Dropbox's head of enterprise says collaboration will set it apart

'This is a platform competition,' Ross Piper says

Ross Piper, Dropbox's vice president of enterprise Credit: Dropbox

Ross Piper, Dropbox's vice president of enterprise Credit: Dropbox

Ross Piper has his work cut out for him.

Hired by Dropbox in 2013 to help it attract business customers, the former Salesforce executive will now play a key role in the company's efforts to live up to its recent $10 billion valuation -- the subject of much industry skepticism.

"Enterprises are critical for us," said Piper, Dropbox's vice president of enterprise, in an interview. "They're the ones that help drive best practices."

Convincing the enterprise audience, however, is no easy feat. Offers of free storage tend to hold less sway than with consumers, while security and administrative controls are paramount. Meanwhile, there's competition from the likes of Google, Microsoft, Apple and Box.

"It has always been a competitive market," he said.

Dropbox launched to the public back in 2008 and quickly became synonymous with the new category of cloud-based file synchronization and sharing services. Consumers became accustomed to using Dropbox for their personal files; they then began using it to share work files as well.

As a result, Dropbox for Business was launched in early 2013, adding enterprise-friendly administrative controls, integration with Active Directory and Salesforce, and a raft of security features and certifications. It has gone from having three global offices last year to about 11 now in almost as many countries.

Dropbox claims some 100,000 paying organizational customers around the globe, including Yahoo!, Absolut, Spotify, News Corp. and Under Armour. In all, 97 percent of Fortune 500 companies use Dropbox, it says.

(For comparison, Box claims 47,000 organizations on the enterprise side, including more than 50 percent of the Fortune 500.)

"It took Salesforce over 10 years to get to 100,000 companies," Piper said.

The company is private and does not disclose financials, but there are now 400 million people around the world registered to use Dropbox, amounting to 2.1 billion shared folders and links. Roughly 1.2 billion files are synced on the service each day; some 35 billion Microsoft Office files are stored there.

That longstanding popularity with individuals, in fact, is a big part of Dropbox's advantage over competitors on the enterprise side, Piper said.

"People underestimate the importance of that," he said. "If you want security and control, you want it on something people will use. With Dropbox, it's almost guaranteed you'll get adoption."

As the market for cloud storage has matured and become more competitive, however, it's no longer enough to provide access. Instead, Piper believes collaboration -- fueled by the 2.1 billion connections already existing in the service -- is what will set Dropbox apart for business users.

"Giving people access to their information on any device has driven a lot of the early momentum around Dropbox," he explained. "Next, there's the collaboration phase -- once you have access to the data, who will you share it with? That's what will drive extra value for individuals and businesses."

Also increasingly critical will be openness to users and technologies of all kinds, Piper said.

"This is a platform competition," he said. "You can't be unique to one segment, and you can't just be enterprise-to-enterprise. Companies want the freedom to choose what lets them work across boundaries."

Looking ahead, Dropbox will continue its two-pronged push to be the best tool for end users while also adding the extras enterprises need in order to be able to trust the service. "In cloud subscriptions, you have to earn the business again and again," Piper said.

As for that $10 billion valuation, "we need to work with industry leaders to help them find new ways to collaborate," Piper said. "If you think about all the enterprise potential out there, we have a long ways to go."

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