Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi

How Two Guys That Barely Knew Each Other Build One Of The Biggest Cloud Storage Companies In The World

Tim Groot
Tim Groot
Jul 13, 2015 · 6 min read

Remember the time you had to bring a USB stick everywhere, you probably even had a USB stick on your key chain? I know, it seems like a long time ago, but it isn’t. And it because of two students who started a partnership when they barely knew each other that made the USB stick and almost all storage hardware, a thing of the past. Meet Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, the two masterminds behind one of the world’s largest cloud solutions, Dropbox.

Before Dropbox
Drew comes from Acton, Massachusetts. He graduated from MIT with a degree in Computer Science and was also a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. Arash is an American from Iranian descent and was brought up in Overland Park, Kansas. Arash went to MIT as well, but dropped out to focus on his business.

Before starting Dropbox or even meeting each other, Arash and Drew were already focussed on building businesses. Arash started a book exchange website called BookX@mit with some friends and Drew being a member of the MIT Entrepreneurs Club.

According to an article on the MIT alumni website, Drew always was very interested in business and management courses and took several during his time at MIT. Arash was more interested in engineering, he was really into making solutions scalable and ended up applying for an internship at Facebook. Arash said that “The fact that it was growing so rapidly, meant that they were doing pretty innovative things to reach scale, that definitely appealed to me.”

When Adam Smith, a good friend of Drew, went to San Francisco in September 2006 to starta company, it gave Drew the proper motivation. “If he could do it, I knew I could,” says Houston in an interview with Forbes. “I wanted to live the dream and felt stuck eating Hot Pockets.” Drew started to work harder to realize his dream of being an entrepreneur.

It was during a bus ride three months later, that Drew came up with the idea for Dropbox.

His plan was to work on a project during the trip, but he forgot his USB drive and couldn’t work. In his frustration he started working on a bit of code that eventually was the basis for Dropbox.

After four months of building and testing he flew to San Francisco to pitch his idea to Paul Graham of Y Combinator. After a not so successful meeting, Graham insisted that he have a cofounder before pitching the idea. Drew was under pressure, he had only two weeks to find someone he trusted enough to start his company with.

When They Met
It was the summer of 2007 and Drew had two weeks to find a partner to help him build Dropbox. He headed back to Boston and started asking around, hoping someone would want to help him out. Drew recalls the following about the process: “That’s one of the great things about MIT — you know what real talent looks like.” He was at the perfect spot to find a cofounder, it was only a matter of time.

It was through a friend that he got in touch with Arash, who was studying Computer Science at MIT at the time. But even before their introduction Arash was aware of Drew’s plan, since Drew posted a screencast of Dropbox on Hackersnews.

Arash was reluctant at first, as he says himself, “These things don’t generally work out so well.”

But after talking to Drew for about five hours in two conversations, he convinced Arash to join the venture. Arash adds, “I think part of it was just having the itch like Drew did.”

“We went to the coffee house at the student center because that’s the only thing we could do,” Houston recalls. “At the time, I was just like, this kid seems pretty smart. I can’t say it was this careful process where I had 19 things I was looking for, but he seemed intelligent and cool, and we spent a good two hours together talking. At the end, he said ‘Okay, yeah, I’ll drop out next week.’” Houston likes to describe it as if they got married on the second date.

Now that he had time to reflect, Drew realizes how lucky he got with Ferdowsi, and he has some advice for young entrepreneurs looking for their other halves. “The most important thing is whether you respect this person, whether you trust them. Are they someone that you can see yourself being in the trenches with for a long time, because you’re going to see them more than your spouse or your significant other.”

Ferdowsi dropped out of school with just six months to go. The pair worked tirelessly for three months in a cramped office in Cambridge, waking up everyday at noon and working till dawn the next day. “I think we started like most of these tech companies begin. Just a couple of guys in their boxers coding in a dark room,” Houston says. “We just kept our heads down and built.”

The Secret Formula
Drew and Arash created a big, easy to use and innovative product, you could say they created the complete package. Interesting is the fact that within only two short interactions they decided to work together, especially for Drew who trusted his brainchild with a complete stranger. Drew was under a lot of pressure and maybe that boosted his decision making, but it was a big risk.

Arash had little business experience, but Drew saw that his talents were a perfect fit with his own competencies. They shared a vision and intuitions for technology and how to run company. Of course both men have their separate focus that balance each other. Drew says that it is Arash’s pragmatism that helps keep his optimism in perspective. “So we have this kind of yin and yang thing going,” he says.

Drew and Arash still work side by side, growing their company to amazing heights. But they are not your typical business leaders. As c-level executives they are still very approachable within Dropbox, they really make this huge company feel more intimate and personal. It is this kind of attitude that sets them apart and gives this pair an extra reason to admire.

Conclusion
It is hard to imagine that you would even spend a week with a person you have just met, but to build a company and spend every waking hour together, that just sounds insane. But Drew and Arash pulled it off, they worked hard and really came with a game changer. When reading their story, I feel inspired, inspired to make decisions with my heart and just see where it takes me. The following learning points I derived from this larger than life story:

Get introduced by others. Drew would have never met Arash if it wasn’t for that first set up. It was key for their introduction, even though they were geographically so close to each other, they needed a third person to bring them together. What I really think is important, and I want to emphasize this/ stress this point, is that people are often reluctant to follow advice and think they have better judgement in who they should meet. I disagree with that, you should keep an open mind, listen to other people’s suggestions and be prepared to make new connection, especially those suggested by others.

Choose the right environment. Drew said it himself, he was in the right place. MIT and the Entrepreneurs Club are perfect breeding grounds to start working out larger than life business ideas. Of course not everyone has access to these kind places, but almost every city has entrepreneurial networks and organizations that anyone can join. Do this, this will really benefit your network and gives you the opportunity to ventilate your ideas.

Make sure you and your co-founder(s) have a shared vision of business and product. Arash and Drew worked so well together because they agree on the visionary aspect. They share a belief in how to run a business and how their product should be. It is of utter importance that you as an entrepreneur are communicating transparently or clearly with the person you work with and both parties are at the same level. This is crucial for a successful partnership, so keep talking and keep discussing your vision on how to run a company.

Did you like this article? Hit the recommend button!

The Story Of Grip

The digital handshake of the world.

Tim Groot

Written by

Tim Groot

There Are Things Known, and Things Unknown, and In Between Are the Doors

The Story Of Grip

The digital handshake of the world.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade