How an Advisory Board Helped Expand DocuSign’s Reach
As DocuSign barrels down the home stretch toward its initial public offering (which could hit as early as this week), it is worth noting the role that the DocuSign Advisory Board (DAB) played in the growth and dynamism of the company. I’ve been on the council myself since its first formal meeting in 2012, and I’ve witnessed its expansion up close. In 2011, when the company’s revenue was below $20 million, CEO Keith Krach and his team launched the DAB with six people to help the company position itself for growth.
According to DocuSign’s S-1 filing, revenue last year (FY18) was $519 million. The most recent count of global DAB members is 244. What used to be a few folks meeting in a conference room at DocuSign’s San Francisco offices has become a major event. While I’m not presuming that the relationship is causal, the council’s growth rate of 40x from its inception until now mirrors closely DocuSign’s revenue growth of 37x during that same period. And there is a reasonable likelihood that the board did have a significant impact.
One guy who thinks so is former DocuSign executive Marc Carlson, who has known Krach for more than 35 years and has helped him grow six companies. Carlson was instrumental in setting up the DAB. He said they drew inspiration from Regis McKenna, the well known technology marketing, advertising, and public relations guru who, among other things, helped Steve Jobs put Apple on the map. McKenna was instrumental in transforming Silicon Valley into what it is today. He was a proponent of companies’ building relationships with luminaries in target industries. Such luminaries, Carlson reasoned, could help DocuSign understand these industries and, in some cases, positively influence their peers.
The DAB allowed DocuSign management to surround itself with executives who had deep industry and operational experience, “people smarter than us,” as Carlson puts it. But it’s not just about smart people who are in a position to influence business in their segments. There’s a whole human side to the story. The actual glue that pulls this influence machine together is built on connections, trust, and belief — those gossamer qualities that financial people always hate because they can’t quantify them.
Zara Larsen, a fairly recent DAB inductee, has a deep engineering background and has worked in management positions at Raytheon, United Technologies, and General Motors (GM), among other firms. While at GM, she ran the Camaro sports car program as assistant chief engineer. Larsen goes all the way back with Krach, who was in the same fraternity as her brother when they were all undergraduates at Purdue. Aside from her influence in the aerospace and automotive segments, she is a firm believer in “change from the inside out,” or “intra-preneurship,” as she calls it. By paying attention to the well-being of employees, she says, it’s easier to keep them on board and focused.
Jack Miles, an operations executive who has held various positions in both the public (State of Florida) and private (insurance) sectors, was one of the first DAB members. He described the mechanics of his influence network. When Krach was trying to crack the financial services industry, Miles put him together with the president of American Express at the time, Edward Gilligan. “I knew Ed when he was a sales guy,” says Miles.
The constant flow of insights and introductions that DAB members bring to the company is such that almost every major enterprise customer has been touched at some point by a board member. In addition, the group ensures that the company hears and understands voices from outside.
A smattering of other DAB members:
- Jim Snabe, chairman of both Siemens and Moller-Maersk and former CEO of SAP, refers to Metcalfe’s law when he describes the value of the DAB to DocuSign’s overall growth. “The expansion of the DAB,” he argues, “reflects the network effect of the company, and DocuSign is the ultimate network company. The two are definitely correlated.”
- Arevo Labs CEO Jim Miller, who in a previous life ran cloud infrastructure at Google (which became a strategic investor in DocuSign), says, “Docusign has dramatically improved our document workflow, productivity and ease-of-use within our company. Google has gone through tremendous growth and Docusign continues to scale effortlessly with us.”
- Kevin O’Leary, chairman of O’Shares Investments, says “I have worked to go digital across as many areas of my businesses as possible. With DocuSign, I can now get to agreement faster and deliver on those agreements with speed and agility.
- Kuniaki Watanabe, CEO of Tokyo-based Winworks K.K., says “Eliminating paper and increasing the productivity for office workers is now a national imperative for the country of Japan.”
- Don Thompson, former CEO McDonalds, says “DocuSign has become the verb for keeping life and business moving forward so you can get approvals, decisions, and signatures fast.”
Arguably, one of the keys to DocuSign’s success was the level of executive engagement generated by the DAB. A diverse group of leaders, the board has helped the company maximize the value it creates for its customers and partners. The current group represents executives in all major industries and around the world, including movers and shakers in the non-profit sector, where the company has a significant effort going to contribute to societal improvement.
DocuSign management believes that growth and the creation of an industry comes with deep executive relationships and the understanding of important target segments that those relationships engender. Carlson says, “The DAB has helped us create an amazing group of friends and supporters that provides wisdom and guidance and helps amplify the message of value in the markets we serve.”
As McKenna viewed it, when luminaries talk to their colleagues about what a company is doing, they amplify relationships in that industry. And when that happens, the firm’s fortunes wax.