Starting today, we’ll be running a recurring series to introduce the members of the Dropbox team. Ever wanted to know who wrote the client, or maybe who drew all of our error images? Starting out the series is Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox. Drew, like most of the team, is an MIT graduate, and brings experience from several other startups to the team. Drew’s a talented coder, hardcore Pearl Jam lover, and a fan of mediocre food. On top of being CEO and the mastermind behind the Dropbox idea, Drew spearheads development of the client team (the other teams being web and server), and is largely responsible for the look and feel of Dropbox as you know it today. By the way, all of these questions were provided by our users in the forums.
What was your inspiration for Dropbox?
I needed it badly. I worked on multiple desktops and a laptop, and could never remember to keep my USB drive with me. I was drowning in email attachments trying to share files for my previous startup. My home desktop’s power supply literally exploded one day, killing one of my hard drives, and I had no backups.
I tried everything I could find but each product inevitably suffered problems with Internet latency, large files, bugs, or just made me think too much.
Nothing just worked, so I started hacking something together for myself and then realized it could solve these problems for a lot of other people.
What operating system do you prefer?
My main development desktop runs Windows Vista x64. Someone’s gotta do it. Of course, I use all 3 major platforms every day — I’ve also got synergy linking my Mac desktop to my Windows machine and I use a Macbook Air as my primary laptop, and have a variety of Linux VMs and servers (I’ve been a Linux fan since the Slackware days.)
What’s the coolest use of Dropbox you’ve seen?
Dropbox being used to coordinate multiple tractors on a farm …I don’t even know where to start. We’ve seen some pretty awesome stuff from users on our Wiki too.
What is the most annoying thing you hear from Dropbox customers?
We get feature requests for things we already have. These are particularly bad because it means that even though we’ve implemented something, our users can’t find it — so we pay close attention when that happens.
How much sleep do you have and are you more the morning type or do you prefer to work in the deep of the night?
Definitely late night. We’re all night owls — I’m usually up till 3-4am and get between 5-8 hours of sleep a night.
To be a little bit psychological: If you were a tree, what kind would you be?
I have an idea of which tree our investors would like me to say :)
Where do you see Dropbox in 5 years?
What we want to do as a company is let you sit at any computer (or device) and have access to all your stuff.
For example, in college I could go from one workstation to any of the thousands of others on campus and not only could I see all my files but my entire desktop and environment. But after I graduated, I was on my own.
So we’re trying to build that kind of seamless experience for the rest of the world. It’s a simple idea, but very challenging to build — certainly enough to keep us busy for the next 5 years.
How much impact do you think will the recent developments on the financial markets aka crisis have on your business?
Everyone will be negatively impacted to some extent. However, while other companies are cutting back, we’re fortunate enough to have the resources to grow.
Great companies are often built in down economic times. A lot of talent is available and there’s less distraction — and it keeps you focused on making something people want and are willing to pay for.
Did you ever think Dropbox would get as big as it is today?
Yes and no.
Yes, because it was clear that the world needed an elegant solution to these problems, and in “the future” they would simply not exist. As we would later explain to friends and investors, it’s hard to imagine Tom Cruise in Minority Report sending himself files via Gmail or lugging around a USB thumbdrive.
No, because we’ve been repeatedly surprised at how well Dropbox has resonated with our users, from the phenomenal response from Digg to the rate of growth and positive feedback that continues today. That said, we are our own harshest critics and have an almost endless list of things we want to improve.
What can Dropbox users expect in 2009, and what’s your favorite upcoming feature?
I can’t go into too many details, but I’m most excited about the new and unannounced ideas we’re working on around sharing and collaboration. So far we’ve only scratched the surface.
Of course, we’re also furiously working on the most-requested features like the ability to watch folders outside your Dropbox, selectively sync files on different devices, define more controls on shared folders, and so on.