DROPBOX'S GROWTH HACKING STORY
Dropbox is a cloud-based solution for file synchronization founded in 2007 and launched in 2008. The company’s growth curve since 2011 has been steady and impressive:
- October 2011 - 50 million users
- November 2012 - 100 million users
- November 2013 - 200 million users
In the beginning, however, the standard “start-up” strategies didn’t get Dropbox where it wanted to be. The company worked with a PR firm, bought ads on Google, and attempted to leverage social media — to the tune of almost $400 paid out for every new user acquired! Obviously with that kind of financial outlay, Dropbox was not going to be a success.
They went back to the drawing board and set out to figure out why the truly useful idea of cloud-based storage wasn’t taking off. That’s when the company realized that users didn’t understand they actually did have the problem Dropbox was poised to solve.
Although brilliant in its design, the company had unwittingly put the cart before the horse. The average person didn’t yet see the advantage of having access to their files from any connected device anywhere in the world.
The first task, therefore, in growing the Dropbox user base was educational. Their message, however, could not be directed solely at the tech savvy. The average person had to see and understand why they needed Dropbox and how they would use it to make their lives better. Simplicity was an absolute prerequisite for success.
First, designers completely overhauled the company’s homepage so that the entire focus was on signing up. The implied message became, “This is so easy, so is using Dropbox.” An embedded two-minute video explained how the service worked and prominently featured a bright blue download box.
Then, Dropbox made good on its promise. The sign up process is seamless and at the basic level, new users get 2 gb of free space, a pre-configured folder for their photos, and a text file on “getting started.” The emphasis on photo storage is intentional and brilliant.
Every time a user installs the Dropbox app on a mobile device, automatic photo synchronization is offered as an option. Mobile users make heavy use of their built-in cameras.
The synchronization option cleverly capitalizes on the fear that photos might be lost along with the phone or tablet or that some images will have to be deleted to make room for others.
The engineers at Dropbox understood that photographs carry a high level of emotional engagement. Users who might not see a need to synchronize documents will want to protect their images. Once they understand what Dropbox can do for them, they see its value and want “in.” These are also the kind of people who will willingly pay for additional storage space as their needs grow.
Dropbox has further plugged into that emotion by making it incredibly simple for users to share large photo files in shared folders by sending a simple link to family and friends.
Again, this is an instance of achieving market fit by understanding user needs. As the resolution of digital cameras has gone steadily up, users who have no file management or photo editing skills have experienced more and more difficulty sharing images.
Dropbox offers an easily understood solution that is also tied to new member sign-ups. If you want to see the pictures of your grandchildren, just sign up for this free account.
“The company also uses a powerful referral system that increased signups by 60% when it was introduced. For each new user referred, the person offering the referral and the person referred each get an additional 500 mb of storage space. Friend referrals are always more powerful than advertisement because they carry the weight of a personal recommendation.
The offered incentives don’t stop there. Just for linking a Facebook and Dropbox account users get 125 mb of space. The same holds true for Twitter linkage. Could something so simple work? Dropbox has 3.59 million followers on Twitter and more than a million likes on Facebook.
After a rocky start, Dropbox figured out what its potential users needed, identified the points of friction getting in the way, and adopted a philosophy of simplification and education. With that new focus, the year-over-year user numbers immediately began to double.