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Dropbox Zeros In on an Enterprise Strategy

A new plan to win corporate accounts is gaining steam.

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Chances are pretty good that if you’re a customer of Dropbox, the cloud storage and file-sharing company, you’re using it at work. Among its 200 million customers are a lot of people using it at more than four million companies.

Having snuck into the business world on the initiative of millions of employees wanting to be more productive from home and while on the road, six-year-old Dropbox is now officially embracing the enterprise. That effort is the charge of Ross Piper, its VP for enterprise strategy.

Piper joined Dropbox from, where he was a senior VP and for five years ran that company’s enterprise strategy. We caught up over breakfast in New York this week while he was in town to open the company’s new office in Manhattan. Its primary purpose will be to focus on building out Dropbox’s enterprise business and to be close to many of its customers.

The first big step was adding a management tool that allows corporate IT departments to set rules for enterprise accounts. After launching the tool a year ago, Piper said, the company has spent a lot of time rebuilding it. The next step was handling the delicate business of separating work and personal accounts.

“After we launched the admin console, we realized we had to solve something that not a lot of other companies have faced — separating work and personal,” Piper said. That involved spending the better part of the last year rebuilding almost every aspect of Dropbox for Business.

The result, he said, is a two-tiered personal and work experience that brings with it a redefined notion of control of stored files. When you have your own Dropbox account and then join a company that also has its own account, your experience will be split into two — one you control, and one the IT department controls. When you leave the company, you lose access to your work files, but not your personal ones. Plus, you can wipe any personal files that may be on work PCs or phones.

Simple enough to understand, complicated to build, Piper said. “Given that all of our business users are still using the core Dropbox process, we had to rebuild every client, every device client, all the APIs. We had to redefine identity across the service in order to handle two types of data.” Some companies choose to block access to personal accounts, but that’s an option, he said.

Since the relaunch, Dropbox is seeing a lot of growth, in particular among media, tech and retail companies, he said. Hence the opening of the office in New York. Clients with a big presence in Manhattan include retailer BCBG, MacMillan Publishers, the ad agency Huge and National Geographic magazine.

But the vision for the enterprise business is bigger than simply adding a management layer. Dropbox users will be able to do more than simply store and share their files. “Our next approach is to allow people to do all their work in Dropbox,” Piper said.

He wouldn’t get specific, but said the plan calls for taking advantage of the fact that Dropbox is widely integrated into not only the operating systems of Macs, PCs, smartphones and tablets but also within lot of different applications and combinations with other services.

Example: Dropbox was one several companies, including Evernote and Dropbox rival Box, to team up with on the launch of Salesforce1. The deal allows Salesforce clients using the Salesforce1 mobile app to access their Dropbox files directly. Expect more integrations like that.

Wherever there’s an opportunity to store data from an application, data that changes on the fly, Dropbox will help the companies that make those applications take advantage of its ability to keep that data in sync. “We’re going to make a big effort to see that people can try to do everything they need for their job within the Dropbox platform. We want to be the underpinning environment for that.”

It’ll all become clearer on April 9, he said, when Dropbox makes a series of announcements around all this. A big piece of the announcement will concern the details of this “work and personal” split. But expect there to be more.

It’s all part of the flurry of activity around Dropbox in recent weeks. Last month it tapped Dennis Woodside, a longtime Google exec who ran Motorola Mobility while it was a subsidiary of the Web giant, as its COO. Days later it filed papers with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission concerning a massive $350 million round of funding that values Dropbox at $10 billion. That round was led by private equity firm BlackRock. Dropbox is widely thought to be headed for an IPO later this year.

Dropbox founder Drew Houston will be speaking at the Code Conference in May.

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