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Follow the Leader: Tom Gonser

August 05 2014

ftl tom gonserWhen I say "DocuSign," what comes to mind? You know immediately that I'm talking about electronic signatures and transaction management. You can probably visualize the DocuSign interface, the familiar fonts and colors. You may even have an emotional reaction, most likely a positive one. These are the signs of a winning brand. What may surprise you is how quickly DocuSign was transformed from a bright idea into a household name. We talked to Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Tom Gonser to understand how this happened and to generate some ideas you can use in your own business.

The DocuSign Magic

DocuSign has undeniable appeal in a multitude of industries, but it seems particularly successful with real estate professionals. We asked Gonser to explain this "magic."

"Real estate has a paper problem, perhaps more so than any other industry," he says. "So they were primed for a paperless solution. Secondly, we made DocuSign a really familiar process. Other companies were offering really complicated software; we focused instead on making it feel natural. We invented the yellow 'sign here' tab. Additionally, we worked with the documents real estate professionals were already using, and that flexibility was incredibly important."

Gonser also credits DocuSign's mobile technology with creating the DocuSign appeal. "Today, consumers are incredibly mobile and so are agents. It's really important to provide the entire process on a mobile platform." He continues that the cross-industry use of DocuSign makes consumers and agents more comfortable. "People are using DocuSign in many contexts, not just in real estate."

Spreading the Word

True, DocuSign is an excellent platform, but even the most appealing products require smart marketing to get the word out. We asked Gonser how he grew his customer base. He offered three recommendations:

  1. Leverage relationships with strategic partners. "Early on, we partnered with zipLogix," Gonser says, "and we still have a number of agents on their platform. They have a large, loyal customer base and partnering with them allowed us to get in front of many real estate professionals." Since then, DocuSign has forged other incredibly important relationships with leading companies like Apple, Microsoft, Salesforce, Visa, and FedEx. This last relationship is fairly recent and represents an exciting new concept. "When a transaction is complete," Gonser explains, "you can use DocuSign to submit the documents to your local FedEx Office and have them printed there. Then you can either pick them up or have them sent to you."
  2. Build viral and upselling capability into the product. DocuSign by nature is a viral product; every person you share it with makes business transactions even faster and easier for you and them.
  3. Get social. "In real estate especially, the whole social aspect is really important. Real estate is all about relationships and connections, so the most successful agents are social animals anyway. Sixty-five percent of the time, agents are choosing technology and techniques based on word-of-mouth from their peers, so it's really important to have a social presence."

These tactics have clearly been effective. According to Gonser, there are 50 million unique identities in the DocuSign network, growing at a rate of about 45,000 per day. The technology is used in 188 countries and in 43 different languages.

Supporting the Entire Transaction

As you may be aware, DocuSign recently acquired Cartavi, the popular mobile transaction management tool. As we learned during our discussion with Gonser, DocuSign had long been considering an expansion beyond eSignatures. "Our customers wanted help managing the entire document lifecycle," he explains. "Cartavi was built using the DocuSign app, so working with them was a natural progression. What we believe we're building today is a network that allows businesses and consumers to interact digitally—not just to sign documents. Businesses need a robust fabric to engage their customers on any device. Consumers demand this mobile, digital experience—and they expect it to be secure."

This brings up an important point: security. Real estate documents are often sent via email and, as Gonser points out, email is insecure. "Our goal is to eliminate the use of email entirely, because everything can take place in the DocuSign Transaction Room. We brought it all into a single, secure space," he explains. "That being said, the space is also highly collaborative. Brokers can have visibility into agent activities and make sure all documents are compliant. At the same time, agents can engage with customers and other parties to automatically drive information to the broker. The consumer benefits as well—enjoying unprecedented transparency with absolute security. When a transaction is complete, the Transaction Room can be sealed and stored, then reopened later if necessary."

Advice for Entrepreneurs

We invited Gonser to share his top five tips for being an effective leader. Here's what he shared with us:

  1. You need to be paranoid. "If we are doing something amazing, we need to assume that someone else could do it, too. We don't have a lock on being inventive," he says. His advice: Innovate constantly, even if it disrupts your business. If you don't do it, someone else will.
  2. Have a 5% rule. "Let's focus on anything that can move the needle more than five percent," Gonser says. Anything that makes less of an impact than that is an inefficient use of time, energy, and resources. "If you spend too much time looking at the little things," he continues, "you'll never make big progress."
  3. Measure company success by customer success. "If our customers don't see a material, positive impact on their business, that initiative is a failure," he says.
  4. Measure everything. Gonser compares this to driving a car. You need a dashboard of data to understand how everything is performing against objectives.
  5. Make sure you're having fun. Gonser explains, "I say I retired 20 years ago because my definition of retirement is that you're doing the stuff you want to do. This is exactly what I'd want to do if I could choose anything in the world."

Gonser is truly forward thinking, something that is often considered to define great leadership. When we ask him to reflect on what he would do differently if he could go back and change things, he says, "I try not to look backwards. You can't second-guess what has happened. I'm sure I'd do a million things differently, but would I be as successful as I am today? Ultimately, a businessperson learns more from mistakes than from successes. Instead of looking back, focus on what you're going to make happen moving forward."

Moving forward, I think we can expect great things from DocuSign. I, for one, will be watching eagerly to see what Tom Gonser does next!