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Competitor or Ally?

Forrest Blount
CTO

We’re in the process of hiring, and one of the most common questions I receive during our phone screen is “who are your competitors?” While there are many legal technology companies that we could view as competition, the surprising truth is that our main competition is traditional law firms. Across the spectrum of immigration cases, most are handled by law firms that continue to source, prepare, and file petitions and applications the same way they did when they were founded, sometimes decades ago. While there are legal technology companies, some of which operate in immigration, the truth is we view most of these businesses as potential partners and allies, rather than competitors, because there’s more for us to gain and provide our customers than there is for us to lose.

So how did we know who to talk to? As Bridge traversed multiple pivots, it wasn’t always clear who we should be emulating, who we should be avoiding (don’t sign that NDA!), and who we should be partnering with. But one thing was almost always clear: who are your customers? If the competitor you’re sizing up doesn’t compete for your customers, they’re more likely to be a partner. 

Once upon a time, Bridge (briefly) provided standalone document preparation services, a la LegalZoom or TurboTax. While neither LegalZoom or TurboTax handled immigration documents at the time, their sales tactics were a great source of inspiration for us. Both of these services were exclusively online and marketed directly to consumers. But neither provided immigration documents, so we didn't view them as competition, and therefore had no reservations about engaging with these companies — some of our investors were even Intuit employees! Of course, either company could have been contemplating a move into the immigration space, but based on our relative sizes, it seemed more likely they’d be interesting in partnering or acquiring us than building their own competing business unit.

Eventually we expanded the scope of the product we were offering, covering multiple immigration processes, providing payment services and other document preparation services, and now aggressively marketing ourselves to law firms. This offering looked a lot more like “case management”, software sold to law firms to manage their client processes. But even though we were aggressively pursuing attorneys for our network, we continued to market to consumers for their immigration needs, allowing our partner attorneys to answer questions and ultimately provide quotes for their services. Because we weren’t competing directly with case management providers, we were able to engage in deep conversations with them, which bolstered both our understanding of the broader immigration technology space, and the underlying strategic assets and liabilities of these businesses. 

Our service made it’s most recent pivot a few years ago, when we hired our first Client Services Manager. Today, we provide a combination of technology and services to our clients, businesses who sponsor foreign national employees. Our clients have come to expect their immigration services be as transparent and efficient as the other HR services they provide to their employees. Now that we’re selling to HR managers, we’re looking to a new host of companies for inspiration and partnership.

But across all of these pivots, one competitor has remained the same: the traditional law firm. As we continue to expand our client base, I believe a key asset will be our approach to embracing new technologies, both by adding to our own products and services, and partnering with the solutions providing other products and services our clients love. It may seem dangerous to continue to be so open to partnership as our business grows and actually has clients and revenue to lose, but by choosing to explore and embrace partnership we put ourselves in a position to participate in new opportunities. By defining our competition as the old guard law firms, we can recruit allies sympathetic to our cause and provide unprecedented efficiency, transparency, and expertise to our clients.

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