The past year brought some very impressive gains for some technology stocks, as investors tried to find safe places to grow their money during a global pandemic and U.S. recession. But with 2020 now in the rearview mirror and hopes that life could eventually get back to normal later this year, investors may be wondering what stocks could be great investments in 2021 and beyond. 

To help you find some solid investments for this year, we asked a few Motley Fool contributors for software stocks that they think are great places to put a few thousand dollars in 2021. They came back with DocuSign (NASDAQ:DOCU), Okta (NASDAQ:OKTA), and Roku (NASDAQ:ROKU). Here's why. 

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DocuSign: Bringing on a new wave of digital transformation

Brian Withers (DocuSign): The coronavirus caused many corporate offices to close, and DocuSign's growth accelerated as many turned to the e-signature specialist to continue operating in a remote work environment. But to think of this software-as-a-service (Saas) company as a coronavirus play would be underestimating the power of its platform. With the 38,000 new enterprise and commercial customers added in the nine months since Jan. 30, 2020, it's poised to have a solid 2021.

To put these new customers in perspective, at the end of its 2020 fiscal year, the company had 75,000 enterprise and commercial customers. This is only a small percentage of the total 589,000 customers, but they make up 88% of revenue. The large organizations that joined the DocuSign fold over nine months in 2020 increased its total large customer base by an impressive 50%. Most of these customers came for automating paper signatures, but are likely to stay for the long term for even more value.

As large customers start to adopt e-signature capabilities, they often underestimate what their overall usage will be. When enterprises roll out this new digital capability of capturing agreements digitally, they often find there are many more areas of the business where this time-saving function can be implemented. This service is incredibly sticky, too. Once customers implement e-signatures, they are certainly not going to go back to manual paper methods. Over time, customers on average pay more every year, as demonstrated by its strong 122% dollar-based net revenue retention.

But DocuSign is more than just an e-signatures tool. It's built an Agreement Cloud to enable large customers to manage the entire lifecycle of agreements through the prepare, sign, manage, and act steps. The Agreement Cloud brings numerous value-added features such as generating standard agreements, centralized storage and classification of contracts, and even artificial intelligence-powered search to compare similar clauses across contracts. This full-functioning cloud platform is expected to double its addressable market, and it's just getting started. Currently, the revenue from these enhanced services isn't yet material against the massive base of e-signature growth. But that will change over time.

With billings (sum of all future contract values) growth of 63% year over year outstripping current revenue growth of 53%, these new customers look to power another banner year for DocuSign. Investors who want to get on board today can buy four shares for $1,000 and have a little cash left over. A few years from now, your future self will be thanking you for making this smart investment. 

Okta: A port in the cybersecurity storm

Danny Vena (Okta): There's little doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing businesses is cybersecurity. Just look to the recent SolarWinds hack, which compromised U.S. government agencies and technology companies alike. Add to that the acceleration of the digital transformation resulting from the pandemic and the increased reliance on remote employees, and it's easy to see why cybersecurity will take center stage in the months and years to come. One of the key components to protecting against these intrusions is Okta.

Okta is the undisputed leader in the area of identity and access management, taking on the complicated task of verifying identities and controlling access for employees, contractors, and customers. By integrating with more than 6,500 business applications, its SaaS platform can create a single secure login, while also offering more complex multi-factor authentications. The company boasts more than 9,400 global businesses as customers that rely on Okta to manage their identification and access protocols. 

Okta is generating quite a reputation for itself. Research company Gartner named Okta an industry leader in access management, adding it to its vaunted Magic Quadrant for the fourth consecutive year. Okta was also recognized by Forrester Research as one of the leading providers of identity-as-a-service (IDaaS) for enterprise. 

All this notice has resulted in impressive financial results. For the third quarter, revenue climbed 42% year over year, while subscription revenue grew 43%. This stream of continuing revenue helps set the company up for future success. At the same time, Okta's remaining performance obligation (RPO) -- which represents the backlog of subscription revenue -- soared 53%, helping illustrate the company's ongoing potential. Like many high-growth companies, Okta isn't yet profitable. Perhaps more importantly, though, its free cash flow -- which excludes non-cash expenses -- continues to stay in the plus column and soared more than fourfold to 19% of revenue. 

One of the biggest contributors to its financial success is the growing customer base. In the third quarter, Okta added more than 100 customers with annual contract values greater than $100,000, bringing the total to 1,780. The number of customers that spend more than $500,000 climbed 50% year over year to 320. These large enterprise businesses now represent 80% of Okta's annual contract values.

The need to secure corporate networks isn't going away -- in fact, it's never been greater. An increasing number of companies are adopting new remote work policies for the long term and the news is rife with stories of corporate and government hacks. That's the world we live in, but Okta helps company execs sleep just a little easier at night. That makes it must-own stock for investors.

Video streaming never looked so good

Chris Neiger (Roku): Roku's share price skyrocketed more than 148% in 2020 as streaming television shows and movies became one of the only forms of entertainment that people could enjoy during lockdowns and social distancing.

The pandemic helped accelerate a cord-cutting trend that was already in place long before COVID-19 came along, and Roku's video streaming platform has tapped fully into it. Roku makes money by selling advertising and by taking a cut of the subscription services people sign up for through the platform -- and business is booming.

Roku's revenue spiked 73% in the third quarter and active customers jumped 43% from the year-ago quarter, with the average revenue per user (ARPU) popping 20%.

But the company isn't just experiencing one good quarter. More people are ditching traditional cable and satellite TV subscriptions and flocking to add-on streaming services like Apple TV+, Netflix, Disney+, and many others. In fact, 6 million people ditched traditional pay-TV services in 2020 and it's estimated that one-third of Americans will have cut the cord by 2024. 

Roku's platform allows users to sign up for and stream the major services, and many smaller ones, which means that no matter which services become the most popular in the coming years, Roku's platform will benefit. 

With Roku already tapping into the rise of streaming services, investors would be wise to give this stock strong consideration in 2021. 

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.