When it comes to sharing data for due diligence, entrepreneurs and their lawyers are faced with a bit of a choice. Companies used to host physical data storage rooms for transactions and document review where they could keep all physical copies of the documents needed to complete the deal; often it was under guard and/or lock and key, with strict rules guiding the review procedures. But in the age of email and ever-expansive data, obviously no one wants to retreat back to the days of ink and paper. The solution is to use a virtual data room (VDR).

The major player in the VDR space is Merrill DataSite. Sporting an impressive list of clients, Merrill provides services for any VDR situation a company may face. This includes picking up physical copies of your data to scan (and index) for you, as well as a plethora of services to help attorneys manage the diligence–and other data intensive–processes. The biggest drawback from the emerging entrepreneur and small business owner’s perspective is the cost associated with such a comprehensive service.

So with a limited budget how can a company move to a virtual data room? Competition in the VDR market is stiff, and there are some great contenders on the market. Brainloop, Ansarada, Firmex, WatchDox, ShareVault, and Caplinked are just a few of the different services out there. Pricing varies between each of these companies, but for a client with really basic needs WatchDox might be worth a try. For under $20 per user per month the service acts as a data storage and sharing application. But in the end, pricing for more advanced services will be based on the needs and size of the client so it is important to consider what you get for the price. There is some worry that under significant pressure—like upon the receipt of a subpoena— some of these services will comply without even notifying the user/subscriber (make sure to take a close look at the terms of service). Merrill has made it clear that it will first notify the client, allowing time to seek a protective order if necessary; this sort of concern is not really addressed by the more basic services.

Some have tried going the ultra low budget route and using services like Box, Dropbox, or even GoogleDocs. The issue is that these companies, while well known for personal data storage, don’t have a long track record in the VDR space. Besides potential security concerns (and liability for data loss), these sites lack the full functioning features that can turn a VDR system into an easy (and ultimately cost-saving) asset for the company. However, with new services like Dropbox for Business these companies are slowly adapting to the space, allowing more control of sharing and tracking who has viewed each document (a useful tool for potentially knowing who is really interested enough to do complete due diligence for the deal). Time will tell if services like these become true VDR alternatives.

While this is just a basic look at the VDR landscape, hopefully entrepreneurs and their attorneys will take a moment to assess their current plans to see if their service is truly meeting their data storage and sharing needs.


–Zac Parsons

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