Industry Profile: DocsCorp CEO and co-founder, Dean Sappey

DocsCorp CEO and co-founder, Dean Sappey, has overseen the Australian company's growth into a global provider of software and services for document professionals who use enterprise content management systems. IDM asked Dean to outline the path to developing a global brand with 500,000+ users located in the Americas, Europe, Asia Pacific, and beyond.

IDM: How did you come up with the idea for the company?

DS: pdfDocs, which we released in 2003, was all about creating PDFs and editing them, collating them and creating binders and closing books.

At the time, both co-founder Shane Barnett (CTO) and I, had our previous businesses acquired by a solution provider and we were working there as product managers. We had customers who were accountants and lawyers saying we want ways of turning all our documents into a collated set of PDF documents, which we could email to our clients rather than printing them out, which was the old-fashioned way.

So, we came up with this idea for a PDF product, and we pitched it to the management there, and they went 'Nah, no one will want that'. They were not going to spend the money on it.

So, we decided to leave and essentially workshop three or four different products that were all around allowing professionals, lawyers and accountants to create and work with documents using their tax or compliance products. They wanted to create a Word or Excel document and share it with their client without building a Web portal. So that's how we came up with the first product,

IDM: Many of the capabilities offered by DocsCorp products in PDF editing and document comparison are embedded in the standard Office suite from Microsoft and Adobe, which are widely deployed. How does an Australian start-up stay ahead in that race?

DS: Firstly, our products are designed specifically for lawyers and accountants. In Acrobat, there are many features that they don't need; for instance, functions for performing four colour separations on graphics. Lawyers and accountants need very tight integration between products and their document management system, where they store documents. The major vendors don't build that integration because it's too specific a market for them. We build workflows around our application that work better and are better integrated. Microsoft has a document comparison feature in Word, but it is inferior, it just doesn't get it right in many cases. Most law firms won't use Microsoft Word for contract comparison; they will use a specialist tool like ours that is robust and reliable and gets it right every time. They can't afford to miss a change between the two documents. So that's how we compete with Microsoft, we do it better. Depending on what country you are in, compareDocs is either the No. 1 or No. 2 product for document comparison. In the case of Acrobat, the workflows and integration of pdfDocs are much better suited to people working in professional services.

IDM: DocsCorp has undertaken two acquisitions in the past 12 months, what is the strategy driving these acquisitions?

DS: While we kept building products, we also began looking at the other things we want to do, and there is only so much we can build at any one time so more recently we have started looking at acquiring other products.

We also have many government organisations and other sectors using our products, around 30% of our customers are outside of the legal and accounting industries. However, legal and accounting is still a major area of growth. Our acquisition strategy is to expand the platform of products we can provide to get further embedded in those organisations. Customers are increasingly saying to us they want a single vendor providing a whole suite of applications to help do everything relating to creating and managing their documents. We aim to provide all their document tools on a single toolbar.

The first one, veroDocs back in July 2020, was around template creation, allowing law firms to create a document template. It just asks the user simple questions and then creates a document personalised for the particular branch they are working in. Our most recent acquisition of Docuble allows law firms to restyle their documents to their specific style. Law firms all have their way of using styles, numbering schemes, and templates. For lawyers to do that themselves in Microsoft Word using styles is complex. It needs a specialist paralegal or secretary to do that, and nowadays lawyers don't have that. Our customers are also saying they want one vendor and one toolbar in all of their applications, one place to ring for support and one place to deal with licence renewals. So we have been looking at products to add to our existing suite of products that may have proven themselves in a particular country, but have not gone global. We have a worldwide network to do that.

IDM: Is the Microsoft Office suite still the standard for law firms and accountants?

DS: We've seen some interest in Google Docs and things like that, and even in Microsoft Office Online, but if you talk to anyone doing heavy-duty document work every day, they are using Office on a desktop PC, and they will continue to do so. They want our applications sitting inside that and reaching out to their document management system. Our clients will continue to use specialist document management products for a long time because Microsoft does not provide the necessary compliance and certification. Also, organisations with 50 or more staff need specialised document management products that suit their workflows. We do not see Microsoft focussing on those industries because they are too specific. 

IDM: In 2020, cleanDocs was enhanced with AI. What are your thoughts on the potential for AI to handle many of the manual tasks in document management?

DS: cleanDocs is about making sure you don't accidentally email a document to the wrong person in addition to removing metadata. When you're about to email a document, it can intelligently look inside all of your previously sent items and understand whether you should be sending this. We're seeing this take off in government and many regulated industries where if documents are emailed to the wrong person it can be catastrophic. Most data breaches are accidental, and cleanDocs AI can prevent them from occurring. If you email a document to somebody, realise it's wrong, and then send an email saying 'Look, I just sent you the wrong document. Can you delete it?' That document will be read, guaranteed!

IDM: DocsCorp contentCrawler converts image-based documents in content repositories and document management systems to text-searchable PDF. Is this still a big problem for many organisations?

DS: The number of documents being created from some scanning process is increasing exponentially. Most document management systems do not have an inbuilt function to look through those documents and extract text. It's not just a problem for law firms and accountants - many government organisations and most banks in Australia have turned to contentCrawler to fix this. We have a cloud version of contentCrawler, which processed more than 2 trillion images this past year.

IDM: DocsCorp is just one example of an Australian software developer in the document productivity space that has succeeded internationally. Why do you think there are so many?

DS: I think many Australian businesses have started the hard way with venture capital money. They've started from the ground up, so there is a lot more passion from the people building the product. And very quickly, to be successful, you have to go international. Thus, they are much more open to accepting that different customers in different countries work differently. So rather than saying this is the way you can work, this is how you're going to use that software, Australian culture is more about saying ‘you work the way you want to work, and we will listen and adapt’. How our software is used in the US is quite different from how it's used in the UK.

IDM: What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

DS: Just do it! But don't expect to be widely successful overnight. It will take many, many years of hard work. But if you're passionate and persist in improving your product, you'll be successful.