The five-minute CIO: Brad Brooks, DocuSign

30 Sep 2016

Brad Brooks, head of engineering, product and marketing at DocuSign

“If the last decade was the decade of the app, the next decade is certainly going to be the decade of the API,” said Brad Brooks, head of engineering, product and marketing at DocuSign.

Featured recently among our list of 14 of the world’s fastest-growing cloud companies operating in Ireland, DocuSign took a simple idea – finding a better way to get important documents signed, cutting out the intermediary steps of faxing, printing and registered post – and running with it. That simple idea has paid off.

In 2014, DocuSign enjoyed 78.9pc revenue growth, year on year. Its user base has grown 170pc, and its customer base a whopping 225pc, since just last year.

Headquartered in San Francisco, DocuSign has offices around the world, including one in Dublin. The Dublin operation was established only last year, providing local sales and technical support for the company.

DocuSign’s biggest shift of late has been into the API space where it is driving significant growth in the volume of e-signature transactions, with 58pc of transactions now processed through its API.

Speaking with, Brooks said that the developer community is now a key part of the company’s growth strategy.

How did APIs become such a big part of DocuSign’s journey?

Well, just about a year ago, we sat down and started looking at our longer term strategy for the next three to five years and to see where the market was going.

We realised that our customers were using our product more and more from an API standpoint rather than using web apps or standard mobile web apps, and this was particularly among our large enterprise customers.

It became very clear to us that we had to have a much more concentrated strategy in terms of how we present that to customers and develop API resources to support their mission.

If you look at the major tech IPOs recently, like Atlassian and Twilio, you will realise that if the last decade was the decade of the app, the next decade is certainly going to be the decade of the API.

It has become normal for businesses from mid-size to large to have their own development resources with their own in-house app development and using APIs and the specific services they bring to the table. But they are fitting APIs into their specific workflow processes and that’s what more and more customers want.

APIs have been very much been part of our strategy and it is growing like crazy right now.

Do you think APIs will eat software? 

It really is true. Everything is becoming more and more defined from that perspective. It is just easier if you are a company that is focused on creating a first-class API experience.

This means building good toolkits, providing an easy way for developers to create a sandbox to test applications, test services, create sample app codes they can use to get up to speed and, once they standardise, it becomes a very good business for the company that is supplying API as a service.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

We just passed a milestone of 2,000 full-time employees and that doesn’t including contractors worldwide. Out of that, in the product and engineering space, we have 300 people worldwide. Many of those are in Seattle and San Francisco, but we also have a development centre in Paris as well as in Israel

How are people going to be interacting with electronic signatures in the future? 

It is really about the future of electronic signatures and digital transactions. It defines where we are going.

When we started out as a company, we were an electronic signature and, effectively, what we were doing was taking a 3,000-year-old practice and digitising it.

Every child who picks up a pencil, the first thing they learn what to do is write their name. That becomes how they identify themselves, it is a visual expression of who you are. As we move more and more into a digital world, we are getting people comfortable with taking that experience and identity and putting it into digital form.

But the whole idea of electronic signature is, for us, just the beginning point. Where it gets really interesting is around this idea of digital transaction management.

What we really provide is the system of record, or the first place where key information is stored and created between two companies and customers or internally between companies and their employees. We are that first point where an agreement comes together and it becomes digitally authenticated and optimised.

When you capture that information and branch out into different systems – whether it is SAP, or Salesforce – we become that front-end system of record that captures that first set of digital context and agreement between two customers.

What we are becoming more and more is as a digital transaction platform.

Electronic signatures will always be a part of who we are but it is more of an entry point and, to be honest, the embodiment of an artefact of the past from the physical world. But, as we move more and more into the digital world, it is having the transaction platform where different parties can come together and do transactions. It is what we call our Global Trust Network and where we have 100m users on it and 250,000-plus customers.

When you consider services like Apple Pay and Samsung Pay where consumers are using their smartphones to buy goods, is that something that interlocks with the future of DocuSign?

It is a very big complement to what we do. We showed a concept at the Money 2020 conference with Visa where we integrated blockchain associated with the Visa platform to our transaction platform. So, basically, what a customer can do is set up a contract that can lock it and identify it with a unique blockchain identifier and associated payments.

We are also very serious abut the internet of things (IoT); not just enabling transactions between people but enabling things-to-people or things-to-things agreements.

With IoT you have to authenticate the device. The device has to be authorised to do certain things but not other things and in the midst of a lot of transacts. And that’s what we showed last year with the payments process, is that you associate blockchain with your car, for example. That can be associated with the lease on your car, which is associated with an insurance provider, and that associates with a credit card, and now the car can charge for tolls or pay for your hamburger in a drive-through. It can also automatically update a contract with an insurance company in the sense that if you drive less than 15,000 miles a year you pay a different rate.

But what you need underlying that is the authentication of the thing, like a person – a transaction platform where the different parties can come together and connect. This is what DocuSign provides. And, when you think about the future of payments, it is about easily integrating that across all of our contracts and transaction capabilities. It is certainly something we see in the future.

Do you think the ability to manage transactions and signatures is going to be challenged because of the ubiquity of technology in our lives?

When the car first appeared, nobody knew how prolific it would be and change how we built cities and how our lives would operate for the next century and beyond. Where we are at right now with digital transactions and digital transformation is we are literally just scratching the surface.

I talked about our 100m users and our last transaction count was well over 150m transactions a year on the DocuSign platform. But I would definitely see that exploding over the next couple of years because of these different types of use cases.

The API part is crucial to this. We need to make it simple for developers to connect into these different spaces. It is then up to the imagination of the developer as to how they might want to use our services and connect to different things where they need this authentication and trust platform.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years