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One of the biggest headaches of everyday life for many, be it in corporate, or for lawyers as well as citizens, is going to the notary. Notarity, a young start-up from Vienna, is tackling this issue by offering a platform for remote notary services. Regardless of whether it’s a matter of founding a company, buying real estate, or notarizing powers of an attorney – it can all be done at the airport, on the way to the office, or even on the beach.
“Many prospective entrepreneurs think that all they need is a good idea to launch a startup,” says Jakobus Schuster, CEO of the startup notarity, “and I have to admit, I used to think that way, too. But now I can tell you that ideas are worth almost nothing. You can have the best idea and not be able to execute it. On the other hand, you can have a bad idea but start implementing it, learning to dig deeper and deeper into the problem you’re trying to solve, and you’ll be able to make a solid business out of it.” Schuster’s insight: Even if you don’t know exactly where you’re going, you just have to get into execution mode.
Although the idea is not everything for the success of a startup, the one that started notarity touches upon a major problem that businesspeople face: bureaucracy. Max Pointinger, Alexander Gugler, Sebastian Wodniansky and Jakobus Schuster set out to tackle one aspect of it, notarization, by developing an easy to use and flexible remote notarization tool that turns an annoying task into a positive user experience by allowing notarizations from anywhere in the world, at any time – all that’s needed is a device with internet connection.
How does it work? In brief, there are a couple of steps involved in the process that starts with the user registering and going through video identification. Users have to legitimize themselves with their passport or ID card. During this process, notarity gives the user a qualified electronic signature from its partner signature provider and creates an appointment for the user to participate in a video chat on its web platform. The user can upload the documents on the same platform. Then it is time for the notary to be involved. The notary asks the user to sign the documents with an electronic signature and places the signature in the correct place on the document. The user must confirm the signature on their device using a two-factor authentication app. “In short, notarity is not just a tool for arranging appointments, but includes video onboarding and document signing, with the highest standard for electronic signatures in Europe,” Max Pointinger notes.
“With notarity, we make notarizations faster, more flexible and more efficient,” says Schuster. Not much has changed in the hundreds of years that notarization has been around: Cross-border transactions are often delayed by weeks owing to the requirements for notarizations and apostilles. Most cannot afford such delays. With notarity, users can have documents notarized that can be used in many European countries without an apostille. “Our users are located all over the world. We save them a lot of time and money with our solution,” explains Schuster. While it usually takes six weeks or more to get an apostille for a European country in the U.S., with notarity users can get the same result in minutes. But notarity’s customers aren’t just outside Europe. “Many people in Europe have also found that it is more efficient and convenient to do notarizations from their own desks than to visit a notary’s office for a signature. The majority of our customers are based in Europe,” Schuster adds.
The startup’s story unfolds on different fronts, as the four co-founders are connected in numerous ways while having different but complementary backgrounds and motivations.
Sebastian Wodniansky, one of the two developers in the notarity founding team, is responsible for the backend, system and database architecture as well as for the selection and integration of external software providers. After studying business informatics at the Vienna University of Technology, he gained experience in project management teams and software development at Accenture and CA Technologies (now Broadcom, note). His passion for solving logical problems and optimizing business processes sparked his ambition in notarity, namely, to create a process that enables people from anywhere to conduct cross-border transactions and minimize the burden of regulations and distance.
Max Pointinger, the second developer, is in turn mainly responsible for the frontend and user experience. He is fascinated by improving the user experience step by step, particularly for “rather boring tasks that people are sometimes afraid of or find too complicated to do without help”. Like many other developers, he started as a teenager and after school worked not only in web development companies and for startups, but also for the Austrian startup news platform “brutkasten”. He got connected with Sebastian Wodniansky and Jakobus Schuster while studying computer science at the Vienna University of Technology.
The other two co-founders, Jakobus Schuster, who has a background in law, and Alexander Gugler, who has a background in law and business, knew each other from their school days: “When we were at school together with Alex, we started a small business and organized parties, which was a lot of fun,” says Schuster. “We were always looking for new challenges or side hustles,” adds Gugler. Among those was something that held a special place: organizing one of Austria’s largest student conferences, winquadrat.
Jakobus Schuster became interested in technology while in law school, leading him to take up programming. “I think Max would laugh at me now,” he says with a grin, “but I looked at the basics of programming, and that got me thinking, ‚Okay, there are people who do so many tasks that you can easily automatize.’ But they charge a lot of money to do it.” In hindsight, he admits that it’s actually not that easy to automatize all those tasks, which makes the topic even more important and attractive to him.
While it usually takes six weeks or more to get an apostille for a European country in the U.S., with notarity users can get the same result in minutes.
Crucial to the story of notarity, however, was the pandemic: The four co-founders, having plenty of free time to think about what to do next, sat down and thought about what could be undertaken. More or less by accident, they came across the semi-paradoxical realization that while it was possible to do almost all notarizations in Austria completely remotely, no one really knew that this possibility existed and there was no real end-to-end software for it. They started in a yoga studio that was closed during the pandemic. At first, notarity was just a side gig for them, because they all had jobs. Out of the motivation to be innovative and the entrepreneurial spirit that united them, they began to develop the software and pursue the topic. Things got more serious when they received public funding and some investment: They got more involved, and motivation increased significantly. They started asking themselves questions like: “What do we need to ask our potential customer? Can we just start developing the product? How should we proceed with the development? Isn’t it much better to involve customers from the beginning to really meet their needs?”
Motivation and curiosity was what kept them going, even if success didn’t materialize at first: “It helps me to wake up every morning looking for what is possible, and be excited about novel issues that no one has tried to solve before,” remarks Schuster. “Satisfying that curiosity and pushing the boundaries every day is sometimes exhausting, but very rewarding nonetheless.” At the start of 2022, they didn’t have a working product or a dime of revenue. But by September 2022, they had successfully ended the beta phase. The team believes things are going pretty well, as revenue is growing quickly and they’re getting a lot of positive feedback from users. “We were pretty naive when we started looking for investors in the beginning, but surprisingly, it worked out pretty well,” Schuster says.
But what happened in the meantime that allowed notarity to go from zero customers to launching a beta version? “A lot of bug fixing,” Pointinger says with a laugh. “And finding notaries who wanted to work with us, meeting them and testing the software with them. So, we could finally say, okay, I’m going to test this, and if it crashes, it’s not the end of the world, and our users would be willing to give us feedback on the software and help us improve it further,” he continues. That was the sticking point: getting users on both sides (the remote notarization providers and the users who need it) to talk to the team and explain what they need. “Because from an outsider’s perspective, it’s really hard to just sit down and think about what a day in the life of a notary looks like. We had some assumptions that were very wrong and some that turned out to be true, but we’re still learning day by day.”
Another key point in their success is the centrality of the very issue they were aiming at solving. “It is this psychological component that makes you think the problems are bigger if you see them very often, which is the case with notarizations in the business world and beyond,” comments Schuster. Critically, investors are amongst those who deal with a lot of notarizations themselves, making it easier for notarity to receive funding. “They probably felt the pain caused by having to be physically present at the notary at the given time and they cannot do it from anywhere, which is problematic especially in cross border transactions.” says Schuster.
Given the convenience of remote online notarization, it is not difficult to imagine that there is a market for it. “The remote notarization market is just evolving in Europe; in the U.S. it’s a bit older. But the U.S. notarization market is completely different than the one in Europe. It’s very important that at this moment new opportunities, new markets are being formed that deal with the optimization of bureaucratic processes. And we are one of the first to address this issue, this niche,” says Alexander Gugler. Although there are few competitors in the Nordic countries (e.g. Legitify), one in Austria (Austrian Chamber of Civil Law Notaries) and also some in the USA (e.g. notarize), Gugler states that, as far as Europe is concerned, notarity is the frontrunner.
As for the U.S. initiatives, amongst which notarize is one of the biggest, the team is not concerned. “We don’t think they will be active in Europe anytime soon, because it will not be easy for them to come here since notarization works very differently in Europe than it does in the U.S. They can’t just take the learnings from the U.S. and apply them in Europe easily,” comments Schuster.
Given the positive feedback and investment flow, and the lack of adequate competitors, the notarity team is very ambitious for the future: they want to become the largest remote notarization platform in the world – or at least in Europe. The first step is to expand to other European countries, a move that we can safely expect to see in the near future.
Fotos: David Višnjić