Join 1363 founders getting motivational stories of how other founders started and grew their online businesses

Two Strangers Who Made Their Dreams Come True – The Story Behind Dropbox


Remember when we had to use physical USB sticks to transfer simple files?

One company changed that, and sending and organizing files on two or more devices has never been easier thanks to Dropbox.

Dropbox is a platform that offers you space where you can upload your files, documents, and pictures, and have them easily accessible on every device you own!

Change the file on your phone on your way to work and the altered version will be waiting for you on your work computer!

This sounds super-easy and we use this gift every day even on other apps that adapted it as a method, but it wasn’t that easy for two strangers to create this amazing tool.

Drew and His Love for Computers

Drew has always been fond of computers – he learned how to program in BASIC at the age of five. While in high school, he volunteered to test games from a certain company, finding lots of bugs that helped the company patch things up and have a working product! After this, the company contacted him and Drew got his first job at the age of only 14.

Drew always knew what he wanted – to work with computers and someday, have his own company. In 2001, he enrolled at MIT to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. While studying, he had a few ideas on how to start his own business, and even created his first startup! This startup was an SAT-prep-company and he was 21 years old when he created it alongside his high school teacher. Little did he know that it was just the beginning of his career in the tech world.

Drew graduated from MIT in 2006 and got his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Before he started Dropbox, he also worked for other startups like Hubspot, Accolade, and Bit9, gathering as much experience as he could before making his big move.

The Idea Behind Dropbox

One day in 2007, on his way to work, Drew decided to take a bus from Boston to New York. It was a 6-hours long trip, so he thought he could finish his work during the ride. Unfortunately, he had forgotten his USB flash at home - something that happened to him very often.

He was sick and tired of facing this problem repeatedly, so he thought that having all his work in one place and being able to access it from anywhere would make his life so much easier. This led to him writing some code to create a platform that would help him solve the problem.

At first, Drew didn’t have any clear idea what his project would be, but he continued to develop his code during his 6-hour trip.

The result?

The initial code for Dropbox!

Searching for a Business Soulmate

After writing the initial code, Drew thought that his newly created platform would help not just him, but also other students and employees. He contacted the Y Combinator, a company that supports startups, to help him fund his idea.

But creating a start-up wasn’t that easy – the Y Combinator asked for him to find a co-founder who would help him bring the idea to life, and gave him a deadline of two weeks.

Drew described the process of finding a partner on such short notice as ‘getting married on the first or second date’. Finding someone that would like his idea enough to devote their time and energy to it wasn’t easy, so Drew decided to look for a partner at MIT.

After all, that’s where he could find someone with similar interests!

From this point of view, it was a good decision because that’s where he met his partner in crime – Arash Ferdowsi.

Arash Ferdowsi – the Guy who Risked it All

Arash Ferdowsi also had a huge love for computers from an early age, learning his first programming language while still in elementary school. He went to MIT because he wanted to know how computers and algorithms work, and it seemed like the next logical step. His favorite class was Introduction to Algorithms.

Foreshadowing? No, just hard work!

He was madly in love with designing algorithms, which was why he really wanted to learn everything there was on the topic - something which would prove especially helpful in the early stages of creating Dropbox. Arash had seen a short demo video for Dropbox on Hacker News and decided to contact the guy in the video - Drew.

The meeting lasted for about two hours before they realized that they made the perfect team!

This meeting was a turning point for both: Arash decided to leave MIT with only one semester left and invest himself completely, whereas Drew was making his childhood dream come true.

Overcoming Obstacles and Finding Investors

Creating Dropbox was much harder than finding the right partner and having coffee. It required hard work, devotion, and determination, and this dynamic duo had all three in abundance. Drew and Arash complemented each other; they had matching ideas for the steps they wanted to make and shared similar values, but they worked on solving separate problems, which made them that much more efficient!

With his new partner, Drew went to Y Combinator again and this time the presentation was a success. Y Combinator connected them with Sequoia and Michael Moritz, a famous investor in startups and former member of Google’s board. Drew and Arash met with Michael, and they got their first funding - $1.2 million. The investment meant a lot to both of them and it motivated them to keep up the hard work.

Dropbox was launched publicly in September 2008, nearly a year after they received the funds. This might look like a long time, but Drew and Arash wanted to make sure that they had a good product that people would love.

Before the public launch, they managed to get a few hundred thousand sign-ups with simple demo videos which they posted on different platforms like Reddit and Slashdot, as well as by using guerilla marketing. Their simple offer attracted a lot of users – invite a friend and get free storage for both you and your friend! This simple tactic turned out to be extremely efficient, as the number of users just kept growing – from 5,000 to 200,000 in a matter of weeks!

David vs Goliath

The Dropbox fever seemed to catch everyone off-guard, including the one and only – Steve Jobs. Allegedly, in 2009, Steve Jobs had a meeting with Drew and Arash, as he was considering making an offer for their startup, which gained new users almost every minute. This was a huge deal for them since Steve has been a hero to Drew.

Arash and Drew went to the meeting trembling – what should they expect?

The word is, Steve wanted to buy Dropbox, but they denied the offer, and Steve’s responded to their rejection with a threat that he would crush them. This would scare anyone in the tech world, but not these two!

Drew knew that they had a good product and loyal and hard-working people who were devoted to fixing problems – the same type of problems that iCloud would have. He and Arash were focused on meeting users’ needs and were determined to stay independent - and they did.

In 2009, another tech giant showed interest in Dropbox. Mark Zuckerberg also contacted Drew via FB message, but he had different intentions – he wanted to join forces with Dropbox and collaborate. This partnership allowed Facebook users to add files directly from their Dropbox to any group or post.

Dropbox has become so popular, that even celebrities like Bono, The Edge, and Eddie Vedder invested in it.

Dropbox Now

Today, Dropbox has more than 500 million users, and almost 12 million of them pay for an annual subscription. In July 2020, Dropbox’s worth was valued at $8.82 billion.

Drew is still CEO and board member, while Arash stepped out of his position as a CTO of Dropbox in 2016, remaining just a member of the board of directors.

Arash and Drew still hold the same values that got them to the top, and even after all the bumps on their way to success, they stayed humble and gave their very best to meet their clients’ needs.

Imagine that life story - building your dream, rejecting the biggest tech mogul for it, and having it succeed - that must feel good!