Meet the Team! (Part 1)

Posted by Jon Ying on February 05, 2009

Starting today, we’ll be running a recurring series to introduce the members of the Dropbox team.  Ever wanted to know who wrote the client, or maybe who drew all of our error images?  Starting out the series is Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox.  Drew, like most of the team, is an MIT graduate, and brings experience from several other startups to the team. Drew’s a talented coder, hardcore Pearl Jam lover, and a fan of mediocre food. On top of being CEO and the mastermind behind the Dropbox idea, Drew spearheads development of the client team (the other teams being web and server), and is largely responsible for the look and feel of Dropbox as you know it today.  By the way, all of these questions were provided by our users in the forums.

Drew \

What was your inspiration for dropbox?
I needed it badly. I worked on multiple desktops and a laptop, and could never remember to keep my USB drive with me. I was drowning in email attachments trying to share files for my previous startup. My home desktop’s power supply literally exploded one day, killing one of my hard drives, and I had no backups.

I tried everything I could find but each product inevitably suffered problems with Internet latency, large files, bugs, or just made me think too much.

Nothing just worked, so I started hacking something together for myself and then realized it could solve these problems for a lot of other people.

What operating system do you prefer?
My main development desktop runs Windows Vista x64. Someone’s gotta do it.  Of course, I use all 3 major platforms every day — I’ve also got synergy linking my Mac desktop to my Windows machine and I use a Macbook Air as my primary laptop, and have a variety of Linux VMs and servers (I’ve been a Linux fan since the Slackware days.)

What’s the coolest use of Dropbox you’ve seen?
Dropbox being used to coordinate multiple tractors on a farm …I don’t even know where to start.  We’ve seen some pretty awesome stuff from users on our Wiki too.

What is the most annoying thing you hear from Dropbox customers?
We get feature requests for things we already have. These are particularly bad because it means that even though we’ve implemented something, our users can’t find it — so we pay close attention when that happens.

How much sleep do you have and are you more the morning type or do you prefer to work in the deep of the night?
Definitely late night. We’re all night owls — I’m usually up till 3-4am and get between 5-8 hours of sleep a night.

To be a little bit psychological:  If you were a tree – what kind would you be
I have an idea of which tree our investors would like me to say :)

Where do you see dropbox in 5 years?
What we want to do as a company is let you sit at any computer (or device) and have access to all your stuff.

For example, in college I could go from one workstation to any of the thousands of others on campus and not only could I see all my files but my entire desktop and environment. But after I graduated, I was on my own.

So we’re trying to build that kind of seamless experience for the rest of the world. It’s a simple idea, but very challenging to build — certainly enough to keep us busy for the next 5 years.

How much impact do you think will the recent developments on the financial markets aka crisis have on your business?
Everyone will be negatively impacted to some extent. However, while other companies are cutting back, we’re fortunate enough to have the resources to grow.

Great companies are often built in down economic times. A lot of talent is available and there’s less distraction — and it keeps you focused on making something people want and are willing to pay for.

Did you ever think Dropbox would get as big as it is today?
Yes and no.

Yes, because it was clear that the world needed an elegant solution to these problems, and in “the future” they would simply not exist. As we would later explain to friends and investors, it’s hard to imagine Tom Cruise in Minority Report sending himself files via Gmail or lugging around a USB thumbdrive.

No, because we’ve been repeatedly surprised at how well Dropbox has resonated with our users, from the phenomenal response from Digg to the rate of growth and positive feedback that continues today. That said, we are our own harshest critics and have an almost endless list of things we want to improve.

What can Dropbox users expect in 2009, and what’s your favorite upcoming feature?
I can’t go into too many details, but I’m most excited about the new and unannounced ideas we’re working on around sharing and collaboration. So far we’ve only scratched the surface.

Of course, we’re also furiously working on the most-requested features like the ability to watch folders outside your Dropbox, selectively sync files on different devices, define more controls on shared folders, and so on.

22 Comments to Meet the Team! (Part 1)

Guest
February 6, 2009

Awesome interview. Thanks for sharing! <3 <3 <3 Dropbox!

Belzecue
February 6, 2009

I've been in computing and tech for a long time. I can tell you, it's been a few years since a service like Dropbox has appeared — something that fills a need and fits it perfectly, something that the creators get right 'out of the box' (pun intended).

Like Drew, I tried many combinations trying to set up a seamless file storage and update system that would work across platforms and locations and sync up effortlessly through the Cloud. After realizing how badly Microsoft screwed up Live Mesh (no delta transfers? How very 1990s) I discovered Dropbox and it was like being run over by a truck made out of chocolate marshmallows begin driven by a bunch of Victoria Secrets catalogue models — that is to say, sweet sweet Heaven.

For all the other start-ups out there trying to figure out what ingredients go into a successful and thriving software service like Dropbox, let me spell it out for you:

1) MAKE IT SIMPLE — Hide the plumbing. Users just want an icon in their tray or some other visual indicator so they know the service is up and running and doing what it's supposed to be doing. Only give the user the bare essentials necessary to configure the service clientside. Don't try to impress the user with how clever and lovely your service is; the more it fades into the background and gets the job done with minimum fuss, the more your users will notice your service 'just works', and they will love you for it. Big tick here for Dropbox.

2) YET POWERFUL! — This might seem like a paradox. How can you have simplicity and power together in one software service? Ask Dropbox, because they've done it. The tray icon gives you the bare essentials, but click on it and you're whisked away to your online Dropbox pages where you can perform powerful, useful, and sometimes life-saving functions like recovering file versions, grabbing files without the need for the Dropbox client installed, and so on.

3) BE CLEVER — For each facet of your service, figure out the most efficient and elegant way to perform it. How Microsoft could omit delta file transfers (only transferring the parts of the file that have changed, not the whole file again!) from their product is either laziness or stupidity. Dropbox knows that bandwidth can be a limited resource, so they smartly chose to build in delta transfers and other efficiency measures.

4) LISTEN, LEARN, ENGAGE — Your users are your lifeblood. Listen, respond, don't fiddle with what the users love, but jettison or remodel what they don't. Keep your finger on that pulse, even if your users are insanely happy with what you are doing (Drew! Drew! Over here, dude! It's me!). The Dropbox community is toned, tanned, and hardly breaking a sweat at 150 BPM.

5) RESIST REDMOND! — If you're a successful start-up, sooner or later SteveB will come looking for you. Depending on his mood that particular day, he might be carrying his checkbook or he might be hauling a chair. Either way, bolt the door and call the cops until he leaves. We do NOT want a superb service like Dropbox mangled by MS. I also have my doubts about Google now. Google Gears suggests they are letting the engineers strangle solutions with complexity. But if Eric does come a-knockin' then sure, let him in for a chat and see what he's got on his mind. Certainly Dropbox can show Google a thing or two about Cloud services that are simple and elegant.

Jim McGowan
February 8, 2009

Great job Drew and the rest of the team. Don’t worry – you guys will all be “money trees” soon enough!

Thanks for this phenomenal service!

Jim

Tom Metge
February 13, 2009

Hey guys… we love your work and follow the blog (over here at Mozy). We spotted your Rock Band affinity and all we could think of was this:

ROCK BAND THROWDOWN

Mozy hereby challenges you to a Rock Band Playoff, battle of the bands, best man is the last man standing. Email me if you accept:

tom [at] mozy.com

And yes, we're totally serious.

drew
February 18, 2009

Tom, you're on. I'll send you an email.

Robert M.
February 21, 2009

Pearl Jam rules!!!

Michael
March 2, 2009

You guys are great… but I'm worried that this field is crowded with competition. Thats great news for us, consumers, not such great news for you. Its really cool technology and the beginning of consumer cloud computing. My guess is Microsoft will buy one company, Google another, and the third will be left to rot. I like you guys, so make sure you stay out of that last category.

DebbieIrwin
April 6, 2009

Go boldly where no man has gone before! But plenty of others are heading there…

Len Kleinrock, biological father of the Internet, envisions all those seamless computers that Drew is working on, being able to recognize you when you walk into the room! The Smart Room, to be exact..where technology inhabits the walls and we are always welcomed– at least by the computer!

eric1982
April 30, 2009
Karl Brand
June 4, 2009

Dear Drew,

Just installed and it IS impressive.

Please thank <belzecue>: without his clarification that LiveMesh transfers whole files not merely the delta's i would have blundered down the wrong path, trusting <belzecue> knows his stuff. And to me delta's matter! Because time matters- i've got 10e23 things i can do with the minute saved (like writing to you…hmmmm) transferring only the delta vs the whole file. Be aware that other customers may not have stumbled on this info down here in a comment on your interview. Emphasize it to catch more people from stumbling into yet another MS hole.

Also- sleep 8 hours. Unless you're one of the rare ~5% 'minisleepers' out there, your cognitive ability takes a bit hit every hour less you sleep. We need discipline to do the things we don't want to, but should do. Slot sleep into this category; higher than exercise, higher than eating…

Keep up the great work, with thanks for your free 2GB,

Karl

</belzecue></belzecue>

[...] is half a year away and we’d like to send Drew (our CEO) there to give a talk! For those of you who aren’t too familiar with SXSW, it’s an [...]

Egzon Bunjaku
August 26, 2010

Great interview.

Ted Kidd
March 26, 2011

You guys are AWESOME. Great culture is apparent in every part of your product and website.

With such nice gui design it would be AWESOME if you would contemplate CRM/Project Management. I work in the developing field of Energy Performance, and this is a huge unsolved problem. Dropbox helps, but we need something prospect centric, preferably making significant use of tags. (I'd love to be an unpaid consultant on that project!!! Feel free to contact me, tedkidd at eesny dot com.)

Syncing with Google Calendar/Mail/Contacts/Picassa, or as a Google app, would be fantastic as that foundation is fairly ubiquitous.

Olusegun Kolawole
May 7, 2011

Olusegun kolawole,mail:liondeking@ymail.com:please help me I can not connect to dropbox server,the reply I always got is connection error, please bail me out.

Shannon
November 4, 2011

How come nobody is blogging?  I would like to get Arash Ferdowsi's direct dial number or to have him call me!  My name is Shannon Hartwig and I am a headhunter and would love to connect – 415-332-8844.

Sincerely – shannon@ip-confidants.com

Uhuk
March 8, 2012
Organic Underwear
April 9, 2012

Great job. Can't wait to see what the team at Dropbox has in store. 

[…] While remote file storage has been with us for decade — I had remote storage on a Unix server using file transfer protocol (ftp) and NFS (Network File System) in the 80s — cloud storage for the masses didn’t really get going until 2007 when Drew Houston, Dropbox‘s CEO and founder, got sick and tired of never being able to “remember to keep my USB drive with me“. […]

[…] (3)https://blog.dropbox.com/2009/02/meet-the-team-part-1/ […]

[…] that almost comes as second nature now, cloud computing had to get its start with someone.  Founder of Dropbox, Drew Houston, got the idea after graduating from MIT and realizing that the […]

[…] hablamos de Dropbox inevitablemente tenemos que relacionarlo con un nombre, Drew Houston y  un lugar, una estación de tren en Boston donde comenzó a escribir en los vagones el código […]