In conversation: Reggie Davis, general counsel, Docusign

An experienced Silicon Valley hand, Reggie Davis discusses fostering corporate growth and the challenges of taking cutting edge technology global.

GC Magazine: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you came to be at DocuSign?

Reggie Davis (RD): I have been at DocuSign for about three years. Before that I was at online games company Zynga, and prior to that I was an attorney at Yahoo, so I have been doing tech for about 17 years now.

DocuSign is a digital transaction management company. A large focus of our work is around  e-signatures and digital  transformation for companies. Companies are going from paper, filing cabinets, and back-ended processes involving a lot of people, to automation.

When I started with DocuSign, it had about 600 employees. We have 2,400 now. Back then, there were two offices – Seattle and San Francisco. Since then we have added offices in Dublin, London and Paris, in addition to acquiring a French company called OpenTrust, a company called ARX in Tel Aviv, and another from Brazil called Comprova. We have also opened up satellite offices in Singapore, Sydney, Melbourne, and Tokyo. So there has been a lot of fast growth.

It has been fun. I enjoy the international expansion and the fast growth; it is  a niche that I’ve developed for myself moving from one company to another and helping pre-IPO companies get ready to go public – building the infrastructure, the space, the team and the processes to be a publicly-listed company on NASDAQ or the New York Stock Exchange.

GC: From small startups through to behemoth corporations, the penetration of e-signature and digital transaction systems seems to be massive. Where does DocuSign fit into the landscape?

RD: DocuSign is a large percentage of the overall market. At one end of the continuum, the expectation of companies sitting here in Silicon Valley is that everything is going to be very fast and very digital – they do not want to have paper, or processes, or to be held up. At the other end of the continuum are more conservative countries like Germany and Japan where you have really smart lawyers, but they are actually taking a conservative approach. But in the last 12 months, they are finding they have got these very people-laden, paper-laden, heavy processes to do their business. Now, there is an ability for everything to be digital, from an app here on your phone you can just push the app and bring up DocuSign and sign anything wherever you happen to be.

There’s a really expansive record around the creation of the document, the sending, the opening and the signing. We know the geolocation, the IP address, the time, the date – we have all of this metadata that’s associated with the document, which is called the ‘certificate of completion’. You now have a document that is intelligent, smart, it will tell you exactly when it was built, exactly when it was opened, who saw it, and everybody that touched it and what’s happened to it since.

When we first contract with a company, we offer a use case in the procurement department or HR department. If you want to get a competitive offer letter sent out to somebody really quickly, you can close that contract down in minutes. Legal departments are using it pretty regularly, because it enables them to become change agents within their own companies and take contracting time down from weeks and months to hours and days. I can pull up a document and see that I have signed it, you have signed it, a third person has signed it, and we are waiting on a fourth person to sign it. I can automate prompts for that person to put at the top of their email box, so it really does expedite things and it brings down the cost.

GC: Do you have other GCs coming to you and asking how it’s being deployed and how you use it?

RD: When I was at Yahoo and Zynga, most of my role was around servicing our company and I really did not have much of a sales role. Here there is an opportunity to explain our offerings to other GCs and legal departments and help with their digital transformation.

I spend a lot of time talking to other general counsels, saying ‘Here’s what other GCs are doing at other companies, they have completely adopted DocuSign and they are getting quite comfortable with it. It has taken down their costs quite significantly, and they are imposing it on their outside law firms too.

We created a document called an ‘e-signature legality guide’, which tracks the top 64 countries that are doing digital transactions and lays out the laws in all of those countries. We send that over to the lawyers and that gets them pretty comfortable pretty quickly that it is an actual valid signature that will be enforced in court.

Other issues that come up, typically, are security- and availability-related. We allocate a lot of our internal resources on security teams and making sure that we are very protected. All of the data in transmission is encrypted and in a tamper-proof envelope, so we can see if anybody tries to get into the document and there’s a record of that. We have also developed multiple data centres here in the US. and across Europe, to make sure that we have real availability and that we remain up time all the time. We have some really significant customers transacting important business using our software, so we have to be up, ready and available at all times.

GC: You talked a little bit at the start about readying companies you have worked at to go public. Is that something you’re working through here at the moment?

RD: We are daily preparing ourselves to be a public company. We are focused on getting better every day and growing our business and are not focused on the precise timing of any public offering.

GC: What are some of the steps and the processes involved in that?

RD: You’ve got to have independence in your board of directors, your compensation committee, your audit committee and your governance committee. You have to make sure that all your processes around equity and being able to trade publicly are in place, and that you are able to report out on your audits and your financials. It’s also around making sure your employees understand what it means to be a publicly-listed company and confidentiality.

Then there are a whole host of day-to-day issues where you’re just trying to get people ready to go from being a fast and nimble startup, to having to slow down and implement processes that are scalable for the long term. That is one of the more interesting things that I have seen in terms of being at a company that was small and private and goes public. Sometimes you need to slow things down to put in processes that will actually enable you to move much faster.

GC: As you expand internationally, I imagine that the laws that enable you to conduct this kind of business will be more mature in some jurisdictions than others?

RD: Correct. There is a difference historically between how common law countries and civil law countries looked at electronic signatures and, more generally, digital transactions. We found that in Europe, it is quite culturally different and parochial between one country and the next, but they are realising that when you are talking about digital transactions across multinational companies, across multinational jurisdictions, being parochial is slowing down a lot of commerce. We have found that culturally in Europe, they have been historically hesitant to embrace digital transformation, but at the same time they are saying if they don’t embrace digital transformation pretty aggressively, they are going to lose out in a competitive global market – so there are mutual tensions going on there.

GC: Does your legal team play quite a significant advocacy role?

RD: More so now than we did in the past. We really haven’t been staffed to do a lot of advocacy, but we have done a bit of lobbying with different US government agencies. In the US, you have to meet very specific security requirements to be able to offer software as a service business to the US government. Once you are compliant, you can go to all the departments and agencies and offer your services for software. We are very close, possibly weeks away from being licensed to do this, at which point we are hopefully going see a real tipping point in the federal government.

GC: Has your legal team grown quite a bit since you’ve come on board?

RD: It has. My mandate was to come in and develop a world-class legal team, and we’ve got 28 lawyers and paralegals around the globe, including six in Europe. I also manage the compliance team, and the security team, because I think if you look at any company right now, for the most part, their biggest risk profile is cyber. Having a lawyer run that group and really understand and be able to translate your cyber risk back into the board of directors so they really understand what the exposure is and how we are mitigating it is really important.

GC: What are the biggest challenges on the horizon for you over the next 12 months?

RD: Continued expansion in Europe, continued expansion in Germany – we’re going to open up an office in Germany in the not-too-distant future, and we’re probably going to see some more expansion in APAC.

We will be continuing to get ready for the in-coming European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – I think we are in pretty good shape for that. And then, I think, it will be important to keep everybody focused on the fact that if we do go public, that’s just a one-time event. It’s really about building a long-term, sustained, good growth business.