Noah Waisberg ’06 brings machine learning to contract review as CEO of Kira Systems

Nine years ago, Noah Waisberg ’06 was an associate at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, working primarily on mergers and acquisitions, securities, and private equity matters. Like many corporate associates, he spent a lot of time on due diligence for deals, reading hundreds and sometimes thousands of pages of documents. He wondered if software might be able to do the job faster and more accurately.

Noah Waisberg '06
Noah Waisberg '06

The question ultimately led Waisberg to co-found a business, now called Kira Systems, that has become a leading provider of contract analysis software and a driver of innovation in the legal profession. With more than 100 employees, Toronto-based Kira has a client list that includes many of the largest law firms in the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as top firms in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Germany, and Norway. In August Kira raised $50 million from private equity investor Insight Venture Partners in its first round of outside funding.

The company got started after Waisberg left Weil in 2010 to move back to his native Canada and teamed up with a friend who had a PhD in computer science, Alexander Hudek. Waisberg took the role of CEO of the new venture, which they first called DiligenceEngine, and Hudek became chief technical officer. Their idea was to automate the process of contract review by creating machine-learning software that would find and extract important contract provisions, organize the review process, and analyze the results.

Developing the software took several years—one reason why they did not initially try to raise outside funding. “Alex felt pretty good that within 10 years we’d get the software to work, but that wouldn’t make the idea a very appealing pitch to a venture capitalist,” Waisberg says. In fact, in less than 10 years—by early 2013—the software had evolved far enough to allow customers to review contracts in less time—90 percent less in some cases—but with the same rate of accuracy.

It also became clear from customer feedback that the software could be used for contract review in other contexts, not just M&A due diligence. Audit and consulting company Deloitte became one of the young company’s first major clients outside the legal field. More than 5,000 Deloitte professionals are using the software in what Waisberg believes to be the world’s largest deployment of an AI software by a professional services firm. Embracing this expanded market, Waisberg and Hudek changed the company’s name to Kira Systems.

Initially, Waisberg says, the clients of law firms were more excited about the software than the law firms themselves. After all, cutting down the time it takes for contract review and analysis also reduces billable hours. However, Waisberg says, firms have warmed to this AI software, finding that the automation of contract review and analysis enables them to take on work that was less economically feasible before.

Professor Helen Scott, co-director of the Leadership Program on Law and Business, says that Waisberg’s success does not come as a surprise to her. “He was—as he still is—very smart, very interested in entrepreneurialism, and very creative in the way he developed his ideas and connections,” says Scott. “He’s very open-minded, and he was able to step back from the work he did as a lawyer and see some of the structural issues that automation and artificial intelligence could solve.”

Waisberg’s creativity led to an unexpected side project inspired by the experience of building and promoting Kira Systems’ AI software. “I used to spend a lot of time explaining machine learning to unfamiliar audiences, like partners at large law firms. In the meantime, I had young kids, and I realized that the explanation for machine learning was actually pretty simple—and could make for a good children’s book,” Waisberg said. The result Robbie the Robot Learns to Read, a picture book about machine learning written by Waisberg and illustrated by graphic designer Erin Windrim.

Although as CEO of Kira Systems, Waisberg doesn’t currently practice law, he says that his law degree remains essential to his work. “Many of our customers are large law firms or the general counsels of large companies, so being able to empathize with them is very helpful,” he says. “Legal training also gives you an ability to understand certain parts of the business in a lot of detail.” Waisberg has returned to NYU Law to give visiting lectures in classes on law and entrepreneurship taught by adjunct professor David Pashman ’97, general counsel of JW Player.

As the company continues to grow, Waisberg says that one of his priorities is to maintain a good work environment even as he learns to manage a bigger business and a larger set of employees. He’s well-suited for that job, Scott says. “He’s got a lot of warmth and a real understanding of work-life balance, which we’ve talked about over the years,” she says, “and which makes him also a terrific leader and manager.”

Posted December 19, 2018