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Dropbox:你从未听说过的最热门新创公司

JP Mangalindan 2011年03月28日

做一家向大众提供在线存储和分享服务的公司?这个设想算不上新颖,不过凭借其巨大的用户数量,Dropbox或许真的能做到这一点。

    所有风险投资家和天使投资人近来津津乐道的新创企业不再是社交媒体公司,也不是兜售优惠券的团购网站。科技界现在的宠儿是Dropbox。该公司成立于4年前,旨在向个人和企业用户提供云计算服务。云计算这个词可谓包罗万象,囊括了各种通过互联网提供的服务。

    毕业于麻省理工学院的杜鲁•休斯顿在2007年和他人一道创立了Dropbox。当时,休斯顿经常找不到自己的USB,并因此深感不便。由于无法找到更便捷的替代品,他就像许多企业家一样,开始自己动手开发。

    Dropbox允许用户在“电子存储箱”里存放图片、个人文档、音乐等数码文件,用户几乎可以通过任何互联网设备访问和分享这些文件。Dropbox的优势在于易用性。你只需下载该工具,创建账号,接下来就可以使用了。用户能将自己所有的数码文件都放到一个位于云端的虚拟文件夹里,并能通过Dropbox的应用程序和网页操作自己所存放的文件,就好像它们存放在普通的电脑文件夹里一样。用户还可以在图片库里浏览图片,或是将其分享给其它非Dropbox用户。

    Forrester分析师弗兰克•吉列特表示:“他们说道,‘瞧,你不用在自己机器里一个一个地操作文件夹,你只用操作Dropbox的一个文件夹就够了,它好用极了。’Dropbox的高度集中性令人惊艳,给大家留下了深刻印象。”

    SalesForce.com首席执行官马克•贝尼奥夫认识休斯顿,他表示自己在关注该公司,并同意上述看法。贝尼奥夫表示:“我能上传一个文件,然后在任何地方都能访问它,这棒极了。”

    因此,虽然Dropbox缺少市场宣传,而且还有许多同类型的公司在竞争,但它仍吸引到了数百万忠实用户。用户使用Dropbox联合创作书籍,甚至调配多台自动转向农用拖拉机。

    大卫•戈德堡是众多用户中的一员,他是在线问卷调查公司Survey Monkey的首席执行官,同时还是休斯顿的朋友。去年,休斯顿通过Dropbox分享了一些他们聚餐的照片,戈德堡因此迷上了Dropbox。如今,Survey Monkey利用Dropbox进行文件分享,而戈德堡最近还将家人“发展”成了Dropbox的用户。

    戈德堡表示:“这并不是个新概念,但如果你能在合适的时间、适当的地点,用正确的团队制作出对的产品,那就能取得成功。我认为这就是Dropbox取得成功的原因。虽然在Facebook之前,许多人就有过社交网络的体验,但让社交变得容易、快捷、纯粹和简洁,并且能基于用户的需求继续完善产品,这些同样重要。”

    硅谷的业内人士将Dropbox的成功主要归功于用户的口耳相传,以及它颇具吸引力的推荐计划。Dropbox使用的是免费增值商业模式:用户可以免费使用2G存储空间(更大的存储空间收费最高达20美元/月),但如果用户的任何朋友注册了免费或付费的Dropbox账号,那么推荐者和被荐者均能获得额外的250MB存储空间。此外,Dropbox还获得了一些上佳的植入式广告:它在苹果(Apple)应用程序商店(App Store)中被列为“特色应用”。

    Dropbox获得的风险投资很少,这令人颇为惊讶。四年前,Dropbox从保罗•格雷汉姆的Y Combinator获得创业种子基金。它还从Sequoia Capital、Accel Partners等投资者手中获得大约700万美元投资,这和Groupon今年早些时候获得的10亿美元投资相比,简直九牛一毛。不过,许多投资家都渴望投资Dropbox,其中包括罗恩•康威,他表示自己曾目睹硅谷大约70%新创公司的交易。

    Dropbox为什么这么火?因为Dropbox运营开支很小,只有大约45名雇员。据传闻,它的年增长率超过10倍,而且现金流为正。知情人士称Dropbox 2010年的营收已达到公司内部的2011年销售预测,贝尼奥夫也预测Dropbox今年的营收将达到1亿美元(Dropbox拒绝对此置评)。其它人则认为该公司也许已价值10亿至20亿美元,科技创业者普拉文•雅门就持有这种看法,他是休斯顿的朋友,并曾和休斯顿一同工作过。庞大的估值使Dropbox成为绝佳的收购对象,并能使投资者获得丰厚的退出收益;Dropbox还可能成长为消费级云领域一家主要的独立公司。这诚然是好的信号,不过Dropbox似乎不太把自己当回事。该公司的招聘页面显示的是随机卡通图片——手持AK-47的霸王龙骑在一只大白鲨上。

    显然,收购谈判有时与其说是一门科学,不如说是一门艺术,涉及到某家公司的估值时更是如此。谷歌(Google)和亚马逊(Amazon)显然不会袖手旁观,前者通过Gmail提供在线存储,后者有自己的亚马逊网络服务(Web Services),他们都可能强势进入Dropbox的领域。不过,各种迹象表明,Dropbox已获得足够的动力和“逃逸速度”,将在云领域尘埃落定时胜出,成为少数真正的赢家之一。这才是正事,不管Dropbox网站上有没有卡通霸王龙。

    译者:项航

    The startup on every venture and angel investor's lips these days isn't a social media company or a site hawking coupons. No, the tech world is currently enamored with Dropbox, a four-year-old company that aims to bring cloud computing -- that catchall phrase corporations use to describe services delivered via the Internet -- to consumers and businesses.

    MIT graduate Drew Houston co-founded the startup in 2007, when he got tired of keeping track of his USB thumb drive. Without a quick and easy replacement, he did what any entrepreneur would do: created one himself.

    Dropbox lets users store digital files -- photos, personal documents, music -- in an electronic locker that the owner can access or share on nearly any Net-connected device. Its strength lies in its simplicity. Download the utility, create an account, and you're ready to go. Users put all their electronic files in a virtual folder -- the one that lives in the cloud -- where they can interact with the files via the Dropbox app or website as if they were in any regular computer folder, view photos in Gallery format, and share them with non-users.

    "They've said, 'Look, rather than try to do every folder on your machine, do it with one folder, and do a killer job at it," says Forrester analyst Frank Gillett. "That extreme focus has produced the 'Wow' factor to really impress people."

    SalesForce.com (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff, who knows Houston and says he follows the company, agrees. "I can take a file, access it anywhere, and it just works," he says.

    Which is why, despite scant marketing and loads of competition, the service has earned millions of devoted customers who use it for tasks like co-writing books or even coordinating multiple self-steering farm tractors.

    One of them is Dave Goldberg, CEO of the online questionnaire company Survey Monkey and a friend of Houston's. Last year, Houston shared photos of a dinner they had together via Dropbox, and Goldberg got hooked. Survey Monkey relies on Dropbox for file sharing, and Goldberg more recently converted his family to the service.

    "It's not a new concept, but sometimes you have the right team in the right place at the right time with the right product, and it just clicks," he says. "I kind of think that's what Dropbox is and has done. Lots of people have done social networking before Facebook, but making it easy, fast, clean and simple, and then iterating based on what consumers want is also important."

    Silicon Valley insiders attribute Dropbox's success mostly to word of mouth and an attractive referral program. The service uses a "freemium" model where the first two gigabytes of storage is free (more capacity costs up to $20 a month), but for every friend who signs up for a free or paid account, both the referral and the referrer get an additional 250 MB. Dropbox also earned some choice product placement: It's a featured app in the Apple App Store.

    Dropbox has also accepted surprisingly little venture funding. It received seed money from Paul Graham's Y Combinator four years ago and snagged about $7 million from Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, and others -- a pittance compared with the nearly $1 billion raised by Groupon earlier this year. Meanwhile, investors like angel Ron Conway, who says he sees roughly 70% of all startup deals in the Valley, are dying to get in on a piece of the company.

    What gives? Thanks to a lean operation with some 45 employees, Dropbox reportedly experiences well over 10 times year-over-year growth and positive cash flow. Sources say its revenue met internal 2011 sales projections in 2010, and Benioff predicts sales could hit $100 million this year. (The company declined to comment.) Others, like tech entrepreneur Praveen Yajman, another friend and former coworker of Houston's, indicate the company may already be worth between $1 billion and $2 billion, making it ripe for acquisition and a healthy exit for investors, or setting it up to be a major independent player in the consumer cloud race. Good signs to be sure, and yet, the company doesn't appear to be taking itself too seriously. Case in point: Dropbox's jobs page has a random cartoon AK-47-wielding T-Rex riding a great white shark.

    Obviously such shop talk, particularly about a company's valuation, can sometimes be more art than science. And there's little to stop Google (GOOG), which offers online storage through Gmail, and Amazon (AMZN), with its own Amazon Web Services, from making a greater push into Dropbox's territory. But all signs point to the fact that the company has enough general support and escape velocity to become one of the few real winners in the cloud once the dust settles, which cartoon dinosaur or not, is some serious business.

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