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Dropbox founder Drew Houston responds to IPO rumours, reveals new collaboration features

Tom Macaulay | Dec. 8, 2016
Rumours of an IPO are swirling around Dropbox, with speculation linking the company to a potential valuation from Wall Street. Internet entrepreneur Drew Houston addresses the speculation, and details his strategy to take Dropbox from its file-sharing origins to a collaboration platform.

The 33-year-old confirmed that Steve Jobs had called Dropbox a feature not a product when they told him the company wasn't for sale in 2009. Houston remains bullish on the business' financial prospects.

"If having half a billion users and the business we do is a feature, then I'm happy to have a feature," he says.

The vast majority of the company's revenues is either self-serve or very light touch, said Dropbox COO Dennis Woodside. The monetisation model is more akin to that of Slack than the conventional, sales-heavy approach of the aforementioned Box, he added.

"Our view is over time, the combination of scale and innovation will create a winning company and create ubiquity that makes Dropbox a more attractive choice," he says. "That ubiquity has it's own value over time."

Dropbox Paper

The comparison with Slack is especially notable. Dropbox is making a concerted effort to move from file-sharing to collaboration.

'It's evolving from keeping files in sync to keeping teams in sync," says Woodside. "Dropbox is increasingly a place where people get work done, it's where they talk. It's not just about storage, it's really about the sharing."

The partnerships that Dropbox has built up in recent years give it a good head start. Dropbox is now integrated with products including Office 365 and Adobe Acrobat and "several hundred thousand" other partners including the aforementioned Slack.

Dropbox has established two key objectives to succeed in its strategy. The company wants to both create a unified content home for work teams, and build a more collaborative experience around files.

The latter objective will be spearheaded by Dropbox Paper, the company's new real-time collaborative document editor that is currently in beta.

What makes Paper different from other collaborative document editors such as Google Docs, says Houston, is its variety of features and integration with other products and files.

"You can embed a Photoshop file in there, you can embed a bunch of photos in there, you can embed a Google Doc in there," he explains. "Paper is a great example of how we can tie together all these different ecosystems and start to lay down the tracks to be able to search across all these different cloud platforms."

The nature of file-sharing is changing fast. The growth in smartphones, bring your own device (BYOD) policies and remote working is creating new challenges for data access in businesses.

Dropbox hopes Paper will help propel them towards a prominent position in the growing market for collaborative tools, whether the company goes public or not.


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