Dropbox Partners With Softbank, Sony Ericsson for Global Growth

Dropbox Inc., the Web storage provider with 25 million users, signed deals with mobile carrier Softbank Corp. and handset maker Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB to attract more customers in Asia and Europe.

The agreement means Dropbox’s file-sharing application will be preloaded on two phones running on Softbank’s network in Japan in early June, said Lars Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, head of mobile business development at Dropbox, in an interview. Sony Ericsson is building the app into devices that will be sold in 10 countries in Europe and Asia.

The partnerships are the first for San Francisco-based Dropbox, a startup whose app has surged in popularity as consumers turn to smartphones to take pictures, create videos and listen to music. The app lets users store and access their content from any computer, phone or tablet with a Web connection.

“Whenever you do anything that can be stored, consumed or shared, we want to become part of that,” said Fjeldsoe-Nielsen, who joined the company in January. “We’re working with the guys who are moving the fastest.”

Terms of the partnerships aren’t being disclosed. Softbank and Sony Ericsson will be promoting the app in stores and commercials, while also training sales staff so they can demonstrate it to customers.

Dropbox’s app is currently available as a free download on Apple Inc.’s iPhone and iPad, devices running Google Inc.’s Android operating system and on Research In Motion Ltd.’s BlackBerry smartphones. The company expects to sign marketing and distribution deals later this year with U.S. carriers and manufacturers.

Freemium Pricing

Founded in 2007 by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, Dropbox uses a tiered-pricing model, called freemium, giving away the basic app and charging users who want more space. The free version comes with 2 gigabytes of storage, enough for thousands of documents or hundreds of photos. Beyond that, Dropbox sells as much as 50 gigabytes and 100 gigabytes for $9.99 a month and $19.99 a month, respectively.

Dropbox said last month that more than 25 million people are using the service, a sixfold increase from January 2010. It competes with Box.net, an Internet-storage company that raised $48 million in February from investors including Andreessen Horowitz. Box.net, based in Palo Alto, California, has almost 6 million users.

With the Softbank partnership, Dropbox will come automatically loaded on two Android phones in Japan, one with a 3-D screen manufactured by Sharp Corp. Tokyo-based Softbank, Japan’s third-largest wireless carrier, will be promoting the devices in about 7,000 stores in Japan.

Softbank Price Break

In addition to the two free gigabytes that come with the app, Softbank is adding 50 percent more at no charge, the Tokyo-based company said in an e-mail.

Sony Ericsson, the London-based mobile-phone venture of Sony Corp. and Ericsson AB, is selling Android phones with the Dropbox app pre-installed in countries including the U.K., Denmark, Australia and Indonesia, starting today.

Chief Executive Officer Bert Nordberg said in March that the company is aiming to expand its global share of Android handsets to at least 25 percent from 14 percent at the beginning of this year.

Sony Ericsson has similar partnerships, where it promotes apps from Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Foursquare Labs Inc., said Calum MacDougall, Sony Ericsson’s London-based head of Web service partnership.

‘Entertaining Smartphones’

“Dropbox is something that is an exciting and rapidly growing service,” MacDougall said in an interview. “To have the most entertaining smartphones, we need to find partner brands that consumers are using.”

Dropbox was initially funded by Y Combinator, the Mountain View, California-based startup incubator, and then raised $7.2 million from Sequoia Capital and Accel Partners. It now has about 55 employees.

Bryan Schreier, a partner at Sequoia and Dropbox board member, said he’s an avid user of the product in addition to being an investor. For his kids’ birthday parties, he sets up folders that enable everyone involved to take photos and shoot video from their phones and upload the files immediately.

“In real time we’re building a shared photo album that people can access on the Web anywhere,” Schreier said in an interview from his office in Menlo Park, California. “It’s an awesome experience.”

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