Drew Houston, CEO and Founder of Dropbox: How We Decide What to Build

Presented by Drew Houston, CEO and Founder of Dropbox

People > Process:

- Great engineers are dramatically more productive than average engineers
- Hiring fewer but better people reduces need to be great at coordination, planning, etc
- 25 person engineering team split up into smaller, loosely coupled sub-teams
- Each with own roadmap, release cycle, process, team meetings, etherpads, tests, continuous deployment, etc.

Find great people:

- In general we don’t tell people how to work- no mandatory hours, etc.
- Make the office a place that people like to be
- Pick whatever workstation, tools (no budget)
- Minimize overhead and decentralize day-to-day decisions through culture/values
- Cofounder Arash maintains “soul” of the user experience; designer Jon keeper of look and feel

Big results with small numbers of people:

- One visual designer (formerly community manager!)
- Server team of 3 manages 100+billion files, 10+ petabytes of data, etc.
- Strategy: divide and conquer, keep teams small (won’t scale forever but has for now)
- As team grows, values/culture/mission made more explicit and deliberately taught to new people


- We don’t do a lot of advance planning, but we need more than we used to
- Functions outside engineering
- People don’t know what other people are up to with a larger team
- Less information spreads by osmosis
- As we grow more leaders internally, they need to stop and plan for their teams
- For a while we were doing too many things and nothing would ship for months

Dropbox company goals:

- Modeled after Googles OKR Systems
- Yearly goals and quarterly goals
- Forms a hierarchy that is shared publicly
- Overall company goals
- Overall product goals
- Team goals (e.g. client team)
- Eventually per individual

Study how other companies grew:

- Challenge with scaling orgs is things that used to work start failing quietly
- “What are we doing? Why?”
- “Why does what I’m doing matter?”
- “What is most important”
- We try to learn from other companies

Launch fast and iterate quickly

- …unless you’re making pacemakers
- different sub-teams need different engineering tradeoffs (e.g. server core teams vs. web teams)
- Our most valuable asset: people’s trust. Years to build, seconds to lose

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