Jun
11
2019
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Dropbox relaunches as an enterprise collaboration workspace

Dropbox is evolving from a file-storage system to an enterprise software portal, where you can coordinate work with your team. Today the company launches a new version of Dropbox that allows you to launch apps with shortcuts for G Suite and more, plus use built-in Slack message-sending and Zoom video calls. It lets you search across all your files on your device and inside your other enterprise tools, and communicate and comment on your team’s work. Dropbox is also becoming a task manager, with the ability to add notes and tag co-workers in to-do lists attached to files.

The new Dropbox launches today for all of its 13 million business users across 400,000 teams plus its consumer tiers. Users can opt-in here for early access and businesses can turn on early access in their admin panel. “The way we work is broken,” CEO Drew Houston said to cue up the company’s mission statement: “to design a more enlightened way of working.”

Dropbox seems to have realized that file storage by itself is a dying business. With storage prices dropping and any app being able to add their own storage system, it needed to move up the enterprise stack and become a portal that opens and organizes your other tools. Becoming the enterprise coordination layer is a smart strategy, and one that it seems Slack was happy to partner into rather than building itself.

As part of the update, Dropbox is launching a new desktop app for all users so it won’t have to live inside your Mac or Windows file system. When you click a file, you can see a preview and presence data about who has viewed it, who is currently and who has access.

The launch includes deep integrations with Slack, so you can comment on files from within Dropbox, and Zoom, so you can video chat without leaving the workspace. Web and enterprise app shortcuts relieve you from keeping all your other tools constantly open in other tabs. Dropbox’s revamped search tool lets you crawl across your computer’s file system and all your cloud storage across other productivity apps.

But what’s most important about today’s changes is that Dropbox is becoming a task-management app. Each file lets you type out descriptions, to-do lists and tag co-workers to assign them tasks. An Activity Feed per file shows comments and actions from co-workers so you don’t have to collaborate in a separate Google Doc or Slack channel.

When asked about how Dropbox decided who to partner with (Slack, Zoom) versus who to copy (Asana), VP of biz dev Billy Blau essentially dodged the question while citing the “shared ethos” of Dropbox’s partners.

Houston kicked off the San Francisco launch event by pointing out that it’s easier to find info from the public than our own company’s knowledge that’s scattered across our computers and the cloud. The “Finder” on our computers hasn’t evolved to embrace a post-download era. He described how people spend 60% of our office time on work about work, like organization and communication, instead of actually working — a marketing angle frequently used by task-management startup Asana that Dropbox is now competing with more directly. “We’re going to help you get a handle on all this ‘work about work,’ ” Dropbox writes. Yet Asana has been using that phrase as a core of its messaging since 2013.

Now Dropbox wants to be your file tree, your finder and your desktop for the cloud. The question is whether files are always the central unit of work that comments and tasks should be pegged to, or whether it should be the task and project at the center of attention with files attached.

It will take some savvy onboarding and persistence to retrain teams to see Dropbox as their workspace instead of their computer’s desktop or their browser. But if it can become the identity and collaboration layer that connects the fragmented enterprise software, it could outlive file storage and stay relevant as new office tools emerge.

Apr
05
2019
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On balance, the cloud has been a huge boon to startups

Today’s startups have a distinct advantage when it comes to launching a company because of the public cloud. You don’t have to build infrastructure or worry about what happens when you scale too quickly. The cloud vendors take care of all that for you.

But last month when Pinterest announced its IPO, the company’s cloud spend raised eyebrows. You see, the company is spending $750 million a year on cloud services, more specifically to AWS. When your business is primarily focused on photos and video, and needs to scale at a regular basis, that bill is going to be high.

That price tag prompted Erica Joy, a Microsoft engineer to publish this Tweet and start a little internal debate here at TechCrunch. Startups, after all, have a dog in this fight, and it’s worth exploring if the cloud is helping feed the startup ecosystem, or sending your bills soaring as they have with Pinterest.

For starters, it’s worth pointing out that Ms. Joy works for Microsoft, which just happens to be a primary competitor of Amazon’s in the cloud business. Regardless of her personal feelings on the matter, I’m sure Microsoft would be more than happy to take over that $750 million bill from Amazon. It’s a nice chunk of business, but all that aside, do startups benefit from having access to cloud vendors?

Apr
02
2019
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How to handle dark data compliance risk at your company

Slack and other consumer-grade productivity tools have been taking off in workplaces large and small — and data governance hasn’t caught up.

Whether it’s litigation, compliance with regulations like GDPR or concerns about data breaches, legal teams need to account for new types of employee communication. And that’s hard when work is happening across the latest messaging apps and SaaS products, which make data searchability and accessibility more complex.

Here’s a quick look at the problem, followed by our suggestions for best practices at your company.

Problems

The increasing frequency of reported data breaches and expanding jurisdiction of new privacy laws are prompting conversations about dark data and risks at companies of all sizes, even small startups. Data risk discussions necessarily include the risk of a data breach, as well as preservation of data. Just two weeks ago it was reported that Jared Kushner used WhatsApp for official communications and screenshots of those messages for preservation, which commentators say complies with record keeping laws but raises questions about potential admissibility as evidence.

Jan
28
2019
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Dropbox snares HelloSign for $230M, gets workflow and e-signature

Dropbox announced today that it intends to purchase HelloSign, a company that provides lightweight document workflow and e-signature services. The company paid a hefty $230 million for the privilege.

Dropbox’s SVP of engineering, Quentin Clark, sees this as more than simply bolting on electronic signature functionality to the Dropbox solution. For him, the workflow capabilities that HelloSign added in 2017 were really key to the purchase.

“What is unique about HelloSign is that the investment they’ve made in APIs and the workflow products is really so aligned with our long-term direction,” Clark told TechCrunch. “It’s not just a thing to do one more activity with Dropbox, it’s really going to help us pursue that broader vision,” he added. That vision involves extending the storage capabilities that is at the core of the Dropbox solution.

This can also been seen in the context of the Extension capability that Dropbox added last year. HelloSign was actually one of the companies involved at launch. While Clark says the company will continue to encourage companies to extend the Dropbox solution, today’s acquisition gives it a capability of its own that doesn’t require a partnership and already is connected to Dropbox via Extensions.

Fast integration

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis, who has been following this market for many years, says the fact it’s an Extensions partner should allow much faster integration than would happen normally in an acquisition like this. “Simple document processes that relate to small and medium business are still largely manual. The fact that HelloSign has solutions for things like real estate, insurance and customer/employee on boarding, plus the existing extension to Dropbox, means it can be leveraged quickly for revenue growth by Dropbox, Pelz-Sharpe explained.

He added that the size of the deal shows there is high demand for these kinds capabilities. “It is a very high multiple, but in such a fast growth area not an unreasonable one to demand for a startup showing such growth potential. The price suggests that there were almost certainly other highly motivated bidders for the deal,” he said.

HelloSign CEO Joseph Walla says being part of Dropbox gives HelloSign access to resources of a much larger public company, which should allow it to reach a broader market than it could on its own. “Together with Dropbox, we can bring more seamless document workflows to even more customers and dramatically accelerate our impact,” Walla said in a blog post announcing the deal.

HelloSign remains standalone

Whitney Bouck, COO at HelloSign, who previously held stints at Box and EMC Documentum, said the company will remain an independent entity. That means it will continue to operate with its current management structure as part of the Dropbox family. In fact, Clark indicated that all of the HelloSign employees will be offered employment at Dropbox as part of the deal.

“We’re going to remain effectively a standalone business within the Dropbox family, so that we can continue to focus on developing the great products that we have and delivering value. So the good news is that our customers won’t really experience any massive change. They just get more opportunity,” Bouck said.

Alan Lepofsky, an analyst at Constellation Research who specializes in enterprise workflow, sees HelloSign giving Dropbox an enterprise-class workflow tool, but adds that the addition of Bouck and her background in enterprise content management is also a nice bonus for Dropbox in this deal. “While this is not an acqui-hire, Dropbox does end up with Whitney Bouck, a proven leader in expanding offerings into enterprise scale accounts. I believe she could have a large impact in Dropbox’s battle with her former employer Box,” Lepofsky told TechCrunch.

Clark said that it was too soon to say exactly how it will bundle and incorporate HelloSign functionality beyond the Extensions. But he expects that the company will find a way to integrate the two products where it make sense, even while HelloSign operates as a separate company with its own customers.

When you consider that HelloSign, a Bay Area startup that launched in 2011, raised just $16 million, it appears to be an impressive return for investors and a solid exit for the company. 

The deal is expected to close in Q1 and is, per usual, dependent on regulatory approval.

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.

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