When you ask Julia Rodgers, a Wellesley-based attorney, what surprised her about being on “Shark Tank,” the answer is simple: no music.
Unlike for viewers at home, she said, there’s no background music for the TV show’s contestants as they make that long walk down the hallway into the room where the investors sit. For Rodgers, that left her tending to her nerves, certain the famed “sharks” would not respond well to her fledgling Boston startup looking to disrupt the divorce industry.
After stepping into the studio with her cofounder Sarabeth Jaffe, the duo started pitching their company, HelloPrenup. Wearing white dresses, they sparred with the show’s five investors, walking through their idea, how the pandemic hobbled their revenue, and the pitfalls that have come in their bid to start a tech company that looks to simplify the way Americans get prenuptial agreements.
After some concern about the company’s bumpy start and lack of sales, they got a deal. Kevin O’Leary, an investor on the show, and Nirav Tolia, the founder of social networking site Nextdoor, signed onto the idea, agreeing to pony up $150,000 for 30 percent of the company.
But now, the hard part for Rodgers and Jaffe begins, as they seek to expand the number of states that their legal-tech company can operate in, forcing them to navigate the patchwork of laws surrounding prenuptial agreements. All the while, the surge of customer attention that has come from their national television appearance last month has been consuming.
“It’s incredibly busy,” Rodgers said. “I don’t even count the hours, because it’s constant.”
Rodgers, a Suffolk Law School graduate, got the idea for HelloPrenup while working as a family law attorney in Boston. Part of her job included conversations with clients looking for prenuptial agreements. In those discussions, she noticed a few things. Often, couples that had simple prenuptial terms would walk away wondering why they needed a divorce lawyer. Others waited until right before their wedding, and wouldn’t have enough time to get it done. And price was an issue: An agreement could run upwards of $5,000.
She launched a beta version of HelloPrenup in March of 2020, just as the pandemic was ravaging the wedding industry and prompting couples to delay their ceremonies. Three months later, she had a baby. In March of 2021, Rodgers asked Jaffe to come on as cofounder and chief technical officer. Jaffe, based in Seattle, was previously a HelloPrenup customer, with software engineering experience.
For the next three months, the duo set about redesigning HelloPrenup, which was not built to scale up, Rodgers said. Over the summer, “Shark Tank” reached out, asking if they would apply to be on the show. They agreed, spending hours practicing and perfecting their pitch remotely. In July, the show flew the pair to Los Angeles to pitch the investors. It was the first time they met in real life.
During the pitch, investors worried about the site’s low sales. At the time, HelloPrenup had made roughly $20,000 in revenue, and signed only 25 agreements. But Tolia thought the business had potential, and O’Leary, who initially bowed out, came in after Rodgers and Jaffe nudged him to reconsider. “I was really expecting a lot of pushback and not really expecting to get a deal,” Rodgers said. “We were both awestruck.”
Since the show’s airing in early November, interest in the company has skyrocketed. Before, HelloPrenup averaged 3,200 visitors per month. Now, it’s upwards of 28,000. Its sales have increased 545 percent this month. The product costs $599, and allows couples to use drag-and-drop modules to design prenuptial agreements.
With its new money, the company is looking to offer its services in all 50 states, up from the 18 it currently serves. The startup also will hire legal advisors and staff to create more content, including blog posts that demystify the prenup process.
Pat Kinsel, the chief executive of Boston-based Notarize, said HelloPrenup is serving a need, giving people access to legal services who often can’t access them because of money, time, or complexity. But he added that it’s crucial the company expands to all 50 states, a task that will be hard and expensive. “The key question is, can they acquire customers fast enough to offset the cost,” he said in an interview. (Kinsel is not involved with the startup.)
Kinsel added that it’s promising that the company is gaining interest, but what happens after is more important.
“This interest will wane,” he said. “The question for the team is, can it build durable interest?”