Fighting for a paperless world – Interview with Keith Krach for supervisory board magazine BOARD

In the following interview, Verena Fink, Founder of Woodpecker Finch and consultant for customer-centric innovation, BOARD expert for digital impulses from Silicon Valley speaks with DocuSign Chairman Keith Krach about how trust transforms business.

DocuSign is winning a landslide victory with its cloud solution for secure digital signature and automated business processes. More than 200 million people in 188 countries already sign their business transactions virtually with DocuSign. With an estimated worth of 3 billion dollars and 300,000 new users every day, Docusign is a trailblazer in the automation and digitization of business processes. Robotics pioneer at General Motors Keith Krach founded his first start-up, Rasna Corporation, at the end of the 1980s with the revolutionary idea of integrating computer-based designs into automated processes and sold the software company in the 1990s for 500 million dollars. Following the idea of automating management processes, he set up Ariba, the web-based trade network, later sold to SAP for 4.3 billion dollars. In 2011 he took over the start-up DocuSign with the same mission of automating and digitizing business processes. In Silicon Valley, the father of five kids today is mentioned in the same breath as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and is part of the legendary network of Silicon Valley icons

Trusted global network

BOARD: DocuSign’s Digital Transaction Management platform seems to be a Swiss army knife. How would you describe it in one word?

Keith Krach: DocuSign in one word is trust. We provide the trusted service on the DocuSign Global Trust Network because we are dealing with people’s most important documents. Documents you sign, your most critical important decisions, the ones you need compliance and data privacy and security for. It is a trusted network that allows for fast, frictionless and secure transactions on a global network that universally translates. Trust is everything.

BOARD: Why did Paul Achleitner describe DocuSign as facilitator of Europe’s digital transformation?

Keith Krach: Well, everybody talks about Artificial Intelligence and Big Data. Paul and I agreed, that the first step is you have to get rid of the paper. If you look at 80 percent of the places where paper is used these days, it is because there is a signature required. So we help to get rid of the paper.

BOARD: How do you support European companies on this journey?

Keith Krach: DocuSign facilitates companies in the digital transformation because it has such a strong and quantifiable value proposition in terms of impacting the top and bottom line for companies. Secondly, it is a great customer experience which is the key aspect of customer satisfaction in digital transformation. The third thing of course is to reduce the risk in terms of compliance and security with all the multiple levels of authentication, data encryption and so on. Also important is the time to resolve in terms of implementation time. From a European perspective, the opportunity is huge because it speeds up commerce and facilitates global trade.

BOARD: Fast implementation sounds great, but how does it work?

Keith Krach: This is not a multi-year ERP implementation so you are able to get quick results. It’s like Tim Hoettges from Deutsche Telekom always says, “In order to steer the ship, the ship has to be moving. You have to get moving with quick wins, DocuSign gives us quick wins.” DocuSign is very simple to implement as it is cloud-based, using out of the box integration with all major applications for SAP, Salesforce, Microsoft and so forth. Open APIs make it really easy to integrate with any legacy code. So the speed to results is really quick.

BOARD: Together with Tim Hoettges, you just announced to take a further step in your strategic partnership with Deutsche Telekom. What led to this strong bond with strategic German investors like Telekom and SAP?

Fast adoption needs an executive champion

Keith Krach: It is very important that you have the leaders in each industry and powerful technology companies as showcases and partners. Many years ago, SAP rolled out DocuSign in all of their departments globally. They also invested in DocuSign and started reselling it, just like Deutsche Telekom. Having leaders in industries talking about demonstrated quantifiable value and showcases makes DocuSign much more credible and builds trust. We always say, one of the big keys to fast adoption is the executive champion at the top, the CEO. That’s why Tim Hoettges is so key not only at Deutsche Telekom, but for the rest of the world.

BOARD: How do you deal with German networks, being super sensitive in terms of data security?

Keith Krach: Data security is so very important these days! That’s one of the reasons why we helped facilitate the creation of the xDTM standard, which quantifiably measures quality in terms of data privacy, availability, security, enforceability, and compliance. The board of governors are the foremost thought leaders and security experts. We pioneered the category of Digital Transaction Management. The xDTM standard was of critical importance for setting the standard for trust, particularly for the Germans and Europeans.

BOARD: The Silicon Valley sets the pace within the worldwide industry. Why does Germany seem to be way behind Silicon Valley despite technology, financial wherewithal and people?

Keith Krach: Germany has proven time and time again through years of history, that the German people have one of the strongest work ethics in the world, technological strength, ingenuity and discipline. They are the world leaders in value-creation industries like chemicals, pharmaceuticals, automotive and manufacturing technology. They set the standard for world in quality. Combined with their financial strength this is a huge advantage. However, sometimes German companies don’t move as fast as American companies. I always say, “It is not the big that eat the small but it is the fast that eat the slow. Speed is the new currency and speed-to-result is a competitive advantage.” Disruptive companies use us as competitive weapon because we speed up decisions, agreements and approvals.

BOARD: What impacts on the European economy do you expect from the power shift to networks with viral effect?

Keith Krach: When you look at Ariba today, 1.3 trillion dollars worth of commerce annually goes over the Ariba network, which I started over 20 years ago. That is more than Amazon, eBay and Alibaba combined. What that really shows is the power of a network that facilitates fast commerce. Those networks are key for any economy, bringing together buyers and sellers. They also increase global trade and speed of business, so as a result they are going to increase the GNP of the world. The analogy of the Ariba network is a good one for the DocuSign Global Trust Network because trust and speed are the key factors.

BOARD: With all these disruptive changes, where do you see our global key future challenges?

Keith Krach: One is education, in terms of more skilled workforce and to solve a worldwide shortage of engineers and computer scientists. We have to continue to increase digital education solutions like online learning and bringing the digital power to education. Just this week, Purdue, the largest engineering university in the United States where I was a student and recently served as Chairman of the Board, bought one of the biggest online learning companies in the US, called Kaplan. The idea is to use an incredible technology platform for all their students learning and to reach more of the masses and particularly folks in science, technology, engineering and math.

I also think we have to be diligent in terms of global security and terrorism. But on a practical level, the biggest issue is really this whole digital transformation.

BOARD: DocuSign has strong core principals and a disruptive goal. Do you perceive a common enemy to fight against as strongest motivational tool?

Common enemy to focus on

Keith Krach: Our biggest inspiration is our mission which is to transform how business is done and to transform people’s lives, securely. Of course, it is also motivating to have a common enemy to focus on. Our team is focused on our noble mission but we also love to compete. Declaring war on paper is unifying because it is so crystal clear what we have to do and the implications when we succeed. I think I have spent my whole professional life focussing on fighting paper.

BOARD: You were the youngest Vice President at General Motors, swapped your management career for an uncertain future as entrepreneur, had tremendous success at Rasna Corp, Ariba and now DocuSign. What is your inner drive?

Keith Krach: Personally, it is my family. Professionally speaking, it is all about changing the way business is done and improving people’s’ lives that are less fortunate than we are. Also, I am a builder, I have always focussed on category creation, I also love to compete and win. In the software business you have to be the leader, you have to create the standard. I like working with a great team of people and having fun. We take our business seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously. Life is too short to not have that sense of humour.

BOARD: Aside from disruption and fun, what are your personal success factors?

Keith Krach: It is surrounding myself with great people who are smarter than me. I don’t believe in success as a result of luck, I think the definition of luck is preparation meets opportunity. The harder you work, the luckier you get. Our culture is very values driven. We maintain a high standard of our values which include integrity, respect, courtesy, courage, high ambition – those are noble ideals that guide us in terms of how we execute the mission. Most definitely, any personal success I have achieved is due to my dear wife Metta. I couldn’t do it without her.
BOARD: Thank you for the interview!