Dan Springer, CEO of DocuSign shared his nurturing side at Factory Berlin’s most recent Fireside Chat. By stepping back to spend time with his family, he could refocus and become a better leader, build a stronger company, and find secure solutions with a minimum carbon footprint. He shows that you can build a rock-solid culture, to beat paper.
Being a leader in the hyperfast lane to a paperless world with its modern agreement cloud, DocuSign is the rock, not paper, in the game of digitalization. With hundreds of millions of users, over 3,200 happy employees on earth and over 475,000 customers (and even more signers), their 100% paperless solutions have empowered organizations of every size and industry to transform towards more effective and environmentally friendly approaches.
Dan Springer has led a company that replaces fax machines, scanning, and snail-mail with simple, fast, and trusted ways to digitize and manage every decision and authorization step anytime, anywhere, with any device. This success is due to not only Springer’s 25 plus years of top-level management expertise, but from his experience of stepping back, and refocusing an innovative corporate culture of sustainability in a SaaS dominated world.
What made you go from super stay-at-home Dad to super CEO? What did you learn from that process?
At first, I was both a Dad and CEO, but around the same time I sold my last company [to Oracle], my circumstances changed and I also became a single father of two teenage sons…it’s a lot easier to be a single Dad without a job. The experience dramatically increased the respect I have for single parents. Fortunately, I had a fantastic opportunity with my kids before college. I’ve always tried to be a hands-on Dad but now I did everything: carpool, make breakfast every morning, and cheer every soccer game. Focusing on my family, during this last window before college, was the best decision I have ever made. It altered my perspective about life and what’s important.
It dramatically increased my sensitivity to the vast differences and difficulties of each person in everyday life – that everyone has to manage a world of family, friends, and career. Taking a step back accelerated my ability to learn about differences in all dimensions. Beforehand, it wasn’t something I gave too much of my focus to.
Why do you think people are so interested in this CEO to Super-Dad story?
I didn’t think it would be so interesting to them. To me it was an obvious move given the context: I wasn’t doing a great job at being both a CEO and a single parent – at best, I was mediocre at both. It was trying.
Most marvel at the gendered aspect: why would a man do that? Usually, women leave the workplace to start a family or take on single primary parenting. All of a sudden, I had to be the nurturer for my kids. It was a bit different since my children were older, I was older, and I had a lot of work experience. Still, taking care of family takes priority and a stay-at-home Dad remains bias. That’s why when I rejoined the work world DocuSign started a new family policy for primary caregivers that includes 6 months parental leave. It is important to have the chance to bond with your children. Most companies in the U.S. have no minimum maternity leave and most companies give only 6 weeks. I probably would have never thought to change these policies if I hadn’t become sensitive to challenges of single parenthood.
What aspects of DocuSign culture have contributed to its success?
There are quite a few things that make it special. First, people are proud to work here and I believe part of that is because we have a useful, sustainable product and processes built on radically transparent feedback. We concentrate on customer success and took a hands-on approach to invest in our employees and their communities. We enjoy high ratings on Glassdoor partly because people feel great that other people love our products. As a trust-brand, we are emblematic in our company work culture and work-life balances.
What does DocuSign do to further sustainability?
Docusign is very fortunate when it comes to sustainability since our product naturally drives people to be kinder to the environment. When we first rolled out our strategies we never really put a strong focus on sustainability. A few years ago we emphasized the environmental aspect of it, slowly capitalizing on the natural opportunity within our industry.
However, it is something that has gotten, that will get more and more focus. We set up a 30M dollar foundation called DocuSign Impact before we went public to get people more engaged. We call it “dollars for doers,” where individuals starting projects in communities that our employees live. We want to make substantial programs for the communities that our employees inhabit.
How do you deal with the controversial calculated environmental costs of cloud energy?
The dirty little secret is that our germination had nothing to do with the environment. It was an external effect and we adopted the environmental costs. We have certainly done various levels of analysis to understand the size of our environmental footprint, realizing that there are three different areas that any other business similar to ours would also incur: data centers, office space, and travel. Right now, we are researching how to create a sustainable baseline for our business model since ultimately we want to be a company with zero environmental impact.
For example, we only travel commercially and although it would have been great to travel from Dublin to Berlin via horseback, I don’t think I would have made it in time. Docusign will not go down to zero carbon, but I am confident that through using our products, people save valuable paper and energy, incrementally increasing the impact and efficiency on the customer side. There are many things we can do, and travel is major energy use.
Stepping back to learn from the school of life, Springer’s new education has prompted an inclusive approach that has constructed higher trust value within DocuSign corporate culture. It has inspired another stepping back to better understand their baseline footprint so they can set appropriate goals and strategies towards reaching a minimal carbon footprint.
In the meantime, the dynamic of happy employees embedded into a strong community spreading sustainable practices has had a ripple effect, harnessing incremental to aggregate effects. DocuSign is now used in local and national governments in the United States and parts of Europe to help expedite bureaucratic processes and lessen paperwork. When they went public on NASDAQ, they were the first company to electronically sign a red ribbon ceremony, setting the protocol for new listings. As thoughtful stewards of the environment, DocuSign’s strong emphasis on education and careful adaptation to new technologies (like smart contracts and blockchain) has shaped a rock solid future for the agreement cloud.