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The DocuSign Company: What Made It the Global Standard?

DocuSign Inc. recently went public in a highly anticipated IPO. For good reason, this billion-dollar unicorn had investors excited. Since its IPO in April, the DocuSign company has been outperforming market expectations. In addition, it has become a major catalyst for accelerating digital transformation. Despite the potential for tremendous competition and TAM estimated at $25 billion, the DocuSign company has remained the category king after years of pioneering the market. Why? Was it luck? No, being the global standard requires a bold strategy.

Is DocuSign a noun or verb? It is both. The DocuSign company facilitates two parties coming to binding legal agreement on a secure online platform. Gone are the days when bike messengers had to deliver contracts for signatures. Instead, parties can “DocuSign it”, with digital signatures cutting out the middleman.

Now, the company’s name is synonymous with quickly executed contracts. Meanwhile, the DocuSign market share is immense. And it took a bold strategy to get there.

The Sequential Chess Moves of the DocuSign Company

What is DocuSign’s bold strategy? To create an open platform by building a strong value proposition for a network of consumers and businesses. Along the way, it erected barriers to entry and increased business leverage by building deep partnerships with powerful tech companies. In addition, they defined the industry standard for trust. By positioning paper and manual processes as the competition, the DocuSign company established themselves as champions of a noble cause—with no threat of direct retaliation.

“Paper doesn’t punch back and there is a lot of it.”—Keith Krach, Chairman

The Magic of the DocuSign Advisory Board

There is a strategic advantage in knowing what customers need better than competitors do, and using that knowledge in product development and marketing. Of course, the key is getting a diverse set of powerful influencers and experts on board as advisers and advocates. As such, the 200+ person DocuSign Advisory Board includes global executives and industry experts and provides a vast source of the product, market, and strategic insight, as well as executive connections. Along the way, many Advisory Board members have become customers. And all of them can articulate the strategic relevance of the DocuSign company and quantify its value proposition.

“People support what they help create.” —Keith Krach

Focus on the Strategic Beachhead, Then Boldly Land and Expand

The first steps in creating and winning a new market are identifying a strategic beachhead, storming it, and then occupying it as a defensible position from which to expand. Sure, the DocuSign company had dozens of potential submarkets available, but the company decided to focus first on real estate. Curiously, it was a small enough market to own and live off for a while. However, it also provided wide reach and strategic high ground from which to attack adjacent markets.

A leveraged growth strategy will see the DocuSign company through to even greater expansion.
The DocuSign company’s leveraged growth strategy promises to maximize business-relevant factors in a “tornado” of expansion.

Soon, the DocuSign company became the global standard by systematically focusing on one beachhead after another. These beachheads were a combination of key verticals, horizontal-use cases, company sizes, partners-installed base, and geographical markets. Collectively, they translated into a market share of massive proportions.

Rewriting the Playbook on Strategic Utilization of Equity Financing

Wisely, DocuSign used a strategic equity financing strategy to create four-dimensional partnerships with global giants like Microsoft, Google, SAP, Visa, Deutsche Telekom, Intel, Dell, Salesforce, Comcast, Samsung, and FedEx. All of these partnerships included equity investment, enterprise customer agreements, technology integrations, and go-to-market strategies. DocuSign’s plan not only turbo-charged the market, but it also gave it the ability to tap new markets, leverage its partners’ presence and scale, build a brand, and even block potential new entrants.

Through its strategic equity partnerships, the DocuSign company built up a war chest of cash by raising money before it was needed. Large cash reserves gave the company the luxury to plan long-term, keep key projects in stealth mode, and take strategic risks without being shackled to the “90-day shot clock” of a public company. Thankfully, this enabled the DocuSign company to turn giant potential competitors into cheerleaders and eliminate some international competitors by acquisition.

The DocuSign market share comes from being an industry leader.
A dominant DocuSign market share comes from a history of delivering their deliverables.

Boldly Defining the Industry Standard for Trust

In the chaotic early days of a new technology market, the standards for quality and trust take time to develop. Sadly, this often happens randomly. However, the DocuSign company drove the establishment of the xDTM Standard with a prestigious Board of Governors. They did this via the analogy of “what the PCI Standard is to Payments, the xDTM Standard is to Digital Transactions”. The move institutionalized DocuSign’s “Framework for Trust” by setting standards in eight quantifiable, measurable and audit-able areas: security, privacy, compliance, enforceability, availability, openness, universality, and scalability.

With a Board of Governors that included the creator of the PCI standard, the Director of the National Institute of Standards, the Chief Digital Officer of the US Postal Service, and Secret Service officials, the DocuSign company was able to gain invaluable insight. Obviously, this insight would have otherwise taken decades to learn. The xDTM Standard enabled the DocuSign company to differentiate a crucially complex value proposition and made it easy for customers to quantify trust. Until that point, the only way they could measure trust was the age, size, and familiarity their potential vendor.

What is DocuSign Global Trust Network?

The creation of DocuSign’s Global Trust Network (DGTN) solidified the company’s dominant market position. What was DocuSign’s objective for creating the network? Clearly, to maximize viral effects on the DocuSign company platform with open APIs to ensure the highest level of trust. The three-part strategy consisted of:

  • Increasing the number of nodes (businesses and consumers)
  • Reducing the friction between the nodes (ease of use and trust)
  • Adding value to each node (payments, AI, value-added services)
What is DocuSign? An essential tool in executing contracts online.
The DocuSign company’s bold strategy for future growth will involve even more innovation.

The bold mission of the DGTN was to increase global commerce, productivity, and GNP for the world by providing an open global network for fast, frictionless and secure transactions. At last count, the DGTN  has more than 450,000 companies and 400 million users in 188 countries.

What is DocuSign’s Purpose for Bold Category Creation?

The DocuSign company repeatedly used category creation and expansion to build and burnish its leadership position. First, the company created the new category of Digital Transaction Management (DTM) as the catalyst for digital transformation. This case set the stage for the expansion of the category System of Agreement (SOA). This is a broader, more enterprise-scale solution. It’s one that integrates and automates the contributions of all front- and back office participants in the agreement process.

The DocuSign company used category creation as a preemptive strike against potential competition. So, what is DocuSign’s purpose for it? Veritably, it was not simply a mechanism to challenge the status quo—it was to maintain an undisputed leadership position.

A Bold Category Expansion Strategy

Still, with much of the company’s growth hinged upon their category-based strategy, the path ahead is clear. Want to expand the DocuSign market share? Then clearly, a category expansion strategy is in order.

As the below chart shows, the DocuSign process can be boiled down to four components of a cycle: prepare, sign, act and manage. Those components can be further broken down into a dozen more actions, like a report, generate, certify and trigger. But, what if you expand the range of those serviced by the SOA process?

The Docusign Company is implementing categories to their systems of agreement
By expanding the categories in their System of Agreement, the DocuSign company anticipates further growth.

Transforming the Future

Without question, DocuSign is a transformative organization that promotes enterprise efficiency. However, the focus is not solely on profits and revenues. Under bold leadership from individuals like Keith Krach, Dan Springer, and others, the DocuSign company serves as an organizational role model. It is probably one of the greenest companies on the planet. The DocuSign Impact Foundation transforms people’s lives through noble causes.

What is DocuSign’s next move? For sure, transforming into a category king and achieving escape velocity does not happen by accident. Conversely, the DocuSign company team has had its share of mistakes and failures. And yet, understanding the history of the company’s strategic chess moves creates an enormous amount of pattern recognition and insight. This can be applied to future strategic choices, and further increasing its market share.

What is DocuSign? An industry leader in securing online agreements.
With a market share putting it miles ahead of the competition, it’s hard to deny the company’s position at the top.

Like Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” Given the impact, the DocuSign company has already made in e-signature, DTM, and now SOA, further industry disruption is highly likely.

Bold Leader Spotlight: Keith Krach, Transformational Leader

As an engineering student at Purdue University, Keith Krach was in awe when he was accepted into Harvard’s MBA program. Now, everything will come full circle for this transformational leader. This coming year, Keith Krach will join George Schultz, Andy Grove, John Chambers, Bill Hewlett, Dave Packard, Charles Schwab, and Gordon Moore as a recipient of the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California’s Business Leader of the Year—while hundreds of his peers celebrate his accomplishments. Throughout his incredible career, Keith Krach has epitomized bold leadership in every possible way. Given the tremendous impact that he has made on so many—for this former CEO of DocuSign Inc. to receive such accolades is undoubtedly fitting.

a caricature of Keith Krach, former DocuSign CEO, standing beside the logo of DocuSign
Keith Krach, a bold leader and the Chairman of DocuSign is a serial entrepreneur who also had major success at Ariba and General Electric.

From GM’s Youngest VP to DocuSign CEO

Keith Krach originally made his leadership mark in a well-known company that provided great opportunity and great values. At 26 years old, Keith Krach became the youngest vice president in General Motors Co. history. As leader of GM’s robotics division, he introduced disruptive innovation that revolutionized automation. But Keith Krach had a broader vision. In 1988, he led Rasna Corporation, a maker of engineer design software, that would eventually sell for $500 million in 1995.

a photo quote from Bruce Harreld about Keith Krach and his bold leadership
Bruce Harreld, Former Faculty Chair, Harvard Business School’s Building New Businesses

After leaving Rasna, Keith Krach then co-founded Ariba in 1996. Ariba, which created the category of B2B e-commerce, became one of the fastest growing software companies in the world. As chairman and CEO, Keith Krach took Ariba public with an eventual market cap rate of $40 billion.

“Arriba is one of those companies that comes along and creates a sea change in the way businesses and individuals organize themselves or conduct business. Keith Krach …. is the guy rowing the boat,” as cited by Forbes.

Then, in 2009, Bold Leader Keith Krach took up the reins of leadership as DocuSign CEO, a position in which he served until 2017. In each of these ventures, his leadership has been the key factor that has made his tremendous success perpetually present.

In fact, “dedication, brilliance, creativity and gumption” are the characteristics Ernst & Young praised Krach for when they honored him as EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Northern California Region for Cloud Services.

a photo of bold leader Keith Krach surrounded by the logos of companies he has made a bold impact on
Throughout his incredible career, Keith Krach has epitomized bold leadership in every company he has touched

Keith Krach — Inspiring Leadership Through Perpetual Transformation

If you ask Keith Krach, digital transformation in today’s age is not happening quickly enough. He has noted that speed is the ultimate currency and that bold businesses must embrace innovation if they want to compete. His leadership philosophy that challenges the status quo and pushes the envelope is evident in all of his professional endeavors. From his days at GM to his tenure as DocuSign CEO, Keith Krach has invited change leveraging technology along the way.

Inherent to Keith Krach’s leadership style is the push for constant diversity as well. From his perspective, he has described the diversity of thought as being the catalyst for genius and the secret sauce for building high-performance teams. In fact, as DocuSign CEO and in other leadership positions, he has referred to “AQ” to be just as important as IQ.

AQ stands for “adversity quotient”, a term coined by Dr. Paul Stoltz, best-selling author, and authority on the topic. Diversity and inclusion not only foster innovation but also allow teams to overcome challenges through creativity. Naturally, innovation often faces adversity, and diversity is the critical ingredient in achieving success in such environments.

a photo quote from Dr. Paul Stoltz about Keith Krach
Dr. Paul Stoltz on Keith Krach being a transformational leader

Delegating Both Task and Authority as Empowerment Tools

For Keith Krach, taking risks and acknowledging failures are essential tasks in developing leadership in others. While anyone can delegate tasks to others for experience, true leadership development requires delegating authority as well. But blindly doing this can be not only counterproductive but also reckless.

For Keith Krach, empowering others through delegation requires a deep understanding of their motivation and skills. As a student of people, he comes to appreciate individuals’ unique values and capabilities. And with these insights, he is able to inspire them toward ever-increasing excellence.

During his time as DocuSign CEO and in other leadership roles, Keith Krach identifies three important steps for empowering others. Firstly, hiring the best people available for the job is vital. Secondly, people work together best when focused on a single mission centered on a noble cause. And lastly, being able to provide a clear vision of direction is essential for everyone’s success. Through these valuable leadership insights, Keith Krach has become masterful in developing future leaders of tomorrow and is taking bold steps now to mentor at scale to build the next generation of transformational leaders through his Virtual Mentor Network.

a photo quote of Salman Khan about Keith Krach
Salman Khan, Founder, and CEO of Khan Academy

A Values-Based Transformational Leader with a Larger Purpose

Throughout his leadership career, Keith Krach has stressed the importance of value, character and integrity. These elements of bold leadership have been trademarks from his time as DocuSign CEO and in every other leadership position he has filled.

In part, Keith Krach learned integrity and humility from his father who was a machine shop owner. His father always noted that ego was a detriment to effective leadership. Keith Krach has certainly taken this to heart. Either he does things the right way or not at all.

Bold Leader Keith Krach developed the DocuSign Impact Foundation
Keith Krach developed the DocuSign Impact Foundation

These same values are reflected in Keith Krach’s philanthropic efforts as well. As DocuSign CEO, he created the DocuSign Impact Foundation to help transform people’s lives through noble causes. Likewise, the Krach Family Foundation supports numerous charities, nonprofits, and outreach programs.

When Keith Krach served as chairman of Purdue University’s Board of Trustees, he catalyzed marked change in improving STEM education, global outreach and student education access through the Purdue University Global initiative. He also set the stage for continuing Purdue leadership by selecting Mitch Daniels, then sitting Governor of Indiana, as Purdue’s president. Keith Krach’s bold leadership extends well past his role as DocuSign CEO into every area of his life.

a photo quote from Mitch Daniels about Keith Krach and being a transformational leader
Mitch Daniels, President of Purdue University, Former Governor of Indiana

Bold Leadership Worthy of Bold Recognition

Though Keith Krach stepped down as DocuSign CEO in 2017, he has remained chairman of the company. Likewise, he continues to serve on the boards of many other notable organizations and businesses. In addition to Purdue University, Keith Krach has served as a board chairman for Angie’s List. He has similarly been the International President for the Sigma Chi Fraternity.

Looking forward, Keith Krach has dedicated himself to a new mission: Paying it forward—by serving to inspire and mentor a new generation of transformational leaders in the public, private and social sectors.

Through his Virtual Mentor Network, he is tapping the insights of great leaders, like retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal; former NASA administrator, Dan Goldin; City Year Founder and CEO, Michael Brown; and many others, to mentor at scale—building leadership skills that will ultimately improve standards of living and quality of life for everyone, all over the world.

a photo quote from Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Keith Krach
Retired Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, founder & CEO, The McChrystal Group

Without question, the Harvard Business School Association of Northern California made a great choice for their leadership recognition award. Leadership doesn’t get much bolder than Keith Krach.