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Hi, I’m Brad Feld, a managing director at the Foundry Group who lives in Boulder, Colorado. I invest in software and Internet companies around the US, run marathons and read a lot.

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It’s Time To Reinvent The Signature Page

Comments (36)

Last night I printed, signed, scanned, and emailed two signature pages.  As is my custom of not keeping anything around, I tore up and tossed the sig pages and then deleted the files.  This morning I woke up to an email saying “We didn’t get your signature pages.  Can you please send them.”  I just went through the same print, sign, scan, and email process again.

This is so profoundly stupid.  I sent a note yesterday afternoon in reply to the email thread asking if I was all set to go that said “I’m all set to go.”  A bunch of lawyers were on the email thread (mine and the company’s.)  We are wiring the money today.  Now they have some pretty scanned sig pages also.

There has got to be a better way.  Over the last decade, there have been lots of “electronic signature” companies pop up.  None have seemed to take root in the corporate world.  In the past year, I sold a house and bought a house.  In both cases, there was some goofy online thing that I signed with my mouse (my signature looked like a messy “X”) for the offers (to make / accept) but I still had to go to the title company and sit and sign 37 documents to close.  Every time I go to the grocery store I swipe my credit card through a little electronic checkout machine and when it’s time to sign, I put a big “X” on the sig line.

When I think about the number of places my actual signature is at this point, it’s a pretty useless mark.  But for some reason it’s still important in the legal closing process.  This now seems more like a tradition, instead of a useful thing.

While I’m not interested in funding something in this arena (it’s outside our focus), it seems like there’s finally an opportunity to solve for this, at least in the corporate world.  I’m not talking about biometrics or retina scanning – just a valid electronic signature that becomes a standard.  Maybe someday.  Wouldn’t it be cool if they lawyers took this on and tried to solve it?

  • http://twitter.com/jmagnuss @jmagnuss

    I can't stand printing, signing, scanning, so I've been using RightSignature.com for executing documents lately – and I'm not going back. You upload the doc, list the people who need to sign, and mark where their sig or initial goes. Then there's a nice web workflow for each to sign in and make their mark.

  • http://twitter.com/mbartus @mbartus

    As a transactional lawyer, I can't stand it either. The worst part of our job is getting things signed and following up on then. We have implemented e-signatures as a way to improve our efficiency. We have used them to close M&A deals and VC financings. Strangely, the only problem we've had is a few "top tier" VC firms insisted on using the old fashion method. No other lawyer has given me a hard time.

    We tested all the major systems but ultimately settled on Docusign because it was the only one that didn't require signatures to be signed in a specific order, which unacceptable slows down a deal closing. Other providers may have caught up in this regard, but we are happy with Docusign.

  • http://pchristensen.com Peter Christensen

    It's not exactly what you're looking for, but Zosh (http://zosh.com/ ) works pretty well. You email a doc to Zosh, then on your iPhone, you can draw a signature with your finger, add dates, etc. It will then email you a pdf of the doc with your changes (including signature) drawn in. It's still quite a few steps but it's all electronic and can be done on the go.

    • http://twitter.com/rodyancy @rodyancy

      I wish I would have known about this yesterday before I made two trips to Kinkos and gave them $12.

      • http://pchristensen.com Peter Christensen

        I bought Zosh a long time ago after they presented at Demo but forgot about it. It was after one such infuriating, expensive Kinkos run that I started using it.

    • Mike Rose

      zosh may be ok for stuff that does not require a signature by law, but probably does not constitute a legally enforceable system for signing

  • http://www.dealarchitect.typepad.com vinnie mirchandani

    often, I think it is a process and mindset issue. why do some stores not require signatures on a card charge under $ 25, others make you sign for 32c? Worse, seems like every time there is a credit to be issued, almost everyone needs YOUR signature, when it should be THEIRS:)

    almost as bad as the time they add to processes, signatures also mean plenty of printed paper…like you say, the mortgage example being one of the worst offenders.

  • http://twitter.com/leemhoffman @leemhoffman

    Hey Brad, we use http://www.echosign.com all the time now. Of everything I've tried, they seem the closest to pretty much nailing the concept (no signup, no barriers, super simple/easy).

    • Daneil

      Can you say – Signing with a mouse? pfff what's up with that?

  • http://www.mikehartcxo.wordpress.com Mike Hart

    I was just asked to sign with a mouse. Ha. I printed/signed/faxed. How about an individual bar code? If you can get on a plane with a ticket printed on any printer or your smartphone you should be able to do it elsewhere.

  • PhilSugar

    C'mon Brad…you know this is in total violation of the full employment act for lawyers.

    Each lawyer that was cc'd on the email is going to charge the obligatory 0.1hr just to see it. And another 0.1hr for each reply all.

    Hell "loosing" (wink, wink) your page probably generated another 2 hours in total billing time. With times being tough you want lawyers to give that up…

  • http://www.defragcon.com Eric Norlin

    I regularly use echosign for defrag, glue, etc — it’s unbelievably good at this process.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keithlloydsmith Keith Smith

    My favorite "signature" story came when we were closing our deal with Foundry. We had two angel investors who were travelling through Asia with no access to a printer whatsoever, but we needed their signature on a late document immediately. They did have an iPad, an iPhone, some toilet paper and a lot of ingenuity. They brought up the document on their iPad, signed little pieces of toilet paper, laid the signed toilet paper fragments on top of the iPad over the signature blocks, and then snapped a picture of the T.P. laden iPad with their iPhone.

    The picture was emailed to me and then to the lawyers which was quickly accepted as "official." It was a wonderful highlight of how ridiculous the signature page really is.

    Keith

    • http://twitter.com/zackmansfield @zackmansfield

      that is an awesome story

    • DaveJ

      Are you saying that signatures are just shit?

  • DaveJ

    I could be wrong but I think some of the documents in a real estate closing are controlled by statute (especially the title). I do think it's worth a little extra caution with real estate, although it's not at all clear that a signature is the way to provide that.

  • http://twitter.com/anwith1n @anwith1n

    Hi Brad – Thanks for sharing your thoughts on electronic signature. I work for DocuSign (http://www.docusign.com) and do think that there's a better way to get signatures. You hit the nail on the head regarding a signature as part of the process.

    As @mbartus stated, DocuSign enables a signing experience that is similar to the pen and paper experience. After you accept the Consumer Disclosure and adopt your signature, you can scroll to read the documents, sign on your designated Stick-eTabs, and fill out any requested information. Once you've signed, initialed and added any requested information, you can either stay and review the documents or complete the signing. All of this happens through the web – email, internet connection and a browser is all that's needed. You can even sign from your mobile device (BB, iPhone, Droid, WinMo) or your iPad.

    DocuSign logs all of the activity within the document and and makes it available as an audit log. With increased visibility into the signing process while allowing for multiple modes of authentication, DocuSign provides a valid, ESIGN compliant electronic signature.

    If you have any questions or comments, I'm happy to discuss electronic signature, DocuSign or signature processes on or offline!

  • http://www.diversity.net.nz benkepes

    Brad

    1) Why did you bother deleting the email – you use Gmail now so should have just archived it no?
    2) In my neck of the woods (to answer at least one of your pain points) credit cards don't need signing – rather a pan is enough to validate
    3) The systems like echosign and docusign and stuff haven't taken hold primarily because they're taking an ancient approach and morphing it into a clunky ancient approach on a new medium – that's not really a solution

    My two cents….

    • legaleagle

      benkepes, what happens when you have a document with customer/private data. I would hope that you are not using gmail. We started using DocuSign in order to secure the document and the signing process. As everyone in the string contends it is not the signature but the intent to sign and ensuring that the document being signed is not changed during signing. Those aspects are important. DocuSign does all of thist; secures document and shows a clear intent to sign. the toilet paper story is a great exaple of intent to sign.

    • http://www.facebook.com/colin.gebhart Colin Gebhart

      "rather a pan is enough to validate"

      Is this a typo and you meant PIN? If so, in the USA you can not use a PIN on a credit card transaction. It is only possible to use a PIN on a debit card transaction. Credit card transactions can use the CVV2 on the back to validate you have the card in your possession. But I am not aware of being able to use CVV2 at any point of sale terminal. It can only be used for internet and mail transactions.

  • M. Tranyon

    Try http://www.DocuSign.com

    Yes, signing on paper is not the best way. It is a waste of time & money and it is bad for the environment. Using DocuSign, you can quickly and easily send any document for signature to anyone in the world, and they can sign using their web browser. Once you DocuSign, you will never go back to paper!

  • http://Michalsons.com Lance

    Hey Brad, have you ever thought about what function a signature serves. More often than not it’s either ceremonial or indicative of an “intention” to be bound. There are other ways to signify assent than by signing. In many instances signature is not a Legal formality. Where it is, docusign, echo sign are great but…i don’t think any will become a standard…as technology changes, the ways of signing are going to change too…

  • http://500startups.com Dave McClure

    I’ve done over 30 deals this month, and except for

    1-2 of them they were all done via Echosign, Docusign, or RightSignature.

    it’s made my life dramatically easier, and also saved time & money for my portfolio companies.

    no reason not to dive in… the water is fine :)

    (& please tell all the lawyers to follow your lead!)

    • Andrew Bellay

      I sat in an interview with the CEO of DocuSign a few weeks back and think that this time the e-signature movement should get some traction. The security issues seem to have been taken care of and I know I'd rather have digital copies than hard copies.

    • LorenAmelang

      I can think of one reason not to "dive in": Every online signing service I found turned my editable 78K PDF document, that printed crisply at any resolution, into a un-editable 4MB image file that looked like a blocky old fax at any resolution. I can accept that un-editable is an advantage for final copies of signed documents, but if you need to archive the file forever, increasing its size by a factor of 51 is not a friendly way to achieve it. Four Megabytes of data is still probably a lower impact than four sheets of paper, but at least the paper image would be sharp and clear.

  • http://echosign.com Eitan Saban

    simply try echosign.com – its easy , simple and yeah its free

  • http://www.facebook.com/nshenry03 Nicholas Henry

    You might want to try PGP, which allows you to encrypt and/or sign data with your private key. Others may then decrypt and/or verify the data with your public key. If you are interested, just let me know and I would be happy to stop by your office to help you get started.

  • http://WhoHasTimeForThis.com David Cowan

    For the last 10 months I've signed every in-store credit card receipt as "Pooh Bear" in clear legible print just to see if anyone would notice. So far, not a one.

  • http://www.twitter.com/gizmowu @gizmowu

    My company (14,000 employees) uses RightSignature. Their product is accepted by all the governmental agencies we work with. They do work than just the normal esignature. RightSignature also customizes templates for us so that they meet the governmental requirements. This saves us loads in millions a year and reduces our cycle time. It works great.

  • Andrew de Andrade

    Signatures are a strange thing. In the US, they are all but irrelevant, but are kept around as some arcane formality. Back in the day, people would actually check your signature against one they have on file to see if they match. When I lived in the U.S., I got really lazy about my signature to the point where my signature never looks exactly the same each time I sign stuff. This makes traveller's checks a bit challenging because the first signature needs to match the second signature.

    Here in Brazil, signatures still matter. Oftentimes my dad's checks are rejected by the bank and occasionally I get asked to sign things again because the signatures don't match. It was how signatures are treated in the U.S. that taught me how irrelevant they are nowadays. The contrast between the US and Brazil is what makes the archaic signature system in Brazil so frustrating.

    On the other hand, I'm curious if identity theft would be such a widespread problem in the U.S. if signatures still mattered. Back in the day, if you wanted to steal someone's identity, you needed to do some elaborate practice and planning like the antagonist in Purple Noon (remade as the Talented Mr. Ripley) or Catch Me If You Can. Today, you don't need to be a master forger to steal someone's identity. You just need a pulse.

    On a side note, one of my friends actually signs every single document of his "I stole this card". His driver's license, passport, credit cards, etc. all bear that signature.

  • http://biosignid.com Uzi Battat

    ANB’s BioSignID authentication solution eliminates identity theft via MITM and phishing attacks.

    BioSignID enabling 3FA (three factors authentication) by a user-friendly graphic human-machine interface which is based on touch-screen.

    BioSignID is based on signature that is more human-oriented identity than text-passwords.

    BioSignID solution is appropriate to the Green and Paperless office initiatives.

  • Ray

    It is truly ignorant and redundant, since in many jurisdictions today electronic and fax signatures are completely legal and binding. You can file court documents electronically with electronic signatures. Some still require you to send original paper as a confirmation (an enormous waste of time and paper). If you already have a verification certification agency as well, it is doubly stupid to require a separate signature verification. Just as judges and lawyers don't know any science and therefore have allowed all kinds of quackery to stand as "forensic science," they're just paranoid about multiplying unnecessary signatures beyond reason. It's more a remnant of scaring people with the fear of priestly authority than any thread of rationality.

  • http://twitter.com/bbnyland @bbnyland

    Check out Agreement Express by Recombo (www.recombo.com). This was an amazing time and headache saver in the last company that I worked with. Very simple to set up and execute documents. First time users (signers) regularly responded to the process with: "Wow, that was so easy."

  • http://twitter.com/tdwhalenho @tdwhalenho

    I'm another fan of RightSignature. I've executed dozens of NDAs and marketing contracts with it over the last year. Solid functionality and ease-of-use is getting better. Plus, they are headquartered in Santa Barbara – nice, right?

  • Warren Agin

    The lawyers did take this on several years back. The results were the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act and the Federal E-Sign Act. For most purposes, almost anything you can keep an electronic record of can now be used as a signed document (even a voice recording). There are a few exceptions, but not many, and the statutes provide for them as well.

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