Drew Houston ’05 is no stranger to hard work. Since graduating MIT, he’s become the co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, the file hosting service with 400 million users to date. But he still says that his time at MIT was more challenging.
“That’s one of the nice things about MIT—nothing has been that hard ever since,” he says. “MIT pushed me in a lot of ways to become much stronger, and it really taught me how to learn, and work harder than I thought was possible. So I’m really proud of that.”
Houston credits his fraternity, and his role as rush chair. “It was really awesome to be in close quarters with such a different variety of people. And I’d never had that before. It’s this amazing petri dish for management where you just got to watch a lot of different leadership styles, and you could tell what worked and what didn’t.”
The original idea for Dropbox was spawned in 2007 as Houston tried to catch up on work for an earlier startup. As he was working on his laptop on the Fung Wah Chinatown bus, he realized he had left his thumb drive with the data at home.
“There was no way I could get any work done,” he says. “And this was all in the days before the iPhone. So when you don’t have anything to do, you really don’t have anything to do.” He thought to himself, “I never want to have this problem again.”
And thus, the idea for Dropbox was born—trying to solve a simple but frustrating problem. Now Houston, along with his co-founder and CTO Arash Ferdowsi ’08, gets to do that on a much larger scale.
“To be able to build things that hundreds of millions of people use is really a wild experience,” says Houston.
“So there’s maybe 1,400 of us in the company. But you think about it, a thousand people solving a problem for hundreds of millions of people, it’s pretty amazing to be able to do that.”
Houston says that his experiences at MIT helped prepare him for the work he does. “We handpick everybody we work with. So I’m still rush chair—as I was for my fraternity—for my company. And so it’s fun. It’s a really high-stakes and interesting and varied game that really helps a lot of people.”
Want to know more? Watch Houston’s 2013 Commencement address.