Cover Story: Krach Shares the Secret to His Success
In many ways, Keith Krach is a lucky man. How else would one describe a self-made billionaire born in Ohio to an affable machine-shop owner? Well, Krach would argue that not only is he not lucky, there is no such thing as luck at all. Perhaps the best illustration of his point is a story he tells of playing 7th grade basketball with a kid named Frank Wilson. While Krach would tire himself out scoring four points per game, Wilson would, despite having a worse shot, score eighteen. Baffled, Krach turned to the game footage and found that while he was busy chasing the ball, Wilson would quietly put himself in a position from which shooting was easy—all Wilson’s teammates had to do was pass to him and he could score, dinky shot or not. So when Krach says he is not lucky, really, he is right. The true definition of luck, he will tell you, is when preparation meets opportunity.
Even before his graduation from Purdue, Krach prepared for his business career. At 19, he was awarded a General Motors scholarship, parlayed his experience there into a spot in the GM Fellowship program (which paid his way through Harvard Business School) and when he returned to work for the automaker’s business arm, so dazzled his superiors that he quickly found himself a vice president at the age of 26. Despite (or maybe even because of) his rapid success at GM, Krach felt the restless urge to build something of his own and set out to form Rasna Corporation, a startup that produced mechanical engineering software. One year after selling Rasna for $500 million, Krach formed another startup, Ariba, one of the first business-to-business internet companies. At Ariba, Krach became a pioneer of e-procurement, doing away with the old procurement process that stymied productivity by its own inefficient, paperbased nature.
Ariba had a banner IPO in 1999 (and by the way, on the day of the IPO the stock closed at $90, an astonishing 291 percent increase from its initial offering price of $23). It was shortly thereafter that he would meet the man he credits as his mentor, John T. Chambers of Cisco Systems. Chambers’ advice to him—that giving back and paying it forward are the “magic of Silicon Valley— is a lesson Krach has taken to heart, as evidenced by his service on the Board of Governors of Opportunity International, his cofounding of the Children’s Autistic Network, and mentoring promising CEOs in the valley. It was also during this period that Krach first heard of DocuSign, a company that provides software for signing and sending documents online. Interested, he joined their board as Chairman in 2009, but it was not long before Krach, acting largely on the urging of his wife Metta, accepted DocuSign’s offer to become their CEO. DocuSign presented an opportunity that Krach had seen before—to reduce old, time-consuming practices that stand in the way of modern business efficiency— namely, in his work at Ariba. Sure enough, the playbook he had used at his old company turbocharged DocuSign into a $3 billion company by the time he stepped down as CEO in January of this year. More than that, “DocuSign as a verb has entered the modern business lexicon in a way that “Google and “FedEx have preceding it.
For his next miracle, Krach hopes to bridge the gap between Washington and Silicon Valley (as well as push for the creation of a national chief digital officer position); but for now, he looks forward to working with his successor at DocuSign, Dan Springer. The transition of power between the two went so well that Krach cheerfully describes his current job as “being of service to the new CEO. As such, Krach no longer needs to lie awake at night worrying about the health of his company. With a wonderful wife, five beautiful children, and three consecutive business successes (in an environment when most in his position would be happy with one), Keith Krach has one last thing on his mind, and that is his next opportunity. And how lucky is that? —Tess Wallace