Richard Bootle and his partner, Ian Perkins, were working in large national law firms when they decided that a less traditional approach would be better for them.
‘[The firms] were great training institutions, but neither of us could see ourselves in a large corporation long term,’ says Bootle.
‘My family has lived in Nyngan, in the central west of New South Wales for over 100 years, and after a lot of planning, we decided to move home to take over the family farm.
‘Farming has always been in my bones, but it wasn’t until I was nearly 30 that I decided that I wanted to be back out there,’ he says.
‘Growing up I could see that farming was facing a lot of challenges: price pressure, co-opting of the supply chain by giant multinationals and climate change, just to name a few.’
ON LAWYERS AND COCKROACHES
Bootle went to boarding school, from where a career in law seemed like a safe option.
‘I saw lawyers as the cockroaches of the professional world; they made money as markets went up but even more as things fell apart,’ he quips.
And Bootle’s family ‘seat’ at Bogan Farms exerted a strong pull for his return.
‘Our main property is on the banks of the Bogan River not far from Nyngan. So, when I took over the old farm company, I thought it was time to embrace our “inner bogan”,’ he says.
‘I love being surrounded by family, and the Bogan River is a sort of sanctuary for us.’
But Richard and Ian also purchased a few local law firms ‘to see what they could create’.
Initially it wasn’t plain sailing.
DISRUPTED BY FAXES AND EMAILS
When clients in the very conservative wheat and sheep zone town realised Bootle and Perkins were a couple, a number withdrew their business on fairly explicit grounds.
Rather than setting them back, however, this helped the two realise that they needed to escape their local geography to reduce the risk of prejudice but also to access a larger legal market to deliver scale and growth.
‘The risk wasn’t just from the locals rejecting us,’ Bootle relates.
‘We were also starting to get price competition from a Blue Mountains conveyancer who had offered referral fees to a local real estate agent.
‘We laugh now, but she was “disrupting” our business with “high tech” in the form of faxes and emails.’
Bootle says he and Perkins understood that the use of technology was the future for any business, so relying on geography as a point of difference would be dangerous.
‘At the time one of the most important criteria for selecting a service provider was how close they were to you.
‘If there was a lawyer, doctor, bank, agent or hairdresser around the corner from you, then they would be on the top of your list.’
Bootle says technology changes all that.
‘We are seeing the beginning of one of the greatest displacements of the human workforce since the industrial revolution and few people seem to be aware of the consequences,’ he says.
TRANSFORMING BUSINESSES WITH TECHNOLOGY
To respond, Bootle and Perkins founded the Moxcol Group, which takes traditional businesses and transforms them using technology.
‘We started on the farm by introducing controlled traffic and no tillage and saw a massive uplift in productivity,’ Bootle says. ‘We went from cropping 1000ha to 8000ha and kept the same staffing.’
This suggested to the young entrepreneurs that there were probably other opportunities out there, and they have been expanding ever since.
‘I think we had about $200k turnover when we first started, and we expect to reach about $40 million this year,’ Bootle says.
LAW ON THEIR TERMS
Apart from the agriculture business, Bootle and Perkins run lawlab, Smartlaw and Rundl.
Lawlab began as a very traditional legal business with a 119-year history.
‘We decided to see how far we could expand [lawlab’s] reach, and we are now the largest retail conveyancer in Australia.
‘We go international to New Zealand in February 2019, and we have high hopes that other common law countries will follow in FY 19/20.’
The two set up Smartlaw, a more recent addition to the stable, to manage conflicts arising out of the lawlab business while also ensuring that their customers’ purchasing journey remained digital to the end.
‘We used to spend half our time trying to “convince” other lawyers that digital contracts for sale of land were valid,’ Bootle recalls.
HELPING CUSTOMERS DIGITISE
Rundl is a hybrid digital service that leverages people’s social media experience into a service- agnostic platform. It delivers the benefits of smart tech direct to consumers.
‘Social media wasn’t some clever idea dreamt up by a group of 20-year-olds spending someone else’s money,’ Bootle explains.
‘The social media platform can bridge the gap for consumers who don’t have access to the kind of enterprise-grade tools that big businesses do, and that often gets overlooked. There was no “off the shelf” product, so we built it.’
All four businesses utilise standard processes whether staff are aware of them or not.
‘We focus on changing the way things are done in parallel with an investment in people and the adoption of technology,’ Bootle says, ‘that has been the key driver of our growth.
‘Simply put, we apply new tech to problems but never lose track of the importance of training and creating rewarding employment opportunities. We now employ about 120 people in three countries.’
INNOVATION AWARD AT CEBIT
In 2016, Rundl won the Innovation Award at the iconic CeBIT Conference for business technology.
‘Rundl has always focused on providing great digital experiences and helping businesses digitise the delivery of their services,’ he says.
‘In today’s era, consumers expect their service providers to be digitised. Recently, EY reported that 40 per cent of consumers want a high-end digital experience from their service provider.
‘Our clients need us to help them be “digital ready”, or they risk being disrupted.
‘I have a saying that if you aren’t providing your service on your client’s phone, then someone else will. I don’t think the threat can be any clearer.’
A NECESSARY STEPPING STONE
As a speaker at this year’s ANZIIF/AICLA Claims Convention, Bootle will reveal how the technology Rundl delivers could be of benefit to claims professionals.
‘There are many types of insurance claims, and every underwriter and broker manages claims differently,’ Bootle says.
‘Building software or customising commercial software packages is both slow and expensive.
‘The biggest benefits Rundl brings to insurance companies is the ability to be easily and quickly tailored to deliver their “journey” without the need for software development.’
Bootle adds that Rundl delivers one tech platform that can be used across all types of insurance services.
‘The Rundl user interface looks like social media, so no training is required to start participating in a digital journey.
‘Finally, the data captured by Rundl can be used for analytics, automation and AI. It’s the necessary stepping stone for full digitisation.’