Legal Geek of the Week – Abdou Diallo (LegalSoba)

LegalSoba Founder Abdou Diallo is 24 (although his friends say he looks more like 18) and he readily admits he doesn’t dress up smartly on a day-to-day basis.

So it’s no surprise that when Legal Geek sits down with Diallo to profile him for our new and dashingly smart column – the Legal Geek of the Week – Diallo can recall several recent meetings when he and his company haven’t been taken seriously by their host, or as Diallo more politely puts it: “where there is a professor and student atmosphere in the room.”

It’s an atmosphere which is unlikely to last however, as LegalSoba have made rapid progress since launching three months ago in May and are catching the eye of the LawTech industry, especially in their target markets of France and Africa.

LegalSoba provide French-language legal document templates for businesses operating in the 17 west and central African countries that are part of the African Organisation for the Harmonisation of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). The site’s target client base is start-up African businesses and French companies looking to do business in OHADA member countries, which include Senegal, the Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Niger and Diallo’s home country of Mali.

The pace of progress at LegalSoba is rapid – just the day before Legal Geek spoke with Diallo, LegalSoba started charging for its documents for the first time after significant interest in their free services over the first three months of its start-up life. LegalSoba now offer 10 legal templates, with costs for downloading them ranging between €5-15.

Diallo believes it’s not too early to start monetising his services, citing the way LegalSoba’s name has spread without any central marketing campaign: “It’s all been by word of mouth, which is amazing.”

Yet the biggest sign that Diallo has found a niche within a niche market lies in the potential arrival of a competitor to his space. Up until now, LegalSoba has been the only company offering its services to the French and African markets but Diallo says he has heard that “some people are going to launch in the upcoming days”.

Whilst competition may provide challenges in the future, it could help Diallo with what he describes as his most pressing challenge in the short term: changing the mindset amongst the African market about the importance of using legal documents in business.

Diallo says: “In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 55% of the region’s gross domestic product is generated through an informal economic system where companies are not registered, and employees do not have contracts. There is such a dissonance towards the government when you tell people that you have to register a company in order to be a good business and receive finance. Changing this approach is our biggest challenge.”

Diallo’s perception of the African market has been earned the hard way, by stationing himself outside business centres in Bamako, Mali, and asking business men and women what they know about the legal obligations of their business, and what legal support they think they need.

“You can’t do things how you would in Europe,” Diallo explains. “I go up to people outside business centres and company registration offices and I ask if they will answer my questions. They normally agree.”

This quest for feedback has only just started with Diallo soon to be travelling from Mali to two of the biggest markets for legal services within OHADA: Ivory Coast and Senegal.

Diallo’s expectation of how long this will take is refreshingly honest: “I’m going for between a month and 2 months, but if I need more time I will stay longer, it’s the information about the market which is the most important.”

Legal Geek Founder Jimmy Vestbirk added: “Abdou is a true Legal Geek. His approach to building LegalSoba is unbelievably hands on and the services and products he has developed are, at this moment in time, unique to the market. Plus, we had a great video interview in Betty on our tour, more to follow shortly!”