As Dropbox nears the end of its first day of trading as a public company, with shares currently up more than 36 percent, it’s fun to look back on the team’s early days.
Nearly, ten years ago, Dropbox launched its product publicly onstage at TechCrunch’s TC50 startup event in 2008. It was a big moment for the company and it was anything but smooth.
“Alright, this is 2008 and it’s still the biggest pain to do the most basic things, like work across multiple computers or share files across a team or put photos and video up on the web,” Dropbox CEO Drew Houston begins.
From there Houston and co-founder Arash Ferdowsi goes into a demo of the young company’s desktop product. Wifi issues leave Houston muttering obscenities under his breath as he panics mid-pitch and struggles to find his footing. For any founder that’s gotten onstage and had to suffer a technical screw-up in the middle of something they practiced in front of a mirror a million times, it’s a moment where you can definitely feel his pain.
Eventually he gets through the pitch, and announces that the product will be gaining Linux and mobile support as it launches publicly that evening. “The most important thing to take away from this is that Dropbox doesn’t change the way you work… and just the speed and ease of use that we offer,” Houston says as he stumbles to the finish line.
Dropbox did not go on to win TC50, that prize ended up going to Yammer. But if the pitch wasn’t representative of the company’s future success, some of the judges questions did encapsulate some issues the company still faces.
A big focus of the judge’s question was on how the small startup could compete with companies like Google, Apple and Microsoft who could integrate a similar feature directly into their products.
“All of them have been working on something like this as far as we’ve been made aware, but it’s a very difficult problem and these projects that they’ve been working on internally have been in progress for years,” Houston responded. “We’ve taken a small team and in about 18 months have rolled something out that works.”
What’s perhaps the most amazing takeaway from all of this is how tightly Dropbox has stuck to its original pitch and product vision, staying successful by innovating on further on the core idea rather than pivoting endlessly like so many other successful startups have had to.