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7 min read

Signable: The e-Signature Business That Started By Accident

There are plenty of examples of product inventions and businesses that were spawned by accident. The microwave, Play-doh, and Velcro are just some of the notable examples. In many cases, it’s the spirit of experimentation and the will to create that drives these happy accidents.

Signable, an e-signature platform, can count itself in that bracket. Originally conceived as a side-project during a slow and snowy January, a way to make document signing more efficient, Bristol-based company Domo soon found their software creation was proving a hit with clients. Fast forward to today and Signable is now a full-time venture that has passed the £1 million mark in annual revenue. 

We spoke to CEO Olly Culverhouse to find out more about how this all came about and Signable’s ambitious plans for the future. 

 

How would you sum up Signable in a sentence?

Electronic document signing, with emphasis on humanity, trust, and transparency. 

 

Can you briefly summarise the background to Signable and what you did before?

Signable was never meant to be a business, really. When I started the company now called Domo, I was a web developer, building and hosting websites for clients. With it being just a few of us in the company the paperwork piled up and I was drowning. Being a maker of software, we designed and built a quick way of digitally sending and signing contracts – it was a very basic system back then. 

As we’d send documents to our clients, they’d ask us what software we were using, so we knew it was something people were interested in. 

I realised as web design work was harder to secure regular work for, that this new eSignature system was really in demand. It was a bit slow to begin with, with us just sending the software to a few people. But things gradually picked up.

So we re-jigged things and built a fully-functioning platform that until two weeks ago was still in use. We’ve since had a complete re-build with our now six-strong team of developers, and we’re still growing and developing!

 

How did you go about creating the software behind Signable?

Signable was built in a snowy January. At the time, we were a small web design agency and so the end of December was always quieter than the rest of the year. January usually picked up, however, as it was snowy, people used the opportunity to postpone meetings. I can’t remember the real reason why electronic signatures were chosen as an idea but I knew that it was possible, due to some of our bigger competitors already existing. We knew it was possible and combined with the fact that we would rather build something than buy something (being developers) and a lot more time available, we built the first version in about four weeks.

 

 

What were the challenges around launching the business? Where did you find your time being spent?

Signable, called ‘Get eSignature’ at that time, didn’t have a big marketing launch. We sent it to a lot of our contacts, clients and friends and it kind of sat there, slowly growing in popularity. We were more focused on the agency work. However, I always wanted to focus on Signable.

We were lucky that we could spend a bit of money on marketing (mainly Google Adwords) initially due to the money we had made from building websites.

Around 2012, the business changed and I decided to close down the agency side of the business and instead focus on Signable. That was when Signable really became a proper business. At that time Signable had a few hundred customers and was generating a few thousand pounds per month so the challenge was keeping on top of support calls and improving the product further.

 

How has the business evolved since your launch? Have there been any particular milestones?

We’ve grown so much since the launch when it was just myself and another colleague dealing with customer success (success and service are very different to us, so that was a priority we started from the get-go). 

We’re now 18 employees strong. The growth was a little slower, to begin with, but once I decided to focus solely on Signable and move away from my agency work, things really picked up.

 

 

Last summer we moved out of our shared office building and into our own space, that we now occupy all three floors of. We’ve also started to grow another company under the Domo banner, a coworking space called OneUp. OneUp will be using the other two floors of our building and will be launching this Autumn (but that’s another story).

I’ve always had a really strong vision for how I wanted to run the company, I wanted everyone to be treated like adults, with complete trust. I think the culture has become something really core to the business as we’ve grown, and it heavily influences who we hire. There has to be a culture fit. 

Other milestones are more ones around revenue and customers, we hit 6,000 customers last year and are well on the way to 7,000. 

Thinking about social media and marketing, what are your tips for boosting brand awareness and ultimately sales?

So I thought I’d let one of our marketing team answer this. Sophie from the marketing team says: 

I really believe in marketing as a key tool in getting sales. Even a pretty boring product like eSignature software, when talked about in the right way to the right people, can be the most interesting thing on the planet! 

That’s what we try to do with social, content and how we talk about the product on our website. Yes, no one cares about eSignatures as much as we do, so you have to create that interest, that demand. We create all our own content like infographics, videos and blog posts, so we’d say that’s a big driver for brand awareness – having the control over what we say, rather than outsourcing is far better. 

We also try to do things differently to our competitors, showing our more human side, and interacting with customers on Twitter.  

Sales wise, making sure your SEO strategy is up to scratch is a big one. Tools like SEMRush and Hubspot really help us with staying on top of keywords. You’ve just got to work out what your audience is googling, and target the words/phrases they’re using. That’ll help you show up in the search results when, for example, someone Google’s your company’s name. 

Also, send good onboarding emails – people are far more likely to stay if they’re helped through the first few steps of using your product. Especially if you’re selling software. 

 

What are the challenges on a personal level running a business?

These challenges have increased as the company and team have increased. Slowly learning to let go of certain areas and also learning how to manage and lead a team of people. I feel that self-doubt is always something that I struggle with and think is common amongst other business owners. 

I feel that if other business owners aren’t showing it then they are just better at hiding it.

As a company, we are growing up and having to adapt to that, on both a personal and professional level, is a constant battle, especially as this was my first ‘job’. Apart from pushing trollies around a supermarket when I was 18, I have had no other job experience. So stepping up to be the leader that people need and deserve is constant work.

 

What are your proudest achievements?

As someone who finds it hard to celebrate wins (but has the benefit of not lamenting failures), this is a tricky question, however, the team we have is one of my proudest achievements. We have a lot of great people who really care about what they do on a day to day basis.

I think passing £1 million in annual revenue was a proud moment too. It showed that we got to a stage where many businesses don’t and gives us a really fantastic platform to grow more.

 

What are your top three tips for someone looking to launch a business in your field?

Number one, every single person is making it up as they go along. No-one knows everything.

Also, actually doing something with the ideas and plans that you tell everyone you want to do is the thing you need to focus on. Anyone can talk about things they want to do, only a small percentage of people actually start doing it.

Don’t build a business like all the others. You don’t have to run a business how they were run before. It’s hard but give each of your employees 100% trust from day one. It’s then up to them to maintain that trust.

 

For a comprehensive guide to getting your business up and running, download our how to start a business in 20 days eBook.

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Signable is a Bristol-based eSignature company, with humanity at its heart. They offer plans for all budgets and all needs. Want to know more about eSignatures?

Olly Culverhouse was speaking to Huw Moxon, the Digital Marketing Manager for Informi.

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