Conversation with Erin Levine, Founder & CEO, Hello Divorce
Making Divorce Easier & More Supportive
November 28, 2018
1. What is your business?
My business is called Hello Divorce, and it is a website that makes divorce more human and accessible by offering legal help and wellness support throughout the process of dissolving a marriage. When people come to the website, they can sign up for a free account that gives them access to loads of resources to help them navigate not just the legal aspects of divorce but also the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety that come with it.
With the free membership, users get a 15-minute consultation. During the call we learn more about the person’s background and unique situation. From there, we send the user a personalized divorce plan via email that gives them a general strategy that we’d like to see them implement. The plan includes links to additional services and products that we think will benefit them. As an example, we have a do-it-yourself program for people that have an amicable and/or low-asset divorce. Our most popular product is our “Divorce Plus” option where our legal document preparers prepare, file and process with the court all paperwork necessary to obtain a divorce. If the user wants to add on a half hour or an hour with a lawyer for more complicated problems or questions, she can do that at any point via the website. Usually, this comes into play with more complicated assets like dividing a retirement account or figuring out healthcare support.
In California, the average cost of divorce attorney fees is over $20,000 per person. And that number takes into account that over 80% of people are self-represented. We are targeting people who want to self-represent. But the problem for people who want to self-represent and save money is that marriage is the most complex financial contract of their lives. So, it only makes sense that everyone should have some legal help. To use our paralegal product, it costs $2,500, and that is our most popular offering. If the divorcing couple is able to work cooperatively the $2,500 can include both sides’ paperwork. We also offer a much lower priced do-it-yourself product for $99 a month. Most people who complete paperwork without assistance can finish the whole divorce process in under six months.
On the wellness side, we publish thought-leaders who write posts or film short videos that talk about different aspects of life post-divorce. A few examples would be how to make your house feel like a home after your spouse leaves or how to make a new home feel safe for your children.
2. What made you decide to start your business and/or switch careers?
I’ve been a lawyer for almost 14 years, own a family law firm and recently became a Certified Family Law Specialist. I see a lot of highly-contested, bitter, angry divorces which means I am in court a lot. There’s a lot of litigation involved and that has been hard to manage with small kids. It’s not just the logistics that are hard–that waking up early and trying to figure out who’s going to take the kids to school and making sure their lunches are made. It was also the stress and anxiety that I was bringing home. I could tell that it was affecting them.
The other piece was that I became a lawyer to help people navigate the divorce process. I’ve always been frustrated by lawyers’ reluctance to embrace technology, and I was noticing that millennials were coming into my office wanting more transparency and information. They wanted more control over their financial outcome. They wanted to be able to pick and choose what service meets their needs most. They were also telling me that the act of lawyering up was increasing the animosity among their friend’s partners.
And so all that started circulating in my brain, and I thought that it could work for my law firm to provide the expertise via a virtual law offering. I envisioned helping the 80% of the divorcing people who don’t go to court.
3. What obstacles did you face in getting started and thinking of yourself as an expert in a new setting?
Looking back, there were a lot of obstacles, but they’re all doable. It’s really about being curious and finding a way to move past them. For me, I think the biggest obstacle has really been myself. I thought that I would launch this company, and it would be all about the offerings and making them easily accessible. I had no idea how important my own personal story and journey would be.
I learned that since I was offering products and services that are outside of the norm, I was asking people to trust me. And so people wanted to hear from me and know me in order to make that leap. This was really hard for me because I’m an introvert, so coming to grips with the fact that there would really be no growth of my company until I was candid about my motivation for starting it.
What I started noticing was that nobody clicked or made a comment on social media when we were writing about the company or the offerings, but that when I started to talk and open up a little bit more about me and why I think it’s so important, all over a sudden, I started getting asked on podcasts, the open rate for my emails increased, and more people were liking my social media posts.
People seemed to connect with my journey and, in turn, my brand. Like many women, my story is not a happy story because of my own experience as a victim. As a young girl, I was raped, abused and assaulted by my gymnastics coach. Ultimately, I turned him in, and I got justice in a traditional sense of the word, but my experience with the legal system was lonely, belittling, and miserable. As a result, I wanted to become a lawyer so that I could help people get justice and the legal help they deserve, but in a way that is more caring for the individual and acknowledges the harsh reality of the process.
4. Was outside funding/cost a challenge to getting your business off the ground?
I was fortunate enough to still have my law firm to help offset costs and allowed me to continue to pay my bills. But, running a second business has meant that for the last two years I’ve been working pretty much day and night.
Even with a stream of revenue from the law firm, if you want to do it right, you need to build your network of advisors and hire lawyers to oversee the investment rounds, revise agreements, and get your corporate stuff in order. And you want to have profit projections and a well-designed marketing deck. All of this costs money, so it’s something that I am in the process of navigating and figuring out.
5. Who did you speak to for support as you were working on the idea/launch?
Probably the best part of this whole experience has been the people that I’ve met. When I started, I was afraid to even ask people out to lunch, and now I’m clearly asking people for much bigger and more important things. Every day I’m amazed by how many people want to help and how many people want to provide their feedback and see me succeed.
Specifically, it has been really valuable for me to speak to other entrepreneurs. People who have grown their companies, people who have success in keeping and attracting long-term talent. Finding the right people to work with us has been one of my biggest challenges, so speaking to people who have experienced some of the same obstacles has been incredibly helpful. There’s really no reason to reinvent the wheel if other people have sage advice on how to attack some of our biggest challenges.
Speaking to my customers who are in the divorce process and speaking to people who already completed their divorces has been valuable. I talked to a lot of our users who have been so generous with their time, telling me how they’re feeling while getting divorced, after divorce, using our services, connecting with our team. I would say three to four hours of my business hour day, is focused now on just connecting with advisors and people that, just getting as much feedback and dialogue as I can.
6. Is your business impacted or helped by government regulations?
There are a ton of legal ethics regulations that specify how lawyers can practice in each state. Because of these state laws, the legal industry is one of the last professions to be disrupted in a meaningful. My biggest expense since launching Hello Divorce (other than development costs), have been ensuring that we are compliant within California law.
So as an example there are many ‘do it yourself’ legal services online, but the problem is that they’re very clear that they do not offer legal advice. If you end up needing legal advice, they refer you to a traditional lawyer who is going to charge you the traditional hourly rate structure. Many of these legal sites end up being lead generators for local divorce firms. With Hello Divorce, all the legal advice is a fixed fee and it’s within the platform, so that is a very different business model from our competitors and requires us to follow all regulations governing lawyers and law firms.
In order for us to grow to help people in states outside California, we need to have legal professionals in that state. My current idea is to train lawyers and paralegals in different states, so we can help more people.
7. Have there ever been moments when you regretted what you started or had to abandon part of the plan?
Honestly no. I certainly regretted choices I’ve made, but there has been no moment where I’ve regretted starting Hello Divorce.
We have definitely had to abandon the plan. We did a whole redesign of the website within the first six months when we realized that the website wasn’t meeting people’s needs. I had interviewed hundreds of people who had either just been divorced or getting divorced or thinking about divorce to figure out what it was that was most important to them and what they needed the technology to do for them. Then we designed the platform, launched it and no one came. So we had to do a 100% redesign. The product today is so different from the initial version, and I’m sure it will shift and evolve in the next few years too.
One thing that we corrected was making the options simpler. Right now lawyer help is kind of buried on the site because, while we offer pretty much assistance for every aspect of your divorce, because when it was on the home page it was overwhelming people. They didn’t know what it was they needed. They wanted to be led down a path to make the choices clearer.
I think what I’ve learned is that expertise is very important, but on a website its really about how people feel when they come to your site. If they don’t feel good, if they’re not inspired, if they can’t access what it is they’re looking for, then they’re going to leave faster than they got on. So we had to shift our entire mindset to communicating that we understand the person coming to our website rather than promoting our expertise.
Even if they don’t need it just knowing we’re there and we can follow along with these journey. And so that’s where we shift things pretty dramatically. And our beginning traffic is up 66% in the last six months. It’s certainly made a difference that’s for sure.
8. What would be your biggest piece of advice you would give to yourself ten years ago?
I have three. The first is to remember that things are not stressful, it is how we think about them that creates stress in ourselves. Slow down and live in our experiences and lessen our thoughts. As our heart beats, our mind thinks. So that’s normal, and what we think is not necessarily real or true. I really try to trust my instincts because they will not lead me astray.
The other thing I would say to myself is not to make a big move–whether it’s getting married, buying a new house, or starting a new business– until you have that deep feeling that now is the time. It doesn’t mean you can’t plan for it or think about it, but again trusting your gut to know when it’s time. I wish I would have known that. I borrowed that from my coach, Anna Scott, and the extraordinary, Lalah Delia.
And then the final thing I would tell myself is that, as a people pleaser, I need to remember that speaking my truth is the highest form of self-care. How often do we need to say something, need to tell our boss that we’re unhappy, need to break up, or need to change things within our own relationship and yet we’ve spent weeks, months or sometimes years just sitting and obsessing on it. Often times verbalizing the feelings give me so much relief, and it isn’t my job to control how other people feel.
9. Do you use social media for marketing your business?
I’m not on social media the whole day, but I do like it. I use Twitter a lot to connect with people that I want to start a conversation with—usually it is someone that I admire and respect. Instagram has been huge; I didn’t even use Instagram before starting Hello Divorce. It has been such a valuable tool for connecting with our community and bringing people to the site.
10. What are your hopes for your business for the next five years?
I’m excited about launching a more robust do-it-yourself platform in California. We will launch that offering in the next couple of months. My goal for the next five years is to build up more brand awareness and then to scale to another 5 to 10 other states.
I am looking at a number of factors in picking which states. We are looking at how many people get divorced in that state, the ethics rules in the state, sometimes it’s because I have an already existing network of lawyers in the state, and then some states have residents who are more likely to use online services.
Date of conversation: October 19, 2018
Are you working toward a goal like starting a new business, growing your existing business, or changing careers entirely? Check out our Course Marketplace that’s stocked full of content by life and career coaches. Just like the Founders featured here, our coaches have overcome challenges and fought for their dreams – and now they have a passion for sharing their story with others.
All in? Join our online community.
Need more information first? Drop us a quick note.