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Dropbox acquisition of HelloSign targets Box's enterprise share

Dropbox deepened its play for enterprise customers by acquiring e-sign startup HelloSign and targeting a top competitor, Box.

The Dropbox acquisition of HelloSign for $230 million in cash this week gives Dropbox an embedded e-signature offering that could make the popular cloud file sharing platform a more a viable option for enterprises.

Traditionally, Dropbox has been consumer-focused, while Box and other collaboration tools, such as Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, have targeted business users. But adding e-signature capabilities natively into Dropbox may make the platform more appealing to enterprises. The deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter of 2019, takes aim at Dropbox's main competitor, Box.

E-signature vendors like HelloSign, Adobe Sign and DocuSign integrate into the various file sharing and document management platforms, but a deeper integration like the Dropbox-HelloSign purchase may set Dropbox apart.

"If everyone has those integration partnerships, it doesn't elevate you," said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research. "Having more native functionality is part of the business process and can be a differentiator for Dropbox. Box doesn't have this functionality."

The Dropbox e-signature experience

The Dropbox acquisition of HelloSign eliminates the need for a third-party e-signature vendor, keeping users within the Dropbox platform.

"Dropbox's goal is to find those ways to keep users inside the Dropbox ecosystem, and they want to be more than just file sharing. They want to be part of the business workflow," Lepofsky said. "This is a good step in showing that."

Though Dropbox is spending a sizeable amount on HelloSign, the product is expected to remain independent and keep its open APIs to other software vendors, according to a Dropbox spokesperson.

"We'll continue to support other e-signature platforms through product experiences like extensions, including DocuSign and Adobe Sign," the spokesperson said in an email.

And while e-signature software is HelloSign's primary capability, it also has HelloWorks, a form and document onboarding technology that makes filling out tedious forms and documents much simpler. For example, employee onboarding and the amount of paperwork that comes with it can be streamlined with a product like HelloWorks by making the data entry process mobile-friendly.

Having more native functionality is part of the business process and can be a differentiator for Dropbox. Box doesn't have this functionality.
Alan Lepofskyanalyst, Constellation Research

"Dropbox wants to bring the same simplicity that e-signatures offer to business document inputting," Lepofsky said. "This acquisition enables Dropbox to tell customers that [Dropbox] can be part of their business process."

Tight integration with an e-signature vendor can also improve the user experience.

"Electronic signatures are an important service in content-centric workflows, and it makes sense for Dropbox to add it to its portfolio," said Holly Muscolino, research vice president at IDC. "The acquisition will presumably provide much tighter integration and, eventually, a consistent look and feel."

Muscolino added that, even with the Dropbox extension to HelloSign, users would eventually need to purchase a license to access HelloSign, launch the application to configure settings and add a signature. An embedded process within Dropbox eases a lot of these touchpoints from the user -- especially if Dropbox makes HelloSign's capabilities available within a Dropbox license.

Competing with Box

The Dropbox acquisition of HelloSign continues Dropbox's push into the enterprise business space. After its initial public offering in 2018, Dropbox added Dropbox Extensions, a set of integrations to third-party document management software vendors, including the major e-signature vendors and other document and video management tools.

Box upgraded its platform with new AI tools and workflow automation features at its annual BoxWorks conference last August.

Through the Dropbox acquisition of HelloSign, the company also gains former Box general manager of enterprise, Whitney Bouck. While Lepofsky said he believes Dropbox would have been interested in acquiring HelloSign regardless of its executive team, having someone with Bouck's background in building an enterprise business is an added benefit.

"It's a massive bonus attached to this, having executives like Whitney Bouck," Lepofsky said.

Easier e-signature functionality isn't limited to the Dropbox acquisition. Adobe and Nintex unveiled a partnership in January that allows users to enable e-signatures within Nintex and without opening a separate application.

Dropbox plans to keep HelloSign as a stand-alone product, according to the spokesperson. Pricing and bundle information for Dropbox customers is not yet available.

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