This week I had a chance to catch up with the folks at Dropbox, it’s been a busy time there with the acquisition of HelloSign and the launch of a radical redesign of the Dropbox Business UI. I have been following the firm (and in full disclosure was a past advisor to them) for quite a few years and watched their growth and transformation with interest. However, what has most interested me about the company is their corporate culture and their approach to design and product development.
As an analyst, I visit with and get to know many technology firms, and everyone is different. When I started my career, I was amazed by the difference between Documentum & FileNet (then arch rivals). Spending time in the Documentum offices in Pleasanton was a starkly different experience to time in the FileNet HQ in Costa Mesa. It is not so much that one was better than the other, far from it, it is just that they were so very different. The same can be said of Google versus Microsoft or Oracle versus IBM. Corporate cultures mold the way the company thinks about product design and how it interacts with its customers and the market as a whole.
The Dropbox culture is on the one hand epitome of Silicon Valley, young and very tech-centric. On the other hand, it’s design-driven first and foremost, driven by customer feedback and insights. Rather than an army of developers that know best (the usual Silicon Valley approach), Dropbox listens and studies its customers and their needs carefully. That’s refreshing, and what is driving what the firm likes to call ‘The New Dropbox.’
What that means in practical terms is that Dropbox no longer wants to be seen as a file sharing and storage firm, and wants to become your core daily workplace. It’s got a ways to go before it achieves that aim, but the delivery of its new collaborative UI (aka portal) is a good start. Rather than the traditional file tree structure (though that remains for those that want it) Dropbox now has a shared working space, that is file as opposed to message (think Slack & Teams) centric. However, maybe the biggest surprise is the fact that the workspace is not all about Dropbox, it embraces and shares your Google and O365 files too. The goal is to pull together fragmented content, communications, and team members in one place. It’s not a new concept, those of old enough to remember will recall the portal craze of the early ’00s. However, few have managed to pull it off in a clean and straightforward way. So to give credit where it is due, Dropbox for Business is a well thought out and intuitive workspace application.
That’s not to say Dropbox has had a slam dunk here, the Dropbox for Business UI is good, I like it. But I certainly hope to see full calendar integration, more integrations with 3rd party apps, more workflow and leveraging HelloSign capabilities embedded in the future. Those things should be on the Dropbox roadmap, less likely to be on the roadmap but equally important is the recognition that not everything is in the cloud, nor will it ever be. Cloud only was a great approach to launch and differentiate, but despite all the buzz around cloud-first initiatives, the reality of the working world is that on-premise files are not going away any time soon. The majority of essential business documents and files live in on-premise email systems, file shares, and repositories. At some point, Dropbox and its competitors will have to accept that reality and bridge that gap.