Nov 13, 2012

Drew Houston, Co-Founder of Dropbox,To Become Youngest MIT Commencement Speaker

The Scroll News
Drew Houston, Co-Founder of Dropbox,To Become Youngest MIT Commencement Speaker

By Leon Lynn, Staff Reporter at The Tech

Drew W. Houston ’05, co-founder and CEO of 
Dropbox, the online file storage service, will be the keynote speaker
for the graduating class of 2013 at MIT’s 147th Commencement on June 7,
2013. While Khan Academy founder and 2012 speaker Salman A. Khan ’98 was
MIT’s youngest commencement speaker in at least 30 years, Houston is
even younger at 29 years of age. He won’t be more than a couple of years
older than many of the addressees receiving graduate degrees.

Houston graduated from MIT with a Bachelor of
Science in Computer Science and Engineering (Course 6-3) in 2005. While
at MIT, he spent his summers working at startups, and took a leave of
absence during his junior year to work at Bit9, a cybersecurity firm. He
then started Accolade, an SAT prep company, which he managed while
working for Bit9. Houston continued his work at both places after
graduating from MIT. About a year later, Houston came up with the idea
for a cloud-based file storage website that would allow users to
synchronize folders on their computer with other devices via the
Internet. He was joined by Arash Ferdowsi, a student who left MIT to
work with him, and in 2007, Dropbox was born.

Houston says that part of his inspiration for 
Dropbox came from the MIT’s Athena system, which allows students to
access their files on any of the Athena computers across campus. Houston
said his goal was to do this for “the world.”

Dropbox has proved to be wildly successful.
Last year, the Silicon Valley company appeared on the cover of Forbes,
and today it boasts tens of millions of users. Here on the East Coast,
the company has become a symbol of the tech start-up culture at MIT,
where students walk down the Infinite with the telltale translucent blue
boxes prominently displayed on their t-shirts.

“Building Dropbox has been the most amazing
experience of my life, and I’m really excited to share the experience
and what I’ve learned in this whole journey,” Houston said.

“Starting a company is a very mysterious
process,” Houston added. But he did hint that he was saving up advice
for the commencement speech, so students seeking entrepreneurial advice
need not give up hope. Houston has spoken about his experience in
 startup how-to talks at other venues before. His story about going from a
single idea inspired on a train ride to garnering tens of millions of
users is already known. The story of getting seed money from Y
 Combinator and eventually declining an offer from Steve Jobs is already

Houston credits some of his success to his
years at MIT, where he gained engineering and leadership experience
through his coursework and at Phi Delta Theta.

Recently, he’s had a chance to be reminded of
the pragmatic heedlessness his alma mater is known for. On October 16,
Dropbox launched a “Space Race” competition to promote their product in
universities. Participating schools competed to get the most number of
users to sign up, and students at the winning school would receive extra
space on their Dropbox accounts. A few days into the race, several
larger overseas schools had beaten MIT’s early lead. In response, a
couple of students from Burton-Conner hacked the system by creating
thousands of Dropbox accounts and automating the process of scoring
points in the Space Race. Soon, MIT was back at the top of the 
leader board.

“I love the creative spirit. I actually took those guys out for dinner when I was in town about a week or two ago,” he told The Tech
yesterday. “We have to preserve the integrity of the contest — we don’t
want to let people just cheat,” he added after a pause. “But if these
kinds of shenanigans were to happen with Space Race, I had hoped that
they would come from MIT first.”

Houston also hopes that MIT students will come
out of school with larger goals in mind. “I don’t think MIT graduates
realize how much the world needs them to go out and build things, and
how well trained they are to do so,” he said.

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