Dropbox IPO: What's Next for the $9.2B Cloud Storage Co?
San Francisco-based, cloud-storage provider Dropbox, led by founder and CEO Drew Houston, began trading on NASDAQ today, March 23, with an initial share price of $21 -- higher than many expected. While the IPO places Dropbox's (DBX) value at nearly $9.2 billion, that's still somewhat lower than the $10 billion valuation DropBox had during its last round of private funding in 2014.
With individuals and businesses alike generating and managing ever-more data -- think everything from expense reports and vacation selfies to term papers and customer service records -- few can doubt there's a real market for cloud-based storage services like Dropbox. But the 11-year-old company's initial public offering today opens up a wide variety of new questions regarding Wall Street's expectations for the firm.
Among those questions: Can Dropbox move a larger segment of its users from free consumer accounts to paid premium services? Does Dropbox offer enough appeal for enterprise users with more demanding technology and service requirements? And, can Dropbox differentiate itself enough from a very large field of competitors to make it as a publicly traded company?
Large User Base, Though Not All Paid
Founded in 2007, Dropbox has expanded its initial cloud-based file sharing and storage offering through a variety of partnerships and acquisitions. It currently claims some 500 million users, although many are consumers with free subscriptions. The company's total paid user base of 11 million includes around 150,000 businesses.
In its July 2017 Magic Quadrant report on content collaboration platforms, analyst firm Gartner placed Dropbox in the "Leader" category along with competitors like Box, Microsoft, Citrix, and Google. Gartner rated Dropbox highly for the speed and reliability of its software, but offered cautions about Dropbox technical support and integration capabilities. It also noted that, unlike some storage providers, Dropbox does not allow customers to use its services via hybrid IT or on-premises deployments.
"Dropbox Business is a good fit for organizations aiming to enable modern file productivity and collaboration with external parties, prioritizing on user experience and flexibility," Gartner said in its report. "In fact, with this enterprise offering, organizations can pursue broad user acceptance, particularly when users are familiar with Dropbox's service as a personal tool and [are] accustomed to working with it."
Gradual Growth or Eventual Giant?
In its analysis yesterday, Barron's envisioned two possible futures for the publicy-traded company's continued growth: a gradual development in which ever-more features lead more customers to opt for paid subscriptions, or an evolution into becoming the leading choice for cloud-based data storage.
"Dropbox has partnerships with cloud computing companies like Salesforce," Barron's noted. That could some day make it "a kind of critical infrastructure that spans the different compute clouds," from Amazon Web Services to Microsoft's Azure to Google Cloud, "to new clouds not yet built."
In an interview today with Morningstar, equity analyst Jeremy Glaser said Dropbox's offering is no longer as innovative as it was when it first launched. Glaser characterized Dropbox in its current form as more of a commoditized, consumer-focused company than a competitor like Box, which specializes in enterprise storage.
"I think it really comes down to executing on the enterprise front," Glaser said. "If they show that they can integrate themselves with large businesses who will continue using the product, we think that could create some switching costs down the line and really help them financially."
Image credit: Dropbox; Artist's concept.