Fast-Growing Startup Challenges the Legal System: An Interview with PeopleClaim's Mark Deuitch



An Interview with Mark Deuitch, Founder and CEO of

Mike Ragogna: Mark, tell us about What's its goal?

Mark Deuitch: PeopleClaim is a new way to resolve any kind of dispute online without the need for complicated processes, intermediaries, or appearances in court. PeopleClaim helps any user engage a counterparty in a simple process of online negotiation and settlement. Our goal is to simplify the process of resolving disputes by providing a less acrimonious and more efficient technology-based system. In addition, through crowdsourced mechanisms we aim to increase public involvement in establishing standards and practices that will make the process of dispute resolution more responsive to what people feel is fair.

MR: How does it work?

MD: The process is really pretty simple. You state your problem online and propose terms of settlement. We communicate your claim to the other party and request a response. They can accept your terms, reject them, or make a counteroffer. The parties may decide to keep their communications private or, if the claim posts online, make them available for public review and comment and harvest crowdsourced suggestions on how the claim can be most fairly resolved.

Both sides of the dispute are able to access comments from the public, which may help them reach a mutually acceptable resolution that takes into consideration public opinion about fairness, best business practices, etc.

MR: Who uses PeopleClaim?

MD: Our core users include consumers, employees, tenants, patients, and really anyone who has a complaint or feels they've been mistreated and is looking for satisfaction.

MR: What kind of claims do you handle?

MD: One of the positive things about our system is that it's universal; you can resolve any type of dispute, anywhere, against anyone. There are no restrictions of venue or statutes of limitations as with the legal system. That's because PeopleClaim is fairness-based. It works by exposing bad business practices and unfair treatment.

On a daily basis, we process claims against airlines, auto repair shops, cable and Internet companies, healthcare providers, and a wide variety of other businesses. We've processed claims as large as $100 million dollars and as small as 50 cents. You can use PeopleClaim for any size or type of complaint anywhere, and many complaints are resolved within days or even hours of filing.

MR: What about claims that aren't resolved? What happens to them?

MD: If you use our public posting option, your claim will remain posted until resolved. Only the claimant can remove a posted claim before settlement. When the other party agrees to the terms the claim is settled and automatically removed from posting. Public posting is a powerful and ongoing incentive for resolution, and it also provides a way for the responding party to disagree on record if they don't accept a claimant's terms.

Incentive for resolution increases as more people file against the same party for similar problems. In fact, we facilitate claimant-to-claimant communication so that multiple claimants can pool resources and exchange information about the party they're filing against.

MR: Other sites like Yelp have been criticized for being one-sided or offering bogus content. What about PeopleClaim? How do you prevent abuse of your system?

MD: There are three important differences between PeopleClaim and business review sites...

First, we're resolution-oriented. Once a complaint is resolved it is removed from the web.

Second, we're non-anonymous. Information on PeopleClaim only becomes public after the identity of the claimant has been authenticated. This weeds out bogus claims, shills, and the kind of anonymous content many sites struggle with.

Third, we avoid conflicts of interest. We don't accept advertising, member fees, or other forms of compensation from businesses or other parties that claimants may file against. The claimant decides when the claim has been resolved to his or her satisfaction. Importantly, PeopleClaim always posts both sides of the story, and consumers can use our system to judge a business based on multiple factors including the number, type, and size of unresolved claims.

MR: So how's it going? Is PeopleClaim successful?

MD: We started PeopleClaim as a social experiment to see if Internet technology could create a better way to resolve common commercial disputes and create a process more equitable and inclusive than the current tort system. We believe we've been successful. The site is growing rapidly and we've helped thousands of businesses and consumers resolve disputes at a fraction of what they would have spent if they had used the courts. Additionally, the cost of using our system ranges from zero to around $20, so it's cost-effective for any size claim.

MR: How does the company make money?

MD: The basic service is free of charge to both parties. It's a "freemium" model. We offer an option for claimants who want to add a resolution deadline and have the claim post on the web for public review and comment if the deadline isn't met. We charge a small fee for that. We also have some other low-cost premium services that can help get claims resolved faster.

PeopleClaim is growing rapidly and we expect to bring in multiple revenue opportunities as we scale. But the goal now is to continue to grow traffic by providing the most cost-efficient and universally available dispute resolution system on the planet.

MR: What is the expense of these low-cost services you offer compared to legal costs?

MD: As I said, PeopleClaim offers free claim filing for everyone. Our premium services are optional, and run from $3 to $25 per claim. This contrasts with formal litigation, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take up to three years to resolve a typical dispute. Small claims court is inexpensive but does require personal appearance before a judge, and settlements may take additional time and effort to collect. As a matter of fact, we occasionally see PeopleClaims filed to collect judgments granted by small claims courts.

MR: You've mentioned PeopleClaim as an alternative to litigation. So you consider it part of "ADR," alternative dispute resolution?

MD: It's really bigger than that. What we're doing is going to disrupt the legal system. There's been little if any technological advance in the legal system in over 200 years. It's become complicated, expensive, and exclusionary. An estimated 50% of the population is effectively disenfranchised because they can't afford legal retainers and fees. PeopleClaim is a game changer. Our simple online platform allows a wide range of disputes to be resolved through party-to-party negotiation at a fraction of the cost of small claims court. It's also fully automated, which allows us to disintermediate a lot of what goes on in law. 

MR: Mark, is your goal to disrupt the legal system?

MD: Our goal is to fix the legal system. We're doing this by providing a simple, low-cost, and universally inclusive online process that can do a lot of what the legal system does, a lot better. We're committed to help create codes of conduct that will promote fairness in dispute resolution.

MR: That sounds ambitious. So how far along are you with all this?

MD: We've already helped consumers, patients, employees, and others resolve thousands of disputes with much lower time and money costs than they would spend using other channels--and we're really just getting started.

MR. I imagine lawyers hate you.

MD: [laughs] Well, we're disruptive--but we're also complementary. Starting the resolution process with PeopleClaim can help both sides of a dispute find common ground and narrow the issues, which can save time and money even if they end up going to court to resolve other aspects of the case.

Also, we receive referrals from lawyers with cases they can't take that are too small or outside their practice area. That said, we also process claims against lawyers, from people who have been overbilled or have had other problems. Our success rate with lawyers has been quite high.
It's a two-way street. We're happy to have lawyers contact our claimants if they haven't been able to achieve a settlement online by themselves.

MR: Ideally, where do you see this going? What's the bigger picture?

MD: One of our core goals is to increase public participation in the legal process. By that we mean people helping other people resolve disputes through online debate and feedback that can lead to creative resolution structures and a better understanding of the public's view of fairness and good business practices. If you're a multinational corporation you might be willing to slug it out in court over a period of years. However, you're going to be much more sensitive about your public image and what people think are good practices and policies, which are often reflected in claims filed on our site. So we hope and believe that PeopleClaim can have impact not only on individual disputes but also on business practices and behavior in general.

There's already a trend away from adversarial litigation toward more consensual forms of mediation. Going forward we can see 20-30 percent of cases that currently go to court handled more efficiently and quickly though PeopleClaim, as well as all the cases that aren't big enough to litigate. People have come to expect online solutions for almost everything; why should dispute resolution be an exception? We're also working on a project to create a set of standards for best business standards and consumer rights across all sectors of industry and commerce.

MR: What are your ideas for public participation, the people-helping-people part? How are you planning to achieve something like that?

MD: Claimants currently have the option of posting unresolved disputes publicly and inviting suggestions from viewers for ways to resolve the claim. This helps create a fairness-based process, whereby both sides are made aware of public opinion about practices or actions involved in a specific dispute. Those on the receiving end of PeopleClaims can gauge how the public feels the dispute should be resolved according to standards of fairness, equity, and good public policy. We believe this will take dispute resolution beyond technical justice - conforming to loopholes, etc. - and relate it more to fairness and best practices.

It's crowdsourcing: anyone from the public can offer solutions to unresolved claims published on our site. These can be simple suggestions like who pays whom and how much, or more complex structures. Viewers can vote suggested solutions up or down so both parties of a dispute can see the most popular solutions. This process mirrors what actually happens in court where settlement conferences can help parties arrive at a mutually agreeable solution, short of a full-blown trial.

We're also inviting bloggers, consumer advocates, legal experts, and ordinary citizens to contribute to an online Consumer Bill of Rights for a wide range of industries. These bills of rights will act as an organic set of standards that reflect evolving public opinion and needs rather than established laws. Every industry has informal rules of conduct or "best practices" that often have greater influence on behavior and practices than statute laws and regulations. Our goal is to facilitate public creation of standards that can be used as reference for anyone interacting with a specific industry, including both businesses and consumers. We believe the rights can also serve as foregrounds for complaint resolution because they are fairness-based as opposed to legislation or legal precedent-based.

MR: What has personally affected you about complaints you've handled through PeopleClaim?

MD: We get a lot of feedback from claimants and respondents about how easy it was to resolve what seemed to be an intractable dispute. The legal system has a polarizing affect; but once you get people talking it's much easier to arrive at a resolution. It's very gratifying to see people who thought their problem was helpless but were able to resolve it using PeopleClaim. Some claims are resolved within days or hours of filing, others may take more time, but in almost all cases we can offer an easier, faster, less costly way to get it resolved, and that's very gratifying.

MR: Do you expect PeopleClaim to go public?

MD: It's a possibility, but not in the near future. We expect to be profitable and self-sustaining in 2015 and there are no near-term plans for an IPO or other exit event.

For More Information: