Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Tom & James

Wise Words

One of the most popular Springwise features in recent weeks, by solving a simple, commonplace inconvenience the Softsign app managed 30,000 downloads in its first two months.

Tom Hodgson and James Hope-Falkner began developing Softsign in November 2010, before launching the app in March 2011. Tom started his career as a Creative Executive at Heyday Films before co-founding creative consultancy Fearlessly Frank, with clients such as HTC and Red Bull. James founded London-based photographic & design company Mallinsons in 2005, producing work for clients such as Apple, Amnesty International and The Royal Opera House.

Softsign is mobile application that allows users to sign PDF and JPEG documents on-screen with a finger or stylus and then email the legally binding result directly to the recipient. No printing, scanning or faxing is required; rather, users can simply keep key business documents on their mobile devices and collect signatures on the go as necessary.

1. Where did the idea for Softsign come from?

TH: James had the original idea, so I have him to thank! We have worked together for years across a series of start-ups and when you run a small business you spend a lot of time out of the office (if you have an office at all) so returning time-sensitive paperwork that requires a signature can be a real hassle – we built Softsign to try and solve this problem. JHF: Signing and returning routine documents is also an incredibly destructive process (not to mention extortionately expensive!) You first have to print the document using ink cartridges that can cost more than the printer itself, then sign with a pen – if you can find one that works – before scanning and posting or, even worse, couriering that urgent document to the person who needs it. It’s bad for the environment, it takes forever compared to firing over an email with a PDF attachment and it must cost us billions a year if we are to consider it globally. This idea works, you don’t need a stamp, and because it’s legally binding almost everywhere, we think everyone should stop printing and start Softsigning.

2. Why do you think this long-standing inconvenience has never been addressed effectively before?

TH: It was only with the advent of the iPhone and other smartphones and tablets in the last few years that the technology has been good enough to make signing on-screen simple. JHF: People might not think about it, but the touchscreen has allowed developers to make their products really intuitive, just like a really well-made toaster or a microwave, you’ll never need to read an instruction manual because you just naturally understand how it works. Over the next few years, we’re going to notice a vast improvement in software and it’s thanks to the devices and how they are made.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

TH: No two days are exactly the same.  Much of our focus is on researching and planning new features for Softsign and building ‘white label’ versions for companies who want the App re-skinned with their brand identity and bespoke features. Our customers are our marketing department, so we devote a great deal of time to responding to their feedback. Softsign users have been incredibly supportive from day one and many have taken the time to write to us to suggest features they’d like to see in future versions (cross-platforming seems to be a particularly popular request).

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Softsign?

TH: I eat a lot of Stilton. JHF: I design other ideas that I hope to be able to publish one day. I also take a lot of pictures.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

TH: A strong constitution (and supportive family and friends). JHF: A fever for progress (and Bob Dylan).

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

TH: Simply not having enough time to include everything we wanted to have in version 1.0.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

TH: The emails we get from satisfied customers is definitely top of the list, but there are so many great Apps out there which are breaking new ground and doing incredible things that inspire us (and infuriate us because we didn’t think of the idea first). JHF: It’s also about spreading a very important message. I’m hoping that people wake up and realise that with today’s technology, a document never has to leave the screen. Paper should only be necessary in lavatories and the more of us who realise that the faster the world will spin.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

TH: Drink less coffee.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

TH: Hopefully Softsign will be the category-defining brand like “Skype” or “Google” and to “Softsign” something will enter the lexicon.  (Maybe even the dictionary – perhaps we are suffering from delusions of grandeur?) We have bootstrapped Softsign up to this point, but several investors have approached us about helping to accelerate our plans and we’re looking for the right partner to help us deliver all of the things we have in the pipeline — like translating the App into additional languages and much, much more.

10. If you weren’t working on Softsign, what would you be doing?

TH: We’re particularly interested in medical software and are currently working on App-based solutions for the NHS which we hope will go live at some point this year.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

TH: Sometime very soon we’re going to make Softsign free for as long as we can.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

TH: If you can be first to market that’s great, but it’s not everything. Wiser men than us have said it before, but it’s all about execution. Also, the idea you go to market with might not be the idea you started with – you have to be prepared to adapt.

You can read more about Softsign in our article here, or visit the Softsign website here.