And thank you HN — I’m pretty sure the upvotes on the original screencast helped us get into YC and on Paul & Jessica’s radar to begin with!
Even you BrandonM — https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9224 — my favorite HN comment thread of all time :)
I like to think that I've gained a lot of perspective over the last 11 years; it's pretty clear to me that point #1 was short-sighted and exhibited a lot of tunnel vision. Looking back, though, I still think that thread was a reasonable exchange. My 2nd and 3rd points were fair, and I conceded much of point 1 to you after your reply (which was very high quality).
Obviously, we have the benefit of hindsight now in seeing how well you were able to execute. Kudos on that!
Congrats on your success! I wish you nothing but the best going forward!
Also, one thing I think people ignore is that BrandonM's comment was notable because it was voted to the top.
Which means that the people reading and voting on the thread, at the time, thought it was the best reply. But no one will ever point a finger at them, because they're anonymous. They also have less chance for self-reflection - who remembers an upvote?
(Which does of course raise the question: were people upvoting for that part, or despite it? We'll never know)
I don't know what's the best system to make people reconsider their actions, however. After all, giving a single upvote and walking away is incredibly easy. Coming back to recognize your mistakes is hard.
" No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame." for the original iPod, springs to mind.
I thought dropbox was a great idea from the very beginning... but I've been repeatedly amazed at the scale of the opportunity. People working cross-mobile/desktop must be a big part of it.
Or just multiple computers. Also don't forget file sharing and collaboration.
I'm a long-time Dropbox user, and my first use cases were, in order:
- shared folders with friends at university, when we were working on projects together
- shared folder for myself between personal computer and a station at work
Nowadays I use it mostly as a way to sync up my time/task tracking (in Emacs/org-mode) between multiple machines and mobile devices.
OTOH, my SO regularly uses Dropbox at work to exchange bundles of 200+MB files with other companies, and it's telling - there really is no better, safer solution for a regular user to send someone larger files when they no longer fit in an e-mail.
You seem like a great person & I wish you well with your own projects.
I think the typical HN user has morphed a bit at this point(re: crypto) but it’s great to be able to reference the totally aloof engineer that existed at that time.
I bet that describes a lot of the early HN (originally: Startup News) users. I don't think it was really "totally aloof engineers", but instead young geeks without much perspective on the world. Most of us weren't even engineers at that point, by any reasonable definition of the term.
However, the fact it has not died and is in fact 'a success' from the capitalist side of things, means what I think about filesharing being an OS service, doesn't really matter. Microsoft and Apple and all the other vendors are asleep at the wheel - but it has to be said that its just a distro upgrade away from being the end of Dropbox for a lot of people.
I mean, I guess I'm glad they didn't pull a Google and break it in new and exciting ways every 6 months, but really, it should have been changed back a week after they screwed it up.
Big congrats to the Dropbox team, though -- I use their product personally because it Just Works. Interviewed there back in 2011 when the office was (next to?) the old Fry's in Palo Alto.
The % used is seen when you click on the settings. I think because, honestly, they're trying to abstract the idea that you need to do that (the average user just cares that it works not the %).
Get where you're coming from tho - it's not the most clear or clean UI.
“Imagine all your devices—PCs, and soon Macs and mobile phones—working together to give you anywhere access to the information you care about.” Wait a minute. Something smells fishy here. Isn’t that exactly what Hailstorm  was supposed to be? I smell an architecture astronaut.
And what is this Windows Live Mesh?
It’s a way to synchronize files.
Jeez, we’ve had that forever. When did the first sync web sites start coming out? 1999? There were a million versions. xdrive, mydrive, idrive, youdrive, wealldrive for ice cream. Nobody cared then and nobody cares now, because synchronizing files is just not a killer application. I’m sorry. It seems like it should be. But it’s not.
Has he made any public comment on synchronizing files / killer app in the intervening years?
I think it's interesting to go back to that thread, look at what the author (BrandonM) has done since then and learn some important lessons about being able to step outside of your own head to see the bigger picture.
Looks like he's still working for another company and has an unfinished blog (http://shebang.brandonmintern.com) but he seems like a really smart guy. The takeaway I got from the thread is "Don't be afraid to try something and finish it".
You guys had a lot of courage and perseverance to take an idea that people trivialized, have a working implementation, build a company around it and then IPO.
It's very easy for tech people to say, "But it's totally easy, you just [long string of steps that they've learned over the course of years]." It takes time to learn that no, easy things for you can be hard for others. If you want them to use the thing, you have to make it dead easy. I note that Apple made a shit-ton of money because so many tech companies (e.g., MP3 player makers) refused to really learn this lesson.
His second point, that USB sticks were still necessary, wasn't bad, just not forward-looking enough. He wrote it before the introduction of the iPhone, after all. But back then, high-quality connectivity was much less common. Then, Dropbox would have worked better for some than others.
And his third point was correct. Charging cash money is important.
So really, it's not a bad comment for a CS student. And it reminds me that I'm very thankful that most of my youthful opinion-spouting happened in offline and pre-web contexts.
The people we really should be raking over the coals are the VCs who didn't invest. Spotting good products is their job.
if every Brandon out there was able to see the big picture, Dropbox would have had A LOT more competition, when Dropbox was still in the early stages. It would have made it a lot harder for Dropbox to succeed, right?
So in a way, the fact that the millions of Brandon's out there who think curlftpfs is the best, and are not capable of seeing the true value of Dropbox--perhaps that was a positive thing for Dropbox, right? Otherwise they might have tried to make a similar product and competed with you years ago :)
Unlike investing in the stock market, where you want to hit lots of singles, angel/startup investing is all about hitting home runs as the vast majority of the time you are going to strikeout.
Edit: someone posted an archived link: https://web.archive.org/web/20100817162301/http://dl-web.dro...
One of the highlights of my MIT experience was going to your ~yearly tech talks that you did at the beginning of the fall semester. I’m excited to see Dropbox continue to grow as a company. :)
2. He misunderstood initial description of Drop; that the files will reside locally even if you lose internet connection you still can access those.
3. He was wrong about "viral" but right about inability to "make money off of this" :)
Congrats on listing!
(Oh and of course it was the most voted comment, the 2nd one had more legitimate concerns)
As for your "nothing I can deploy on my own server" comment, checkout syncthing or Resilio. Both take a bit more doing than a simple Dropbox install, but I've found syncthing to be pretty bulletproof once it's configured and I've heard a lot of people prefer Resilio.
Show HN threads tend to get both constructive and mindless criticism. I don't think it's wrong to point out the unhelpful kind of criticism.
"Why would anyone want to keep downloading the same content over and over again when you could just ftp it to your machine?"
>For a Linux user, you can already build such a system yourself quite trivially by getting an FTP account, mounting it locally with curlftpfs, and then using SVN or CVS on the mounted filesystem. From Windows or Mac, this FTP account could be accessed through built-in software.
That is the epitome of not getting it.
I first met Drew at MIT, and first saw Dropbox when he was showing off what he was hacking on on his Windows laptop in a coffee shop in Cambridge at the start of the summer. My user id is 88, haha. The batch was tiny by today’s standards (what was it, 20 companies? less?). YC invested $5k plus $5k per founder, for food and rent and servers for three months, in exchange for 2-10% of your company. You could have office hours with Paul every week if you wanted. At the end of the summer, a bunch of us moved out west and lived in Crystal Tower in SF. When Drew raised $1m from Sequoia, I was shocked! YC founders at the beginning of the summer were generally two guys with an idea (if that), so raising VC out of the gate was rare. AppJet was another favorite of the batch, and we raised $90k from several angels to keep going. YC had already had its first acquisitions, like Zenter (presentation software acquired by Google).
In those days, the entire YC community was smaller than one batch today.
It is amazing to me to see start-ups I remember from back then still going, and even become household names. AirBnB (2008). Weebly (2006) is even older than Dropbox.
Way to change the world, PG and Jessica. And of course Drew and Arash!
"he suggested Drew delete his Demo Day presentation in the middle of giving it, and then recover it from Dropbox and keep going. Usually we don’t suggest gags like this during pitches, but this one made people pay attention."
$3000 -> $3614.05 according to https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm
Assuming no subsequent investments, dilution, selling of shares, etc.
Helping other people realise their dreams and only making 8/9 figures in the bargain. Can't imagine why they would bother.
And this is yet another good lesson for would be angel investors AND startup employees - DropBox to me was one of the most obvious product-market-fit startups with a great, competent founding team, A+ quality investors etc and it still took them 13 YEARS to go public and drive liquidity for founders, early employees, etc.
After another attempt at getting YC's attention, Drew Houston even got shooed out of YC's offices and went home feeling rejected and having "sour grapes" about the situation.
He only got into YC because he created a demo video that HN loved. And that HN post easily could have been buried by a bigger story or whatever. A quantum of luck was involved.
This should have permanently disproven the entire concept of judging a founder's potential in interviews. Unfortunately, people love the feeling of being a judge. Deciding the fate of other people, however incompetently, is an irresistible joy for many.
Paul Graham talked (in his speech at Stanford) about his own inability to correctly judge founders after a decade of trying. Calling it guesswork. Too bad that he retired and it went unfixed at YC, but something crowdfunding-ICOs may be the ultimate fix anyway.
Thanks to decentralization, we can (hopefully) look forward to an accelerating number of companies as good as Dropbox.
There are some companies where it's easy to see why they were missed. I never saw the point of AirBnB, never would use the service myself. But DropBox had almost universal appeal.
Congrats to Drew, Arash, and the Dropbox team!
I only now remember off hand the passwords for less than a dozen apps. Dropbox being one of them, my private email/domain, Google account and a handful of others.
That's the biggest endorsement I can provide for any successful product that I use, day in and day out.
We’d met Drew the year before. [...]
Adam Smith’s big brother in MIT’s
Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
He came to the afterparty at our house
[...] I remember him being likeable,
earnest, and very energetic.
Cryptomator is headed in the right direction (and open source!), but they have not yet implemented iOS 11 Files integration. Boxcryptor has, and it actually works OK, but desktop performance is poor.
Really? What were they doing funding it, then? I hadn't realized that wasn't the original idea at YCombinator.
It's easy to take the YC model for granted today, but back then what they were doing was sort of crazy. Their insight was that these young founders were diamonds in the rough, and their brilliance was fighting for these founders when no one else would
Edit: readability, more links
Funding a company that IPOs is pretty wild when you think about it in that context.
Bacardi does revenues of 5 billion plus and they're private. I'd say that's a successful business.
See reference at the bottom:
"Samsung is not to be confused with its publicly traded subsidiary Samsung Electronics"
IPOs can have lengthy lock up periods and are generally much worse for leadership than acquisition (disclosure of personal information like compensation).
Apologies if this is a naive question but I haven't had much success Googling.
I've never heard of a company going public without an investment bank's support. I assume there was a law to require this.
When did that happen?
Dropbox had the support of lots of investment banks. Even Spotify is hiring banks to advise it in its direct listing, even if the banks aren't underwriting . If you want to read about the roles of investment banks and other financial institutions in IPOs and the existence and history of alternatives, you might want to read some of the news coverage surrounding Spotify's choice to use a direct listing.
 https://www.reuters.com/article/brief-dropbox-inc-files-for-... lists about a dozen investment banks involved in the underwriting
If Jobs did succeed in acquiring Dropbox, it would have been shuttered and the tech would have been absorbed by the iCloud borg, depriving us from the Dropbox product.
Thanks for that!
I'm not sure you'll find much well-reasoned support for this notion outside of California and college campuses.
Contemporary events for another notion you wouldn't find "outside California and college campuses" succeed in toppling Brendan Eich at Mozilla. The only difference I could tell then was that the Dropbox board put its foot down in support of Ms Rice and Mozilla's board folded.
Get so big I can give the middle finger to Apple.
Although I've gotten less bitter since I found React-Native.
I remember the first day I heard about Dropbox and I was amazed by it, it made perfect sense. Since then I'm a client and as an entrepreneur, it's a company I always looked up to.
Dropbox might've been the first in the field, but it has no selling point above STACK for me since it doesn't implement public key cryptography just like the other providers. Google's sell point is that compressed photos are free storage (although -obviously- unencrypted).
Which suggests, to me, that they're accessing the data or perhaps saving a few GBs with say ZFS dedup (ultimately not a trade-off in the interest of the user). Because otherwise, the lag would be client-side only (after all, the clients employ the cryptography).
That statement suggests YC was looking more for buyouts than IPO's, which isn't necessarily wrong, but it wasn't a quote I'd have anticipated.
When you aren't sure how to value the assets and business of a company, optics unavoidably make a difference in the way you trade the company's stock. Look at all these software and tech services companies that are priced off of wonky numbers like EV/sales multiples if you don't believe me.
If people see a strong bid, they may be more likely to perceive it as bullishness, which influences their own trading decisions. As a result, the company may actually end up with a higher eventual valuation once the IPO dust has settled and the price has found an equilibrium.
Not to mention that the offered stake isn't the whole company.
its in the company's interest to have IPO investors (their first public mkt investors) rewarded, as it keeps them from selling too much, and it attracts other investors to the stock. dropbox is still unprofitable, so it will probably need to raise more equity in the future, and it helps to reward your early investors
it also makes the investment banks happy -- their clients made money on the deal. if dropbox's banks are happy, that helps dropbox, bc as mentioned above, it will need their services again
the happier public market investors are, the higher the stock price will go. most employees cant sell stock for at least a few months, and if outside public investors are happy, then by the time employees can sell, the stock will be worth much more
if you price too high and all the proceeds accrue to the company rather than investors, you get a debacle like facebooks IPO, where the stocked dropped and didnt recover for over a year
What is the volume trading at 44% above the opening price?
When you put $700mm of securities on the market you need to price them low enough so that investors hold.
RIP pre-IPO investors.
I was at Dropbox from 2012 to 2016 and (while I'll lose out, relatively speaking, on taxes due to having a lot in RSUs, and I've mentioned on HN before being frustrated with the illiquidity of RSUs) people in my employee "cohort" should be fine as well.
Side note: what does Dropbox use to build the UI for their desktop app? I think it's written in python no? so what UI do they use?
There's a bit of webviews these days, although there are Qt fallbacks or handoffs to actual browsers for everything important, for both compatibility and accessibility. Screen readers and QTWebViews did not play nice together when we implemented it.
(I work at Dropbox, although not on the client team, I had built some infrastructure that supported client webviews.)
(That information might be incorrect or out-of-date.)
Stopped using DropBox due to ethical concerns years ago.
What does that mean?
Yeah, way below Dropbox's valuation, but still significantly more money than I expect to ever be a party to.
Here is how I see it.
1) He wasn't straightforward -- i.e. he didn't outright say "we are already funding an idea similar/identical to yours " but I wouldn't call him a liar.
2) Who knows what his intentions are. Maybe he wanted to eliminate competition. Maybe he saw the dropbox team ahead/better-positioned and wanted to save these new applicants the time.
But put yourself in his shoes. What would/could you do? The only other option was to accept them and merge them with dropbox team... but its not clear that this is a good idea or even an option acceptable to the dropbox team.
So given my new uncertainty I decided to remove it.
Congratulations all around, and we finally get to see whether DropBox is actually minting money or not.
Usually you don't want to sell your stock to the public after it's crashed.
But, stepping back ... I'm sure that a lot of the folks here would agree that something as basic as file-sync should be a standard part of any OS, and follow a non-proprietary protocol.
So whereas they have turned something that should have been a commodity into a profitable business, I'm not sure what we have achieved here.
AFS, NFS, Coda, 9P, WebDAV, SMB/CIFS, FTP, Windows roaming profiles, AFP, etc. were all around and (to varying levels) built into OSes well before Dropbox. Dropbox was a fundamentally different model: files stay on your local machine and get synchronized, instead of living on the network. The entire idea that live synchronization is the correct approach is almost entirely due to Dropbox's success; any OS designer before 2007 would have said "Yes, we have something as basic as a networked filesystem."
If you're objecting to the fact that it takes a commercial venture to explore and develop these sorts of ideas, I too dislike that we're in that place. But it's true. We haven't achieved a way to develop standard computer infrastructure without capitalism, yes; but we've certainly achieved meaningful technology that did not previously exist that's actually working for people.
(And, also, almost all of those protocols I mentioned were developed by profitable businesses like Sun or Transarc or Apple or whomever, and only made non-proprietary at great effort. The ones that started off with public specs, like WebDAV and FTP, were the worst.)
While private business certainly is essential, let's not go too far. I can think of ... maybe just one or two pieces of standard computer infrastructure not developed by private business or for profit. Need I list them?
I definitely think that part of Dropbox bet was that the Internet wouldn't develop much in the future. A bet they aren't alone in making.
You mention a bunch of filesystems (some of which with much better scalability than Dropbox), but omit Rsync. Rsync works with any of these filesystems.
The most successful data distribution systems which predate these are from the '90s and before Usenet (esp volume with the binaries) and scene (or FXP). However, the former is mostly public data and the latter is inherently insecure.
Dropbox was nothing special. It was just the first popular one who had a GUI on top of Rsync, and who sold data storage within a package. Its essentially a lucky shot.
WebDAV works great for client-server, but it has a disadvantage: locking works terrible. OwnCloud/NextCloud uses WebDAV, btw.
You might enjoy this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PE4gwstWhmc
Of course there's more to Dropbox than that, you also have 3rd party "cloud" storage which is an important feature, especially if you want your file to remain available to 3rd parties when you shutdown your machine.
It's the "non-proprietary" part you're not ever going to see. Someone has to pay for storage.
Commodity businesses are universally profitable businesses for the survivors. The companies don't stick around otherwise.
Convenience stores, typical pizza places, liquor stores, tons of grocery store products, most office supplies, generic clothing, power adapters, most physical digital storage, brick & cement companies, the 58000 self storage facilities, the world is filled with profitable commodity products and businesses (and they're often very large).
If it were basic, then it would be standard as you say. Therefore it must be a lot more complicated.