This month, AssureSign President & CEO David Brinkman sat down with John Yates, technology group chairman at Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP, to discuss how company identity, internal culture and comradery have been crucial to our success during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Watch the video podcast or read the transcript below.
*this transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
John Yates: This is John Yates, and I am the chair of the Technology Group at the law firm of Morris, Manning & Martin. I’m very pleased today to have David Brinkman with me, the founder and CEO of AssureSign, one of our exciting clients that is over at the Atlanta Tech Village. David it is good to talk with you today.
David Brinkman: Same here John, it’s good to see ya.
John: So, we’ve got a few questions for David relating to crisis management and how he’s dealing with it, but I want to start out and see if he can give us an elevator pitch about AssureSign, a very, very fast-growing company here in Atlanta so David take it away.
David: Sure. AssureSign is a company in the digital transaction management, electronic signature space. So, we occupy the same space as DocuSign and Adobe Sign. We focus on technologies and partnership. So, you’ll find from an industry perspective, we’re very prevalent in insurance, we’re very prevalent in legal and financial services, and through our partnerships, [we] expand into a whole bunch of different things. From an insurance perspective, we’re integrated with a number of the insurance automation providers.
David: So, that allows us to white label [the] product and for [our customers] to bring that electronic signature solution/digital transaction management solution into their product natively instead of having to go outside. So, that’s really kind of where we see the growth and we’re excited to be here, we’ve been doing this for a while.
John: Dave, you’ve done a great job, too, of building a leadership team and I know principles and values are important to you. Maybe before we jump into some of these other questions, tell us some of the steps you’ve taken to put your team together and how you make sure that people, you know, are the right folks to be on the AssureSign team.
David: Yeah, absolutely. So, a couple of years ago, we knew what our core values were, we could all feel them, but we didn’t really have them written down. So, we started a journey by which we could start to build [our] actual core values. And so we started by asking our team. These were not aspirational values, these were not things that we wanted to be, these were things that we were. Our team came back with about 15 different things and we said okay, well, our core values need to be more boiled down than that. So, it was actually about a six month process, it wasn’t somebody working on it every day, but we would get together every week and we would look at the values and we just started to shape and mold them into four core values that really speak to our organization. And then, we utilize those values in a number of different ways. So, it’s really helpful in hiring… ‘do you meet these values?’ So, our values, just to give you an example, one [of them] is people of character—so doing the right thing. One of the things that came out of that was kind of a slogan that stuck, which is ‘hold the elevator mentality.’ When you’re in the elevator and you see someone coming, do you kind of duck into the corner, or do you hold the elevator? So, we embrace that.
We’re invested, not only in ourselves and our growth, but we’re invested in our community. When we have somebody that comes and decides to work with us and our product, we are invested in them and in their success. This is not a commodity that we’re just trying to sell as many widgets as we can. There’s talent and expertise in our team that can help lead to a really successful deployment.
We’re innovative—obviously, [we’re] a software company—so innovation is part of our DNA. And then, genuine. And genuine is really one of those things [that] when we sat back and looked, it’s having the hard conversations. It’s being able to say no and look to see what’s best for the individual, for the company, and for our customers, and being able and unafraid to have those conversations. And, so, that is kind of the overlay, John, that we use in making hard decisions and COVID-19 coronavirus is one of those things that really makes that applicable.
So, we look at our core values, in fact, we utilized some of that this week.
John: I’ll bet you did. Well, talk to us a little about that… the context of crisis management and working remotely and, you know, you’re a technology company, you’ve been a very successful company in digital signature and related markets, but how have you made the remote aspects of your business work better and more efficiently and are they impacted by the COVID-19 situation as well?
David: Well, we were fortunate—and I use that in quotes—we were fortunate a number of years ago to transition from an office environment to a distributed work environment. And, in the office environment, I was always really excited about the culture that we had. When we when we went to a distributed work from home environment, we really had to look and make sure that what we had as an organization flowed through. And so, we started to decompose, and the first thing was transparency. When you send people home and they’re out of the flow of normal office life, they’re disconnected, and a disconnected mind starts to wander… and in times like this, it wanders negatively. They start to think… ‘well, I’m not there’ or ‘are they talking about me’ [or] ‘how’s the company doing, and, ya know, ‘what’s gonna happen?’ And, so, transparency is really one of those things that we wanted to make sure that we maintain, a collaboration. So, when you feel like you can make a decision on your own… but it’s going to impact somebody else… and you have to go that extra step in order to include them in the conversation, you go ahead and do that. Because you want, again, you want to build that team cohesion around there. And then, in times like this, emotions are running high and you can’t say you take emotion out of it when you watch T.V. every night and you hear about everything that’s going on. But slow down, take a deep breath, and just realize that emotion is playing a role in the decisions that you’re making and put that on the table so that you can evaluate whether that’s the right decision or the wrong decision. And the worst thing to do is, obviously, make no decision at all. And, so, we’ve involved and included all of that in our process over the last couple of weeks, you know, culminating with this week. We had everyone [come] into the office on Monday morning, and we sat down, and we pulled everybody together. And everybody that was in the Atlanta office all sat in one room. I will have to admit that we didn’t socially distance ourselves at that point in time, but what we did, is we said, ‘tell me where you are and what is important to you,’ and we went around everybody in the room. And what we got was that there was a level of concern—I wouldn’t say fear, but there was a consensus—that we needed to work from home. And I could’ve made that decision right off the bat. I could’ve just said, ‘hey, everybody, we’re working from home,’ but having the entire team be a part of that decision gave everybody ownership in that, and that translates into somebody [working] from home because they were part of that decision [rather than] they were told to do that.
John: Those are great points, Dave, and it certainly highlights the collegiality that you built there in your team. Listen, I want to ask a final question, and it goes back to the company. And maybe some people listening to this are wondering, ‘Look, this sounds like a really interesting company, David and his team have done a great job in building the business off of principles and values, but how did they differentiate themselves?’ ‘What is it [that] makes AssureSign different from anybody else that’s out there in the market?’ Maybe in closing, put a little bit of a pitch on it and tell us what makes the company different and what allows you to really pick up the kind of customers you have and to accelerate the growth as you’ve been doing.
David: Well, I think when you look at that, you really have to go back to our core values. So, we are invested in our customers. I go back to that. I have team members that go to extraordinary measures to make sure that our customers are successful and we recognize and reward that behavior within the organization. And, so, it’s not an edict, it’s something that happens. And so, every customer that comes to us, we look at them as a lifelong customer. Not in a way that ‘oh, we got them,’ but we want to be there. In fact, I’ve been fielding emails today from customers. They’ve been saying, ‘hey, we’re using you guys for electronic signature, but we want to be able to do more.’ ‘We realize our process needs to be better because we’re distributed.’ And, so, you’re going to find that we’re in it for the long term. This isn’t just a one-and-done sign the contract and we’re out—we’re going to be working with you. We leverage some of the best technology in the industry and we’re focused on both, the customer experience and the originator and the technology that makes all that happen.
John: That’s great stuff, and I guess the Atlanta Tech Village has been a good home for you. I guess it’s closed down right now, but I know you have an opportunity to bring a lot of folks there to the Village and I think that’s been a pretty good experience for you too, right?
David: It has, it has. And John, if I could share one more thing that we learned in our transition… some kind of top five things that we do and things that we’ve expanded upon in moving to our home office. So, you know, make sure that your team has the tools to collaborate. So, we use Slack or Microsoft Teams… we used to meet at, and I didn’t mention this before, but we have a core team in Atlanta, but everybody else is distributed—we have employees in 11 states. And so, making sure that culture is there… so we use WebEx or a Zoom or a Microsoft Teams infrastructure to be able to talk. And so, we do that in an unstructured way twice a week, and we call it our ‘coffee.’ It’s the conversations around the coffee machine and the water cooler that happen in the morning.
We also have what we call a ‘camera on culture.’ So. you can see that all of our team, everybody is provided with a laptop and a camera and a docking station, and when they go home, they have the ability to interact. Because it’s really important that, ya know, I’m looking at you and your eyes, and I can tell a lot more… you’re communicating a lot more with me visually than you are verbally. And then, we make sure that we have an all-hands conference once a month. And then the thing three things that we’ve done in this time to expand that is we’ve added a daily ‘coffee,’ every day—in fact, I called it my corona coffee. It is those times… remember, lack of information leads to stress and anxiety. And so, everybody gets to talk about everything that’s going on—we have people that have family in Europe that’re trying to get back, we have, ya know—and so that gives everybody just that time, every day. Now once this is over, we’ll go back to twice a week, but right now I want to make sure that everybody has that opportunity. And then our all-hands meeting, where the leadership team talks about where we are and what’s going on in the company, that happens now… it’s going to happen twice a month. And then, just make sure your people are engaged. Like I just said, having that visual component really enables you to make sure that you can see if somebody’s not engaged, and then you can go back after the meeting and do a one-on-one and say ‘hey, how are you doing?’ And, so, those are some of the things, the key things, that if I’m looking at deploying a company to a work-from-home or distributed workforce, those are the things that have really helped us and maintained our culture.