When was the last time you signed your name? Chances are it was a while ago. If Dan Springer gets his wish - you will never do so again.
Sitting in his winery-inspired home in Napa, the tech tycoon feels a bit guilty about how much his business has benefited from the pandemic.
The chief executive of DocuSign’s shares in the digital signature company are now worth $345m (£291m) - more than double what they were worth in February. Overall, the respite that comes with remote working has been welcome.
DocuSign has become one of the biggest success stories of the pandemic, with its service snapped up by businesses and government departments who needed to sign off on decisions without entering the office.
It reported revenues of $342m in the most recent quarter, an increase of 45pc from the same time last year. Opportunist investors on the hunt for pandemic proof businesses have sent its stock prices up by around 170pc this year, putting it just behind Zoom, Tesla and Moderna for this year’s highest achievers.
Springer, whose grown-up children have now fled the nest, accepts he has had it easy during the pandemic.
“I am obviously much more fortunate than most people with the resources I have and I don’t have little ones running around the house and my parents are healthy,” he says.
“So I have a lot of stability, but I do feel the pressure of not being ‘in the zone’ and not seeing colleagues, and I know a lot of employees have to deal with that on top of balancing all the other components – and that makes it a very stressful time”.
In hindsight, the idea seems impossibly simple: switch out the humble pen and paper to bits and bytes. DocuSign offers paid and free services that let recipients click upon a link to open an agreement on their device and digitally “sign” it, adopting an electronic signature if they wish. Signatures and documents are uploaded, then encrypted so nobody can try and intercept it. Each person handling the agreement is emailed a copy. It also offers additional products like DocuSign CLM which helps automate contract writing.
The digital signature has not had an entirely smooth journey. It was not until 2018, the year that DocuSign floated, that the UK was forced to assure people that digital signatures were as valid as paper ones, despite being legal since 2002.
They can be tracked all the way back to 2000, when then president Bill Clinton signed the e-signature act in the US, to little fanfare. DocuSign was founded in 2003, and was first picked up by estate agents who were trying to alleviate uncomfortable meetings between buyers and sellers.
Twenty years on and some forms are still illegal to sign without a pen. The Securities and Exchange Commission, which DocuSign needs to file regularly to as a public company, will not accept an e-signature, (but does take a fax).
“We laugh about it, but it’s incredibly painful,” Springer says.
While the US government trails behind, some contracts that one might expect to have been kept out of the digital revolution are hurtling full force into the digital world thanks to Covid-19, like marriage. New York City has devised Project Cupid, a way for couples to get hitched even when the City Clerk’s office was shut. Lovebirds with a valid ID needed only to fill out an online application, pay the $35 fee and schedule a virtual meeting with the clerk.
Other less romantic uses, like helping gig workers get verified for jobs on DoorDash and other courier-based roles have also been cemented DocuSign’s importance as the world becomes more digitally friendly. It has become critical for some elements of procurement in the NHS, enabling staff to digitally sign emergency equipment contracts to deal with the virus in hospitals. Banks like Santander used DocuSign to assist businesses trying to get hold of the Treasury’s emergency coronavirus cash, something that would have been impossible in the early days of the virus when the high street was shut.
Aware of this shift to not only digital, but isolated, remote working, DocuSign bought LiveOak in July. Liveoak offers a digital notary service, using video conferencing, instant messaging and identity verification to help two or more parties complete an auditable transaction without meeting.
The company now stores all sorts of fascinating secrets from bitter legal disputes, to professional athlete’s shiny new contracts, to secretive corporate deals from businesses around the world. DocuSign can’t look at them, although Springer recalls an encounter with basketball hero Andre Iguodala, who at the time had just inked a four-year $48m deal with the Golden State Warriors with the app. “He asked me, can you see my contracts?’ and I told him that as chief executive I had a backdoor straight into them all," before adding, "joking, of course."
With each new customer comes fresh responsibility to host their secretive contracts. DocuSign’s business is hugely reliant upon trust. To keep that, it has hired Briton Emily Heath, a former policewoman and head of security at American airline United, to help keep its data under wraps. Its security measures, which include encrypting customers’ data, has become an increasingly political topic which is under threat. Springer says DocuSign complies with legal warrants and subpoenas, but disagrees with any weakening of encryption.
In Australia, a new law gave its police greater powers to compel technology companies to assist them in accessing encrypted communications and wants companies to store encryption keys on the mainland, which could be used by police to access DocuSign customer information, something Springer is pushing back on. “We cannot do that,” he says. “We are not giving governments unfettered access”.
DocuSign has built its own datacentres in Europe and the US but now depends on Microsoft Azure to store contracts for government customers in Canada and Australia in order to abide by their data residency rules. This has proven difficult. Springer says he has been speaking to Microsoft boss Satya Nadella because “we can’t get the same performance out of Azure”. He is keen not to complain too much however, after all, Microsoft was an investor in DocuSign and in August Microsoft executive Kamal Hathi joined as its chief technology officer.
Even if, as Springer hopes, we all return to the office some day not too far in the distant future, the days of dependency on a printer and copier feel long behind us. Just ask the millions of people working from their living rooms.