Dropbox CEO Drew Houston emphasizes user trust on IPO day amid Facebook’s troubles

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Dropbox made its public debut today, with the stock soaring nearly 40% on its first day of trading — meaning the company will now be beholden to the same shareholders that sent the company’s valuation well north of $10 billion.

As a file-sharing and collaboration service, Dropbox’s first principle is going to be user trust, CEO Drew Houston told TechCrunch after the company made its debut. This comes amid a tidal wave of information throughout the week indicating that data on 50 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of Cambridge Analytica several years ago through access gained via an app that was on the Facebook platform. While not a direct breach in the core sense of the word, the leaked data was a considerable breach of trust among Facebook’s users — and as Dropbox looks to crack into the enterprise and also continue to win over consumers, it’ll likely continue to have to increasingly emphasize security and privacy going forward.

“Our business is built on our customers’ trust,” Houston said, asked of its security. “Whether we’re private or public, that’s super important to us. I think, to our customers, whether we’re private or public doesn’t change their view. I wouldn’t say that our philosophy changes as we get to bigger and bigger scale. As you can imagine we make big investments here. We have an awesome security team, our first cultural principle is be worthy of trust. This is existential for us.”

Houston, and Dropbox, aren’t unfamiliar with some of the challenges that come into securing a service that has more than 500 million registered users. Dropbox in 2016 disclosed that it discovered a chunk of user credentials obtained in 2012 had been circulating on the Internet after an employee’s password was acquired and used to access user information. Dropbox, clearly, has recovered from that stumble and has pulled off a successful IPO, but it does underscore the challenges of not only maintaining security, but also user trust and political capital to actually get the business going.

In the end, that may come down to the trust of individual users. A large portion of Dropbox’s 11 million paying customers are, or started off as, the typical consumer. Dropbox’s playbook is a familiar one, first getting consumer adoption and using that to slowly creep into teams that use the tool because it’s easier than existing ones. Those teams adopt it, leading to further adoption, to the point that Dropbox in theory locks in a customer without having to pick up those direct partnerships or spend a ton of money on marketing. Should it stumble at step one, it would have a much steeper ramp to start acquiring the kind of enterprise companies that will help it build a much more robust business.

“We have this set of stated values in the company, and the number one value is literally, be worthy of trust,” Dropbox SVP of engineering, product, and design Quentin Clark said. I have observed and experienced that the protection of our users is very deeply woven in to the DNA of our company. This is why we encrypt the data at rest, in transit, and it’s why our user experience is designed to keep people down the path of keeping things secure by default. You see it in the tools we give admins and the events they look through. We’re very deeply committed to their privacy and security. We’ve never sold data, it’s not in our business model, it’s about the value people get in software.”

While Dropbox at its heart was born as a consumer company — and there are, indeed, hundreds of millions of consumers — it’s also morphed over time into one with an arm looking to crack big businesses. And now that it’s a public company, it will have more intense oversight from public investors who will be scrutinizing its every move and calibrating its valuation as a result of those moves. Dropbox, too, is moving onto its own infrastructure in order to improve its margins and show it can be an operationally efficient business. All this means that, if it’s going to be a successful company, it has to ensure the kinds of snafus like Cambridge Analytica, which sent Facebook’s stock off a cliff, don’t happen.

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