.
Last year, Modus was named on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing companies with $US18 million in sales, up from $US1.5 million the year before. He raised $US10 million in venture funds, that year, too.
All of this happened while being sued by his former employer, he says, confirmed by court documents.
But the tough times were a blessing in disguise, he says.
“When everything is hard … you just have to stay strong. That’s when you know you can be a leader that drives a company forward,” he says.
The best part of his success is watching others succeed with him.
“I grew up in poverty. My mum worked two jobs so I was raised by my Grandma. I’ve now had the opportunity to send my sister to college, to help my parents, and I’m not worried about retirement,” he laughs.
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