From Lawyer to Venture Builder: Meet Jan Denecke, CEO of RYDE and co-creator of the RYDE Platform

In conversation with the mind behind RYDE, Jan Denecke, the creator of RYDE Platform. A practicing lawyer and entrepreneur for over 15 years, he shares his professional journey, insights, and motivation.

With his 15-years of experience as an intellectual property lawyer in Berlin, Jan discovered the importance of impacting and improving the industry of image rights at a broader scale, leading to the development of the Post-Licensing Service by RYDE. It provides professional photographers the possibility to protect their copyrights by treating infringers as potential clients and offering them a license for past use of photographs.

Headshot of Jan Denecke, the CEO of RYDE and founder of KODAKOne. He is looking at the camera and smiling.
Jan Denecke, CEO of RYDE and founder of RYDE platform

In addition to having a portal for its clients to access cases, RYDE also provides infringers their own platform where they can easily and immediately license the detected use of the photograph, chat with a member of RYDE’s team, upload an existing license if they already purchased one, or even buy a license for future use. Having such a platform creates and promotes new business opportunities between image creators and image users.

Before founding RYDE, Jan saw a problem that had no optimal solution — IP infringement legal claims. They took so much time, money, and most importantly, closed the door to unrealize opportunity: unlicensed image users already like your work; what if you could turn them into clients instead? To get an idea of how the light bulb moment came and the business was born, today we dive into an in-depth conversation with Jan Denecke.

Starting off your career wearing suits and ties inside the courtroom, how would you describe the initial years of your professional journey?

I loved studying. As a fan of reasonable and objective argumentation during my law studies, I realized that I valued how we could compare the law system to mathematics in words. If applied by the right people, it could do great things. That is why I wrote my master’s thesis about the ICC (International Criminal Court), which is the best example that law in its sobriety and simplicity has the strength to achieve good things worldwide.

All layers of society are bound by the logic of law, from economics to culture. I always had a precise structure and order to look at facts and instances, which made me respect this profession. This motivated me to start my own law firm shortly after I graduated. Of course, nothing huge.

At the beginning of my career, I dealt a lot with the press, around publications about my clients. I was pretty good at it. After a couple of years, I completely switched to Media and Copyright Law, but I always had an entrepreneurial mindset, and I knew I would start another company eventually.

What made you focus more on IP law?

Starting my career as a criminal lawyer, I grew faster than I expected professionally. My cases became bigger and bigger and, consequently, my clients more accountable. With this, the need to be responsive to the press also grew more critical. I was heading towards my first actual shift. While spending much of my time with the media houses and journalists, I was growing my legal career simultaneously. Many of my personal friends started their careers in the entertainment and music industry. Through this personal connection, my interest in Media Law developed further, and that’s when I decided to focus more on it.

The main question that drove me throughout my career was the positioning of creatives and copyright holders in the digital age and how their rights and interests can be appropriately protected in such a rapidly evolving environment shaped by technology. I started this off with music, continuing to photography.

That inspired me to work and provide a solution for creatives that aimed to help them deal with the growing usage of their IP, having a better understanding of where their assets are used and therefore giving back control to the respective creator or rightsholder.

When was the ‘lightbulb moment’ that led to your decision to initiate an image rights management platform?

After successfully enforcing a large number of copyright infringement proceedings prior to 2016, I noticed that at least 95% of all matters were always resolved with an out-of-court settlement. Lawsuits were extremely rare.

I saw that to complete a settlement, you needed three things. First, good legal knowledge to evaluate the underlying facts in a legally correct way; second, a substantial body of evidence to support the facts; and third, the right approach to convince the parties that the settlement is the only reasonable way to solve the situation retroactively and in the future in a way that is good for all parties involved. And that is all it is.

I was convinced that all of this could be translated into technology in a scalable way. The problem of mass legal violations on the Internet could be tackled cost-effectively. Traditional law firms could not do this for structural and regulatory reasons alone, and their work was far too expensive for many rights holders, mostly when the outcome was uncertain. That was the moment when I founded RYDE, even if only in thought first.

How do you see a place for technology in the traditional field of law?

Technology is continuously and rapidly getting better and smarter every day; that was always going to be the case. We have made strides to automate and standardize areas of our process. While some things will invariably need a human touch, we continue to develop ways to keep our product cost-effective. That includes working closely with other stakeholders, such as our legal network, to ensure that everything we create also helps them in their efforts.

With the rapid growth of technology, the field of law has sometimes struggled to keep up, and it is often placed in a difficult situation. On the one hand, it is required to grow and keep pace with innovative technologies to continue to meet today’s understanding of quality. On the other hand, this field is one of the most heavily regulated areas that can make it challenging to implement any technology. The organs of the justice administration find themselves in this area of conflict. As an example, in Germany, it is still not possible to perform specific actions digitally. It is still impossible to certify a notary public's signature via video, or the digital signature is only accepted as evidence under the strictest conditions. This does not correspond to the spirit of the times.

But this is also where the opportunity lies. If the regulations are adapted so that innovation can also develop further in the legal sector, then we will start to see many new innovative ideas and companies come to fruition in Legal-Tech.

What do you see as the most disruptive aspects of combining law and technology?

The process to bring down the costs to follow up on a legal claim is the most disruptive aspect of Legal-Tech. The point is about bringing the best of the traditional law process factors and technological input.

Jan presenting Post-Licensing as a solution at the impact fintech conference 2019

How similar is Ryde to what you did before?

Being a Lawyer is reactive, and what Ryde is doing is pro-active.

At Ryde, we represent the client much more in a more detailed, better, and cost-effective way. The basics and core are different yet the same: providing the best services to the IP law holders and helping them get a hang on to where their assets are.

How do you see Ryde helping the image economy?

We are here trying to bring back order in an unordered place, brought on by the excruciating rise of digitalization. It expanded quickly, giving very little time for people, artists, and laws to adapt to this rapid growth.

Everyone wanted to be a part of this rise, but no one thought about how we would do this in the right way. That’s our value proposition.

We have two perspectives: looking into the past by claiming back what belongs to the photographer & looking into the future, trying to educate the photographers to do everything in an orderly way, build their assets — their archive, in a more valuable way.

How would you define your journey with Ryde so far?

The development of Ryde, which I experienced with my co-founders and my team over the past years, has always been characterized by a great team spirit and an enormous strength. Nevertheless, start-up life is usually marked by rollercoaster-like movements, both positive and negative. It is essential to be passionate about the idea and embrace it, to be able to use the mistakes to influence the development of the company and yourself positively — all that is what finally led to the great product we can offer to all photographers today.

Where do you see yourself and the company five years from now?

Our main objective is to create a one-stop solution for photographers, where compliance and transparency count, including a marketplace supporting the community of creatives and giving them a dedicated space for both the protection and the promotion of their assets.

What advice would you give to people looking for a drastic change in their careers and becoming entrepreneurs?

If you feel like this is it, I would say, go for it! It’s like Nelson Mandela once said: it always seems impossible until it’s done!

I would advise them never to give up and never to lose trust in your idea. Remain open to innovation but stick to your aim and core idea. It will have its time.

Make sure you cautiously reflect on who you are. Being an entrepreneur is living your life on the edge, keeping in mind that this will lead to many risks and less time for your private space. Having a supportive and understanding partner makes things much more manageable. At least, that is something that always gets me through many highs and lows.

Naturally, there is still a long way ahead to have an ideal image industry, where copyright is fully understood and respected. RYDE is working towards testing and refining a smart solution and service.

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Interview and article by our Community Manager, Sheena Rajgarhia.

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We are the one-stop solution for photographers to monitor and monetize unlicensed image use worldwide easily.