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What Happens When an Angry Lawyer in Seattle Representing DocuSign Wants Their Domain Name Back

It’s 2009. I live in a council flat which is a 400 sq ft box. It’s not as bad as needles in the communal stairway, but it’s not being featured on Grand Designs anytime soon. It’s where I spent 12 years, mostly sitting in front of a computer pushing pixels around learning, playing, tinkering - trying to get a business off the ground.

To help the boredom subside, I’m on about my 9th attempt at what we know today as SaaS, and about my 12th configuration of layout out of this box I spend all my time in. I must have redecorated, reconfigured, rebuilt every square inch of that place 20 times by the time I left.

Sabrina and I had built a little digital signature platform, mostly cobbling together our own skills and outsourcing the bits we didn’t understand to the cheapest bidder on Freelancer, which was vWorker, which was originally RentACoder (Yeah, I’m that old). Spent the better part of 8 months building it, checking it legally with anyone I could, speaking to anyone I could about it and the feedback was really positive.

We might actually make it

We really felt like this was the one. The one that could get us out of this shitty box, these same 4 fucking walls which, no matter what colour you paint them, are still just as uninspiring. 

See, this is what the days looked like. Waking up as early as I could to move the project forward as much as I can. During “working hours”, I’d flog as many websites as I could just because it brought money in and we could build them quickly. Then, in the evening, it was back to working on this digital signature platform that was going to bring us endless profits.

But we needed a name

So we drove around, and walked, and talked and tried to come up with a name and eventually settled on... SignBase.


This has potential. Quick Google search, all looked okay. - available. Boom! We’re in. SignBase it is. We slap the logo and branding all over it and go to launch… aaaaaaand a mate messages me.

“You realise there’s a graphics tablet for signing digital signatures called Signbase right?”

“How long have they been going?


“Fuck sakkkkkeeee”

Back to the drawing board, until Sabrina says: “Doc... you... sign......... Docusign”.

That sounds cool!

123Reg... ‘’ - Available!

This is amazing. So, in our excitement, we changed everything SignBase to Docusign and launched. This was December.

Happy birthday

1:21am, 19th January 2011.

New email with the subject “RE: Infringement of Registered DOCUSIGN Trademark” 

I open it.

It’s some big fancy lawyer in Seattle working for some tinpot company in America called DocuSign. She’s claiming copyright infringement and we have their property, i.e., the domain name.

Before replying, telling her to go choke on a cactus, I quickly go to to have a quick look and see what she's banging on about.

Oh fuck.

They’re proper. Not tinpot. Big. Proper big. She might have a point. Lol.

However... Despite them being massive, I managed to go to the open domain market and buy their company name in their second biggest market for £6.09, including VAT.

Don’t be emailing me telling me how we’ve fucked up. You’re the ones who didn’t buy a domain name for £6. So, feeling quite proud of myself, but also realising we clearly can’t be running a digital signature platform called the same thing as the people who pioneered the space, I replied. 

Hey Sally,

You had to send this through on my birthday didn't you? lol

I'm also rather surprised that considering the nature of the services we both sell, you're requesting I reply in writing, when we BOTH have digital signature apps! I will comply as you're a big scary lawyer.

Everything you've written in that document is cool, and we'll remove any online reference to Docusign (there are no hard copies of anything refering to Docusign). The concept of electronic signatures is not new, or revolutionary so I'm assuming a simple re-brand of something that doesn't resemble 'Docusign' would suffice. Could you confirm so I don't waste anymore of either of our time?

Maybe I've misunderstood this last point, but were you requesting we transfer the domain name, to Docusign Inc? To be fair, the domain was available 4 weeks ago (roughly) when we bought it. Surely if it was that important, your client would have bought it themselves? They can either buy it off us for a nominal fee, or wait until the 2 years are up. Either way, nothing will be on the domain anyway, so it's of no damage to anyone.

Hopefully there shouldn't be any issues here and we can resolve this quickly. I don't want an argument on my birthday :)

Thanks Sally,


PS: I had to do a Facebook search… and if this is you - you don't seem big and scary, you look rather normal and nice :)

We had a little back and forth and for some reason, I told them I wanted $100 for the domain. Don't ask me why.

I have never been PayPalled $100 so quickly in my fucking life

It was at that point I realised I probably could have gone in a tiiiny bit higher. 

Realistically, knowing what I know now, that lawyer was probably authorised to spend up to $100,000 to get that domain back without having to go to court, and all I squeezed them for was $100.

I was about 25. I didn’t know what on earth I was doing. If I’d had 50-100k dumped in my account, it’s not to say I would have spent it stupidly. I don’t think I would, but I now know what the 5 years looked like from then to the time we got Better Proposals off the ground.

You can’t A/B test life experiences, but anything that would have derailed my drive or alter the events in any way that led to us to getting Better Proposals going the way we did wouldn’t have been worth the risk.

So, in some ways, it’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. And looked at in a different way, it’s probably the best $100 I’ve ever spent, so thanks Sally.

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Adam Hempenstall's profile image
Adam Hempenstall is the CEO and Founder of Better Proposals. He started his first web design business at 14 and has since written four books and built an international movement around sending better proposals. Having helped his customers win $500,000,000 in the last 12 months alone, he’s launched the first ever Proposal University where he shares best practices on writing and designing proposals. He co-runs a once-a-year festival called UltraMeet and is a massive FC Barcelona fan.