DropBox: or How I learned to sidestep formal systems and love simplicity

Posted by Kate Jurras on Wed, Mar 28, 2012

Guest post by John Francis. John is a former 3-term MITX board member, a DropBox user (not an investor or an employee), an advisor to several early stage technology firms, and a consultant to several software and technology firms. He can be reached at jfrancis@ontios.com

Enterprise software is complex, DropBox is simple.
Enterprise software is functionally robust, DropBox single-purpose.
Enterprise software is sold, DropBox infiltrates.  

DropBox is for individuals and small teams – but it is used throughout organization of all shapes and sizes.

DropBox isn’t sold so much as it is adopted.

It isn’t sanctioned so much as it sidesteps what is sanctioned.

As a veteran of both the software and technology marketing world, I am intrigued by applications like DropBox that grow virally without some overdone marketing campaign or an application interface that is so overwhelmed by extraneous features that it’s not clear what benefit the application provides to its users.   

Simplicity wins.  

Are there other more robust applications available in DropBox’s market? Absolutely. But droves of users are embracing the clean interface, simple functional model and friendly pricing. In many ways this embrace of simplicity within the enterprise is a natural outgrowth of the “Consumerization of the Enterprise.” Whether driven by the embrace of Salesforce by enterprises that had previously relied on older, more robust software like Siebel’s CRM solution, or developers embracing Amazon’s AWS platform, simplicity is the driving force in the enterprise. And it is clearly the driving force within the adoption of DropBox.  

Which is not to say that DropBox is trivial – quite the contrary, it takes more thought, effort and development prowess to create functionally useful, albeit simple to use applications than it does to create bloated software that has no clear concept of its intended user. Simple software is not the same thing as trivial software.  

From a business perspective, the creation of intuitive software that can be sold and supported cost- effectively opens up opportunities that have typically given software companies tremendous difficulties – the transition from interesting to ubiquitous. While Steve Jobs may have (purportedly) dismissed DropBox as a feature (and the evolution of Apple’s iCloud may yet prove this to be true), to this point their growth has been phenomenal and their reported valuation has gone up into a very interesting neighborhood.  Simplicity isn’t just a user benefit, it can also be a profound source of competitive advantage.  

Simplicity delivers value to both the vendor and the user.  

Meanwhile, legacy enterprise software vendors grapple with client satisfaction issues, the transition to the cloud, the implications of SaaS licensing and the long experienced, seldom addressed issue of “time to benefit.”  Keep it up DropBox, whether you are the tool of choice by virtue of a corporate decision or in spite of a corporate decision.  

Postscript:  Having finished this note the day before DropBox released the update to their solution, I am interested to see how DropBox’s changes are embraced. While not revolutionary, they do seek to put DropBox on the road toward offering a more robust solution.