A Conversation With Drew Houston


At this year's TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco, the tech entrepreneur talks about his business, success, and the one decision that has changed his life.

Drew Houston, is the co-founder of Dropbox, which he has built from a simple idea into a collaboration platform that is used by hundreds of millions of people. He graduated from MIT in 2006, and only six years later was named to MIT Technology Review's TR35 list honoring the world's top innovators under 35.

After being frustrated with carrying USB drives and emailing himself files, Houston started working on a file sync service. As a single founder, he applied to Y Combinator, got in, brought in co-founder Arash Fedowski, and the rest is history. To date, Dropbox has been one of Y Combinator's most successful investments.

What is one decision that has changed your life in a major way?

Moving out here to start Dropbox made a huge difference. It began with a problem that I had. I was obsessed. I had to solve the problem, I had to keep listening, keep iterating.

Between all the different ideas you had, how did you decide to focus on Dropbox?

Dropbox was really the one idea that captured my imagination. At the beginning it was less because it was a big problem that everyone had and more that the pain was so acute for me. You want to be analytical and think about problems in the abstract, but you should listen to something that pulls you.

What's the best advice you ever received?

The first advice we really paid attention to was from Hadi Partovi, one of our early investors. He had asked his mentor for the most important advice. The mentor replied with ten pieces of advice, "Hire the best people, hire the best people, hire the best people,..." So getting the best people is very important.

How do you get the best people on your team?

It's really hard, but in the early days you start by getting your most talented friends. Later on you need to make a conscious effort to build a really diverse team because growing a company requires all these different kinds of people to solve all these new problems.

What thing do you attribute to getting things done?

As a founder you need to understand how to build an awesome team, and a great product. You also have to address a huge market  --  and figuring out distribution is often just as hard as solving the problem.

How do you make sure you have focus?

I think it starts with your customer. What is the most important problem that they have? The problems you solve should be the problems that they have.


How do you align decisions with your purpose?

You have to think systematically about it. As you bring in people from these different backgrounds, most of the decisions get made when you are not in the room. You have to program a culture so people move in the same direction.

If you could have dinner with anyone in history, who would you choose?

Benjamin Franklin.

Do you have a favorite book?

I read a lot and one of the first business books that really got me excited was The Innovator's Dilemma, by Clayton Christensen. It's the kind of book that changes how you understand the world.

What advice would you offer to your younger self?

Remember that every young entrepreneur is doing it for the first time and enjoy the ride.

What is success for you?

Being able to paint on a bigger and bigger canvas. It reminds me of what it felt like when I was back working out of my apartment. There are these big problems and for whatever reason nobody is solving them. The difference today is now we can pick a problem, press a button and the solution is in millions of users' hands.


You can follow Drew Houston on Twitter and learn more about Dropbox on their website. If you enjoyed this interview, you can follow Patrick Daniel on Twitter, Facebook or join his newsletter.