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Dropbox, the company that has made "your files, anywhere" a reality for some 45m users, confirmed yesterday that it has raised a whopping $250m Series B at a rumored valuation of $4bn.

Also revealed yesterday: the fact that in 2009, then-Apple CEO Steve Jobs invited Dropbox's two twenty-something co-founders to a meeting in which he offered to acquire their company for a nine-figure amount.

That offer, of course, was turned down. Dropbox's young founders, despite their admiration for Jobs, weren't interested in taking a big payday and walking away. They wanted to build a business of their own and told Jobs on the spot that they could not accept his offer.

Jobs, as the story goes, informed them that he'd be going after their market, and gave them some advice couched in a warning: "he said we were a feature, not a product." That's a sentiment that some are echoing as Dropbox's $250m funding round cements its status as one of Silicon Valley's hottest startups.

Forbes' David Coursey, for instance, wrote, "My bet is that five years from now, most users will think of Dropbox only in the context of 'Whatever happened to?'" Arik Hesseldahl of AllThingsDigital doesn't make as bold a prediction, but he does suggest "Houston may yet live to regret turning Jobs down." Similar sentiments are voiced by others.

But is Dropbox really just a feature, and if it is, does it really matter? In my opinion, answer to the former is 'perhaps', but the answer to the latter is 'probably not.'

Lost in most of the debates over features versus products, which is not exclusive to Dropbox. is a simple fact: features aren't always easy. Yes, what Dropbox does might be simple enough in theory to be considered a 'feature' in another product, but that doesn't mean that building something like Dropbox is a walk in the park.

Dropbox has made getting your files into the cloud and syncing them to all of your connected devices a generally painless experience. That sounds straightforward, but behind the scenes, the company has had to build support for a significant number of devices, platforms and OSes. On the backend, Dropbox deals with a massive amount of data. Neither is a small feat, let alone for a startup that is still relatively lean.

Does that mean that Dropbox won't be eclipsed by the Apples, Microsofts and Googles of the world? Of course not. But if Dropbox does fall by the wayside, it won't be because it didn't try to become more than a 'feature'; it will be because those companies recognized that what Dropbox offers, feature or product, offered immense value to its users.

The truth of the matter is that there are plenty of products that don't offer much value, or that offer less value that their competitors. The fact that they're 'products' (and not 'features') doesn't change that fact. Dropbox, and all companies, should keep this in mind.

Your customers don't care whether you're feature or a product. They're looking for a solution to a problem, and you're either solving that problem effectively or you're not. Everything else is moot.

Patricio Robles

Published 19 October, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)

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Brian Layman

This article assumes the word "feature" is synonymous with the term "service". I don't really think that's the case. I some ways you can say dropbox supplies for missing features in your operating system, but only in the way an carpet cleaning service provides for missing features of your house (self-cleaning rugs). Or WordPress developers provide the missing features in someone's online-retail product.

Dropbox provides a service in a way that doesn't make people stop and think about what they need to do. It is seamless and pretty much bug free.

A company that provides a service many people need in a way that requires no thought or effort is always a good investment.

almost 5 years ago

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Zylun

Quite a bold move to turn down a Jobs offer! I agree that the key to Dropbox's success is its simplicity. While the Apples and Googles of the world will try to match them in this area to compete for market share, Dropbox's early start will be an advantage. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to watch how this competition unfolds.

almost 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Dropbox is one of those applications that I really couldn't do without. A proverbial 'killer app'. Its apparently simplicity no doubt masks a lot of complexity.

I can't see myself switching from Dropbox. Indeed, if they have increasingly 'enterprise' offerings (peace of mind on back up, security, SLAs etc) I could see us moving our entire corporate file system into the Dropbox cloud as it's so convenient and great when working remotely/globally. I suspect we're half way towards that as it is. I know plenty of 'big corporate' employees using Dropbox as a way to bypass their own cumbersome/restrictive IT already.

almost 5 years ago

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