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Tom Gonser, DocuSign's Founder and chief strategy officer, appears onstage at the GeekWire Summit with GeekWire's Todd Bishop and Tricia Duryee.
DocuSign’s Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Tom Gonser (center) spoke at the GeekWire Summit with GeekWire’s Todd Bishop and Tricia Duryee.

When Tom Gonser founded DocuSign 12 years ago, he knew he wouldn’t be CEO forever.

“It’s been an interesting experiment,” said Gonser, who now holds the title of chief strategy officer at the electronic signature company. “At my last company, I was very focused on the product…I was continually over the product and engineering teams, and they were like ‘can you leave us alone?'”

It was that past experience that drove him to hand over the CEO reins to Keith Krach, who is now the one focuses on such monstrous tasks as, like fundraising, which recently included raising a jaw-dropping $278 million round. In an interview at the GeekWire Summit today, Gonser says the decision has worked out well, but there’s some downsides, too.

Gonser founded DocuSign 12 years ago, and made the decision to forgo the CEO title to become chief strategy officer.
Gonser founded DocuSign 12 years ago, and made the decision to become chief strategy officer, rather than remain CEO.

“You can’t just say you are turning left, and you turn left,” he said. “But people say to me, it’s been 12 years, how do you keep doing this? Well, it’s because I have the ability to keep pushing the company forward.”

DocuSign is technically headquartered in San Francisco, but Seattle still claims it as one of its own. The company was founded in Seattle and today has more than 500 people here, compared with more than 300 in San Francisco. It’s also No. 1 on our GeekWire 200 index of privately held tech companies in the Pacific Northwest.


In all, the company has been growing at a breakneck pace. Earlier this year, it employed 1,100 worldwide, up from 300 just two years ago. In the past few months alone, it’s added another 500 workers for a total of 1,600 worldwide.

The transition from startup to multi-national technology company has been a difficult one.

“Recently, the big culture shift has been an international one. We’ve done several acquisitions in Brazil, Israel and France, and as we integrate those cultures, you start creating something that is really important. That’s a DocuSign brand and a feeling that changes from ‘oh, that american company,’ to ‘I’m not sure where it’s headquartered’,” he said.

GW_Summit_2015_Day2_0023Part of the reason to move its headquarters from Seattle to San Francisco was to accommodate its startling growth. “We knew we were going to grow really fast, and we knew we needed to be in more than one place,” he said.

As for all the San Francisco-area companies that are doing the reverse of DocuSign, and are now opening up offices in Seattle, like Twitter, Facebook, Google and Lyft, Gonser quipped: “I don’t think they should be able to do that.”

“The Bay Area is so competitive, it would be nice if that was the only competitive market, but Seattle is becoming more and more competitive,” he added.

Most of the company’s growth has been due to a shift from, solely being a company that enables electronic signatures to one that also manages the transaction and flow of documents between different parties. To fuel that growth internationally, it was necessary to raise the additional funding in May.

Is an IPO next?

“If the timing is right and the conditions are right, then [the public markets] are a fantastic place to raise money,” he said. “If you look at the last three or four years, there’s been lots of time to go public, but for us, the kind of things we are investing in, like foreign markets and esoteric technology, it is much easier to do that private. We want to get as much as the heavy lifting out of the way as possible before going public. I think it’s something that makes a lot of sense, but when? I can’t answer that.”

Full video here:

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