Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of entrepreneurs. As I was cycling in this morning, I got a phone call from today’s guest. I just dig your preparation. He wanted to make sure that he was fully prepared, and I thought he listened to the past interviews. He had someone on his team who checked in with me yesterday. They sent me not just information about the company, including articles that I could read to be prepared, but they listened to, he listened to interviews to prepare and he even sent me a video of an early version of his software. I got so deep in his world.
So who are we going to talk to? We’re going to talk to Sunil Patro. He is a guy who ran into a problem. He got a document sent to him about nine years ago and he wasn’t able to sign it and he said, “There might be a bigger need here than I think anyone else has solved. I think I could create a business.” And he did and I was shocked that this business he created is bootstrapped and how successful it’s doing considering no outside funding, heavy competitors in the space. And frankly, where it was that he was building the business from.
So Sunil is the founder of SignEasy. They, as the name implies, makes it really easy for you to send documents out to people, have them sign it on their phone, on their tablet, on their computer. I imagine that at some point when there are virtual reality glasses, he’s going to enable you to sign your documents from virtual reality glasses. They’re all about making it super easy for you to get those documents signed.
This interview is sponsored by two companies you’ve heard me talk about a lot because they’ve done so well with our audience. The first is HostGator for hosting websites. The second is Toptal for hiring developers. Sunil, I mentioned how well you guys are doing. Can you give us your revenue?
Sunil: Hi, Andrew. I can’t talk about the revenue directly, but what I can tell you is we have been growing 40% year over year profitably. We are growing in terms of a number of customers to over 130,000 paid customers.
Andrew: A 130,000 paying customers. Minimum payment is 10 bucks a month from what I remember?
Sunil: For majority of them. We have a subscription plan. We also have a prepaid documentaries plan, where you can buy 5 to 10 documents you can use whenever you want for a dollar a document.
Andrew: Oh, I didn’t know you guys had that.
Sunil: So it’s a mix of that. And over 130,000 customers, we have close to 40,000 businesses who wired that are using SignEasy.
Andrew: Can we say it’s in the millions? Can you give us a sense of it between one . . . ?
Sunil: Yeah, it’s somewhere around sub-$10 million, but we expect to get closer in the next 1 to 2 years to a 10 million.
Andrew: Yeah. And you’ve made a ton of progress on that number. I have the number here in front of me, but since you told it to us in private, I won’t say it. It’s very impressive that you got this far. No outside funding?
Sunil: No outside funding, yup.
Andrew: And the whole thing happened because you were where when you were struggling with the document?
Sunil: I had just given a job interview for a startup in Palo Alto, and I was just waiting to hear from them, and I just took a week-long trip into Riviera Maya near Cancun in Mexico. And I was there and suddenly, the day I left and I landed in this small town and the next morning, I received an email from the hiring manager, “Here is a job offer. We love you to review it, sign it, fax or scan it back.” And that’s where I struggled, right. I looked outside . . .
Andrew: He sent it to you as a PDF attachment.
Sunil: Exactly, over email. Right.
Andrew: What year was this?
Sunil: This was back in around 2009.
Andrew: Okay. About 10 years ago at this point. And so what did you do? You were in Mexico.
Sunil: Yeah. And my Spanish was not that great at the time, so it was a small little beach town and I obviously ran out because I was excited because out of the only job I could come back and take it for me. And I spent few hours looking for a printing shop, found them out, print it out, I think, I believe 10 to 20 pages, signed it and then scanned it back. And that’s where I felt the real pain point. Hey, what if somebody could scribble their signature on a smart phone like iPhone and then insert the signature on a PDF document, fill in some name and other information like dates and send it back. That would be so cool. And I have some experience building mobile apps at the time. So that’s how the idea came.
Andrew: You know what, after you and I got off the phone this morning, I kept on cycling into work and I cycled past the DocuSign building. DocuSign, I just looked it up, was founded six years before you had this problem. Why couldn’t you just use DocuSign?
Sunil: I wasn’t aware of it. Like, I never faced this problem in my own life before and I was always passionate about, can I solve something that is unique to my own needs? Being in the Bay Area, you work in startups, you’re always itch to know, you want to scratch your own itch so you can build from a piece of some idea on canvas to reality. Right? So I didn’t know about DocuSign at that time. So obviously, I use the regular routine, right, print, sign and scan. When I went back and joined the job, this idea was still in my mind. So I looked around for, “Hey, is something like this that exists?” And what I found out, some of these other companies, they only allowed to send a document out for signature.
If you are a company and you want to collect a signature from a customer and employee, the sender has to upload the document, send it to their system, and then the actual recipient and the signer can open the link, sign it on a desktop computer, right. And it was very ugly signature, right. You have to either type your name or you have to use the mouse sort of clap pattern, so they never look close to your real signature a read paper.
But the phone, it was 2009, iPhone had just come out, the iOS platform had just launched, so developers can build their own apps. I felt, “Can I do something unique to help the real user, like a consumer, to be able to take a document from email on his iPhone, put his signature by drawing it on the smart phone using his finger? And that’s cool, right? You feel like, hey, you’re really signing it and then just use your finger to drop it on the PDF page, resize it, move it wherever you want, type in your name and date and boom. Right. You are done within 60 seconds. Right. So nobody was doing that. Nobody was doing the mobile app.
Andrew: So the difference was, you said maybe we do . . . we’re going to do mobile because the other guys are not doing mobile. And number two, the other guys require the sender, the person who needs the signature to initiate contact, but they don’t have anything for a guy who just receives a PDF from someone who didn’t use some special software or SaaS. I want to make it so that anyone who receives a PDF can sign it and send it any way they want. That was the original version. Were you a developer before or you some . . . what was it that you were doing?
Sunil: Yeah. So I was a developer for close to seven to eight years. I had built a lot of web applications, a lot of backend. Some of them were mobile apps, you know, on Android and iOS. And so I kind of knew some of the skillset. Hey, I could make this happen.
Andrew: So then why did you need to get a developer in order to build you a minimum viable product for this?
Sunil: Because I was good in the core backend piece and the application logic, but not in the UI. I never built UIs. And when iOS came out, you have to be really good to build a UI component, which is the user interface, the frontend component, right? So that’s one reason. So I wanted to pair up over the developer to explore the feasibility because I have still my daytime job and I didn’t have the full bandwidth to investigate as much as possible.
And the second was when I decided to quit my job and decided to work on this app, there’s another story. I actually traveled through Central America and South America for six months. So I was mixing half of my time to feed my own curiosity and other half of my time to build this app from frontend to backend. So I wanted another developer to pair off with me so I can make ourselves as a team accountable, right? I found a promising developer in India through a friend and it’s always good to work in one or two engineers together, slowly, right?
Andrew: You quit your job?
Sunil: I quit my job in around March of 2010. So until March of 2010, I was exploring the technical feasibility . . .
Andrew: This was at Eyecon Tech.
Sunil: This was at Eyecon Technologies.
Andrew: You quit Eyecon Tech to go travel for six months while you’re building this app and exploring the world?
Sunil: Yeah. I was inspired by Tim Ferriss’ idea, which was this four-hour week. Hey, you can be anywhere, anytime, just be . . . feed your curiosity of travel or work, whatever that . . .
Andrew: And live cheaper.
Sunil: Yes, because I used a few tens of thousands of dollars that I have saved and it’s much cheaper to . . . it’s much easier to go a long term in the area.
Andrew: Where is Eyecon based? Is that here in San Francisco?
Sunil: That was in Palo Alto.
Andrew: Palo Alto. Oh, it’s expensive to live in Palo Alto. When you were traveling through South America, how much did it cost you, do you remember, to live there?
Sunil: I think I spent around maybe $10,000 to $15,000 on my travel and then paying for the developer and paying for my devices and getting an iPhone, iOS license from our developer and all. I spent another $10,000, $15,000 over that whole 6 to 9 months.
Andrew: Wait, $10,000 to $15,000 to live for 6 months plus the software costs. That’s phenomenal.
Sunil: Yeah. So the first version that came out in July of 2010 was, I had spent probably close to $20,000 by the time. Yeah.
Andrew: To live and to have the app developed.
Sunil: To live and have the app developed.
Andrew: By the way, I’ve mentioned this before, I think I pay $5,000 a month just in rent. It’s maybe a few hundred dollars here or there, just to give people a sense of what it costs to live in the Bay Area in comparison. And then you end up living a really nice life. Right. What are some of the benefits that . . . Oh, I saw a little bit of squeamishness. What are some of the challenges about doing it?
Sunil: No, and I said I used to live in hostels, right? You were living backpacker hostels because I was backpacking, right?
Andrew: Oh, you did?
Sunil: I traveled through six countries. Traveled six countries in those six months and I had my own MacBook, and an early version of the iPhone 3G or iPhone 3Gs. I don’t recall exactly.
Andrew: So that you could get internet. No, you couldn’t even hotspot off of the internet. I remember interviewing a guy who founded a company called tethered.com that undid Steve Jobs restrictions on hotspotting so that you could use your phone, your iPhone for internet. So you couldn’t even do that. Were you able to be productive without the internet? Or bad internet?
Sunil: No, in the hostels there was pretty good internet.
Andrew: In the hostel with everything that’s going on, you were able to get things done?
Sunil: Yeah. Or you go to cafes. There are a lot of cafes that would have internet. In the hostels, usually during the afternoon time or late nights, people won’t be around. They would be sleeping. So you spend that time to work on that.
Andrew: I struggle with that. I need a good environment when I work, but if I find a good coffee shop, I’ll just hit that up over and over. I just got back from Chile where I was waiting to have clear weather to get to Antarctica so I could run my final marathon of the year and I found so many coffee shops that had internet, but they were terrible. I finally found one that had okay and I just kept going back there over and over again. It felt a little bit boring and I think that they were happy to see me over and over again, but they were like, “Are you really coming here? This is where you came in Chile?” But I do struggle with that. I struggle with being productive sometimes when I travel. Did you struggle with that at all?
Sunil: I wasn’t on the road for too long. Like every city I would choose, I would spend two weeks maybe, right. So that way I don’t have to get used to new environments every other day because I was not in a pure backtracking mode. So for example, I spent a month in . . . I spend around two to three weeks in Mexico. Then I traveled through Central America. Then I spent a couple of months in Colombia and a month in Bolivia. My place was always like, you know, there was stability around me. Right.
Andrew: Yeah. Okay. All right. Do you enjoy the trips? Did you get a lot out of being . . . ?
Sunil: I loved it.
Andrew: Beyond the prices, what did you get that helped you from the experience?
Sunil: I wanted to learn Spanish at the time, right?
Sunil: So I learned that, I was pretty good at it. Then a few years later, I lost touch with it, but I’m trying to brush up my Spanish again. What I enjoyed was I spent almost 10 years in the U.S. mainly around in Seattle and then in Bay Area. And I was looking for something new. I want to have new experiences, new cultures or talk to new people, experience new food or new sights. So I really wanted to have that personal side figured out. Right. And then the professional side, there’s been something, if something comes out really great, we’ll think about it making a product and we’ll let destiny or will control the final outcome. Right. I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to just build a product that I care about and hopefully, other people can use it so I can feel fulfilled, that I can feel satisfaction.
Andrew: So what did the first version of the product look like?
Sunil: I think we shared the video with you, but the first version has very minimal, right? The document comes to you as an attachment in the email, right? There was no way iOS allowed you to take a document, take one file from mail app to another app. There was no open end or copy to, for example, available. But we had to convert the document to a PDF.
So what we did is created a unique Gmail address so people can forward that attachment to that Gmail address. And when they launch the app, if they log into the same account, we saw that, hey, this is a document that is sitting in your SignEasy account because we can tie in the email addresses or the from email address and the login email address of that, right?
So the document is sitting inside the app. So if he downloads the document, then he opens up the pages, he scrolls through some navigations. Right. Now there was a left and right navigation that you can go from page one to two. Then he could draw the signature on the phone. Then just tap it and it’ll insert it there and you can do some resizing. Now there was a scroll back to resize. I remember. Now, there are no zoom at that time, at least, for our app. So you can scroll to enlarge or increase.
Andrew: Basically, what you’re doing is placing the signature wherever it goes. It’s so rudimentary. So I’m looking at it right now. The company was called EasySign at the time. The website was easysignmobile.com and so I would take anything that I needed to sign, I would forward to firstname.lastname@example.org and then I open up the app and it’s in there like you said. It’s not an easy reading experience. The presumption is you would have read it in your email app before and now when you’re ready to sign, you know where you need to drop the signature, drop it.
Very rudimentary, but it makes sense and it works within the constraints of iOS at the time. When I saw that, I understood why some of the bigger players like DocuSign wouldn’t want to have that experience. They were too limited by Apple to create an experience that their enterprise customers would be happy with. Their enterprise customers I don’t believe would have been happy with email to this address and trust that it’s going to go in there and then drag this image and don’t expect a lot of zooming.
Sunil: That is one, but a second is actually the technology was not available, like the PDF interface, the PDF to be rendered was not available on iOS at that time to third-party apps. So we had to really do a lot of things from the backend to convert a Word document to PDF . . .
Andrew: Is that a hard thing, to convert a Word document to a PDF?
Sunil: Back in those days, yes. Back in those days, you had to scramble through some open source software and make sure it works for you.
Andrew: That’s what I meant. There were software that was built that you can use, but I get what you’re saying. You’re saying it’s not as easy as just go install it and you’re good to go.
Sunil: You can’t just put it together. Somebody has to really think hard. And that’s why we struggled. Right? Even drawing the signature was not easy. You have to really figure out how do you connect the dots, you know, and to get a signature in blue and black and red and all that stuff. And then . . .
Andrew: As someone who has the taste, who’s worked with some big companies like Microsoft, Juniper Networks, did you feel a little bit of pain as you release this or did you just feel proud because it’s your baby and you did it? How did you feel?
Sunil: I felt actually proud because I had shown the app to some of my . . . people that I met while I was traveling, and they were amazed by it because they had never seen something like this. I would show it to somebody in the hostel, right? “Hey, what do you think of this?” Right. They would say, “Wow, it’s something I would use.” Right. And I think back in those days, there was no standard for mobile apps. People only knew how Apple’s native apps work. So just the functionality, forget the user experience and the design, right, the functionality itself was so powerful that people will have an aha moment. So I felt really, really happy that we were able to launch the first version.
And the moment we launched it within the next week, we saw ourself featured as, Apple used to have this category, “What’s Hot?” like “Hot Apps This Week.” And we just got into the Hot Apps category and we saw, wow. So Apple’s editorial team sees value in something unique and innovative for that time. [inaudible 00:18:30].
Andrew: All right, in a moment we’ll talk about . . . Sorry. In a moment we’ll talk about how you got your first customer. First, I’ll say quickly that if anyone out there needs a developer, just like Sunil did. If you want the best of the best developers go to toptal.com/mixergy. They’re not going to beat you on price. They’re going to beat you on expertise. So if you need someone who’s done it before, was amazing. Google level developers, go to top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, toptal.com/mixergy. When you go there, you’ll see a beautiful model and you’ll see an offer that is unbelievable and unique only to us, toptal.com/mixergy. How did you get your first users? Was it just being in the app store?
Sunil: Just being on the app store. I think we were a free app at the time. People can download it, login, then just sign some documents. And once we got like a few thousands of downloads, we started thinking about, “Is there a way to monetize it?” Right. And Apple was just coming up with a way for this in-app purchases, right? Free app, you can upgrade to a paid version and you can have more features or more access. Right? So I think when we decided to monetize, we charged $2.99, right? To go . . .
Andrew: For a lifetime access to the app.
Sunil: For a lifetime.
Andrew: That’s amazing.
Sunil: For a lifetime. And we started seeing some conversions, we started seeing people go from trial to paid app. Right. And we immediately knew, “Hey, people really value this.” So that’s how we got our first paid customer. Yup.
Andrew: You were working at the time. So we talked about how you left, you quit your job, you were traveling, you were building this company. I’m looking at your LinkedIn profile and it looks like after you launched SignEasy, you went to work as a senior product manager at Cleartrip. I think that’s the Indian travel site. Am I right?
Sunil: Yeah. It’s like the Expedia of India.
Andrew: So why did you do that?
Sunil: First of all, I didn’t have any more money. I had used all of my savings and I had decided to move back to India. Just because I was feeling a little bit homesick, I was missing my family, and this was the perfect time because I don’t have any obligations. I don’t have a full-time job. I don’t have a car. I don’t have a home in the U.S.
Andrew: You weren’t married at the time, right?
Sunil: Not at that time. Yeah. And so I moved back to India and the app was not making enough money to pay for myself and my developer. Right. And I had also friend who was working as a design freelancer at that time with me. So we’re three of us. Right. And then when I went back to India, I wasn’t sure, like even though I’ve launch the app, but would it really scale? Would I be able to continue to innovate this. I wasn’t so sure.
And remember, my original motivation to solve a pain point to build an app was to just create the product, right. Have the experience of going from engineering career to a product management career. So I looked for the best company in India and Cleartrip, I found a good job as a product manager. So during the daytime I was doing that, and in the evenings and weekends I continued to work on this because I still felt there’s an inherent joy to have it on creative freedom, to do something that’s different.
Andrew: That’s what it was. The inherent joy of creative freedom. It wasn’t, “I’m going to make millions of dollars, I’m going to be like the 37signals Basecamp people and get real.” No, I see your face as I say it, “Nope. ” Wow.
Sunil: Yeah. And I was doing a product management job at Cleartrip, amazing company. I loved the people I worked with, good experiences, good learnings. But then I had to evaluate, right. Hey, both are about creative freedom, but when it is your own idea on your own company, there’s no boundary to it. You decide what you want to work on, you decide who you want to serve. But when you’re working in a company, there are no stability of a good salary and a team around you that you can learn from. But you’re still constrained in some ways or the other, and this felt a lot more personal, a lot more authentic to me. So within I think around 2012 that’s when I was about to get married, that’s when I quit my job at Cleartrip. And just a week after my marriage I joined . . . I went back full time into EasySign at the time.
Andrew: Where did you meet your wife?
Sunil: I met her in San Francisco. She’s from Mexico and yeah, we got married in India.
Andrew: And she was willing to move to India?
Andrew: I know that and we’ll get to this in a bit, that one of the things that you did that impressed me was you took 30 days to go travel the country here in the U.S. and meet your customers. And I was thinking, how does he do that if he’s married? And then I looked at the photos and your wife was there with you, she was just traveling. How did she like being in India?
Sunil: She loved it. She always had some sort of a calling for India on the . . . just on the . . .
Andrew: My wife too. Me too, also. I’m dying to, but I don’t want to go there the way that I did to other parts of the world this year where it’s just a week in and out. I want to spend a month, I want to live there for a month, maybe two, experience life. Not in a hotel but in a home. So sorry, you were telling me a little bit about how she felt about it.
Sunil: She had been to India for three months before we got married on her own. She backpacked through India from north to south. So she already knew the local culture, the food and experiences. So it was not a surprise when she decided to move full time or move on a longer term basis with me to India. And yes, she had inherent liking for India’s culture and food, colors, people, and etc. So it was easy, like an easy, no-brainer decision for her to move to India when we got married.
Andrew: You grew up in India. What was it like for you growing up in India and why’d you move around so much?
Sunil: Okay. So I grew up in a state called Orissa, which is on the east coast of India, right next to Bay of Bengal. So my dad used to work in a bank, so every two to three years, he would get transferred to some small town in some remote part of Orissa. So we just have to move along. Right. So in early parts of my schooling until standard 10th or 12th, I just moved around with my brother and sister and my parents. And then when I decided to go for my undergraduate in engineering, I joined this premier university called the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur, IIT Kharagpur. So I spent four years over there and this was in 2000, right? When you graduate in 2000, people were looking for who would love to do masters in the U.S. So you get some exposure to tech companies.
After you graduate, you can work with tech companies in the U.S. So I just followed the so-called mentality of, hey, all the bright students go to the U.S. There were no good software jobs in India like innovative software jobs, tech jobs. So I just went for my master’s to Purdue University in Indiana, did my master’s in electrical and computer engineering, and then got a job in Microsoft and then . . . So every few years I was moving, you know? Yeah. And I kind of . . . And also I think the curiosity for travel. When I was a child, every few years my dad will take us, the whole family, to some part of India. We went to Delhi. We went to the Himalayas. We went to Chennai, Madurai in South India.
Andrew: You weren’t upset that you kept moving as a kid? Because I know I made my friends by the time I was in fifth grade, I wouldn’t want to give them up and start fresh, a little bit.
Sunil: I think at that time we are not thinking about these things much, you know? I think later on you realize, do you have close friends from school? And I do miss, every two, three years, I had to meet a new circle of people. Right. So I have like very few friends from childhood. But I have a lot of friends from high school and undergrad. So I guess, that’s part of life. But I have no regrets. I think that’s why I can adapt to any new place every few years. I think of it as a new experience, new learning.
Andrew: No, I missed that. One thing I would love is it gets harder once you have a family. I would love to be able to travel more with my kids. And by travel, I mean travel and live. I’m wondering how much it would cost to hire a governess, and then what’s the visa situation so that I could just travel, live three months somewhere, have the governess teach the kids so that I’m more, not control but I have more say over what the kids learn and have them learn in a new environment.
Imagine if I took them to Valencia, Spain for three months, nice warm environment. Let them see how families would relate to each other in Valencia, which I find to be incredibly heartwarming. You see older people with younger kids and everyone in between, all families together and they still get to learn the things that they would continue to learn when they moved on past Valencia. What do you think of that? Isn’t that something?
Sunil: Is governess a caretaker or they’re a homeschooling teacher? What is it?
Andrew: As I understand it, a governess is someone who’s a teacher. Let’s look it up, governess.
Sunil: And they travel with you with the family to homeschool the kids?
Andrew: Usually, I think they would just stay at your home and teach. There it is. According to Wikipedia, “It’s a woman.” So maybe we need like the male version of that too. “Employed to teach and train children in a private household. In contrast to a nanny, she concentrates on teaching the children instead of taking on a role of duty.” I don’t know what that part means. So yeah, you could imagine that the governess would take them to a museum if you were in some place, go look at the museum, teach them a little bit about it. And then if they’re going to write words, write words related to what’s going on in the museum, or since I don’t care that much about museums, take them somewhere more interesting and show them around.
Sunil: So you can hire them locally, but either a network of these people then, yeah, why not?
Andrew: No, I would like to find that network of those people. Maybe that’s the next thing I need to create so that we could travel as families because our work now is becoming more and more remote. You guys have an office in Mexico City, in Bangalore. Am I right about that?
Sunil: No, we have an office in Dallas and Bangalore. There’s no . . .
Andrew: So what’s the Mexico City thing? I thought you also have . . .
Sunil: No. So I spent a lot of time in Mexico City because that’s where my wife is based, right? So we were based in Bangalore for five years and two years ago, we came back to U.S. to focus on expanding the business. But I realized, it’s much closer to stay home, stay close to one side of the family. And it’s within two to three hours of flying distance to Dallas or West Coast, California or somewhere else. So I just telecommute. Instead of driving for two hours, I just fly once in a month to Dallas. And I work with my Dallas team.
Andrew: So Mexico City is just because that’s where . . .
Sunil: It’s just a home base. It’s just a home base for my family.
Andrew: And Bangalore is where you’ve got developers, am I right? I do see that on your website. Made with love in Dallas and Bangalore. All right. So once you started working on your own, you started experimenting with pricing. You said it’s nice that we could get one-time fee of $3 but that’s not really going to make things fly. It seems like at that point you said, “How do I turn this into a subscription business?” Am I right?
Sunil: Yes. We started thinking about that and remember that I quit my other job at Cleartrip and then I’ve just gotten married. So we had to, out of necessity, we had to figure out how can we make more money, right, through the product. And Apple had again just introduced subscription model. Right? Here you have, you can charge them for a month, or you can charge them for a year, play with it. Right. But before we jumped into subscription, we actually increased the price from $2.99 cents to $10 a year. Right. Sorry, not $10 a year. We just said . . .
Andrew: Ten dollars flat out
Sunil: Ten dollars flat out lifetime. Right. Okay. So that gave us, we saw people are still buying it. That means there’s still value in it for the value we provided at that point of time. And then towards, if I remember, have my memory correct, towards the end of the year 2012 or early ’13, we said, “Okay, let’s charge $10 a year now.” Instead of $10 lifetime, let’s charge $10 a year for two reasons. We are hosted on the cloud. So it’s not like a local app that if you lose your app, if you lose your phone, you have to reinstall it and you have to start all over. Because we are providing the service through an account that you have to log in that is hosted on the cloud, that means we are providing as a service, subscription as a service, product as a service. So it’s easy to kind of explain your case to your users or customers. “Hey, you can log into this service from any phone you want right, whether it’s an iPhone or an Android. And you don’t have to think about your documents being lost ever, right.” This is important contracts you are signing related to your business or maybe your personal life.” And people kind of, they were okay with it.
Andrew: It made sense.
Sunil: It made sense.
Andrew: It made sense.
Sunil: In hindsight, it allowed us to provide a better product, make it more reliable, add more features, hire more people. Right? So sometimes we pick your prices . . .
Andrew: And that was one of the big changes for you. The big milestones was going to monthly payment. Excuse me, was it annual first?
Sunil: Fully annual and then a subscription. No, because we want to collect upfront cash so we can hire people and we can work towards providing this in the long term, right? Because cashflow is very important in a company, right? It’s not about how much you recognize on a revenue basis because you’re a SaaS business, you have to follow certain SaaS accounting principles. But upfront cash is great because you can provide a better product and you can also provide customer service. My wife at that time, she was my fiancée, then now who is my wife now, she was one of our early team members who did marketing, customer support, PR and all that stuff. So, by increasing their prices, you can add more value and meet the promises you’re making sure customers.
Andrew: So the next step after that, it seems like in your growth, was saying, “All right, we’re going after individuals. How do we go after businesses that have many individuals working within there?” Right? So when you sell to a person, you sell just once. When you sell to an individual, I mean to a business, you sell multiple. Right?
Sunil: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Andrew: How did you make that leap? It seems so natural at this point.
Sunil: It happened organically actually. We waited for almost five to six years where we’re only selling to individuals, but these individuals were discovering our app on the app store. Right. But they happen to working in companies of different sizes. Maybe they are from a small business with 10 to 50 employees or they’re in the medium to mid-market with a 100-plus employees or 500 plus. We didn’t sell to on a team basis. There’s like nobody from IT or management deciding, “Hey, we need to evaluate multiple solutions and decide on SignEasy as the preferred solution.”
But when we looked into our customer base, we saw there are multiple users with the same domain name because the email address, that means people are referring to their colleagues. People are inviting their colleague, they’re telling them through word of mouth. So now in a company, if you’re having 5 users or 10 users who are paying, should we build a product for them where they can provision the users, they need a lot more security, they need a lot more sharing and think of a solution for the teams. And we looked at the industry, right? Some of these bigger competitors, they already had this team offerings. So we saw this as a natural evolution some point in our business.
Andrew: Yeah. It does kind of feel like the fact that they’re . . . you keep going back to your customers and we’ll talk about in a moment how you did that with your trip, but you keep going back to your customers, see what they’re doing and then see how that, what they’re doing, what they’re trying to do with your app can be worked into your product. But it also seems like the fact that their bigger competitors almost gives you a bit of a roadmap. You can see what they’ve done in their desktop super enterprise-y world and bring it down to a more consumer-friendly product. Right.
Sunil: This whole thing about . . . Sorry. This whole thing about consumerization of IT, right. Solve the end user and they will promote you in their company. Don’t overcomplicate, give them the best experience, they will champion for you. So only do what is necessary for their needs.
Andrew: Hey, you know what, I invested in a few startups and I get signatures out of the blue. I was on Antarctica and they sent me a signature that I needed to sign, and I looked at it, I think it was DocuSign or the other one. I don’t hate them, but man, it just feels so clunky. I couldn’t even scroll to read. And for a while there, I thought maybe they don’t want me to read it. She’s just sending it over in away, that she just needs me to sign it. And then I realized, no, I have to hit this button and then reload it in a different way and then I could read it. And after that I have to go back to the signature version and then I could sign it. And just every interaction with it just feels so old fashioned, clunky. And it’s amazing that these bigger companies can’t get this stuff feeling more natural, more modern. All right, what do you . . .
Sunil: Yeah. I mean, it’s who focuses on the end user consumer experience, right? In fact, we have heard this multiple times from our own users, from our own customers who send documents to someone like you, right. Who has never heard of e-signatures, doesn’t know how to use the product. And we see a Net Promoter Score of 70 plus for guest signers, right? Somebody who’s not used to it, you receive a document through our system SignEasy, you will see the ease of use, the experience and overall feel. Right? And we heard that a lot. So you have to focus on who you are serving the most and then make your product appeal to them.
Andrew: Meanwhile. Sunil look at this, I looked up DocuSign’s revenue, they’re . . . Where is it? They’re in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So clunky as it is, why do you think they’re doing that much better than you?
Sunil: I mean, they have a good product. They have their own strategy for who they want to serve. But just to circle back, we rely on product to sell the job for us. We rely on a product mindset, the ease of use, the innovation and the overall experience for people to automatically discover us, get convinced, promote it to their colleagues, and then, use it for themselves or use it as a team, right? And that mindset has served really well as a bootstrapped company. We also want to focus on profitability, right?
In the last five years, we are not about growth at all costs unlike some other companies, right? You raise a tons of money, you grow at rapid pace, sometimes you lose sight of the customer in mind, where we always look at customers to influence our product journey, influence our product evolution. At the same time, grow on a sustainable basis, have positive unit economics while giving a good experience for employees. We want to make sure we are known as a customer-first company, but employee-focused from an organizational culture, right? So yeah, and we hope that we can grow to that scale as long as we stay rooted in our own values and focus on the customer.
Andrew: All right. I’ll talk about my second sponsor, HostGator. The guy who encouraged me to not just run a marathon, but we’ll do one on every continent within a short period of time is a guy named Brad Weimert. And the interesting thing about me is he runs a payment processing company called Easy Pay Direct, which like when you’re out hanging out with friends, who’s the guy who wants to go talk to the person who is in the payment processing space. Unless you’ve got problem with your credit processing, credit card processing, you’re not eager to talk to this person. You’re not eager to just go and have a conversation. The interesting thing about him though is, if you look at his personal website, he has a list of all the adventures that he’s gone on and that’s what he’s known for.
From the stage, when I’ve been in events, people didn’t say, “And look at Brad, he’s got payment processing.” They say, “Can you believe what Brad did when he was trying to climb this mountain multiple times and he almost failed and then he did it.” The reason I bring that up is I think that every one of us has something that’s interesting beyond work about us and that’s another hook for people to talk about us, for people to think about us, for people to use as a way of connecting with us, and Brad does it really well by just putting up a WordPress website with his own name and putting links up to his adventures, the ones that he has done. Oh, I look at this, I even click the link on the on that page and it took me to a YouTube video which someone put up.
So what I’m trying to say is if you’re out there, yes, of course, if you need a website for your business, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. You’ll get a really low price and a great website that works well. But I’d also suggest that there are other parts of your life that could use a website. In Brad’s case, he is putting up his adventures on his site at bradweimert.com. So if you want to get started, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. They’ll give you a great low price and reliable service that will scale up with you, hostgator.com/mixergy.
Let’s talk about this trip that you did. I think it’s indicative of how you think about products. When did you do this 30-day trip?
Sunil: It was in the summer around June. Summer of this year.
Andrew: Okay. What got you to do it?
Sunil: What got me to do it?
Sunil: A couple of things. I think as the company had grown, now I have people who head our customer success, head our product, head our support and head our engineering functions, right. And they are the ones who are speaking to customers over different channels, right, through reviews or support or phone calls, etc. So they became a proxy for me to know what’s going on on the customer front, right? What do they need and are we aligned to build our long-term vision to match their needs? And I was feeling a bit, “Hey, can I have their contact?” With my own customer that I used to enjoy a lot. Right? When we were less than 5 to 10 people, I used to take the phone calls, handle support tickets and learn about them.
And as the company was getting into this 9 to 10th-year territory, I felt we need to think something big and I need to come up with a vision that sets us apart for the next 5 years. So I wanted to be in the customer premise, understand who they are, what challenges they face, what do they care about, and can they tell us how can we add more value to their life or to their business. So that’s one motivation to get the [impasse 00:42:09] with them.
Andrew: Uh-huh. And what was the other one?
Sunil: Second is when you’re in the startup world and being a solo founder, it’s not easy, right? It’s a marathon, right? You have to continuously focus on it, to take care of challenges, solve them to grow your company. And I was feeling here I need to create a sense of adventure that I used to like. Remember, the company started because I was traveling through the continent. So it was kind of a recall for that. Let’s combine my passion for my adventure curiosity and make it a trip that also serves the business, right? So it was my own personal need and a business need and there was no better way than do it around this time of the company’s journey. So these two are the motivations.
Andrew: I see a lot . . . By the way, I love that. I’m someone who, if I could find more reason to travel for work, I would absolutely take it up. And the beauty of it is it becomes a business expense as long as you’re traveling out to see your customers. If you get to enjoy it while you’re there, great. It’s still a business expense. Let’s talk a little bit about some of the people that you met. I saw Property Masters. I saw Able Moving I think was on the list. Do you have one that you remember that you went in to see and because you experienced them, you learned something that you couldn’t learn if you were just talking to them online?
Sunil: Few of them. For example, when we met . . . I can talk about two customers. When we met EB5 Capital, it’s a firm in DC where they raise money from foreign investors to sponsor local development properties to create jobs. So they get the EB5 visa, that’s what the company’s called EB5 Capital. And when we met them in on their premise, they were really happy to kind of meet the founder and CEO who has come to their doorstep, trying to understand their needs now, trying to understand their value system, their own culture and just this in person interaction without any sort of distant barrier. Right? Because when you’re on a phone call . . .
Andrew: I get it. I get that they like . . .
Sunil: . . . half an hour to one hour you’re done with it. But we spent like three hours, the conversation flowed into, “Hey, tell us what are you missing in the product. ”
Andrew: So you went into their office, you sat down with them, you looked and you . . . because you were there, it felt like you cared about them more, which obviously you did. But then what did you learn that you couldn’t have learned by talking to them on the phone?
Sunil: So what the phone does, we always have phone calls, my product managers and my customer success people do it. But when you’re there for 30 minutes to 45 minutes, you have to understand, can they show you everything that they want to talk about, right? Can they show you everything in real life about, “Hey, this is something that is not working well for us. Do you think is a problem you guys want to solve?” So one of the things they talked about was around . . . I’m trying to remember, around . . . I don’t know if it was EB5 or someone else, but they talked about, “Hey, we send so many documents to our customers for signature, right now we rely on email.” Right? But email allows you to do rich text formatting, right? Now you can use Gmail and have some attachments and do rich text formatting.
But when you come to SignEasy, we are losing the ability to do that rich formatting in the special message that you need to send to the client some instructions. Preview certain pages, fill in these fields and they want to highlight that. And we didn’t have the ability to like rich email interface, right? So that’s one thing we learned through one of these customers that we met.
Also, it was to just connect with them at a personal level. Right. One thing I learned when I met the EB5 Capital folks is, you know, they have this, you know, plaque on there in the office, right? “Take care of your employees, they will take care of the customers and the business will thrive,” right? And we want to connect at the mission level, at the value level so I can bring it back and apply it in my own company. Right? So some of those things, those natural conversations would not have happened if you’re on a phone call or on a Zoom call, right. That close bonding that happens, something you can only make it happen besides giving ideas to product.
Andrew: And so I read that on your LinkedIn post about this, that you said they had a sign on their wall about taking care of your employees because then your employees will take care of your customers. I’ve heard that a million times. I could’ve learned that online, but it struck me as I thought about that. Sometimes you need a new medium in order for something to sink in. And I know that sounds kind of weird, but you could read it a bunch of times online, but if you experience it, it suddenly could sink in. You could experience it a bunch of times in your real life, but if you’re in a new environment and you’re shaken out of your sleepwalk mode a little bit, then you start to pay attention.
And so I don’t want to come at this conversation putting such an undue burden on your trip that it has to be these mind-blowing revelations that there’s no way you could have gotten otherwise. Sometimes the stuff that you might’ve gotten otherwise but you would have missed unless you are there experiencing it and seeing it. And I think that’s sometimes why it’s interesting to see, to listen to an audiobook and then read a different book and be open to lots of different mediums to take information in.
Finally, you guys profitable, you’re doing well. Is there a difficulty or is it’s just now the good life at this point where you just get to coast?
Sunil: No. I mean, right now we’re in a very healthy position. We are profitable. We have the runway to invest into our people, invest into product and invest into our go-to market and marketing and sales stuff. Right. What we are excited about today is, we have partners like Apple and Google who put us on the stage along with some of the biggest brands out there because we are an innovative partner for them. So we get a lot of feedback. We continue to evolve our product. We also have in platform, right? This platform can allow third party developers or enterprises to integrate e-signature into their workflows. So there’s no app switching that needs to happen or it could be all seamless. So overall, we are doing great. We’re excited.
Andrew: Overall, you’re in a good place. Your sleepless nights didn’t last that long. Tell me if I’m right. Our producer talked to you, am I right about that?
Sunil: Yes. As a founder, you will always have some sleepless nights, but it’s not on a continuous basis. We never had like a distressful time that we felt like, will something happen to us? But we were always thinking of we have to be paranoid, right? The world of technology moves so fast.
Andrew: But that’s you imposing fear on yourself so that you wouldn’t get to a place where you were afraid, where you needed to be afraid. You’re creating the sense of paranoia and fear so that you don’t get to a place where the environment stinks so badly and your business is in so much trouble that you have fear. But tell me if I’m wrong, it feels to me like part of the reasons why you don’t have as much stress as other entrepreneurs is you did go to India where the cost structure was much cheaper when you were really in build mode, you stayed working at a full-time job for a lot longer than I think other entrepreneurs in your situation would have. You built a subscription service which gives you predictability, right? And you’re not constantly like rebuilding your business from scratch. You’re adding more based on what your customers are already doing badly with your software or trying to do with your software.
Sunil: Yes. And we have some roadmaps on, hey, how do we envision the product to evolve. So the intersection of our vision and customer’s voice. But that is true. Because of no external funding, there is no pressure that you have to increase your TAM or you have to increase your growth rate from X percent to 200% right? That’s what is expected when you have investor goals that is conflicting with your customer’s needs or your company’s own needs.
So yeah, if I ever had sleepless nights, it’s usually around, I’m not able to hire fast enough or this person left. I want to keep them at around. And this biggest customer who is paying us $20,000 year, they are giving us a lot of feedback and we are not able to create the product fast enough to meet their needs. Right. So few instances like that and it is good to have some sleepless nights when you’re a founder, you know?
Andrew: All right. Thanks so much for being on here. The website is signeasy.com. The big thing that I took away from this was, number one, look for a big pain in your life and then see if that’s a pain that other people have that you can start alleviating. And that’s something I’ve seen a lot of interviews. Number two, reminder about you can live really inexpensively if you just leave your house, if you leave your city, and frankly, even leave your country. And I know that that’s an issue for people who have much more of a family and other obligations locally. But man, if you don’t and it’s all in your head, the sense that you have to stay where, you’re really missing out. And finally, a reminder about the importance and power of I was going to say recurring revenue, I’d say a recurring revenue, but it’s more than that. For you, it’s that and also talking to your customers, even going out and seeing them where they are.
I’ve gotten a lot out of this interview and I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first is HostGator for hosting websites. I have a sign here to remind me myself to talk a little bit slower when I mentioned the guest’s names. I’ll say HostGator. And the second, if you’re hiring developers, really the best of the best developers, go to toptal.com/mixergy. Thank you, HostGator. Thank you, Toptal. Thank you, Sunil.
Sunil: Thank you Andrew. Thanks for having me.
Andrew: This is your first one, how did it go?
Sunil: I think it really went well. I felt comfortable. I think you make your speakers mature. People on here are so very informal, informal setting and I love on the flow conversation, right, where you have some high-level topics and let the conversation . . .
Andrew: And I let the conversation sometimes go into what it’s like to grow up in India and travel around. Yeah.
Sunil: Well, the beginning question was, okay. You like to surprise your guests.
Andrew: I saw that you got a little uneasy about it. I wasn’t sure if you were going to reveal that first question, the revenue question or not. You did tell our producers, so I did have a sense of it. But if you tell us in private, I tend to keep it private.
Sunil: Thank you.
Andrew: Thank you. Thanks for being here. Bye, everyone.