First in a series about Missouri entrepreneurs, their products and their retrospective advice for others who dream of launching their own startups.
Richard Lozano’s cell phone used to be a problem.
As a St. Louis defense attorney, he needed to be accessible to clients. Traditional SMS texting, though, allowed for late-night messages from unknown numbers; it also constituted billable labor that was cumbersome to capture and monetize. He searched the marketplace for a messaging app that could serve as both a gatekeeper and a secure filing system, but he couldn’t find one. So he created it.
With the help of his wife Kim and developers in Chicago, Lozano created the monikur app and rolled it out in August 2018.
Here’s how it works: Giving a client a link to your monikur profile, Lozano says, is like handing out your business card, only this business card prompts your client to download an app that creates a direct texting channel through both of your cellphones — and you, the attorney, have total control over that channel.
Want to restrict texts before 8 am and after 5 pm, Monday through Friday? monikur lets you set “office hours” for them. This function filters out texts at odd hours sent by clients seeking emotional, not legal, support. And it won’t even allow texts to be typed outside of the designated window, so there’s no danger the clients will think their texts are being ignored.
Want to get paid for all of this texting? monikur allows you to export all texts from one client within a date range, either as a PDF or as a CSV data file that’s compatible with spreadsheets and billing software. If you’re an attorney who charges a rate of $300 per hour, and you use the app to bill just an extra one-tenth of an hour for texting activities, you’ll make your money back on monikur’s $20 monthly subscription.
That subscription model mentioned above relieves monikur of the burden of seeking revenue by selling user data. And because the system is end-to-end encrypted, even Lozano and his developers can’t see the contents of other users’ text conversations.
So far, Lozano himself is using monikur to communicate with dozens of clients. He plans to attend several legal conferences in the next few months to tout the app’s virtues.
In addition, he has arranged for a pilot program in the Missouri Public Defender System wherein 10 of its attorneys will try out the app for free and give feedback. The public defender’s administrators also will get to use a central control panel that allows them to access chats and contacts from their public defenders. Large law firms already do this with emails, Lozano points out.
“Texting has become a primary means of communicating, and for millennials, it’s their preferred means,” he says. “So we’ve created this control panel so organizations can have control and ownership over text conversations, not just email.”
Lozano and his team are now developing two new features. One is a reminder function for both counsel and client. Its purpose is to reduce missed court dates. The other is a private-label version of monikur enabling law firms to customize their own app using monikur’s infrastructure.
In the meantime, Lozano says, monikur has plenty to offer individual lawyers like him.
“I’m an attorney, first and foremost,” says Lozano, who earned his law degree from the University of Kansas in 1993. “I created this as a solution for myself, but there are many solo and small-firm attorneys just like me that have both benefited from cellphones and been tormented by them.”
Startup Missouri: You’ve been an entrepreneur for years, first as a solo attorney running your own firm and later as the operator of a law-firm marketing company. Now you’re the inventor of monikur. If you could do it all again, what would you do differently?
RL: Most businesses fail because they give up too easily. I practiced law for about six years, from 1994 to 2000. Then I jumped into dot-com when it was hot, around 2000. I had an idea that I mapped it out in 2000 but before [the necessary] technology existed. I wasn’t able to fully realize it at the time, but I stayed with it until around 2016-2017. Raising a young family, the bills come at you like a freight train every month. You second-guess yourself when you run out of money. But you have good times and a bunch of lean times — you’re always examining your decisions.
The biggest thing I’ve learned: Once you think you have something worthwhile to sell, it becomes a constant cycle of problem-solving, persistence and staying committed to your idea.
Our product now [monikur] is still in the startup phase. It would be really easy for us to become discouraged, to think nobody wants it. You have to stay really curious, stay persistent and keep troubleshooting. It’s really easy in this field to get discouraged, to chase your tail and give up too easily.
We don’t have traction yet, but 2019 is all about traction. We’ve gotten lots of slaps on the back [for the initial version of the app], but I can’t take a victory lap yet. From all of the other experiences I’ve had, I know what we have to do. The way we’re going to make it successful is relentlessly pushing it out there in different channels.