Developer-First Strategy

for DocuSign

DocuSign wanted to get their popular API into the hands of the audience that could make the biggest impact: developers. We researched this group to understand what’s important to them, and helped DocuSign reach them more effectively.

Overview

In 2015, DocuSign owned most of the eSignature space. The API economy, however, threatened their position. By integrating a company’s API into their product, developers connect that company to new audiences not accessible via traditional marketing approaches. New competitors to DocuSign were capitalizing on this trend, scooping up market share as they went.

When Brad Brooks joined DocuSign as Chief Marketing Officer, he quickly recognized this threat. “We’ve all seen how APIs and developers have transformed entire industries,” said Brooks. DocuSign had an API, but only opened it up to high-volume enterprise customers. It had to adapt or it would suffer at the hands of companies that offered developers an accessible and easy-to-integrate solution.

To protect and grow DocuSign’s bottom line, Brooks reached out to Intentional Futures. “I hired iF because developers were a very different kind of customer, and DocuSign needed to reimagine itself from an outside-in perspective to really do the job right.”

Over the course of this project, we uncovered what it takes to be a developer-first company and serve developers in ways that work for them. Since then, DocuSign overhauled their developer engagement program, redesigned their website to better serve developers, and saw the number of DocuSign API integrations increase dramatically.

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Getting smart, then going deep

To understand DocuSign’s newest audience and translate learning into recommendations, we took a two-step approach:

Get smart

We conducted a landscape analysis, including a diverse set of companies that developers had cited as developer-friendly. After identifying the most attractive features of each program, we audited DocuSign’s own web experience with those traits in mind.

Go deep

We dove into the minds of developers to understand the values that guide their daily decisions and work. We drafted and tested messaging that highlighted DocuSign’s strengths in order to learn what developers considered most and least important about API and eSignature integrations.

What we learned

What does it mean to be developer-first?

First impressions matter. When it comes to APIs, our research confirmed that developers make a lot of fast judgments about a company and their APIs. Devs want to be able to quickly find clear information on capabilities, accessible documentation, and reliable support. What turns them off? Things that slow them down, like flowery marketing language and being asked to provide a phone number before attempting anything.

Fortunately, DocuSign had all of the technical components developers wanted—robust technology, solid documentation, and helpful tools for understanding how one might implement the API. But those components needed to come to the foreground in a big way.

To more deeply understand the values that guide the decisions and work of developers, we set up conversations with 29 developers in the Bay Area, inquiring about how they engage with APIs and the companies that offer them.

Some critical insights:

  • Developers are searching for an API to execute a specific task. If you barrage them at the beginning with other things your API can do, they might leave.
  • Community forums show developers not only how their peers experience the API but also how the company would address their issues or questions if they were to implement.
  • More than anything else, developers just want to try your tech out for themselves to answer the paramount question—can this API do what they want it to do?

“That’s the whole purpose of an API… Just to let me quickly bring in some cool functionality.” Andre, Startup [ALT: Bay Area startup developer]

Our research resulted in these guidelines, which helped DocuSign’s web development team design a new developer-first web experience.

Developers are not all alike

Even though developers hold many values in common, they still differ in key areas. Our research revealed five general personas of developers that represent a variety of company types and functions.

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The biggest differences between personas were their desired levels of support and nature of the relationship with the company that authored the API.

  • At larger organizations that would typically become high-volume users of the API, developers like Sanjay and Sophia appreciated access to private betas and product roadmaps.
  • Larger shop devs also wanted minimal interaction but with premium support options on demand if needed.
  • Smaller shop developers like Karen and Joe wanted minimal support.

Presenting the personas to several executive stakeholders increased DocuSign’s understanding of developers and facilitated strong buy-in to the vision: investing in the API to facilitate growth.

“I was impressed with how quickly iF understood our business and how easily they integrated themselves with our internal teams, which led to strong collaboration and great receptivity of the work. It felt like they had become a part of DocuSign.”

Brad Brooks

Impact

Since 2015, developer engagement at DocuSign has increased and improved. With 50% year-over-year growth, DocuSign now boasts over 46,000 sandbox accounts and counting.

At the outset of our work with DocuSign, API integrations accounted for less than 30% of digital signatures successfully processed. Two years later, that number has doubled, with an expectation that integrations will be 60% of all signatures processed by the end of the year. A good portion of DocuSign’s market share growth can be attributed to developers implementing the API.

Equally important is the internal cultural transformation at DocuSign, including an essential hire: Marie Huwe, who leads the charge to partner better with developers. CEO Dan Springer spoke about the importance of APIs, stating that DocuSign’s API strategy “opens up (an) opportunity” to transform several components of their customer’s workflows “to reach a much wider addressable market.”

These changes are going to have long-term impacts. Brooks believes that the upticks in transactions and subsequent revenue are here to stay. We’re proud of the impact we were able to make working with DocuSign.