7 key takeaways from an evening with Dropbox’s leaders

23 Jun 2017

Adrienne Gormley and Philip Lacor, Dropbox. Image: Luke Maxwell

Make everyone responsible for customer experience, give your employees time to think, and make sure you have local knowledge for local markets. This is just some of the advice given by Dropbox’s leaders at an event in its Dublin HQ.

Late last year, an audience gathered at the Dropbox HQ in Dublin to welcome the company’s co-founder, Drew Houston, and enjoy an in-depth interview with Silicon Republic CEO Ann O’Dea.

At that same event, the audience was also treated to a panel discussion with Philip Lacor, Dropbox’s EMEA vice-president, and Adrienne Gormley, global head of customer experience. Gormley previously shared her tips on fostering a happy, creative workforce during the Future of Work session at Inspirefest 2016 and she returns this year with yet more insight to share.

Gormley’s upcoming session at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre will see her discuss how we will work in 2020 alongside Sandra Henke of Hays Worldwide, Thomas Jelley from the Sodexo Institute for Quality of Life and Lesley Tully, head of design thinking at Bank of Ireland.

For a taster of how Dropbox works now, though, check out this video from the 2016 event, or quickly skim through the seven-point summary below.

Going viral is good for growth

According to Dropbox’s leaders, shifting from B2C to B2B is easy when employees the world over are already raving about your product.

“What’s really taken off in recent years is people telling people about what they like and what they want to use, and this whole notion of virality, and that has really driven Dropbox’s growth. People used it, they loved it, they told their friends about it, their friends used it – and that’s how it ended up in so many businesses,” Gormley told the audience at the Dublin headquarters.

“We go to large companies and very often they have 10,000 or even 20,000 people already using Dropbox, without having a B2B contract,” said Lacor.

“We go to the CIO and say, OK, a lot of people are already using the product and therefore, there’s no big adoption time. By the way, your helpdesk won’t get calls and you will see the returns very quickly. And, I have to say, on a daily basis, it changes the way companies work, and public services work, and I find that quite cool.”

Customer experience is everyone’s responsibility

“When I joined Dropbox, [co-founders Arash Ferdowsi and Drew Houston] were still doing customer support tickets,” Gormley recalled, citing a strong culture of understanding customers first and foremost.

Even in her training programme, Gormley had her own quota of tickets to address. “I will never forget my first call. It was a nightmare,” she smiled. “But, from the very start of Dropbox, the fact that Drew and Arash answered support tickets really meant that they understood where customers were tripping up, what they wanted, what features they were looking for, and it really has led to a simple and easy-to-use product.”

“To Adrienne’s point, my strong conviction is: customer experience is everybody’s job. When you’re in recruitment, when you’re in finance, when you’re in sales – we’re all responsible for the customer and making the customer successful. We live by the customer,” added Lacor.

Time to think is time to innovate

“When I think about innovation, I think about giving people and teams … time to think and room to think,” said Gormley, going on to describe the Dropbox institution that is Hack Week, where usual tasks are left aside for one week so that employees can work on “hacky things”.

“Obviously, it has its origins from our engineering roots but this has spread to the sales teams, the CX teams and finance teams. Everybody downs tools inasmuch as they can and we come together, we do very creative things,” she explained.

The results of these Hack Weeks and employee experiments have led to new features for Dropbox’s software and new processes, both for the product and internal business.

Dublin’s got talent

According to Gormley, there are three reasons Dropbox chose to lead its global expansion from Dublin: talent, talent and talent. “Ireland has a fantastic workforce, an educated workforce. We have huge multilingual talent and this was such an obvious choice for us when we came looking.”

Beyond talent, Gormley added that Ireland is “a relatively easy place to do business”.

“We have great support and a great working relationship with the IDA and even Enterprise Ireland and other support structures,” she said.

“As soon as we landed in Dublin, immediately, people reached out. People invited us to events like this. We were able to network. And, now, whenever I have a problem or a challenge I’m up against, there are a number of people that I can go to straight away.”

You need local knowledge for local markets

Lacor said that he thoroughly enjoys walking through the Dublin office and hearing a multitude of languages from their multicultural employees. That’s the EMEA HQ, though, and foundations are being laid across Europe with offices in London, Paris, Hamburg, Amsterdam and as far afield as Tel Aviv.

Expansion decisions are driven by maturing markets as Dropbox wants to be close to customers as these bases grow. “Customers trust us so we want to be close by, and you want to understand the local nuances of the countries,” said Lacor. “You need to have the local knowledge and the local sensitivity to branch out, so we’ll keep doing that as we keep going.”

You can’t go to your usual networks to build diverse teams

“It sometimes can be a bit harder to really build a diverse team because you can’t go to your usual networks. But the merits are very high and I think it starts with a conviction: diverse teams will always come up with the more creative ideas,” said Lacor.

“When you measure stuff and when you keep an eye on metrics and numbers and so on, people pay attention to it,” added Gormley. “We pay attention to those numbers… and that’s really changed some of our business practices when I think about hiring.”

Business is about people

In their closing comments, both of Dropbox’s representatives advocated for the power of the people within a business.

“Hire people with potential that is as least as good or better than yourself and you’ll have an easier life,” said Lacor.

“Business is about people,” said Gormley. “My main objective [when I started my career] was to figure out how to get people out of the way so that I could achieve what I needed to achieve. And what I actually figured out along the way is if I don’t try and move people out of the way, if I listen to them and I stand in their shoes and I hear their perspective, then, often, I might change my plans, and my output is often an awful lot better.”

Inspirefest is Silicon Republic’s international event connecting sci-tech professionals passionate about the future of STEM. Book now to join us from 6 to 8 July in Dublin.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.