DocuSign - The Northwest's First True Unicorn
Altus has had the pleasure of working with some extraordinary clients over our 17 years of business, but few have achieved the success of DocuSign. In fact, DocuSign is the Northwest’s only true Unicorn (achieving greater than $1b market valuation as a private company). Yes, over just the past 5 years the Northwest has had some notable multi-billion dollar successes like Zillow, Tableau, and Zulily, but not one of these achieved $1b+ valuations until after their IPO. DocuSign is still private and currently has an estimated market valuation of over $3b.
With the benefit of hind-sight, it’s fascinating to look back on this Unicorn in the days when it was a struggling $0-20mm startup – when Altus worked with them – and see if it’s possible within that early stage to determine the signals and the key achievements within their revenue operations that might indicate the emergence of a billion-dollar company.
Court Lorenzini and Tom Gonzer founded DocuSign back in 2003 as a new and innovative method of handling the signing of important documents electronically. Both were experienced entrepreneurs and possessed complimentary skills that benefited them and the company from day one. Tom was the “idea guy” and Court was “the implementer”. They had the discipline to thoroughly test their new idea by trying to shoot holes in it throughout the early days. The game was to identify a deal killer and then figure out an effective work-around that would keep the idea alive. As Court said “it was an idea that wouldn’t die”, and this gave them tremendous confidence from the outset that this was an idea that would be Big. Then came the challenge that every good entrepreneur confronts – could they execute, and before someone else did?
They hired a full staff, including a VP of Sales and early Sales team. There were the usual early stage challenges, like ineffective sales comp plans, scattered industry focus, a bumpy sales process, etc. Knowing market timing was key, (the need to accelerate revenues, scale, and grow), they also brought on Altus Alliance as a strategic and tactical advisor to provide revenue and go-to-market guidance, and build optimized sales processes within their operations. Bill Lawler was the lead Altus Partner and, with this integrated team, Sales began to run smoothly.
Looking back on it now, Court reflected that “we always knew we had a billion-dollar opportunity, we just didn’t think it would take as long as it did”. Along the way there were changes in staff, during which time Lawler took over as the acting VP of Sales/BD. He was able to apply his 25 years of personal experience and best practices from the Altus team, to a familiar set of challenges that helped make DocuSign fly. Sales efforts were reorganized around a “hunter/farmer” sales model. They split lead generation from sales, built up an inside sales team, pulled back field reps, and refined the process through each specialty accelerating revenues and lowering cost of sales. The compensation model was revamped to develop company loyalty, but at the same time incentivized performance with a highly leveraged plan. The website was upgraded and incorporated SEM elements to increase inbound prospects. They built-out internal revenue processes, using Salesforce that empowered them to effectively track prospects from Marketing Qualified Leads all the way through the sales funnel to Sales Qualified Opportunities and closure, thereby enabling effective and accurate forecasting. The overall transformation resulted in higher conversions to more customers at a lower cost of sales. “It was the Wild West during the early days” said Lawler “but we effectively transitioned to a metrics-driven model that helped us make smarter decisions and focus attention on the high impact areas.”
The “Big” move that helped catapult the company forward, Court said, “was committing to an embedded strategy using business development. It became the lightning rod for us.” DocuSign identified and closed Realtor.com, and things really took off. Finding that one client that would break things open was crucial. Realtor.com was ‘that’ customer. “They used DocuSign as a competitive advantage” said Lawler, “and you could just see how it was going to expand.” And expand it did. The value proposition became unambiguously clear. DocuSign could radically increase the speed to completion of critical legal documents enabling Realtor.com and the National Association of Realtors members to handle high volumes of legal documentation in a fraction of the time. As competition in the digital signature industry intensified, it was this customer success story that set DocuSign apart and allowed them to take and maintain their position as market leader.
While it may sound cliché for Court and Tom to say they knew it was going to be successful right from the beginning, they stand by the fact that they really knew it would – if they could just execute effectively. There are innumerable elements that go into effective execution that ultimately builds a successful company. This, after all, is what draws us entrepreneurs to the challenge of building successful, high growth companies. And while all elements are important and need to deliver, revenue operations are ultimately what define and enable success. Altus is proud to have worked with these entrepreneurs in building the Northwest’s first true Unicorn, and even though the headquarters may have been spirited away to the Bay Area, the creation of this company in Seattle is certainly worthy of pride, currently employing over 1300 people worldwide and potentially preparing for a blockbuster IPO