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Build or buy: e-signature APIs

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By Simone Timen

Should you build your e-signature solution in house or rely on a third party? It depends on your company's core product.

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Build or buy: e-signature APIs

To build or to buy? That is the question engineering-focused companies are constantly grappling with. Usually, the answer is to build everything in house. At times, that can be the better approach, especially if it’s something core to your business where having greater control and customization over your features is important.

When it comes to an e-signature solution, however, there are plenty of reasons to forego building and instead invest in a third-party service. Building your own features requires a lot of time and resources. Engineers need to spend time understanding the scope of the challenge and then spend weeks (or even months) building it. On top of the initial development, factor in ongoing maintenance and patch fixes and you’re looking at a never ending project.

With the abundance of e-signature solutions out there, you’re almost guaranteed to find one that will work for your product.

Creating a better customer experience:

Tech-enabled companies are constantly striving to improve their user experience and it’s a critical factor when considering to build vs. buy. If your core competency has only tangentially to do with e-sign or PDFs, diverting engineering resources to build a complete e-signature solution results in a second-class feature at best. Furthermore, all that time being spent on developing the new feature is time your customers spend waiting. And in a competitive tech landscape, they’re not likely to wait long.

Instead, consider a well-established, e-signature API provider as a solution. A dedicated e-signature service focuses all of their resources to improving every aspect of the signing experience, for customers and developers alike. That means when you invest in an e-signature API provider, you know that your customers are always going to get a better signing experience, allowing you to focus on improving your product.

Prioritizing your developers:

Adopting an e-signature provider isn’t just about your customers; selecting an e-sign solution directly impacts your developers’ experience. Let’s be frank. Your developers don’t want to spend their time building an e-signature solution. Not only would they be taking on ownership for ongoing maintenance, they’d also spend countless hours developing knowledge in an area that’s not central to your business (or their specialty). Prioritizing their experience means creating opportunities for them to work on projects that interest them– they’ll thank you later.

Simplicity and flexibility

When looking for an e-signature provider, it’s important to strike the right balance between simplicity and flexibility. For example, an API with too many endpoints is probably confusing, difficult to use, and poorly designed. An API with too few endpoints is probably not feature complete, limiting the customizability of your integration.

Comprehensive documentation

While comprehensive and more importantly, up-to-date documentation should be a given, it’s surprising how many companies view it as an afterthought. At the very minimum, there should be a getting started guide that teaches you about the basics, product-specific terminology, and so on. Ideally, you’d want well-organized documentation with clear examples and answers to commonly asked questions like this.

Sample code and pre-written libraries also show that a company is invested in helping their developer customers succeed. They want to make the integration as painless as possible so that you can set it and forget it.

Built by developers

Not all e-signature solutions are created equal. In fact, most are built for non-technical consumers who can get by using a drag-and-drop interface. Select an e-signature solution from a company that prioritizes the experience of engineers.

Oftentimes, this will be a company that’s heavily skewed towards engineering. With unique insight into what they would like in terms of developer experience, these companies have intricate knowledge of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to designing an API, and they are willing to invest substantial resources to make their APIs easier for other engineers to consume.

Anvil’s Etch e-sign API:

At Anvil, we’re on a mission to provide the best developer experience for any PDF-related processes. Our e-signature solution offers the easiest way to embed e-signatures in your app. With pre-written components, client libraries, clear documentation and easy-to-follow tutorials, you can add e-signatures to your product in 30 minutes or less. Just generate or upload a PDF, define the signers, and send out an e-signature request all over API.

Have questions for our engineers? They’d love to hear from you! Reach out to us at

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  • Simplifying data gathering
  • Streamlining document preparation
  • Requesting e-signatures
  • Building and scaling your business
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