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Dropbox's Summer 07 YC Application (getdropbox.com)
310 points by revorad on Sept 3, 2009 | hide | past | favorite | 59 comments

What happens when I read this:

File syncing. Superset of backups, which people will pay for. Good. Single founder. Bad. But at least he's looking for more people. Went to MIT, 1600 SAT. Probably fairly smart. Wrote a poker bot. Now I'm starting to get interested; has the right attitude. Description of the software sounds plausible but generic. Maybe it's good, but who can tell. But little sister uses it; that's impressive. Scroll down to what he understands that competitors don't get. Wow: very concise and unequivocal. I'm now basically sold. Scroll through the rest. No red flags. Did not make the usual joke single founders make when asked how long the founders have known one another. Good answer to what might go wrong. A-. (Would be an A with a cofounder.)

I went back and looked at this application in our system, and I did in fact give it an A-.

An A- means "I want to interview." An A means "I want to interview, even if Rtm and Trevor don't."

I only gave 2 As in s2007. (We funded both those companies, and both did badly.)

You should give founders these notes from the application during YC. It's gotta be brutally honest, probably more so than you are to someone's face.

I don't actually write this stuff down. That was just what my train of thought was while reading the application.

Beautiful, thanks for the insight into the process.

Would you be so kind and create a public archive of YC applications (with of course the applicant's consent) for us to mull over?

Regardless whether you oblige or not, all those applications, all those admitted (and rejected) to the YC, and the life-time of their startup or, if they're fortunate enough, the state of their startup would serve a most interesting entry-point for an essay.

How did the A's and A-'s from other years do?

"Did not make the usual joke single founders make when asked how long the founders have known one another."

What's the usual joke?...

I assume it's "my whole life! /smilewink".

.. or "I'm still not sure I do"?

Or "I have a split personality so really you are getting two people for the price of one"

I assumed "usual" implied not a certain specific joke, but the presence of a joke.

"Dropbox synchronizes files across your/your team's computers. It's much better than uploading or email, because it's automatic, integrated into Windows, and fits into the way you already work. There's also a web interface, and the files are securely backed up to Amazon S3. Dropbox is kind of like taking the best elements of subversion, trac and rsync and making them "just work" for the average individual or team. Hackers have access to these tools, but normal people don't."

That is probably the most amazingly succinct and interesting elevator pitch I have read/heard. It clearly defines the product, the problem it solves, and provides metaphors for better understanding.

If you already know what subversion, trac, and rsync are.

And since he was pitching to PG - then it was completely appropriate. Your elevator pitch can change based on who you are talking to.

case in point, the pitch to his sister is/was: "You'll be able to keep track of all your high school term papers, and you wont need to burn CDs or carry USB sticks anymore."

I have a funny story about Dropbox which happened two weeks ago. I have a friend who has been running a travel business for about 6 years. During that time, I've hosted her website, email, etc...for $5/month. I've also spent quite a bit of time upgrading her website with each release of the CMS, customizing things and doubling her disk space 3 times (for free) as her email ate up disk space.

Needless to say, I was losing on this deal. So, one day she emails me and asks how much a server would cost. In an effort to save her money, I ask her why she needs a dedicated server. Her response was, "To share files with a new part-time helper." OK, so you sure don't need a dedicated server for that and I recommended that she try Dropbox and if she doesn't like it, let me know and I'll spec out a server for her if that is what she really wants.

A week later she asks me to give her the login details for her account so she can move her email and files over to a new server. Surprised, I ask her what provider and how much she's paying. She signed a 13 month contract with a no-name, 1 person company for $750/month. Oh, and he's not hosting the website...just files and email, so I get to keep managing that.

Lessons learned:

1) I'm apparently charging WAY too little for services rendered.

2) Don't break your neck helping people for nothing, expecting some kind of return later.

3) Don't recommend Dropbox (j/k)

I don't actually know what's going on, but it sounds awfully a lot like you like this person and are being taken advantage of.

I was happy to do it when she started. She quit her (good) job to start the biz and had no money. Her lifestyle hasn't changed and I figured she was trudging along in the "valley of death". It seems she's doing ok now, but my guess is that this server will be a major strain on her profits and she made an impulse buy. The "company" was recommended to her by someone she looks up to. I actually feel sorry for her because she is getting ripped off.

The experience made me seriously rethink everything I'm currently doing.

That's an understatement

Just want to take this opportunity to say that I love dropbox and its an awesome service. Great job by Drew and the rest of the team.

So he was a single founder at the time of his YC application. Did he end up finding a cofounder?

According to https://www.getdropbox.com/about , Arash Ferdowsi is a founder (and CTO). Looks like the entire dropbox team is 15 people.

One of the most remarkable things about this application is how accurately it predicted what Dropbox would be. The idea isn't hard to grasp, but its brilliant execution continues to distinguish dropbox as a surprisingly good product.

I think it's fair to assume that YC et al are looking for some or all of the elements demonstrated here - a feasible and practical idea, demonstrated skills, some thought out strategy / swot analysis.

For me, what makes this application as a sole founder stand out from the many other talented people who apply?

> How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet?

There's a joke in here somewhere.

> How long have the founders known one another and how did you meet?

There's a joke in here somewhere.

I'm curious about what other sole founders answered here. I believe I wrote "Does a man ever truly know himself?" once...

"I am currently the sole founder. This has to change for Fleaflicker to survive."

"The ridiculous things people name their documents to do versioning, like "proposal v2 good revised NEW 11-15-06.doc", continue to crack me up. "

So true...

i would love to see how some successful non-yc company founders would have filled this application out in their early days. ie- joshu, pg with viaweb,etc. pretty fascinating stuff.

here is one answer of one of the aforementioned parties: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=715667

Curious: what happened to accoladeprep.com?

It amazes me how many people - normal, laypeople, not smart crazy hackers like us - recommend dropbox for file stuff these days. Kudos for creating something we now can't live without.

Yep, I once casually introduced my graphic designer housemate to it. And he swears by it now! In his own words, "Dropbox has completely changed my life".

hmm... the last line kind of surprised me, even though I don't think I should be surprised. Do you think the Dropbox folks ever look at your filenames and/or open your files? I guess I similarly wonder if the Google Gmail folks ever read my emails. I'm not really worried about them doing it in some systemic evil fashion so much as some random developer or sysop just looking through things.

Anyway, thanks for posting this. I'm a huge Dropbox fan and it was cool seeing a bit of their history.

That doesn't have to be a file from the users. It can be a sample filename he sees his colleagues names; thus trying to solve the problem of versioning by filename by non SCM users.

GMail support people cannot look at your mail (though they can close your account, among other awesome powers). I imagine there must be techs somewhere in the chain that are able to access mail, but the GMail people who regularly interact with customers cannot.

he's making a case for the product with this statement.

Amazing application. Out of curiosity, how much equity did YC take? (6%)?

haha - sales oriented guy - i do more than that @dhouston!

Does providing the blow and hookers really count?

This is an interesting little anecdote from their blog - http://blog.getdropbox.com/?p=33

A late to the party comment: I (just now!) finished a submission for an SBIR grant.

Even though I understand why the SBIR submission is the way that it is, the simplicity of this application form makes me jealous. :( I've been doing 6am-2am for two days in a row now and not even writing code.

Dropbox is indispensable to me. It is my main sync method of my most important Keynote outliner file. I am impressed by their obvious technical mastery as well as their clear idea of how things could turn out and how they could find their niche.

Got to love the guy's confidence.

How can people thing this big? I could never even think about such a service. I would be afraid. How do I keep up with free disk space, crashed, backups? I could never do it.

This is all taken care of using Amazon S3 services.

Interesting read. I wish dropbox had gone ahead with their initial plan to charge $5 a month for individual users. I would happily pay for this service, but $120/year for personal backup is too much. Something in the $50-60pa mark sounds better. Instead I use dropbox all my shared docs, and backup to my own S3 account for larger backups and one-way sharing of bigger files.

I would give this guy an interview.

> ... and an 'enterprise' plan that features, well, a really high price.

I love this part of the plan.

Brief discussion from not too long ago: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=715584

You've got to appreciate was the directness of the answers to questions on the application.

I really think pg should create a very successful business just on reading startups proposals and giving them ratings and charging them for his analysis. Please let me build it for you. Anyways.. more please.


In less then 12 months either Apple, Google or Microsoft will buy DropBox for more than 500m$

If none buy by then, then say you didn't say than.

Apple already has a similar system as part of Mobile Me (formerly .Mac, formerly iTools) but they charge $99/yr for it ($10/mo would mean a higher price AND more customers) and don't do a great job marketing it (and it doesn't work as well on Windows).

Maybe they'd buy DropBox just to get people who know how to market this shit.

I would think Amazon would buy it.

I don't know about your time frame, but I agree that DropBox will be acquired eventually.

Love the last answer.

Re the penultimate answer, inkscape has a shared whiteboard facility, never used it though.

This made me happy.

Cool, I wish I could take part in YC too.

This is very cool.

What happens when Mike reads this:

I think, "Brilliant!" To my eyes, you can tell the applicant is sharp, has put a lot of thought into the problem area, has a breadth of technical skills, has a track record that shows he had ambition, vision and can execute, and oh, by the way, he's out to solve a real problem that people have every day. So yeah, that's a good application to study. And it helps that, since then, at least in my opinion as a big user and fan of Dropbox as it works today, he has successfully executed on that vision and plan. Well done, man. Well done.

And bonus points for having Python in the stack. :)

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