How Dropbox is bringing the enterprise on board

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright October 7, 2019
In an exclusive interview, Dropbox Chief Customer Officer Yamini Rangan tells us how the digital collaboration vendor aims to win enterprise hearts and minds

Dropbox CCO Yamini Rangan speaks on a panel at Work in Progress 2019
Yamini Rangan, Dropbox

It's frequently assumed that cloud file sharing and collaboration vendor Dropbox primarily serves the consumer market, and is striving to break into the business and enterprise space. The numbers suggest otherwise, as Yamini Rangan, Chief Customer Officer at Dropbox, told me in the wake of the company's recent Work in Progress conference.

There is this huge [mismatch] in terms of what we are perceived, versus the transformation that we've had in our business in providing Dropbox as a tool for teams and a tool for work.

Based on a survey of Dropbox registered users in the UK and US markets carried out earlier this year, three-quarters of its 600 million user base already use Dropbox in a business context, she explains. Some 10% or more are individual freelancers or sole proprietors, who use it for sharing work with clients. Another 40% are users in the SMB segment, while a quarter use Dropbox for work in a midmarket or large enterprise.

We have 25% in the midmarket and enterprise segment — it's already there — what is unique is how we go to market within that segment.

How Dropbox finds its way into those enterprise accounts is not dissimilar to how earlier SaaS pioneers such as Salesforce first got started in the enterprise market — finding accounts where several teams had already adopted the tool, and then going in to sign an enterprise-wide contract. The main difference is that today Dropbox uses machine learning to help identify its best prospects.

National Geographic is a case in point, where viral adoption had led to several pockets of users in four or five different parts of the business. After Dropbox followed up with the publisher's leadership, that is now scaling out to a worldwide deployment. This is how Dropbox parlays its consumer-pedigree ease of adoption into enterprise-scale relevance.

We leverage the bottoms-up adoption that is already happening within companies greater than 250 employees. We identify communities of users that are using us for very specific use cases, and then target having conversations within those communities, expanding the value proposition that we have, and then drive more scale deployments. It's a very data science driven model.

Pitch to the C-suite

Once the data science has identified an enterprise prospect and the sales process is put in motion, the pitch to the C-suite is all about empowering employees to do their best work, Rangan says.

Your biggest asset is your employee base, and the more you can get out of that employee base in a productive manner, certainly the more output for you as an organization. Are they doing work for work, or are they actually able to focus and get the best, in terms of the work done? That's the question that we pose.

Certainly it gives us a very different way to engage with the C-suite within midmarket and enterprise companies, because that question is of critical importance. Think of it as cognitive capital. If you had a way to measure the cognitive capital within the company and say, do you care about improving that? I think most members of the C-suite will be like, 'Yeah, I absolutely care about it, tell me how to do that.'

Rangan is no stranger to the enterprise landscape, having worked at Workday prior to joining Dropbox, and previously at cloud integrator Appirio and enterprise giant SAP. But the challenge at Dropbox is on a different scale. This summer the vendor launched a new desktop app that moves away from its original guise as an overlay to the native file folder.

The new app provides a more feature-rich workspace for team collaboration. At the Work in Progress conference, that workspace concept was launched as Dropbox Spaces. Now the company has to educate customers and prospects exactly what's possible with this new approach to digital work. Rangan admits there's a lot to do:

You will always have a handful of customers that are leading-edge, that come to our conference and listen to everything that we have to say, and then go back home and opt into it and adopt. They are leveraging the full value of Dropbox.

Then you have a broader mainstream, where they may use Dropbox for sharing and collaboration, but they don't maybe understand the value of smart sync, or they don't understand the value of the collaborative tray [which tracks team activity in the workspace], or they don't understand the power of ML [machine learning].

So there is an opportunity for us to educate our customer base, and have them adopt a wider breadth of features for Dropbox, and also educate them on the value that Dropbox provides, in the broader sense.

Change management

This means changing people's work habits. Rangan found that her workday routine changed after Dropbox internally rolled out the new smart workspace. Where she used to start out by checking and responding to emails, now she looks to see what her team have been working on, or what she needs to prepare for any meetings in her schedule. Introducing those new routines requires some change management effort, she acknowledges.

As knowledge workers, we're used to working in a certain way. I think we would need to encourage, drive awareness and help our customers to work slightly differently, in order to get more productivity out of their workdays ...

It takes a lot of work to change something as simple as where do you start, and how do you go about doing your work?

As well as supporting more productive teamwork, the new Dropbox also aims to help people navigate more easily across the various digital tools they are using as part of work today.

This is an important conversation that's happening in a lot of the collaborative vendors and productivity suites, because the future of work cannot be more tools. It is how do you get the right tools? How do you make sure that a core set of tools provides you the ability to get more out of your employee base?

This is where the business world can learn from the consumer sphere, she adds:

What is interesting is that in the consumer realm, things have really taken shape in terms of personalized, curated, more intelligent experiences. That same thing has not happened enough in work. That needs to happen — the intelligent, curated, personalized, in-work experience — we have to start caring more about it.

Vertical strategy

Dropbox is cultivating certain key vertical industries, and is also expanding across geographies, with offices in 14 different countries. In the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) market, where media is an important industry for Dropbox, the company is also seeing a lot of interest in manufacturing. In Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ), construction and education are seen as key verticals.

Construction companies use Dropbox because of the need to collaborate with outside contractors, often on mobile, she explains.

At any given time, you may have hundreds of projects, and each of those projects, you have contractors, civil engineers, interior designers, people that are on location in that project. That's ripe for collaboration.

Because Dropbox is fairly easy to use in its bottoms up adoption, it's easy for them to say, 'Okay, per project, we're going to set up a Dropbox Space, a shared workspace for everybody.' And then people can look at it from mobile devices, from iPads, from desktops, and then be able to coordinate.

The use case in manufacturing is similar, with companies running projects where they need to co-ordinate with design teams, product teams, and customers.

In the US, the industry base is broader, especially in enterprise. As well as media, there are examples across healthcare, construction, manufacturing and insurance, she says.

My take

Dropbox's enterprise ambitions have a careful steward in Rangan. The strategy of targeting verticals while expanding into new markets internationally is measured and methodical. There is a lot to do, though, now that the company has cranked up the scope of its offering. The pitch of helping enterprises get more out of their cognitive capital sounds persuasive, but the education and change management required to deliver on that promise may prove daunting.

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