Alex Guirguis has gotten several speeding tickets in his lifetime and he has contested all of them. But a Labor Day trip to Oregon with friends a couple of years ago ended up convincing the 33-year-old software engineer to start a company with the sole purpose of making it easier to fight tickets.
Guirguis launched the Off the Record app last October, about a year after he and his brother and friends, traveling in four separate cars, were all stopped for speeding while returning to Seattle after camping at Crater Lake, Ore.
“The whole process of fighting that Oregon traffic ticket was a real pain,” Guirguis said. “We thought, ‘There’s gotta be an app that already does this or a service that’s figured this out.’ We looked and there wasn’t anything, so it was kind of a light-bulb moment.”
A senior engineer at Amazon at the time, Guirguis, who moved to Seattle from Toronto, quit his job in February 2015 to focus on Off the Record full time. His brother Chris, a Microsoft engineer, and friend Mark Mikhail, also at Amazon, came along as co-founders of the bootstrapped startup.
Off the Record had its first customer 30 minutes after launching in the iOS App Store. Seven months later, Guirguis tells GeekWire that the service is growing — gaining customers and a reputation for success via strong word of mouth. In fact, the company is boasting a 97-percent success rate after handling hundreds of tickets.
Off the Record promotes the simplicity of its service, saying that customers can provide all the necessary information to contest a ticket in under a minute. No hiring a lawyer, no mailing the ticket, no showing up in court.
Users provide a photo of their traffic ticket (sorry, no parking violations right now), answer a few questions such as what court it was assigned to, and then make a secure payment of $250 to start the fight. Off the Record assigns the case to a lawyer from a stable that has a established a winning record in a variety of courts where the app is available.
Guirguis said there are 41 million traffic infractions in the country every year, and 2,300 per day in Washington alone.
“It’s a big market, that no one’s really looked at from a technology standpoint, for various reasons,” Guirguis said. “People are not familiar with it, lawyers are not big adopters of technology, they’re very resistant to change.”
And the driving public is resistant, as well, or at least not informed enough to know that they have a fighting chance. Guirguis said 95 percent of people who get a ticket just pay the fine. And for the types of infractions Off the Record handles — lower-level speeding, going through a stop sign, improper lane change — the fine is around $150. The company does not deal with criminal infractions where, for instance, if you were going 100 mph in a 35 zone, the fine would be much steeper.
So why pay $250 to Off the Record to avoid a $150 traffic fine? Insurance premiums. Guirguis and the company’s website stress that drivers could face hefty increases over the years as their driving record impacts what they pay for insurance — as much as $790 over three years, the site says right at the top.
When asked why he and his brother, who he said gets about five tickets a year in his Volkswagen Jetta, don’t just obey traffic laws, Guirguis said it’s well documented that up to 25 percent of tickets are issued erroneously. He faults radar technology and cites officer error as prime reasons for why tickets get dismissed.
And by doing the leg work and figuring out which lawyers are the best to work with in which courts, Guirguis said Off the Record is changing the legal industry.
“We’re big on transparency and we want to add transparency to the whole legal field,” Guirguis said. “There is none right now. There is no way for you to go and hire an attorney knowing that the attorney you’re hiring is the most recommended. All their web sites are going to tell you is, ‘I’m the best.’ That’s not how the world works anymore. The world is very data driven. Uber — data driven. Amazon — very data driven. And there’s no reason that the legal field can’t be data driven, too.”
Guirguis said Seattle-based Avvo, for all intents and purposes, is the only lawyer review service that’s out there. But the reviews are very subjective. “I don’t want to see what your friends and peers are saying about you, I want to see what your clients are saying about you.”
Off the Record is internally collecting reviews for every case that’s been handled and once they make that public-facing, users will know that every review that they read has been left by someone who had a ticket fought by that lawyer.
Right now, Off the Record covers all of Washington, New York City and Portland. They’re working on California, which is a huge market that gets tons of tickets, according to Guirguis. “Tickets in California tend to be a real pain. So that’s our next target market.”
The founders are also looking for funds now that they’re off and running.
“We felt that we’d have more of a bargaining chip if we had something that works, we have customers, they are willing to pay, rather than just going in with an idea,” Guirguis said, adding that as engineers the “easy part” was building a scalable platform. “Investors tend to not give you as much money and take more equity when you go in with just an idea. Right now we have a functioning business, a steady flow of customers, so we just need growth capital.”
People who get one ticket are more likely to get another ticket, Guirguis reasoned. In fact, even though they’ve only been live since October, they’ve had a handful of repeat customers.
Chris Guirguis has already used the app twice.