Dropbox opens its next chapter, with 275 million users

April 9, 2014, 11:38 PM UTC
“We want Dropbox to be a home for all of your important stuff,” says Dropbox CEO Drew Houston. Photo: JP Mangalindan/Fortune.com

Dropbox, the popular cloud-storage company, is aiming high.

At a press conference in San Francisco Wednesday, CEO Drew Houston announced what he likes to call the company’s “Chapter 2” — an initiative that seeks to position the startup he founded eight years ago as the go-to suite of services for data storage.

The event included a slew of company updates: Mailbox, the email app Dropbox acquired early last year, is coming to Android and PC. The mobile versions of Mailbox will include a new feature called “Auto-Swipe,” which learns from a user’s behavior to automate tasks such as getting rid of certain kinds of email spam.

Dropbox also unveiled Carousel, a photo application that lets its users browse and share images stored in their cloud account, putting the company in direct competition with big technology names such as Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG).

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Available today, Carousel is a separate app for iOS and Android that pulls photos and videos from a user’s Dropbox account and displays them on a mobile device in groups, not completely unlike the way photos are currently clustered in Apple’s iOS 7. Users can swipe left or right using a virtual timeline at the bottom of the app.

Gentry Underwood, the founder of Mailbox who also led Carousel’s development, demonstrated that Carousel is more than just another photo app. It includes swift sharing features that allow users to share hundreds of images with one another in just a few seconds. Photo and video collections can be assembled with media from several users, so a virtual photo album documenting a recent trip to Maui can be assembled from a group of users’ photos and videos.

“It creates a place where we can keep our entire life’s memories in our pocket, in the palm of our hand,” Underwood said.

Dropbox was founded eight years ago when Houston, then an MIT student, grew tired of keeping track of his USB thumb drive. He launched Dropbox with Arash Ferdowsi as a way to more efficiently access and sync up data.

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In the years since, Dropbox has grown to 275 million users, according to Houston. The company has also increased its focus on the enterprise, with Dropbox for Business, which received a revamp last November with features such as the ability to pair users’ personal and business accounts. Earlier this year, the company raised funding from Blackrock (BLK) and Fidelity estimated at up to $450 million, valuing the company at $10 billion. Dropbox has also added former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors, and said Pearl Jam would become an investor in the company.

Perhaps the most interesting facet of Dropbox’s announcement is its multi-app strategy. With Dropbox proper, Mailbox, and now Carousel, the startup is taking an approach not unlike that of Facebook, which offers distinct mobile app experiences with Messenger, Instagram, and others. It’s clear Houston wants Dropbox to become more than simply a set of cloud-storage features. He wants it to become a necessity.

“We want Dropbox to be a home for all of your important stuff,” Houston said. “Ironically, we’re taking this approach so we can be more focused. It’s hard to do something well in just one app, so with something like Carousel, we’re very much putting the focus on offering a good experience with your photos.”