Monday, May 18, 2009
Interview with Daryl Bernstein, RightSignature
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
This morning's interview with Daryl Bernstein, CEO and co-founder of Santa Barbara-based RightSignature (www.rightsignature.com), a firm which has created an online, software-as-a-service offering to collect legally binding signatures on documents. Daryl is also an angel investor, and has invested in such companies as MindBody Software and YouMail. We spoke to Daryl about the firm, the founders, and their use of Amazon Web Services as its back end.
Explain to me how your service works?
Daryl Bernstein: RightSignature is basically an easy, online service which fulfills the whole function of getting a document signed. It replicates the pen and paper process in an online format. We felt it was the one use case that still has us all maintaining FAX machines. Forward thinking businesses are going paperless, and instead of using that FAX in the corner just to FAX signatures, RightSignature allows you to upload a document, right now, in any format--right now, we allow PDF and any format of Microsoft Word. We've also got a huge list of additional document types in the works
You can upload any document, specify the recipients, and have those recipients sign all on one document, or if you need eight different people to sign their own copy of a liability release, you can do that with one order to RightSignature--you don't have to send 8 different messages. The system also does the sometime annoying job of tracking down parties, and follows up automatically via email, and finds people where they are. It's a big step forward over the FAX
Can you talk about the acceptance of electronic signatures and any legal issues there? And, haven't some folks been trying to educate people about the market for awhile?
Daryl Bernstein: We think we've kind of hit a sweet spot. We have some very good competitors--EchoSign and DocuSign are the two bigs ones, and are both venture funded--who have spent a lot of money educating the market. That's a good thing for us, because of the legal issues--it's been a lot of education. Our competitors have spend 3-4 years, and $20M or so doing that education, which is a great benefit to us. Finally, there is widespread knowledge now, that what you do online is just as binding as if you sign it on paper. To get into the legality issues, there are some very clear standards in the U.S. and the E.U., and most other countries around the world which follow a general framework, making online agreements every bit as legally binding as paper ones.
All of this legistlation sets up some guidelines for what those online agreements need to do to meet standards. We've been very careful in designing a system to be fully compliance with those standards. There's no issue when you sign, plus you've got a whole layer of legal protection that you don't get with pen and paper. For example, if a contract is disputed, you have various layers of protection--there's a digital archive of the original and the completed contract. There's no issue when something gets lost, which is something that happens all the time.
We ran into an interesting case at the big Rails conference in Vegas, in fact. Obie Fernandez gave us a good one. He had a contract which went South, where they couldn't find a paper copy, and they really got hurt in the settlement of a legal challenge. They couldn't produce the original contract. With RightSignature, you have a third party with a permanent archive, which in and of itself is a huge value. In fact, we have a record of the IP address who has viewed and signed a contract, exactly what time it was signed, and there's identity verification stages we do, in terms of further identification of the party, including optional photo authentication. When you sign, you sign with your ouse, and it's intuitive, and you have a choice of using a web cam to take a photo of yourself at the same time. It's almost ironclad identification, to prove who they say they are.
It looks like you're using Amazon Web Services heavily in the service?
Daryl Bernstein: We're fully integrated with their infrastructure. We felt that we could use them for several reasons. First, their security is second to none. With our application, and the sensitive nature of their contract--which might contain confidential information such as financial terms, etc.--security was above and beyond our number one priority. Using our own proprietary servers and storage would raise a host of issues, and people are really assured that Amazon handles that with their world class standards. Also, their reliability is second to none, their uptime is second to none, and scalability is kind of built in. In terms of keeping our costs towns and our subscription fees value oriented, we realized there were no other options out there.
What's the background of your founders--it looks like you've been involved with previous startups?
Daryl Bernstein: Yeah, we have. I've been an entrepreneur for many years. I developed an interest and specialty in software-as-a-service as an angel investors, and as an advisor to companies you've come across in Southern California. I've done Mindbody Software, in San Luis Obispo, which is a fast-growing SaaS company, and a string of other investments with other SaaS companies. I was itching to get my hands on them. My friend, and my co-founder is Jonathan Siegel, who was founder of ELC Technologies, here in Santa Barbara. They're a big Rails development firm that does contract work for Fortune 500 companies. He was recently the founder of RightScale, which picked up about $20M in funding to create a dashboard for Amazon Web Services. That kinds of leads us into Amazon, because of our pre-existing relationships there. He was also the founder of RightCart, which is a shopping cart sold to Buy.com. It's a pretty nice partnership not to mention friendship, and we get along pretty well.
How far along is the service?
Daryl Bernstein: Our private alpha has been going on since January. Amazon invited us to demo it in London last week at a startup event, which was the perfect opportunity to do our official beta launch. In the last three or four weeks, a host of pretty significant clients have taken a look at us, and are leaning heavily toward us instead of our competitors. We felt that we were ready to have some more public use.