‘It’s shocking how little the Government buys from indigenous Irish technology companies’

EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalists Ian Nolan and Alex Kelly of Brightflag

Alex Kelly and Ian Nolan of Brightflag: ‘Getting the initial funding was the hardest part of the journey – before we had real traction in the market.’

Having both gained an insight into the "inherent inefficiencies" in large law firms, Ian Nolan and Alex Kelly set about creating a platform to read and understand legal invoices.

In 2015, Brightflag launched its product, which is driven by artificial intelligence, and now powers customers including Uber, Telstra and CRH. With 65 staff, Brightflag has grown rapidly since its inception, trebling in size each year since it was set up. Today, it processes more than $1 billion of legal spend globally.

Brightflag has also successfully raised money to grow its business and recently closed a large series A investment of €7.5 million led by the Washington-based Sands Capital. In total, the company has raised €11.5 million since inception.

This was a space the entrepreneurs were experienced in with Kelly working as a corporate lawyer in Matheson and Nolan previously a software designer specialising in the legal space. The pair are targeting significant growth. Over the "next few years", Brightflag expects to achieve €100 million in annual recurring revenue.


Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

We built an AI-based platform that reads the text on legal invoices, making us unique in the market.

What was your “back-to-the-wall” moment and how did you overcome it?

Getting the initial funding was the hardest part of the journey – before we had real traction in the market. We will always be grateful to Conor Stanley and Barry Mulligan at Tribal.vc for being our first large backers.

What were the best and the worst pieces of advice you received when starting out?

The best advice was that hiring the best people is the number one lever to being successful. We were lucky enough to have ignored the bad advice along the way!

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

Ninety per cent of our revenues come from outside Ireland, 70 per cent in total from the US. We have been internationally focused from day one.

What is the one piece of advice you would give Government to stimulate the economy?

Buy from start-ups. It’s shocking how little the Government buys from indigenous Irish technology companies.

What is the most common mistake you see entrepreneurs make and what is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Focus on what matters and forget about everything else. Usually, the most important thing involves talking to customers more.

What motivates you to keep performing at your best?

It’s easy to remain motivated when the company and opportunity is this exciting. Simply coming into work every day is a pleasure.

How will your market look in three years and where would you like your business to be?

We’re targeting €100 million in annual recurring revenue over the next few years.

What are the big disruptive forces in your industry?

There are major pressures on legal departments to be operationally efficient like their colleagues in other areas of the business.

What are you doing to disrupt, innovate and improve the products or services you offer?

We’re investing heavily in our legal analyst and data science team.

What moment/deal would you cite as the “game changer” or turning point for the company?

Signing our first US customers was the main turning point when we knew we had built something of real global value.

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton

Peter Hamilton is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in business