Nov
17
2020
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Dropbox shifts business product focus to remote work with Spaces update

In a September interview at TechCrunch Disrupt, Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston talked about how the pandemic had forced the company to rethink what work means, and how his company is shifting with the new requirements of a work-from-home world. Today, the company announced broad changes to Dropbox Spaces, the product introduced last year, to make it a collaboration and project management tool designed with these new requirements in mind.

Dropbox president Timothy Young says that the company has always been about making it easy to access files wherever you happen to be and whatever device you happen to be on, whether that was in a consumer or business context. As the company has built out its business products over the last several years, that involved sharing content internally or externally. Today’s announcement is about helping teams plan and execute around the content you create with a strong project focus.

“Now what we’re basically trying to do is really help distributed teams stay organized, collaborate together and keep moving along, but also do so in a really secure way and support IT, administrators and companies with some features around that as well, while staying true to Dropbox principles,” Young said.

This involves updating Spaces to be a full-fledged project management tool designed with a distributed workforce in mind. Spaces connects to other tools like your calendar, people directory, project management software — and of course files. You can create a project, add people and files, then set up a timeline and assign and track tasks, In addition, you can access meetings directly from Spaces and communicate with team members, who can be inside or outside the company.

Houston suggested a product like this could be coming in his September interview when he said:

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

Along these same lines, Young says the company itself plans to continue to be a remote first company even after the pandemic ends, and will continue to build tools to make it easier to collaborate and share information with that personal experience in mind.

Today’s announcement is a step in that direction. Dropbox Spaces has been in private beta and should be available at the beginning of next year.

Oct
26
2020
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Dropbox begins shift to high-efficiency Western Digital Shingled Magnetic Recording disks

Last year, Dropbox talked about making a shift to Shingled Magnetic Recording, or SMR disks for short, because of the efficiency they can give a high-volume storage platform like theirs. Today, Western Digital announced that Dropbox was one of the first companies to qualify their Ultrastar® DC HC650 20TB host-managed SMR hard disks.

Dropbox’s modern infrastructure story goes back to 2017, when it decided to shift most of its business from being hosted on AWS to building their own infrastructure. As they moved through the process of making that transition in the following years, they were looking for new storage technology ideas to help drive down the cost of running their own massive storage system.

As principal engineer James Cowling told TechCrunch last year, one of the ideas that emerged was using SMR:

What emerged was SMR, which has high storage density and a lower price point. Moving to SMR gave Dropbox the ability to do more with less, increasing efficiency and lowering overall costs — an essential step for a company trying to do this on its own. “It required expertise obviously, but it was also exciting to bring a lot of efficiencies in terms of cost and storage efficiency, while pulling down boundaries between software and hardware,” Cowling said.

As it turns out, Dropbox VP of engineering Andrew Fong says that the company has been working with Western Digital for a number of years and the new SMR technology is the latest step in that partnership.

Western Digital says these drives deliver this cost savings through increased storage density and lower power requirements. “When considering exabyte-scale needs, and associated capital and operating cost of the data center, the long-term value in terms of lower cost-per-TB, higher density, low power and high reliability can help benefit the bottom line,” the company said in a statement.

Time will tell if these disks deliver as promised, but they certainly show a lot of potential for a high-volume user like Dropbox.

Oct
09
2020
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How Roblox completely transformed its tech stack

Picture yourself in the role of CIO at Roblox in 2017.

At that point, the gaming platform and publishing system that launched in 2005 was growing fast, but its underlying technology was aging, consisting of a single data center in Chicago and a bunch of third-party partners, including AWS, all running bare metal (nonvirtualized) servers. At a time when users have precious little patience for outages, your uptime was just two nines, or less than 99% (five nines is considered optimal).

Unbelievably, Roblox was popular in spite of this, but the company’s leadership knew it couldn’t continue with performance like that, especially as it was rapidly gaining in popularity. The company needed to call in the technology cavalry, which is essentially what it did when it hired Dan Williams in 2017.

Williams has a history of solving these kinds of intractable infrastructure issues, with a background that includes a gig at Facebook between 2007 and 2011, where he worked on the technology to help the young social network scale to millions of users. Later, he worked at Dropbox, where he helped build a new internal network, leading the company’s move away from AWS, a major undertaking involving moving more than 500 petabytes of data.

When Roblox approached him in mid-2017, he jumped at the chance to take on another major infrastructure challenge. While they are still in the midst of the transition to a new modern tech stack today, we sat down with Williams to learn how he put the company on the road to a cloud-native, microservices-focused system with its own network of worldwide edge data centers.

Scoping the problem

Sep
25
2020
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The highest valued company in Bessemer’s annual cloud report has defied convention by staying private

This year’s Bessemer Venture Partners’ annual Cloud 100 Benchmark report was published recently and my colleague Alex Wilhelm looked at some broad trends in the report, but digging into the data, I decided to concentrate on the Top 10 companies by valuation. I found that the top company has defied convention for a couple of reasons.

Bessemer looks at private companies. Once they go public, they lose interest, and that’s why certain startups go in and out of this list each year. As an example, Dropbox was the most highly valued company by far with a valuation in the $10 billion range for 2016 and 2017, the earliest data in the report. It went public in 2018 and therefore disappeared.

While that $10 billion benchmark remains a fairly good measure of a solidly valued cloud company, one company in particular blew away the field in terms of valuation, an outlier so huge, its value dwarfs even the mighty Snowflake, which was valued at over $12 billion before it went public earlier this month.

That company is Stripe, which has an other-worldly valuation of $36 billion. Stripe began its ascent to the top of the charts in 2016 and 2017 when it sat behind Dropbox with a $6 billion valuation in 2016 and around $8 billion in 2017. By the time Dropbox left the chart in 2018, Stripe would have likely blown past it when its valuation soared to $20 billion. It zipped up to around $23 billion last year before taking another enormous leap to $36 billion this year.

Stripe remains an outlier not only for its enormous valuation, but also the fact that it hasn’t gone public yet. As TechCrunch’s Ingrid Lunden pointed out in an article earlier this year, the company has remained quiet about its intentions, although there has been some speculation lately that an IPO could be coming.

What Stripe has done to earn that crazy valuation is to be the cloud payment API of choice for some of the largest companies on the internet. Consider that Stripe’s customers include Amazon, Salesforce, Google and Shopify and it’s not hard to see why this company is valued as highly as it is.

Stripe came up with the idea of making it simple to incorporate a payments mechanism into your app or website, something that’s extremely time-consuming to do. Instead of building their own, developers tapped into Stripe’s ready-made variety and Stripe gets a little money every time someone bangs on the payment gateway.

When you’re talking about some of the biggest companies in the world being involved, and many others large and small, all of those payments running through Stripe’s systems add up to a hefty amount of revenue, and that revenue has led to this amazing valuation.

One other company you might want to pay attention to here is UIPath, the robotic process automation company, which was sitting just behind Snowflake with a valuation of over $10 billion. While it’s unclear if RPA, the technology that helps automate legacy workflows, will have the lasting power of a payments API, it certainly has come on strong the last couple of years.

Most of the companies in this report appear for a couple of years as they become unicorns, watch their values soar and eventually go public. Stripe up to this point has chosen not to do that, making it a highly unusual company.

Sep
15
2020
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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says the pandemic forced the company to reevaluate what work means

Dropbox CEO and co-founder Drew Houston, appearing at TechCrunch Disrupt today, said that COVID has accelerated a shift to distributed work that we have been talking about for some time, and these new ways of working will not simply go away when the pandemic is over.

“When you think more broadly about the effects of the shift to distributed work, it will be felt well beyond when we go back to the office. So we’ve gone through a one-way door. This is maybe one of the biggest changes to knowledge work since that term was invented in 1959,” Houston told TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino.

That change has prompted Dropbox to completely rethink the product set over the last six months, as the company has watched the way people work change in such a dramatic way. He said even though Dropbox is a cloud service, no SaaS tool in his view was purpose-built for this new way of working and we have to reevaluate what work means in this new context.

“Back in March we started thinking about this, and how [the rapid shift to distributed work] just kind of happened. It wasn’t really designed. What if you did design it? How would you design this experience to be really great? And so starting in March we reoriented our whole product road map around distributed work,” he said.

He also broadly hinted that the fruits of that redesign are coming down the pike. “We’ll have a lot more to share about our upcoming launches in the future,” he said.

Houston said that his company has adjusted well to working from home, but when they had to shut down the office, he was in the same boat as every other CEO when it came to running his company during a pandemic. Nobody had a blueprint on what to do.

“When it first happened, I mean there’s no playbook for running a company during a global pandemic so you have to start with making sure you’re taking care of your customers, taking care of your employees, I mean there’s so many people whose lives have been turned upside down in so many ways,” he said.

But as he checked in on the customers, he saw them asking for new workflows and ways of working, and he recognized there could be an opportunity to design tools to meet these needs.

“I mean this transition was about as abrupt and dramatic and unplanned as you can possibly imagine, and being able to kind of shape it and be intentional is a huge opportunity,” Houston said.

Houston debuted Dropbox in 2008 at the precursor to TechCrunch Disrupt, then called the TechCrunch 50. He mentioned that the Wi-Fi went out during his demo, proving the hazards of live demos, but offered words of encouragement to this week’s TechCrunch Disrupt Battlefield participants.

Although his is a public company on a $1.8 billion run rate, he went through all the stages of a startup, getting funding and eventually going public, and even today as a mature public company, Dropbox is still evolving and changing as it adapts to changing requirements in the marketplace.

May
20
2020
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BetterCloud scores $75M Series F as SaaS management needs grow

BetterCloud gives IT visibility into its SaaS tools providing the means to discover, manage and secure those tools. In the middle of a crisis that has forced most companies to move workers home, being able to manage SaaS usage in this way is growing increasingly significant.

Today the company announced a $75 million Series F. Warburg Pincus led the way with participation from existing investors Bain Capital Ventures, Accel, Greycroft Partners, Flybridge Capital Partners, New Amsterdam Growth Capital and e.ventures. Today’s round brings the total raised to $187 million, according to the company.

While CEO David Politis acknowledges the gravity of the current situation, he also recognizes that giving companies a way to manage their SaaS usage is more pertinent than ever. “What has happened in the last two months has been terrible for the world, but in some crazy way it has just made what we do a lot more relevant,” Politis told TechCrunch .

He says the pandemic has really accelerated the market opportunity because of the reliance on cloud services and the services his company provides.

Those services began as an operational layer on top of G Suite. Later it added support for Office 365 and in 2016 it moved to more general SaaS management. It now offers direct integrations into multiple SaaS apps including Box, Dropbox, Salesforce, Zendesk and more. The set of tools in Bettercloud gives IT control over security, configuration, spend optimization and auditability across SaaS applications.

In normal times after a large Series F round, we might be talking about this being the last round before an IPO, but Politis isn’t ready to commit to that just yet, especially in this economy. He does say, however, that he’s in it for the long haul and sees an opportunity to build a long-term, sustainable company.

“The last couple of months I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and when you take a $75 million round at the stage you’re not doing that because you want to sell the business. You’re doing that because you want to build something and build something really special,” he said.

Jan
29
2020
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Greylock’s Reid Hoffman and Sarah Guo to talk fundraising at Early Stage SF 2020

Early Stage SF is around the corner, on April 28 in San Francisco, and we are more than excited for this brand new event. The intimate gathering of founders, VCs, operators and tech industry experts is all about giving founders the tools they need to find success, no matter the challenge ahead of them.

Struggling to understand the legal aspects of running a company, like negotiating cap tables or hiring international talent? We’ve got breakout sessions for that. Wondering how to go about fundraising, from getting your first yes to identifying the right investors to planning the timeline for your fundraise sprint? We’ve got breakout sessions for that. Growth marketing? PR/Media? Building a tech stack? Recruiting?

We. Got. You.

Hoffman + Guo

Today, we’re very proud to announce one of our few Main Stage sessions that will be open to all attendees. Reid Hoffman and Sarah Guo will join us for a conversation around “How To Raise Your Series A.”

Reid Hoffman is a legendary entrepreneur and investor in Silicon Valley. He was an Executive VP and founding board member at PayPal before going on to co-found LinkedIn in 2003. He led the company to profitability as CEO before joining Greylock in 2009. He serves on the boards of Airbnb, Apollo Fusion, Aurora, Coda, Convoy, Entrepreneur First, Microsoft, Nauto and Xapo, among others. He’s also an accomplished author, with books like “Blitzscaling,” “The Startup of You” and “The Alliance.”

Sarah Guo has a wealth of experience in the tech world. She started her career in high school at a tech firm founded by her parents, called Casa Systems. She then joined Goldman Sachs, where she invested in growth-stage tech startups such as Zynga and Dropbox, and advised both pre-IPO companies (Workday) and publicly traded firms (Zynga, Netflix and Nvidia). She joined Greylock Partners in 2013 and led the firm’s investment in Cleo, Demisto, Sqreen and Utmost. She has a particular focus on B2B applications, as well as infrastructure, cybersecurity, collaboration tools, AI and healthcare.

The format for Hoffman and Guo’s Main Stage chat will be familiar to folks who have followed the investors. It will be an updated, in-person combination of Hoffman’s famously annotated LinkedIn Series B pitch deck that led to Greylock’s investment, and Sarah Guo’s in-depth breakdown of what she looks for in a pitch.

They’ll lay out a number of universally applicable lessons that folks seeking Series A funding can learn from, tackling each from their own unique perspectives. Hoffman has years of experience in consumer-focused companies, with a special expertise in network effects. Guo is one of the top minds when it comes to investment in enterprise software.

We’re absolutely thrilled about this conversation, and to be honest, the entire Early Stage agenda.

How it works

Here’s how it all works:

There will be about 50+ breakout sessions at the event, and attendees will have an opportunity to attend at least seven. The sessions will cover all the core topics confronting early-stage founders — up through Series A — as they build a company, from raising capital to building a team to growth. Each breakout session will be led by notables in the startup world.

Don’t worry about missing a breakout session, because transcripts from each will be available to show attendees. And most of the folks leading the breakout sessions have agreed to hang at the show for at least half the day and participate in CrunchMatch, TechCrunch’s app to connect founders and investors based on shared interests.

Here’s the fine print. Each of the 50+ breakout sessions is limited to around 100 attendees. We expect a lot more attendees, of course, so signups for each session are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Buy your ticket today and you can sign up for the breakouts that we’ve announced. Pass holders will also receive 24-hour advance notice before we announce the next batch. (And yes, you can “drop” a breakout session in favor of a new one, in the event there is a schedule conflict.)

Grab yourself a ticket and start registering for sessions right here. Interested sponsors can hit up the team here.


Jan
02
2020
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Moving storage in-house helped Dropbox thrive

Back in 2013, Dropbox was scaling fast.

The company had grown quickly by taking advantage of cloud infrastructure from Amazon Web Services (AWS), but when you grow rapidly, infrastructure costs can skyrocket, especially when approaching the scale Dropbox was at the time. The company decided to build its own storage system and network — a move that turned out to be a wise decision.

In a time when going from on-prem to cloud and closing private data centers was typical, Dropbox took a big chance by going the other way. The company still uses AWS for certain services, regional requirements and bursting workloads, but ultimately when it came to the company’s core storage business, it wanted to control its own destiny.

Storage is at the heart of Dropbox’s service, leaving it with scale issues like few other companies, even in an age of massive data storage. With 600 million users and 400,000 teams currently storing more than 3 exabytes of data (and growing) if it hadn’t taken this step, the company might have been squeezed by its growing cloud bills.

Controlling infrastructure helped control costs, which improved the company’s key business metrics. A look at historical performance data tells a story about the impact that taking control of storage costs had on Dropbox.

The numbers

In March of 2016, Dropbox announced that it was “storing and serving” more than 90% of user data on its own infrastructure for the first time, completing a 3-year journey to get to this point. To understand what impact the decision had on the company’s financial performance, you have to examine the numbers from 2016 forward.

There is good financial data from Dropbox going back to the first quarter of 2016 thanks to its IPO filing, but not before. So, the view into the impact of bringing storage in-house begins after the project was initially mostly completed. By examining the company’s 2016 and 2017 financial results, it’s clear that Dropbox’s revenue quality increased dramatically. Even better for the company, its revenue quality improved as its aggregate revenue grew.

Dec
05
2019
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Design may be the next entrepreneurial gold rush

Ten years ago, the vast majority of designers were working in Adobe Photoshop, a powerful tool with fine-tuned controls for almost every kind of image manipulation one could imagine. But it was a tool built for an analog world focused on photos, flyers and print magazines; there were no collaborative features, and much more importantly for designers, there were no other options.

Since then, a handful of major players have stepped up to dominate the market alongside the behemoth, including InVision, Sketch, Figma and Canva.

And with the shift in the way designers fit into organizations and the way design fits into business overall, the design ecosystem is following the same path blazed by enterprise SaaS companies in recent years. Undoubtedly, investors are ready to place their bets in design.

But the question still remains over whether the design industry will follow in the footprints of the sales stack — with Salesforce reigning as king and hundreds of much smaller startup subjects serving at its pleasure — or if it will go the way of the marketing stack, where a lively ecosystem of smaller niche players exist under the umbrella of a handful of major, general-use players.

“Deca-billion-dollar SaaS categories aren’t born everyday,” said InVision CEO Clark Valberg . “From my perspective, the majority of investors are still trying to understand the ontology of the space, while remaining sufficiently aware of its current and future economic impact so as to eagerly secure their foothold. The space is new and important enough to create gold-rush momentum, but evolving at a speed to produce the illusion of micro-categorization, which, in many cases, will ultimately fail to pass the test of time and avoid inevitable consolidation.”

I spoke to several notable players in the design space — Sketch CEO Pieter Omvlee, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Adobe Product Director Mark Webster, InVision VP and former VP of Design at Twitter Mike Davidson, Sequoia General Partner Andrew Reed and FirstMark Capital General Partner Amish Jani — and asked them what the fierce competition means for the future of the ecosystem.

But let’s first back up.

Past

Sketch launched in 2010, offering the first viable alternative to Photoshop. Made for design and not photo-editing with a specific focus on UI and UX design, Sketch arrived just as the app craze was picking up serious steam.

A year later, InVision landed in the mix. Rather than focus on the tools designers used, it concentrated on the evolution of design within organizations. With designers consolidating from many specialties to overarching positions like product and user experience designers, and with the screen becoming a primary point of contact between every company and its customers, InVision filled the gap of collaboration with its focus on prototypes.

If designs could look and feel like the real thing — without the resources spent by engineering — to allow executives, product leads and others to weigh in, the time it takes to bring a product to market could be cut significantly, and InVision capitalized on this new efficiency.

In 2012, came Canva, a product that focused primarily on non-designers and folks who need to ‘design’ without all the bells and whistles professionals use. The thesis: no matter which department you work in, you still need design, whether it’s for an internal meeting, an external sales deck, or simply a side project you’re working on in your personal time. Canva, like many tech firms these days, has taken its top-of-funnel approach to the enterprise, giving businesses an opportunity to unify non-designers within the org for their various decks and materials.

In 2016, the industry felt two more big shifts. In the first, Adobe woke up, realized it still had to compete and launched Adobe XD, which allowed designers to collaborate amongst themselves and within the organization, not unlike InVision, complete with prototyping capabilities. The second shift was the introduction of a little company called Figma.

Where Sketch innovated on price, focus and usability, and where InVision helped evolve design’s position within an organization, Figma changed the game with straight-up technology. If Github is Google Drive, Figma is Google Docs. Not only does Figma allow organizations to store and share design files, it actually allows multiple designers to work in the same file at one time. Oh, and it’s all on the web.

In 2018, InVision started to move up stream with the launch of Studio, a design tool meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch and, yes, Figma.

Present

When it comes to design tools in 2019, we have an embarrassment of riches, but the success of these players can’t be fully credited to the products themselves.

A shift in the way businesses think about digital presence has been underway since the early 2000s. In the not-too-distant past, not every company had a website and many that did offered a very basic site without much utility.

In short, designers were needed and valued at digital-first businesses and consumer-facing companies moving toward e-commerce, but very early-stage digital products, or incumbents in traditional industries had a free pass to focus on issues other than design. Remember the original MySpace? Here’s what Amazon looked like when it launched.

In the not-too-distant past, the aesthetic bar for internet design was very, very low. That’s no longer the case.

Sep
29
2019
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Why is Dropbox reinventing itself?

According to Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, 80% of the product’s users rely on it, at least partially, for work.

It makes sense, then, that the company is refocusing to try and cement its spot in the workplace; to shed its image as “just” a file storage company (in a time when just about every big company has its own cloud storage offering) and evolve into something more immutably core to daily operations.

Earlier this week, Dropbox announced that the “new Dropbox” would be rolling out to all users. It takes the simple, shared folders that Dropbox is known for and turns them into what the company calls “Spaces” — little mini collaboration hubs for your team, complete with comment streams, AI for highlighting files you might need mid-meeting, and integrations into things like Slack, Trello and G Suite. With an overhauled interface that brings much of Dropbox’s functionality out of the OS and into its own dedicated app, it’s by far the biggest user-facing change the product has seen since launching 12 years ago.

Shortly after the announcement, I sat down with Dropbox VP of Product Adam Nash and CTO Quentin Clark . We chatted about why the company is changing things up, why they’re building this on top of the existing Dropbox product, and the things they know they just can’t change.

You can find these interviews below, edited for brevity and clarity.

Greg Kumparak: Can you explain the new focus a bit?

Adam Nash: Sure! I think you know this already, but I run products and growth, so I’m gonna have a bit of a product bias to this whole thing. But Dropbox… one of its differentiating characteristics is really that when we built this utility, this “magic folder”, it kind of went everywhere.

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