Dropbox wants shadow IT to drive enterprise adoption

The company is building out new collaboration tools to attract business users, too

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2015 Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston speaks at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco on Sept. 21, 2015 Credit: Blair Hanley Frank

Dropbox is one of the great success stories of the consumer cloud. The startup's vision of a folder that can sync across a user's computers and mobile devices has translated into a multibillion dollar valuation and widespread consumer adoption.

But that hasn't meant success in the business market. Dropbox is facing massive competition from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Box and other companies that want to push their solutions. CEO Drew Houston told an audience at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco that Dropbox has 130,000 businesses paying for its enterprise service. It's a paltry number compared to Google Drive for Work's 1 million active users.

There's one key thing that Dropbox has going for it: users inside companies are already using its product without the authorization of administrators. When the company goes to pitch a large business like News Corp. on adopting Dropbox for Business, salespeople can already point to the thousands of users of its technology inside the company.

"With Dropbox, [pitching the service to IT administrators is] like, 'Hey, as you know, thousands of people are already using Dropbox in your company, and we have all these awesome ways for you to manage that the way you manage all the other infrastructure in your company," Houston said.

In addition, Houston said that the company has made developing collaboration tools for its platform a priority. The company announced a team feature for business users on Monday morning that allows users to create a group of users inside Dropbox for business and then easily share resources with them.

Dropbox is also building out more sophisticated tools, like the Notes product it's testing in a private beta. Notes allows users to write documents simultaneously online, similar to features inside Office, Google Drive and other collaboration services.

The company has made some key acquisitions along those lines, including CloudOn, an Israeli productivity tools startup. The company also hired Justin Hileman, one of the co-founders of presentation sharing software Presentate.

The cloud storage market isn't sitting still and waiting for Dropbox to catch up, though. Microsoft is boosting its collaboration tools, and already has the buy-in of major businesses who have been using Office for decades. Box is also pushing its capabilities as a collaboration platform beyond basic storage, and Google Drive for Work includes a wildly popular collaboration suite.

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