1. 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.
2. It doesn't actually replace a USB drive. Most people I know e-mail files to themselves or host them somewhere online to be able to perform presentations, but they still carry a USB drive in case there are connectivity problems. This does not solve the connectivity issue.
3. It does not seem very "viral" or income-generating. I know this is premature at this point, but without charging users for the service, is it reasonable to expect to make money off of this?
windows for sure doesn't hide latency well (CIFS is bad, webdav etc. are worse), and most apps are written as if the disk was local, and assume, for example, accessing a file only takes a few ms. if the server is 80ms away, and you do 100 accesses (e.g. the open file common dialog listing a directory and poking files for various attributes or icons) serially, suddenly your UI locks up for _seconds_ (joel spolsky summarizes this well in his article on leaky abstractions.) ditto saving any file; you change one character in your 20mb word file and hit save, and your upstream-capped 40k/sec comcast connection is hosed for 8 minutes. sure for docs of a few hundred k it's fine, but doing work on large docs on an online drive feels like walking around with cinder blocks tied to your feet. anyway, the point of that rant was that dropbox uses a _local_ folder with efficient sync in the background, which is an important difference :)
2. true, if you're both not at your computer and on another computer without net access, this won't replace a usb drive :) but the case i'm worried about is being, for example, on a plane, and dropbox will let you get to the most recent version of your docs at the time you were last connected, and will sync everything up when you get back online (without you having to copy anything or really do anything.)
3. there are some unannounced viral parts i didn't get to show in there :) it'll be a freemium model. up to x gb free, tiered plans above that.
The part about efficient background sync is a good point, too. I have noticed some minor lagging using curlftpfs in Linux, and that might be something that would make for a better solution in the Linux world, so thanks for that idea.
Your use-case described in #2 does make sense, but I still agree with others' comments here that claiming that it replaces USB drives is a bad idea in general. All of your feedback was well-thought-out and appreciated; I only hope that I was able to give you a sneak preview of some of the potential criticisms you may receive. Best of luck to you!
My suggestion is to drop the "Throw away your USB drive" tag line and use something else... it will just muddy your vision.
Kudos for launching it!!! Launching/shipping is extremely hard and you pulled it off! Super!
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$0.15 per GB-Month of storage used.
$0.20 per GB of data transferred.
So, that means Dropbox is going to have to resell S3 at a premium for the added value of these nice Coda-like features. Would you pay a premium for these Dropbox features? Maybe, I don't know.
Also, what's the typical use case? How much bandwidth/storage are people going to consume? Because, if I store 100 megabytes... my bill will pennies every month (going on S3 prices). You cannot transact pennies per user per month. If you could, then you've cracked the micropayments problem wide open. Maybe there would be a base fee? Like $5/month or something. Would people pay that much for online storage?
More interesting is the user experience. Creating something users can enjoy, agree with, and possibly part money for is a much more difficult problem to solve than figuring out to make large scale storage cost effective.
Anyway you slice it, you need to have a profit margin. And with a commodity like storage (and the soon-to-be commodity of online storage), you have to be competitve with market prices. The reason that most YC startups can worry about user adoption is because they aren't tied down to this problem. They aren't really making commodities and the cost of makign the product isn't so suffocating.
That's why Dropbox needs to plan for moving off S3. There is so much innovation in storage backends... so much research to read. Think of Google Filesystem. It makes storage very very very cheap.
Here's a good plan for Dropbox. Use S3 as a secondary solution. The primary storage should be local to them (servers running a filesystem that takes advantage of unique properties of the workload... like Google does). When it fills up, traffic thereafter is handled by S3 instead. Then, they can relax in worrying about and scaling local storage. They can take their time buying more hardware, and rolling out software changes to the storage system. They can migrate the data from S3 to local storage at will. And now, their customers can be charged a flexible price, because they control their own expenses. In other words, think of S3 as "datacenter outsourcing".
But this might be too long-term... it might be something to worry about post-YC.
But I think it might be easy to build a storage implementation that runs local and exposes the same exact interface as S3. And, poof, we just abstract the whole backend away, and just flip a switch when we want to go one way or the other. And it reduces latency. Then you go after zero-downtime data migration from S3 to your local systems... which can be done I think... and I think you would be happy.
I saw your short demo at BarCamp and I must say Dropbox looks great! Are you planning on having a Linux port as well, or is too early to talk about that?
Also, as another SFP applicant I have to tell you that I really hope you get the funding - you deserve it.
In short, I guess I'm curious what separates Dropbox from using a free FTP service which is connected either through Windows' built-in Network Places or Linux's curlftpfs. There are obvious differences, but are they enough to warrant fees?
a linux port is doable (mac will come first) -- everything's written in python and was designed from the outset to be portable. although this isn't the initial focus of dropbox, a linux port would be interesting for maintaining small web sites or web apps -- instead of using scp/sftp or equivalent you could just modify the files on your desktop and have them synced to your web host.
Congrats on a great product. A linux port would be great for servers - I'm always rsyncing stuff between my linux boxes.
For those who don't have shell access though, it would be cool if you integrated the service with (S)FTP. I don't even think you'd need to sync to the server.
Just giving the user the ability push his/her dropbox public folder to a server using (S)FTP would give your software several new use cases.
The app looks great.
That's a huge issue you should consider. Why would people feel comfortable leaving their valuable stuff on "Drews" server?
Only suggestion I would have is go slower on the demo. I know you lost me very early into it switching between windows.
If you are looking for a wider audience than those who already know the context of dropbox, make a video where you lay out the case for use of dropbox using simple examples from user point of view(think a college student) and then in the demo show just the basic features. I got the feeling you tried to show too many features too quickly.
In general, I have realized it is much better to launch with something that does a few things REALLY well rather than a lot of things with little focus. When you launch with whole lot of features people assume you are competing with the big companies. When you launch small and do it well, it is easier to attract a user-base and THEN keep feeding it more advance features in form of updates.
Good luck! Looks slick from the UI.
One thing they teach at YC, and in one of pg's essays (http://www.paulgraham.com/investors.html), is to present a story instead of a list of features. That way you answer the question of "Why would I use this product?" simultaneously to answering "What does this product do?".
You can't emphasize enough to people to tell a story, and the screencast is a great crucible for whether you have a good story to tell. Screencasts aren't appreciated enough for the way they've helped people understand concepts that are a little more technical than they normally would sit still for.
Great work bringing this to the web, and integrating it with Windows!
Great job, Drew!
there were several times where i'd get really excited about one idea -- like pacing in my living room at 5:30am excited -- and then 5 days later find out (via a different set of search terms or something) there were 3 other people doing the same thing, with a head start and more money.
ultimately they say scratch your own itch -- this was a problem (syncing a 3gb file across several computers efficiently) i routinely had working on a prior company i had started and i was frustrated that no one had solved it well, and it turned out to be more promising than my original company :)
Here's a suggestion for a future revision: give the ability for office documents to open with online office apps when clicked on in the public folder.
Your main competition is not USB drives: it is HotMail, GMail, and Yahoo! Mail. Once people are taught the "email it to yourself" trick, they love to use it--I think because it is not so intuitive for people, yet it is so simple, that they are proud that they are doing something so clever.
I didn't agree with some of the things you've said before, like IP rules, etc. but you've earned my respect. Best of luck to you. :)
I don't see how after that video and that post how he wouldn't be accepted unless the YC people have some pre-existing opinions about the future of online storage.
1) i have other people working with me on this. i did prototype it alone, but i don't intend to be a single founder. i won't belabor it here, but it's really a good idea to get other people on board and the reasons yc and everyone have for not encouraging single founders are valid. your odds are much worse, and playing superman gets old after a while when you're trying to do everything -- and it's more fun to have more people involved and excited about the idea anyway.
2) re: applying: i am applying for this round, but actually didn't apply for funding for the last wfp. however, i did apply 2 years ago (with a cofounder) with another idea and wasn't selected.
Techcrunch had an article with 13 of them...
It's a pretty crowded space. And XDrive gets you 5 GB for free, 50 GB for $9.95 a month. I can't expect Dropbox to charge those prices, given S3 as a backend. The margin just isn't really there, especially given the number of uses that will want free storage. And I think competitors can duplicate Dropbox's nice front end. In fact, here's an open source front end to SVN which is similar to Dropbox's:
Sorry for all the negativity, I guess I'm trying to play devil's advocate here. It's a wonderful product you got going there, but I think you will have to work really hard.
Great job by the way.
Sorry for being a Coda troll.