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Drew Houston: Inspiration for Dropbox Came on a Bus

From Strangers To Co-founders

In 2007, Drew Houston had his idea for a cloud storage platform all mapped out, and all he needed was funding to set the business rolling. Lucky for him, Y Combinator, one of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors in new start-ups, was willing to fund his idea.

However, they told him he needed to get a business partner before they could proceed with that. They insisted on Houston getting a partner because they were of the opinion that new companies were more likely to succeed when they had more than one founder as there would be more than one decision maker, and the workload would also be shared among the founders.

Combinator insisted that Mr. Houston got a co-founder because of their belief that new companies were more likely to succeed when they had more than one founder

The idea for Dropbox was conceived while Mr. Houston was on a bus somewhere between Boston and New York. For different reasons, none of his friends were available to become his business partner, and he was left with two weeks to find a co-founder who was going to be a total stranger to him. In his words, it felt like receiving an email from the Dean of admissions at one’s favorite college, but also with a deadline that lapsed in a couple of weeks and is expected to get married before the deadline.

Without wasting time, Mr. Houston was able to persuade Arash Ferdowsi in a chat that lasted for just two hours to quit university and become his business partner. Mr. Houston didn’t know, neither had he met, Mr. Ferdowsi before that time as they only shared a mutual friend.

It is now 2018, eleven years later, Dropbox, the San-Francisco based cloud storage business has a valuation of over $12bn. Mr. Houston now has a net worth of over $3bn while Mr. Ferdowsi’s net worth is calculated at $1.3bn.

The company has done well for itself even with different speculations that the company wouldn’t be successful and reports that Steve Jobs wanted to destroy the business.

Inspiration On A Bus

The story of Mr. Houston’s inspiration for the billion dollar business goes to show that inspiration can be gotten from anywhere and there a specific place or time for getting inspired.

Mr. Houston at that time had just recently graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology [MIT), and his intention was to use the duration of his journey to work on some previously gotten business ideas. However, as he sat in his seat, he was disappointed when he found that he forgot to bring the memory stick where he stored all his files.  According to him, he was so frustrated because it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened to him. He determined not to have that problem anymore, and since there was nothing else to work on, he began writing codes in a bid to get a solution. At that time, he said he had no idea what exactly the code would turn out to be.

The result of his frustration was the idea for the cloud storage platform Dropbox which would go on to function as remote storage which users can access online regardless of their location. In two weeks, Mr. Houston had come up with a prototype and a name. In a few months, Y Combinator showed interest in his idea, and that was when 24-year old Mr. Houston visited MIT to speak to Mr. Ferdowsi who at that time was a student of electrical engineering and computer science.

Mr. Houston got the idea of the cloud storage platform which users can access online regardless of their location

They only met and spoke for barely two hours at the student center, and Mr. Ferdowsi quit school the following week. It seemed like a crazy decision during that period, according to Mr. Houston, and he was sure his co-founder’s parents would have wanted him to finish college. However, Ferdowsi was excited to make that decision of dropping out and becoming a co-founder.

The Launch of Dropbox

Dropbox team moved into Y Combinator’s base in Silicon Valley and officially launched in 2008. They made promotional videos to attract the first set of customers and dropped the videos on discussion websites including Slashdot and Reddit.

Their aim for doing that was to get influencers in the technology sector to use the service with the hope that those influencers would give a positive review about the product.  Their plan worked as from about 5,000 users on the waiting list, Dropbox already had 75,000 sign ups within a few days. Within ten days the number grew from 100,000 sign-ups to 200,000 sign-ups.

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