If you've been through a divorce, you'll know it can get ugly. But rather than re-playing the worst scenes from Kramer vs. Kramer as you attempt to detangle your finances and fidelities, why not take advantage of a digital solution?
Kate Daly and Pip Wilson launched Amicable in 2016 after Daly went through a painful and expensive breakup. The idea is to help couples sort it out rather than drag it out at a fraction of the cost of normal divorce proceedings. We spoke to Wilson to find out how Amicable helps people stay sane while "consciously uncoupling." Here are edited and condensed excerpts of our conversation.
Pip, you haven't taken the usual startup co-founder route: after your Masters in Mathematics at Oxford University, you worked as a management consultant in London, then built a massive B2B SAP business (Bluefin Solutions) and sold it, cashing out rather nicely in 2015. That's more of an angel investor style story. [PW] [Laughs] Actually I'm also an angel investor, so I get to see life from both sides of the table. But, yes, it's true, my background was in running corporations but this lends itself well to life as a startup co-founder. Also, my mathematical training is key, because business is about procedural thinking, and solving problems. That's what I love to do on a daily basis. Actually, that's why [my co-founder] Kate and I are a good team because we bring very different mindsets to running Amicable. I have that business brain, and her background is as a psychologist who re-trained as a family-based counselor, working alongside with the legal profession.
How did you two meet?Our eldest children are the same age and we met when they were both babies. I watched Kate go through a very painful divorce and we mutually decided that there had to be a better way of doing divorce in today's tech-enabled world. So we decided to build a for-profit, but social-impact/purpose business, that's scalable, and completely disrupts the current process for the better.
You're upturning what's probably the most lucrative aspect of many legal practices.Well, yes [Laughs]. But, to be honest, divorce really doesn't have to be the awful—and expensive—in-person, hands-on, lawyers-involved, excruciating experience it often is today.
How much cheaper is it, using Amicable?Typically, using Amicable is more than ten times cheaper than going to court, a third of the cost of using a lawyer and half the cost of mediation.
Break it down for us. What's the cost of a no-contest, quickie, let's-just-end-it online divorce?We offer a basic, fixed price, including taxes, which comes out at 300 UK pounds (approximately $400).
Wow. How about the 'It's Complicated' version?The premium service for more intricate cases, which allows both parties to sort out absolutely everything including co-parenting, separation of assets and so on, costs about 2,850 UK pounds (approximately $3,771). Essentially, we've proved that technology can make divorce affordable, accessible, and scalable.
How many people have used the service to date?We're not releasing exact numbers as yet, but I can say tens of thousands of people have used the service, and the app has been downloaded in 70 countries so far.
You're based in the UK. How can people around the world use the service?Interestingly enough, the bulk of getting divorced is the same everywhere. We like to describe it as 'a financial and emotional process - with legal consequences.' The actual legal paperwork is a small part of the larger journey. We've been approached by potential partners in almost every English-speaking territory but we've decided to stay independent for now while we grow the business, before we launch in other places to offer the legal endgame.
There are many useful tools on your site, including a court fee calculator and divorce timeline estimator. How much of the entire process can be automated?Pretty much of all of it, via the Amicable app and site. We wanted to give people the full service right from that awful moment of 'OMG, my partner is having an affair,' or both parties mutually want to divorce, via what we call 'divorce readiness tools'—the discussions on splitting assets, finances, and setting up co-parenting arrangements—right through to the final paperwork.
If people want to interact with humans, you have that too.Right. We built out the end-to-end service digitally, then re-engineered it to retrofit human contact, if needed, at each stage.
Are those the Amicable 'divorce coaches'?Yes. We offer a free initial 15-minute conversation, then there's a paid-for option [for] 160 UK pounds (approximately $211.50) per hour with divorce coaches from a mixture of backgrounds, depending on the situation the customer is in. Every customer is assigned a divorce coach so they always know there is someone to speak to if needed.
Are they all ex-lawyers?Most have legal training but are not currently in practice within corporate law firms as they wanted more flexibility after having children or decided to try something new. Others have a more psychology background because the customer's issues are more about the emotional side, especially when it comes to separating households, assets, finances, or dealing with co-parenting arrangements.
All online? No fancy offices to trek across town to and sit in stiff-backed chairs with Kleenex boxes at the ready.Absolutely. Amicable uses secure online meeting rooms for video calls, and so we can have either just one person in the session or both partners, but in different locations, which can often be easier for all concerned.
Talking of difficult conversation, the 'how to tell the kids' script is really well done. Thank you, in today's society it is much more common that parenting is more evenly split and we wanted to recognize that providing tools for both parents—including same sex couples—to make that transition concerning their children as easy as possible. If you have children, and decide to divorce, we say you are not 'separating,' rather changing your relationship status from parents to co-parents.
Divorce can be so acrimonious.The legal process just sets people up for acrimony. We like to think we're not only helping the next generation of children grow up less damaged by divorce, but grown-ups too.
Good point. Let's wrap up by talking about AI because that's a growing part of what you provide today.Yes. We have 'Alex,' our AI-powered chatbot. When we first launched, we had a live chat service powered by real people, and outsourced to a company that worked off scripts. Then, after a while, we took all those recordings, and anonymized them, of course, and trained our AI chatbot—Alex—to make the whole process eminently scalable.
I tried it; Alex was pretty good. It used keyword triggers to not just direct me to the divorce coaches, or areas of the site, but actually had a conversation and provided answers. We're pretty pleased with the AI component and Alex is getting better all the time, as we're using the Google Cloud-based Dialog Flow platform and constantly adjusting the feedback loop with thousands of hours of conversations. We're also in the process of migrating our systems from HTML5 to our new 'divorce platform' built on ReactPHP with a custom underlying CMS.
Do you see a future version of Amicable that relies more heavily on a virtual 'divorce coach' AI to help warring couples work through their issues? I've written about several therapy-style AIs to date, and it's a growing field.I've been really inspired by the new generation of therapy-based AIs. The trick, for us, is to be customer-driven. We need to develop our technology at the level the customer requires from us to make the process as frictionless as possible. Having said that, technology is what makes this business scalable and we're building out more and more of that expertise all the time.
When people are going through an emotionally tough patch, time is of the essence. AI can be there 24/7 answering questions, lending an ear, directing them to the next stage, and giving people expert-based advice on demand. This is clearly the future and we're ready for that.