Oct
25
2018
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Dropbox expands Paper into planning tool with timelines

Dropbox has been building out Paper, its document-driven collaboration tool since it was first announced in 2015, slowly but surely layering on more functionality. Today, it added a timeline feature, pushing beyond collaboration into a light-weight project planning tool.

Dropbox has been hearing that customers really need a way to plan with Paper that was lacking. “That pain—the pain of coordinating all those moving pieces—is one we’re taking on today with our new timelines feature in Dropbox Paper,” the company wrote in a blog post announcing the new feature.

As you would expect with such a tool, it enables you to build a timeline with milestones, but being built into Paper, you can assign team members to each milestone and add notes with additional information including links to related documents.

You can also embed a To-do lists for the person assigned to a task right in the timeline to help them complete the given task, giving a single point of access for all the people assigned to a project

Gif: Dropbox

“Features like to-dos, @mentions, and due dates give team members easy ways to coordinate projects with each other. Timelines take these capabilities one step further, letting any team member create a clean visual representation of what’s happening when—and who’s responsible,” Dropbox wrote in the blog post announcement.

Dropbox has recognized it cannot live as simply a content storage tool. It needs to expand beyond that into collaboration and coordination around that content, and that’s what Dropbox Paper has been about. By adding timelines, the company is looking to expand that capability even further.

Alan Lepofsky, who covers the “future of work” for Constellation Research sees Paper as part of the changing face of collaboration tools. “I refer to the new breed of content creation tools as digital canvases. These apps simplify the user experience of integrating content from multiple sources. They are evolving the word-processor paradigm,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

It’s probably not going to replace a project manager’s full-blown planning tools any time soon, but it at least the potential to be a useful adjunct for the Paper arsenal to allow customers to continue to find ways to extract value from the content they store in Dropbox.

Sep
27
2018
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Dropbox overhauls internal search to improve speed and accuracy

Over the last several months, Dropbox has been undertaking an overhaul of its internal search engine for the first time since 2015. Today, the company announced that the new version, dubbed Nautilus, is ready for the world. The latest search tool takes advantage of a new architecture powered by machine learning to help pinpoint the exact piece of content a user is looking for.

While an individual user may have a much smaller body of documents to search across than the World Wide Web, the paradox of enterprise search says that the fewer documents you have, the harder it is to locate the correct one. Yet Dropbox faces of a host of additional challenges when it comes to search. It has more than 500 million users and hundreds of billions of documents, making finding the correct piece for a particular user even more difficult. The company had to take all of this into consideration when it was rebuilding its internal search engine.

One way for the search team to attack a problem of this scale was to put machine learning to bear on it, but it required more than an underlying level of intelligence to make this work. It also required completely rethinking the entire search tool from an architectural level.

That meant separating two main pieces of the system, indexing and serving. The indexing piece is crucial of course in any search engine. A system of this size and scope needs a fast indexing engine to cover the number of documents in a whirl of changing content. This is the piece that’s hidden behind the scenes. The serving side of the equation is what end users see when they query the search engine, and the system generates a set of results.

Nautilus Architecture Diagram: Dropbox

Dropbox described the indexing system in a blog post announcing the new search engine: “The role of the indexing pipeline is to process file and user activity, extract content and metadata out of it, and create a search index.” They added that the easiest way to index a corpus of documents would be to just keep checking and iterating, but that couldn’t keep up with a system this large and complex, especially one that is focused on a unique set of content for each user (or group of users in the business tool).

They account for that in a couple of ways. They create offline builds every few days, but they also watch as users interact with their content and try to learn from that. As that happens, Dropbox creates what it calls “index mutations,” which they merge with the running indexes from the offline builds to help provide ever more accurate results.

The indexing process has to take into account the textual content assuming it’s a document, but it also has to look at the underlying metadata as a clue to the content. They use this information to feed a retrieval engine, whose job is to find as many documents as it can, as fast it can and worry about accuracy later.

It has to make sure it checks all of the repositories. For instance, Dropbox Paper is a separate repository, so the answer could be found there. It also has to take into account the access-level security, only displaying content that the person querying has the right to access.

Once it has a set of possible results, it uses machine learning to pinpoint the correct content. “The ranking engine is powered by a [machine learning] model that outputs a score for each document based on a variety of signals. Some signals measure the relevance of the document to the query (e.g., BM25), while others measure the relevance of the document to the user at the current moment in time,” they explained in the blog post.

After the system has a list of potential candidates, it ranks them and displays the results for the end user in the search interface, but a lot of work goes into that from the moment the user types the query until it displays a set of potential files. This new system is designed to make that process as fast and accurate as possible.

Sep
03
2018
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Dropbox drops some enhancements to Paper collaboration layer

When you’re primarily a storage company with enterprise aspirations, as Dropbox is, you need a layer to to help people use the content in your system beyond simple file sharing. That’s why Dropbox created Paper, to act as that missing collaboration layer. They announced some enhancements to Paper to keep people working in their collaboration tool without having to switch programs.

“Paper is Dropbox’s collaborative workspace for teams. It includes features where users can work together, assign owners to tasks with due dates and embed rich content like video, sound, photos from Youtube, SoundCloud, Pinterest and others,” a Dropbox spokesperson told TechCrunch.

With today’s enhancements you can paste a number of elements into Paper and get live previews. For starters, they are letting you link to a Dropbox folder in Paper, where you can view the files inside the folder, even navigating any sub-folders. When the documents in the folder change, Paper updates the preview automatically because the folder is actually a live link to the Dropbox folder. This one seems like a table stakes feature for a company like Dropbox.

Gif: Dropbox

In addition, Dropbox now supports Airtables, a kind of souped up spreadsheet. With the new enhancement, you just grab an Airtable embed code and drop it into Paper. From there, you can see a preview in whatever Airtable view you’ve saved the table.

Finally, Paper now supports LucidCharts. As with Airtables and folders, you simply paste the link and you can see a live preview inside Paper. If the original chart changes, updates are reflected automatically in the Paper preview.

By now, it’s clear that workers want to maintain focus and not be constantly switching between programs. It’s why Box created the recently announced Activity Stream and Recommended Apps. It’s why Slack has become so popular inside enterprises. These tools provide a way to share content from different enterprise apps without having to open a bunch of tabs or separate apps.

Dropbox Paper is also about giving workers a central place to do their work where you can pull live content previews from different apps without having to work in a bunch of content silos. Dropbox is trying to push that idea along for its enterprise customers with today’s enhancements.

Aug
09
2018
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Dropbox is crashing despite beating Wall Street expectations, announces COO Dennis Woodside is leaving

Back when Dennis Woodside joined Dropbox as its chief operating officer more than four years ago, the company was trying to justify the $10 billion valuation it had hit in its rapid rise as a Web 2.0 darling. Now, Dropbox is a public company with a nearly $14 billion valuation, and it once again showed Wall Street that it’s able to beat expectations with a now more robust enterprise business alongside its consumer roots.

Dropbox’s second quarter results came in ahead of Wall Street’s expectations on both the earnings and revenue front. The company also announced that Dennis Woodside will be leaving the company. Woodside joined at a time when Dropbox was starting to figure out its enterprise business, which it was able to grow and transform into a strong case for Wall Street that it could finally be a successful publicly traded company. The IPO was indeed successful, with the company’s shares soaring more than 40 percent in its debut, so it makes sense that Woodside has essentially accomplished his job by getting it into a business ready for Wall Street.

“I think as a team we accomplished a ton over the last four and a half years,” Woodside said in an interview. “When I joined they were a couple hundred million in revenue and a little under 500 people. [CEO] Drew [Houston] and Arash [Ferdowsi] have built a great business, since then we’ve scaled globally. Close to half our revenue is outside the U.S., we have well over 300,000 teams for our Dropbox business product, which was nascent there. These are accomplishments of the team, and I’m pretty proud.”

The stock initially exploded in extended trading by rising more than 7 percent, though even prior to the market close and the company reporting its earnings, the stock had risen as much as 10 percent. But following that spike, Dropbox shares are now down around 5 percent. Dropbox is one of a number of SaaS companies that have gone public in recent months, including DocuSign, that have seen considerable success. While Dropbox has managed to make its case with a strong enterprise business, the company was born with consumer roots and has tried to carry over that simplicity with the enterprise products it rolls out, like its collaboration tool Dropbox Paper.

Here’s a quick rundown of the numbers:

  • Q2 Revenue: Up 27 percent year-over-year to $339.2 million, compared to estimates of $331 million in revenue.
  • Q2 GAAP Gross Margin: 73.6 percent, as compared to 65.4 percent in the same period last year.
  • Q2 adjusted earnings: 11 cents per share compared, compared to estimates of 7 cents per share.
  • Paid users: 11.9 million paying users, up from 9.9 million in the same quarter last year.
  • ARPU: $116.66, compared to $111.19 same quarter last year.

So, not only is Dropbox able to show that it can continue to grow that revenue, the actual value of its users is also going up. That’s important, because Dropbox has to show that it can continue to acquire higher-value customers — meaning it’s gradually moving up the Fortune 100 chain and getting larger and more established companies on board that can offer it bigger and bigger contracts. It also gives it the room to make larger strategic moves, like migrating onto its own architecture late last year, which, in the long run could turn out to drastically improve the margins on its business.

“We did talk earlier in the quarter about our investment over the last couple years in SMR technology, an innovative storage technology that allows us to optimize cost and performance,” Woodside said. “We continue to innovate ways that allow us to drive better performance, and that drives better economics.”

The company is still looking to make significant moves in the form of new hires, including recently announcing that it has a new VP of product and VP of product marketing, Adam Nash and Naman Khan, respectively. Dropbox’s new team under CEO Drew Houston are tasked with continuing the company’s path to cracking into larger enterprises, which can give it a much more predictable and robust business alongside the average consumers that pay to host their files online and access them from pretty much anywhere.

In addition, there are a couple executive changes as Woodside transitions out. Yamini Rangan, currently VP of Business Strategy & Operations, will become Chief Customer Officer reporting to Houston, and comms VP Lin-Hua Wu will also report to Houston.

Dropbox had its first quarterly earnings check-in and slid past the expectations that Wall Street had, though its GAAP gross margin slipped a little bit and may have offered a slight negative signal for the company. But since then, Dropbox’s stock hasn’t had any major missteps, giving it more credibility on the public markets — and more resources to attract and retain talent with compensation packages linked to that stock.

“Our retention has been quite strong,” Woodside said. “We see strong retention characteristics across the customer set we have, whether it’s large or small. Obviously larger companies have more opportunity to expand over time, so our expansion metrics are quite strong in customers of over several hundred employees. But even among small businesses, Dropbox is the kind of product that has gravity. Once you start using it and start sharing it, it becomes a place where your business is small or large is managing all its content, it tends to be a sticky experience.”

Aug
08
2018
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Dropbox hires a new VP of product and VP of product marketing

After a largely successful IPO, Dropbox is adding another couple of hires today as it looks to continue its consumer-slash-enterprise growth playbook: bringing on a new VP of product in former CEO and president of Wealthfront Adam Nash; and a new VP of product marketing and global campaigns in Naman Khan.

Both have extensive experience from products that span multiple different verticals, with Nash previously working at LinkedIn and eBay and Khan spending time with Microsoft Office and Autodesk. The company went public earlier this year to a pretty successful IPO, though the stock hasn’t seen any dramatic fireworks, and has accumulated more than 500 million registered users in its decade-plus life. But it’s also gone through a kind of transition as it starts expanding into more enterprise-focused collaboration tools as it looks to woo businesses, which represent a substantial opportunity for growth for the company that started off as a dead-simple file-sharing service.

Previously an entrepreneur-in-residence for Greylock, Nash is now going to oversee a wide range of products that span consumer-focused file storage and sharing services all the way up to its Google Docs competitor Paper — each of which has a kind of consumer-born aesthetic that’s targeting use cases within enterprises, whether that’s building tools to get documents into its service or to actually helping teams spec out products within a kind of continuous document like Paper. But as it focuses on simplicity, Dropbox has to take care not to end up feature-creeping its way out of what made it successful initially, so the final product decisions may be a bit different. Naman will also inherit that challenge of marketing a consumer-oriented product that’s targeting businesses.

As Dropbox looks to continue to mature as a public company, it has to ensure that it still brings on talent that understands where it’s going now as it tries to wrangle larger enterprise customers that have a complex set of needs beyond just the typical consumer. Going public certainly helps with that credibility a little bit, but it’s hires like these that will determine what kinds of products actually make it out the door and the messaging that goes with them — and whether larger enterprises will actually adopt them.

Aug
08
2018
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Dropbox hires a new VP of product and VP of product marketing

After a largely successful IPO, Dropbox is adding another couple of hires today as it looks to continue its consumer-slash-enterprise growth playbook: bringing on a new VP of product in former CEO and president of Wealthfront Adam Nash; and a new VP of product marketing and global campaigns in Naman Khan.

Both have extensive experience from products that span multiple different verticals, with Nash previously working at LinkedIn and eBay and Khan spending time with Microsoft Office and Autodesk. The company went public earlier this year to a pretty successful IPO, though the stock hasn’t seen any dramatic fireworks, and has accumulated more than 500 million registered users in its decade-plus life. But it’s also gone through a kind of transition as it starts expanding into more enterprise-focused collaboration tools as it looks to woo businesses, which represent a substantial opportunity for growth for the company that started off as a dead-simple file-sharing service.

Previously an entrepreneur-in-residence for Greylock, Nash is now going to oversee a wide range of products that span consumer-focused file storage and sharing services all the way up to its Google Docs competitor Paper — each of which has a kind of consumer-born aesthetic that’s targeting use cases within enterprises, whether that’s building tools to get documents into its service or to actually helping teams spec out products within a kind of continuous document like Paper. But as it focuses on simplicity, Dropbox has to take care not to end up feature-creeping its way out of what made it successful initially, so the final product decisions may be a bit different. Naman will also inherit that challenge of marketing a consumer-oriented product that’s targeting businesses.

As Dropbox looks to continue to mature as a public company, it has to ensure that it still brings on talent that understands where it’s going now as it tries to wrangle larger enterprise customers that have a complex set of needs beyond just the typical consumer. Going public certainly helps with that credibility a little bit, but it’s hires like these that will determine what kinds of products actually make it out the door and the messaging that goes with them — and whether larger enterprises will actually adopt them.

May
22
2018
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Dropbox beefs up mobile collaboration in latest release

Dropbox announced several enhancements today designed to beef up its mobile offering and help employees on the go keep up with changes to files stored in Dropbox .

In a typical team scenario, a Dropbox user shared a file with a team member for review or approval. If they wanted to check the progress of this process, the only way to do it up until now was to send an email or text message explicitly asking if the person looked at it yet — not a terribly efficient workflow.

Dropbox recognized this and has built in a fix in the latest mobile release. Now users can can simply see who has looked at or taken action on a file directly from the mobile application without having to leave the application.

In addition, those being asked to review files can see those notifications right at the top of the Home screen in the mobile app, making the whole feedback cycle much more organized.

Photo: Dropbox

Joey Loi, product manager at Dropbox says this is a much more streamlined way to understand activity inside of Dropbox. “With this feature, we think about the closing loop on collaboration. At its heart, collaboration is feedback flows. When I change something on a file, there are a few steps before [my co-worker] knows I’ve changed it,” Loi explained. With this feature that feedback loop can close much faster.

The company also changed the way it organizes and displays files putting the files that you opened most recently at the top of the Home screen, which is somewhat like Recents in Google Drive. It also provides a way to favorite a file and puts those files that are most important at the top of the list, making it easier to find the files that are likely most important to you more quickly when you access the mobile app.

Finally you can now drag and drop a file from an email into a Dropbox folder in a mobile context.

While none of these individual updates are earth shattering changes by any means, they do make it easier for users to access, share and work with files in Dropbox on a mobile device. “All the features are to help teams collaborate and be efficient on mobile,” Loi said.

May
10
2018
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Dropbox beats expectations for its first quarterly check-in with Wall Street

Dropbox made its debut as a public company earlier this year and today passed through its first milestone of reporting its results to public investors, and it more or less beat expectations set for Wall Street on the top and bottom line.

The company reported more revenue and beat expectations for earnings that Wall Street set, bringing in $316.3 million in revenue and appearing to pick up momentum among its paying user base. It also said it had 11.5 million paying users, a jump from last year. However, the stock was largely flat in extended trading. One small negative signal — and it definitely appears to be a small one — was that its GAAP gross margin slipped slightly to 61.9% from 62.3% a year earlier. Dropbox is a software company that’s supposed to have great margins as it begins to ramp up its own hardware, but that slipping margin may end up being something that investors will zero in on going forward. Still, as the company continues to ramp up the enterprise component of its business, the calculus of its business may change over time.

This is a pretty important moment for the company, as it was a darling in Silicon Valley and rocketed to a $10 billion valuation in the early phases of the Web 2.0 era but began to face a ton of criticism as to whether it could be a robust business as larger companies started to offer cloud storage as a perk and not a business. Dropbox then found itself going up against companies like Box and Microsoft as it worked to create an enterprise business, but all this was behind closed doors — and it wasn’t clear if it was able to successfully maneuver its way into a second big business. Now the company is beholden to public shareholders and has to show all this in the open, and it serves as a good barometer of not just storage and collaboration businesses, but also some companies that are looking to drastically simplify workflow processes and convert that into a real business (like Slack, for example).

Here’s the final scorecard for the company:

  • Q1 revenue: $316.3 million, compared to Wall Street estimates of $308.7 million (up 28% year over year.)
  • Q1 earnings: 8 cents per share adjusted, compared to Wall Street estimates of 5 cents per share adjusted.
  • Paying users: 11.5 million, up from 9.3 million in the same period last year.
  • GAAP gross margin: 61.9%, down from 62.3% last year in the same period last year.
  • Non-GAAP gross margin: 74.2%, up from 63.5% in the same period last year.
  • Free cash flow: $51.9 million, down from $56.5 million in the same period last year.

(The GAAP and non-GAAP comparison is typically related to share-based compensation, which is a key component of employee compensation and retention.)

Dropbox was largely considered to be a successful IPO, rising more than 40% in its trading debut. That does mean that it may have left some money on the table, but its operating losses have been largely stable, even as it looks to woo larger enterprise customers as it — which is a bit of a taller order than its typical growth amid consumers that’s heavily driven by organic growth. Those larger enterprise customers offer more stable, and larger, revenue streams than a consumer base that faces a variety of options as many companies start to offer free storage. The company is now worth well over that original $10 billion valuation as a public company. Dropbox says it has more than 500 million users.

Since going public, the stock has had its ups and downs, but for the most part hasn’t dipped below that significant jump it saw from day one. Keeping that number propped up — and growing — is an important part of growing a business as a public company as it waves off more intense scrutiny and pressure for change from public shareholders, as well as offering competitive compensation packages for incoming employees in order to attract the best talent. It’s also good for morale as it offers a kind of grade for how the company is doing in the eyes of the public, though CEOs of companies often say they are committed toward long-term goals. The company’s shares are up around 11% since going public.

While there have been a wave of enterprise IPOs this year, including zScalar and Pluralsight’s upcoming IPO, Dropbox was largely considered to be a potential gauge of whether the IPO window was still open this year because of its hybrid nature. Dropbox started off as a consumer company based around a dead-simple approach of hosting and sharing files online, and used that to build a massive user base even as the cost of cloud storage was rapidly commoditized. But it also is building a robust enterprise-focus business, and continues to roll out a variety of tools to woo those businesses with consistent updates to products like its document tool Paper. Last month, the company started rolling out templates, as it looked to make traditional workflow processes easier and easier for companies in order to capture their interest much in the same way it captured the interest of consumers at large.

Apr
26
2018
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Dropbox rolls out a templates tool for its Paper online document service

As Dropbox looks to woo larger and larger businesses with its strategy of building simpler collaboration tools than what’s on the market, it’s making some moves in its online document tool Paper to further reduce that friction today.

Dropbox said it was rolling out a new tool for Dropbox Paper that allows users to get a paper document up and running through a set of templates. It may seem like something that would be table stakes for a company looking to create an online document tool like Google Docs, but figuring out what Paper’s core use cases look like can take a lot of thinking and user research before finally pulling the trigger. Dropbox at its heart hopes to have a consumer feel for its products, so preserving that as it looks to build more robust tools presents a bigger challenge for the freshly-public company.

The templates tool behaves pretty much like other tools out there: you open Dropbox Paper, and you’ll get the option to create a document from a number of templates. Some common use cases for Dropbox Paper include continuous product development timelines and design specs, but it seems the company hopes to broaden that by continuing to integrate new features like document previews. Dropbox Paper started off as a blank slate, but given the number of options out there, it has to figure out a way to differentiate itself eventually.

The company said it’s also rolling out a number of other small features. That includes a way to pin documents, launch presentations, format text and insert docs and stickers. There’s also a new meeting widget and increased formatting options in the comments section in Paper. Finally, it’s adding a number of small quality-of-life updates like viewing recent Paper docs by alphabetical order and the ability to unsubscribe to comment notifications and archive docs on iOS, as well as aggregating to-do lists across docs.

Dropbox went public earlier this year to dramatic success, immediately getting that desired “pop” and more or less holding it throughout the past month or so as one of the first blockbuster IPOs of 2018. There have been a wave that have followed since, including DocuSign, and it’s one of a batch of several enterprise companies looking to get out the door now that it appears the window is open for investor demand for fresh IPOs.

Paper, to that end, appears to be a key piece of the puzzle for Dropbox. The company has always sought to be a company centered around simple collaboration tools, coming from its roots as a consumer company to start. It’s an approach that has served it — and others, like Slack — well as the company looks to expand more and more into larger enterprises. While it’s been able to snap up users thanks to its simpler approach, those enterprise deals are always more lucrative and serve as a stronger business line for Dropbox.

Dropbox will have to continue to not only differentiate itself from Google Docs and other tools, but also an emerging class of startups that’s looking to figure out ways to snap up some of the core use cases of online document tools. Slite, for example, hopes to capture the internal wiki and note-taking portion of an online doc system like Google Docs. That startup raised $4.4 million earlier this month. There’s also Coda, a startup that’s looking to rethink what a document looks altogether, which raised $60 million. Templates are one way of reducing that friction and keeping it feeling like a simple document tool and hopefully getting larger businesses excited about its products.

Apr
25
2018
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Drew Houston to upload his thoughts at TC Disrupt SF in September

Dropbox is a critically important tool for more than 500 million people, which is why we’re so excited to have founder and CEO Drew Houston on the Disrupt stage in September.

Dropbox launched back in 2007 and Houston has spent the last decade growing Dropbox to the behemoth it is today.

During that time, Houston has made some tough decisions.

A few years ago, Houston decided to move the Dropbox infrastructure off of AWS. In 2014, Houston chose to raise $500 million in debt financing to keep up pace with Box, which was considering an IPO at the time. And in March 2017, Dropbox took another $600 million in debt financing from JP Morgan.

Houston also reportedly turned down a nine-figure acquisition offer from Apple.

All the while, Houston led Dropbox to be cash-flow positive and grew the company to see a $1 billion revenue run rate as of last year.

And, of course, we can’t forget the decision to go public earlier this year.

Interestingly, Houston first told his story to a TechCrunch audience at TC50 in 2008 as part of the Startup Battlefield. In fact, you can check out the original pitch from TC50 right here.

At Disrupt SF in September, we’re excited to sit down with Houston to discuss his journey thus far, the decision to go public and the future of Dropbox.

The show runs from September 5 to September 7, and for the next week, our super early-bird tickets are still available.

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