Exclusive interview: Chris Devor, DocHub CEO and founder, discusses acquisition by airSlate
airSlate announced its acquisition of DocHub, an online PDF annotator and document signing platform. This acquisition will further accelerate DocHub’s product development and time to market with its PDF editing and document workflow solutions, complementing airSlate’s suite of digital transformation tools — airSlate, signNow, pdfFiller, and US Legal Forms.
Just like with airSlate’s two previous successful acquisitions (signNow and US Legal Forms), DocHub’s team will work very closely with the rest of airSlate’s organization to achieve its aggressive expansion goals.
“The best people to grow a company or a product are the teams that are the most passionate about the products,” said Borya Shakhnovich, CEO and co-founder, airSlate. “We see this dedication in DocHub and the synergies between our organizations for product improvement and product adoption show a clear advantageous relationship between our organizations. We are happy to welcome DocHub and its team into the airSlate organization and to bring new ideas and innovations for PDF and workflow solutions to the market.”
We’ve sat down with Chris Devor, CEO and founder of DocHub, to learn more about the acquisition process, DocHub’s strategic vision, growth challenges, and product development roadmap.
DocHub is an online PDF annotator and document signing platform that operates on desktop and mobile devices. Founded by DocHub and Macroplant CEO Chris Devor in Boston, Massachusetts, DocHub’s headquarters are located in the Greater Boston Area. Trusted by over 80 million users and having processed almost half a billion documents, DocHub has cemented its leadership position among the top-rated document management applications on the Google Workspace Marketplace.
Before DocHub, we had Macroplant. We’d released a host of different apps, mainly in the iPhone transfer segment. When we were doing that, we learned quite a bit. Whenever we were developing our app, we were developing for Mac and Windows – each platform required a completely different code base. That was a huge pain point for us, so with DocHub one of the things we were looking forward to and enjoyed throughout the duration of this project is a single code base that does mobile, Mac, and Windows.
“One of the things that we actually succeeded in is a single clean code base. How else did we manage to build a product trusted by millions with a team of 11 people? I don’t know… We worked pretty hard.”Chris Devor,
CEO and Founder of DocHub
The market has been a wild ride. Our timing was a once-in-a-lifetime-timing, so if not now, we’d probably revisit [our decision] in five years. When we started the acquisition process, some of the market leaders in the eSignature and document management segment were worth five times more than they used to be. I don’t think anyone has seen anything like this. And then all of it started falling apart, which added a little bit more pressure to the deal. I think that by the time airSlate and DocHub go public, getting liquidity here, we’ll be in a great spot and the market will have recovered, too.
Yes, we did the full process. There were a lot of interesting companies out there – DocHub marketing materials went out to around 70+ companies and investors. The direction for DocHub could’ve gone a different way had we gone with somebody else. But I think we actually landed with the best company for us, airSlate, and that’s not just because of the money. Basically, airSlate is doing as close to what DocHub is doing.
The other companies out there are mostly B2B, with very little B2C experience. pdfFiller by airSlate has an impressive B2C segment, which is gradually developing into the B2B segment. That’s exactly what we’re looking for. And I think this is how we’re going to have the most value added.
There were companies all over the spectrum and I can’t disclose names, but some of them weren’t really involved at all in the document signing space. We wanted something that would be a strategic benefit.
As for other companies, there were a few out there that had basically built their own PDF editor. They have their own core platform but they don’t have any user base. And if we’d merged going that route, I think, we would’ve lost a lot of the essence of what DocHub does.
“I think [with airSlate] we landed somewhere where we can keep our legacy, build upon it, and improve with all of the resources of airSlate, and we’re excited for that.”Chris Devor,
CEO and Founder of DocHub
One of our biggest goals is B2B customer acquisition. We have millions of individual users — we’ve got over 10,000 Costco users and a bunch of other different companies. These customers are not actually paying us because we haven’t built any sales infrastructure and marketing. Pricing is definitely a weak point, and I think that’s something airSlate does very well.
“Whenever an entire company with hundreds of licenses wanted to sign up with DocHub we didn’t really know what to do with that. So that’s one of the things that we’re looking forward to with airSlate.“Chris Devor,
CEO and Founder of DocHub
I know airSlate has deals with hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and even more than that now. I think DocHub’s biggest annual fee is maybe $10,000 a year. However, in terms of what we’re actually delivering to our customers… we’re delivering quite a bit to them.
The users that we’re going after historically haven’t been the same segment. You know, as far as complimentary … I think both products have a ton of features that the other one doesn’t. We’re working out how best to integrate that.
With DocHub, our main focus has been Gmail integration. Back in late 2013, I wasn’t happy with any of the signing options out there when I wanted to sign a PDF from my Gmail. That was our primary focal point. We basically wanted the best product out there for signing PDFs in Gmail. And then we also wanted to have a very generous free trial.
Most people would rather print a document, sign it manually, and then scan it rather than pay $100 a year for a license. We figured if they’re not going to pay for it, we’ll just give them DocHub for free, and maybe they’ll spread the word, or come back and pay later.
A few years ago we spent an entire year on scaling. We optimized our hardware infrastructure so we could scale to 15,000 people on the website at a time making an insane number of documents in a given day, in a given hour. That’s been one of the challenges.
Security was another one, and compliance was another one. We’ve made huge progress with both and these are actually some of the things we’re looking forward to with airSlate. airSlate’s solutions are HIPAA-compliant, and none of the other companies we were looking at were. I think we’re very close to addressing our compliance challenges.
What are the other challenges? Just maintaining everything. From a design standpoint, DocHub has multiple features, and we’re looking to have a simple user interface that doesn’t overwhelm people. We still have some work to do in that department.
If you want to compress a PDF, split and merge PDFs, you can do that in DocHub. Password-protect your document as well. Taking all this and bundling all of it into a seamless experience is kind of difficult, but I think this is what we’ve done pretty well.
Absolutely. Looking at all of the airSlate workflows, adding in those types of capabilities into DocHub, integrating it there, that sounds exciting. airSlate has an API development team, and I think pretty soon they’ll start building the DocHub API. All of the things we would eventually get to, but I think going at the rate that we’ve been going, that would take years. So, we’re looking forward to accelerating the process.
Right now we only have one pricing plan, and it’s targeted at consumers. What we’ve been working towards is adding tier pricing – if you’re using more features, you’re going to pay more for that.
“I think adding tools from all of airSlate’s ecosystem is going to be tremendous for helping us bring actual value to tier pricing. I want actual value delivered to people – if we’re going to charge more, we need to deliver more.”Chris Devor,
CEO and Founder of DocHub
The thing we’re working on right now which is a little bit more complicated than we thought it would be is folders. Right now, a company or a school will go on DocHub and create an organization. Within a school or organization, there are other subdivisions or classes.
The current workflow for [a school] has been creating an organization that manages billing and then, if you have a separate classroom, you need to create an additional organization for each classroom. Eventually, you get people who have 30 different organizations [in a single DocHub dashboard] which is overwhelming.
Building the Folder workflow is going to give people additional ways to share documents. And if there’s a group they’re no longer using, they can archive it. If there’s one they want to prioritize, they can mark it with a star.
They can share a folder either with everyone in their organization, or they can have the folder just for personal use — like a secret folder shared privately. Let’s say we create a secret folder in airSlate called Marketing, this is going to be a folder that only marketing people will have access to.
We already have tags, but tags and labels don’t specify who someone’s documents are shared with, while folders allow for sharing preferences to be adjusted.
Also, we’re working on A/B testing, we’ve got a lot of big things going on. For instance, [one of the features we’re working on is to allow text fields to be grouped and ungrouped. So if you have your name on seven different pages in a document, you can link those fields together. I think it’s pretty far along. We’re also working on a lot of little workflow things. Maybe we’ll get to multi-selection of annotations and form fields.
Anyway, we have a lot of open issues and we’re looking to have our team bolstered by airSlate.
There’s definitely a lot of factors that can help us indirectly grow our product just by taking a lot of work off our hands. All the finance stuff, accounting, hiring people. Just taking all of this miscellaneous stuff off our plate. And then — finding sub-projects, whether it’s a mobile app, or the API. We can be entirely hands-off on it.
Also, marketing. I think signNow and airSlate are doing a tremendous job in terms of homepages and landing pages.
As for support… Our support guys are great, they’ve done email support for a long time. But to bring chat support or phone support, I think is critical to getting business-to-business workflows. The higher-value customers are going to want to make sure that you’re a real company. And I think that this is something that airSlate will enable us to offer.
I honestly have no idea how everyone’s going to take the acquisition. Everybody at DocHub has got some form of equity or bonus or stock option, so they’ll all be happy about that. But I wouldn’t have been surprised if one or two people had been like “I got my payout, I’m gone”. Actually, it’s been the opposite. Usually, everyone’s very excited for a change. Me especially.
I’ve been entrepreneuring a 10-person or less company since 2008, so it’s been 14 years. Half of my career here. For me this is fun. Going into Slack and there’s literally a hundred times more people there than it was a couple of months ago. I think everyone else is excited about that, too.