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.