DocSend Goes Step Beyond Sharing With Document Analytics
B2B document sharing services are nothing new, but DocSend, a San Francisco-based startup that launched out of TechCrunch Disrupt earlier this month, could change how you work—and let you check up on the people you collaborate with.
Unlike Dropbox and Box, services that simply allow sharing and file storage, DocSend applies analytics and tracking to the files being shared. This means that you can see not only when someone opens the documents you send, but also how long they looked at them, which pages they spend time on, and who they forwarded them to.
“With Google Docs, you can send a link, which is nice, because it saves having that file in your inbox,” says CEO and co-founder Russ Heddleston, a former DropBox intern and Facebook employee. “The problem is, that’s only part of the story. If you add controlled analytics, you can start to do a lot more really interesting things.” Since the company was founded in March 2013, DocSend has raised $1.7 million from investors including SoftTech VC, Cowboy Ventures, Lerer Ventures, and some angel investors. Now, the company is working to integrate user feedback to develop more advanced analytics and commenting features for the product.
Here is a lightly edited version of our conversation:
Xconomy: How did you come up with the idea to apply analytics to documents?
Russ Heddleston: We saw a couple different trends. There is an internal product at Facebook called Pixelcloud, and it tracks who has looked at your designs, which is really useful. I interned at DropBox before I was at Facebook, and they had come up with their document-sharing model, and it just made sense to track who’s looked at what. It makes everything much more efficient. You don’t have to have a meeting, you know who to follow up with.
Before we started DocSend, we interviewed 30-40 companies about how they used documents and what they did with them. And almost all of them, they made assumptions about what’s working. Groupon sends out a one-pager in their sales process, and we asked them, “is it working? Is it the right one-pager? Is one page even the right length?” And they’re like, “we have no idea.” How many times have you sent that doc? Hundreds of thousands. So, that’s a very important document. They’re a very big company. Same thing with fundraising. You send your pitch deck, and you really have no idea if anybody cares about it, or looks at it or doesn’t look at it.
X: How long did it take to develop the product?
RH: We’ve been working on it for a little over a year. We started in March of 2013. We built the first version in a few months, just a really simple thing. We got some companies using it, and they all liked it, so we decided we had to build a better version. We raised money last October and then hired a few of our friends. We’re building out the version we just launched a couple of weeks ago.
X: What can DocSend do that, for example, Google Docs can’t?
RH: Our product allows you to create a unique link each time you send the document. So when I send a document to you, I can see who you forwarded it to. I can turn off just your link if I want to. So if it’s sensitive information, I can control it separately. Or let’s say I have a piece of marketing material, and I put it on a website, and I put it in a marketing email, and [I send it through DocSend]. I can see how it performs in each of those different channels. It’s really useful because I know where people are coming from. The other thing is, when someone has looked at a document, you don’t know if they looked at [the] whole thing, or just part of it. So, when we were fundraising, we figured out there were only three slides that mattered. None of the other ones mattered. It was just “our team,” it was “what we’re like”—we’re Google Analytics, plus Dropbox, we had a bunch of this for thats on the page, which was really popular—and then our competition slide. Those were the only three slides that mattered.
X: Did you edit your deck based on that feedback?
RH: We made it a lot shorter. It ended up still being 18 pages or something. There were just some that no one looked at, like “the changing landscape of enterprise.” No one read that slide. I put all this data together from the Bureau of Labor Statistics about trends and other things. No one read that. I just got rid of a bunch of those.
X: Can you explain a sample use case?
RH: The most recent hire we had is a marketing specialist, and I put together a document that described the role. It was 11 pages long. It talks about the role, qualifications, compensation, and then it kind of gives a “what on earth is DocSend?” I just posted it on Facebook. We can see in total that the marketing specialist post got almost 260 views. I would have no idea if I didn’t use this. We can go look through and see what this person spent time looking at. People spend a lot of time reading about our funding team.
It turns out 11 pages is not too long. Most people looked at the entire thing. And I never even had to post it to a job board.
X: Do you see this as a purely B2B product?
RH: Business people are the ones creating the most documents, they’re sending them out, they really care what happens to them. And they’re mostly transactions, like sales, like marketing, like investing, or fundraising. Those are the popular ones. We didn’t intend it to be. But it’s 100 percent a business product.
X: How many clients do you have now?
RH: We’re working with a few hundred companies using us actively now.
X: How are they paying you?
RH: The answer is that they’re not.
Later this year we’ll launch a paywall. All of our business customers tell us what they want. It’s just a question of, do we try to monetize now, or do we try to monetize later? We’re just focused on building a great product. When we do have a paywall, there will always be a free account, and it will just have a limited number of documents in it. If you want unlimited, you pay. If you want to use it with your team, you’ll have to pay. If you and I are working on the same marketing team, we’ll be able to update each other’s documents, see the stats, and see all the data.
The marketing use case needs aggregate stats. If you’re trying to analyze those 300 views on a document, it’s hard to do in that one-off way. There’s another product that’s there. And big enterprises we’ve talked to, they have their own needs as well.
They’ll have their own price points. The common theme under all of them is that it’s really useful to have this kind of analytics and control on top of the documents you send out.
X: What kinds of companies are using your product?
RH: It’s a really entertaining range of companies. We had a good chuckle when we had our first funeral home sign up for the service. Documents are so ubiquitous every company uses them. Actually, high-tech companies use them less than the rest of the world. The rest of the world is still very document-based.
X: Have any of your clients mentioned privacy concerns, and is this something you had thought about?
The more interesting one is socially. Is it socially acceptable for me to track something I send to you? With any tool, you could construct some scenario where someone is offended, but across hundreds of thousands of people who have viewed documents, we haven’t heard any “I didn’t get business done with this company because I offended them using DocSend” stories. If you send me a DocSend link, I know DocSend is tracking it. I could email you back and say, “no, email me the PDF” and sit there and wait for you, or I could just click on it. They get over it quickly and move on. I use it on our investors every time I send out an investor update. It’s good to know, are they checked in or are they checked out or do they care? It’s useful to know when people come into our board meeting, did they look through it or not, because I’ll start the meeting differently if no one has looked through the deck.
X: What’s to stop someone like Google or Dropbox from adding these capabilities to their products?
RH: My background being in product management, I spend a lot of time thinking about products. Microsoft has a good saying: “if you can’t find the feature, it doesn’t exist.” It’d be a real challenge for some existing company like Google or Dropbox or Box to add this in. It would be too complicated. If you go through our interface, there’s a lot of stuff there. If you tried to sandwich that into some small corner of Dropbox, it wouldn’t work very well.
X: Do you ever see a world in which teachers can use DocSend to make sure their students are doing the reading?
RH: It would make the whole classroom more efficient. There’s a Japanese company that uses DocSend for their internal HR training. I told them to use [it] with their sales people, and then instead of having their sales people use it, they use it on their sales people to make sure they read the material they send. Because sales people are too busy, they never read anything.
X: After the feedback you got at Disrupt, any planned changes for the product?
RH: It was great to get a bunch of new customers in the door using the product. What’s really great as a product person is when you start to hear the same things over and over again. It’s really awful when you hear a ton of things and there aren’t really any patterns to it. We hear the same things over and over again. Which gives us a really clear product growth map.
X: Anything specific?
RH: Team features. Being able to collaborate with [a] team. Integrating with Gmail and Outlook to make it easier to send out links. We’re going to be adding advanced analytics and tracking inside of documents, and we’ll announce more on that later this year. There’s just a surprising amount of things to have a robust, stable service that’s complete.