Why Dropbox Avoids Industry Buzzwords Like “The Cloud”

“The cloud” is the biggest and most overused buzzword in the tech industry. Here’s how one cloud startup is getting ahead by eschewing the jargon and keeping it simple for consumers.

the cloud


“The cloud” is the biggest and most overused buzzword in the tech industry. You can’t turn on the TV today without seeing ads from Microsoft, IBM, or Cisco touting the cloud in some form. Take the following IBM commercial, which attempts to define the lofty concept for consumers: The cloud does email, predicts traffic patterns, lowers energy bills, develops software, understands risk.

For the common consumer, the cloud is likely flying right over his or her head. Recognizing that trend, popular cloud startup Dropbox is taking a novel approach to conveying its value, and removing all the jargon and buzzwords and inaccessible use-cases so often repeated in the industry.

“We’re definitely allergic to a lot of the technical terms,” says Dropbox cofounder Drew Houston. “Anything with the word sync in it, or cloud, or drive–it sounds too much like a utility, and you just wouldn’t expect a great company to have a word like drive in it. It doesn’t sound right.”

Dropbox isn’t interested in demonstrating the brilliant and endless potential of the cloud, unlike most of its competitors, which are constantly pointing out how the cloud can do anything and everything, how magical it has become, what a miracle of modern computing science it is. Instead, Dropbox has focused on translating the service’s potential in the simplest and most relevant way possible: have access to all your files from anywhere. (Its understated motto: Simplify your life.)


“There used to be all this stuff about the cloud and storage and backing up your stuff, and about syncing it,” Houston says. “I thought the simplest thing that people could possibly understand was a folder.”

That understanding nearly led Dropbox to be called a different name.

“Oh God, they were horrible–they would set me up for a brilliant career in marketing,” says Houston, of the original list of company names he and his cofounder brainstormed. “The first name was Folder Anywhere, and I was upset cause there was already some company called Files Anywhere.”

After a long and arduous process, the team finally came up with the name Dropbox. But not before testing 30 to 40 terms, all with different suffixes, and incorporating them all in scripts to see if the names struck the right ring.

“We put a ton of time into coming up and securing the right one,” Houston recalls. “Dropbox is such a simple name.”


Compare that to Amazon Cloud Drive or IBM Smart Cloud or Microsoft Cloud Power. Perhaps Dropbox’s catchy name and simple approach are in part why the startup is rocketing in popularity. Recently, it grew to 25 million users, who are saving more than 200 million files per day on the service.

[Image: Flickr user Extra Medium]

Related: Dropbox Rockets To 25M Users, More Daily Files Than Tweets On Twitter


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.