Paper Signatures Are Obsolete

I closed a large transaction yesterday without signing a single piece of physical paper. It was painless. The entire negotiation was done using email and DocuSign.

I’m doing this at least once a week at this point. Either with DocuSign or EchoSign, the two services that seem to be most popular. I generally hate paper and have almost no paper in my world anymore so being able to eliminate the “print out the signature pages”, “sign the signature pages”, “scan the signed document”, and “email the signed document” step is a joy.

There are a few obvious other benefits. The first is workflow. Signing a doc is part of my workflow, no matter where I am. There is virtually no hassle – I just bring up the doc in the web, read whatever I need to, and sign where required. In addition, I see who else has signed, or hasn’t signed, which is helpful in the context of other investors and board members. When the sigs are completed, a PDF is emailed back to me and I can toss it in the company folder in Dropbox where we store all signed docs. Trivial workflow.

I also have an archive of everything I’ve signed. With the electronic signatures, there’s no more hunting down a doc. I just go to the doc stored in my account. I have another version in Dropbox, but I don’t even have to fight through finding the right one.

Now, every time I have to physically sign something I’m mildly annoyed. I’m going to push everyone I work with to go all electronic.

Unfortunately we aren’t investors in any of these companies. I remember being pitched several in the mid-2000s and just never engaged. That was a miss on my part. But at least I can benefit from them!

  • That’s so nice there…in EU you can’t use electronic signatures, only digital signatures which are pain in the ass. It’s such pain in the ass that’s even easier to print the document and sing it by hand.

    How does it handle fraud protection?

    • Dave

      You receive an email with the link to sign so that is layer one, signing tracks device IP address and location of signature and other protections as well. With EchoSign I usually receive a page attached to the signed document that says who signed it, where they were, IP address, etc. DocuSign tracks the same info but keeps it separate from the document. Much more verifiable than a physical signature, particularly if you are someone whose signature changes markedly when you sign 50 or 100 documents at a time.
      Both also seem to work well when dealing with large companies with multi-layered approval processes. Customers used to spend a week tracking down signed approval forms and now they typically seem to have them within a day.

      • We’re doing the similar stuff with out Document Management (workflow and digital signatures part) but I’m surprised (and happy!) that in the US you don’t need obsolete digital signature in order for court to validate the document.

    • TamarB

      Ivan – digital signatures are not necessarily a “pain in the ass”. There are server-side solutions that do not require smart cards and other obsolete identification mechanisms. (if that’s the issue you were referring to). The new EU regulations coming out (hopefully) next year should make the server-side process even easier, although I doubt they’ll approve e-signatures like those used in the US.

      • I know there are such solutions, but those are not cheap for everyone to afford it.

        • TamarB

          Not necessarily – I didn’t want to plug anything but check out CoSign ( – the digital signature cloud-based solution is the same price as DocuSign and the rest.

          • Which certificates are they using there? Each country has its own CA and you cannot easily implement general solution. If you use GlobalSign it wont work in majority of the countries.

            Plus issuing the certificate is also pain in the ass. Anyway, in EU digital signatures are broken by bureaucratic laws. US rocks in this field.

  • We’re in the process of buying our first house and everything has transacted with Docusign. So amazingly wonderful. I imagine the time we’ve saved (and saved our realtor) by handling 90% of the process via email is easily 3-4x what it would take to do things on paper.

  • jlemkin

    Great post. It’s certainly interesting to watch market acceleration after many years in the trenches. E-signatures (and as you note, even more importantly, the workflow associated with them) have crossed into the mainstream and soon so-common-it’s-boring phase for folks in technology, broadly defined; telecom; parts of insurance and media. We’re now just getting there for folks far removed from early-adopters and high-affinity segments … so there will be substantial overall acceleration in the market for the next 3-5 years.

  • ZekeV

    Our firm uses RightSignature, mostly b/c it is cheaper than EchoSign and not affiliated with Adobe. Our clients love it, almost universally. But we do have trouble getting other corporate law firms to close deals through e-signing. One counter-party, a partner at a small NYC entertainment law firm, said that he “did not have time to learn a new technology”. I was tempted to say the I didn’t have time to deal with his attitude, but of course I bit my tongue. One of my favorite uses for RS is that I can build contract forms in Google Docs with Forms and then e-sign them via RS. This is what we do now for almost all our engagement letters. Would love to build this out for other contracts, but there has to be a decent amount of repetition to justify spending a long weekend tinkering with the forms scripting.

  • wsul

    Late to the game on this, but switched mid-round to SignNow per the recommendation of an investor and was amazed how much quicker things get done when you remove some friction. Won’t do paper again.

  • TamarB

    It’s worth mentioning that while electronic signatures are perfectly fine for many types of transactions, there are many others that require more secure signatures and workflows. On the signature side, this is solved by using digital signatures that are based on the PKI standard (easily verifiable for integrity and identity) and are required in some industries, such as life sciences, and geographical locations, such as the EU. On the workflow side, this is solved by using centralized systems (either on premises or in the cloud) that do not require sensitive documents to be stored on third party systems or transferred through an email system that is outside of the organization. These systems also easily integrate into existing workflows and enterprise systems such as ECM, BPM, CRM, etc. Forrester is about to release a report on this market next week, which is worth reading for those who are interested in how this market is developing.

    • ZekeV

      cloud-based e-signing also runs into problems dealing with heavily documented deals. RightSignature, for example, chokes on anything longer than 100 pages or so, esp. if there’s xml formatting embedded. It’s enough to cover 99% of my needs these days, but would not have been very useful for me when I was working on multi-billion dollar credit facilities with 2 feet of paper just in ancillary docs alone…

  • Cheers to no paper!

  • EvanOwens

    i highly recommend – you can sign w/o ever leaving gmail!

    • Downloaded it. It’s awesome!

      • Nasir Ali

        @EvanOwens:disqus I love hellosign, but found that the application blows up the size of the signed document by factors of 2+. Spoke to tech support and they said that’s the way it is. So it works great, but big docs can sometimes get too big to get through to size-limited corporate inboxes.

  • I feel your pain, Brad. I signed a contract recently and they insisted on physical copies. To make it worse I had to FedEx it overseas. I was trying to remember the last time I had to mail a physical contract to someone, but can’t!

  • Matthew Liberatore

    Paper signatures are a real killer. My last gig was on a multi-billion dollar construction site with no joke, hundreds of thousands (millions perhaps?) of individual parts that had to be designed, approved, installed, and inspected. All with paper signatures. Imagine the mountain of paper for that. Imagine how much that added to the overall cost.

  • The CEO at my company recently credited docusign with helping in closing the investment round that included a large number if investors. It is a great product!

  • Yup. I used Echosign in a recent transaction with 6 required signatures, but the workflow process stalled when the 3rd person didnt use it. They need to give me a way to “Skip”, then come back to the laggard.

    • For that you must use real document management with custom workflows integrated with EchoSign and others. I’ll keep you posted on progress of that 😉

      • Hmm. But that is a very standard use case. Many documents require more than 1 signature. I would expect that to be part of EchoSign. But I’m interested in what you will be doing with Yanado.

    • On DocuSign you can group signers, so that anyone in that group can sign without waiting for others. We usually set up 1) the agent, 2) Husband, 2) Wife so that either husband or wife can sign after the agent is done.

  • Personally, I’ve had this view for a number of years and have found OSX Preview’s signature feature a saving grace for all the PDFs that I’m expected to fill out and sign.

    More recently, we’ve been using docracy to both create and sign our documents. It’s a fantastic tool and I highly recommend checking it out:

  • We’re selling our first house. At the time of closing, we’ll be in Peru and the buyer will be in Africa. DocuSign has been, and will continue to be, a lifesaver.

  • Brad, btw- Jason Lemkin ex-CEO/founder of EchoSign writes a pretty good blog I’ve become fond of:

  • for those odd signatures where a flow is not needed – you just need to sign a piece of paper – which results in

    ““print out the signature pages”, “sign the signature pages”, “scan the signed document”, and “email the signed document””

    i use ‘SignMyPad’ … $4 on the iPad – but also on Android I believe.

  • Luis Hernandez

    I am a real estate agent in Boulder and recently started using DocuSign. What a difference! My clients love how easy and convenient it is. No longer do I have to rush to get an initial for an amendment change at the last minute to save a deal. Now it is more difficult dealing with parties that do not use DocuSign. In my last deal, my clients lived in Boulder, work in Lafayette and Westmister. They were buying in Broomfield from a Seller who was out of state and their agent was in Centennial. No problems or inconveniences thanks to DocuSign. However, the lender was in Loveland and he would demand that our clients go up to his office to sign the docs in person. Incredibly inconsiderate. I ended up getting the lender to fax me the docs (faxes are another archaic technology that should be phased out, but that is a grip for another day), which I received as a .pdf through my e-fax and uploaded it to DocuSign for our clients to sign. It saved everyone lots of time and the lender lots of face.

  • James Mitchell

    I have no experience with EchoSign, but I noted Adobe has purchased them. I have found Adobe’s technical support to be a nightmare, so I would be inclined to use DocuSign.

  • Checkout a 2011 Techwildcatter graduate

  • Hi Brad:

    We use to sign contracts electronically all over the globe: Mexico, Costa Rica, Thailand, Philippines, India, Hungary, Poland to name just a few. It is absolutely pain free vs. paper contracts! We are on the road a lot and no longer need to pack a mobile printer to sign/scan contracts.

    We started out following the standard print, sign, scan/fax and countersign was a complete cluster 🙁 The process was painful: lots of hand-holding, long contract signing durations, lack of accountability, poor tracking. When you were signing 50+ contracts at any one time…contracts just plain got lost in the cracks.

    We do face problems with signers who are technophobes and we get push back from countries who require notaries for the contract process (Mexico, Philippines). Ultimately, with a quick 1 minute tutorial we can walk them past these obstacles and get them to sign our contract via their desktop or mobile device.

    Welcome to the future of contracts!

  • has a great cloud e-signature service that’s free to try as well. Nothing to install and you can have as many signers and signatures as you need. So easy to get started. Disclosure: I work for them. I e-signed my work contract with their online electronic signature solution. 🙂

    • Hi Melanie, I use for all of my contracts. Clients love how easy it is. I like the templates. Both the clients and I really appreciate that there’s no need to print, sign, and fax or courier or pick up or mail.

  • This is why I love the team (TechStars Seattle 2012). Contract management made simple and beautiful. They presented today at TechCrunch Disrupt and their pitch was polished and perfect. Shortens close times between Salesforce, DocuSign, EchoSign, etc.

  • i signed up, then all of a sudden got a bunch of SPAM email. probably coincidence. hope not.