Case Study – Dropbox CEO Speaks at Startup Lessons Learned 2011

Drew Houston, a Co-Founder and CEO of Dropbox discusses growing on an epic scale and where they are one year later. Drew began his talk discussing the importance of finding great people and giving them the freedom to be creative and do things their own way. They have gone a long way to make their work environment enjoyable.


Big results with a small number of people:

  • One visual designer (formerly community manager)
  • Server team of three manages 100+ billion files, 10+ petabytes of data
  • Strategy: divide and conquer, keep teams small
  • As team grows, values/cultures/mission made more explicit and deliberately taught to new people


  • Don’t do a lot of advanced planning
  • Need more than they used to: more stuff going on, functions outside of engineering, people don’t know what other people are up to, less information spreads by osmosis, grow more leaders internally
  • For a while doing too many things, and nothing would ship for months


  • Every quarter stop what you’re doing and come-up with 4-6 things you want to get done
  • Yearly goals and quarterly goals
  • Forms a hierarchy that is shared publicly
  • perfect is the enemy of good enough

Study how other companies grew:

  • challenges of scaling an org is things that used to work start failing quickly
  • try to lean from companies growing pains, don’t reinvent the wheel
  • take conform in that all other high-growth companies were pretty screwed-up too in their own special ways

Launch fast and iterate quickly:

  • different sub-teams need different engineering tradeoffs
  • most valuable asset is people’s trust. Years to build, seconds to lose if data is ever lost
  • need big investments

World is more complicated:

  • when you have lots of users – more is at state
  • a problem impacting just 0.1% of users can still be 25,000 people when you have 25 million users

It’s not easy being lean:

  • split testing and optimization is great, but you quickly run out of low hanging fruit
  • analytics are essential but hard to maintain

Build the right thing and build things right

Big problems hidden in plain sight – unsolved problem are all around us

It’s worth the pain!

Incredibly rewarding to make things that people use

Yes – we all still fit in one room, for now

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton