I recently had the chance to sit down with Dropbox cofounder and CTO Arash Ferdowsi. The interview took place in their swanky new office in downtown San Francisco. We talked in-depth about the major changes coming to Dropbox and the success of the company to date.
In 2007, Ferdowsi dropped out of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to help build Dropbox with fellow cofounder Drew Houston. The company now stands 45 people strong, has several millions of users and is growing exponentially. Dropbox is without a doubt the biggest rock star in the world of cloud storage and sharing.
“The success of Dropbox is thanks to our alpha users. They liked us [Dropbox] so much that they kept on sharing it and talking about it,” said Ferdowsi, on the products phenomenal growth in the last three and a half years. The huge collection of trophies and awards sitting at the entrance to their office are a testament to that popularity.
“The problem [consumer cloud storage] is hard to get right,” explained Ferdowsi, because “the challenge is a very technical one and that is why we have such a rigorous hiring process.” He also attributes much of Dropbox’s success to its simple design and great user experience.
Smiling, Ferdowsi proudly told me that “half of the MIT campus is using Dropbox”. MIT is the university where most of Dropbox’s engineers and both founders are from.
Even though Dropbox is adding million of users a month, they still face challenges. Appealing to non-technical users is a shortcoming that was identified from the start. Ferdowsi explained, “if you give Dropbox to a user that is not technical at all, they will have lots of problem figuring it out”. “The reason for this is that Dropbox does not have a lot of user interface exposed on the desktop. The user needs to have a basic understanding of how their operating system works [to use Dropbox]. The fact that it is so invisible and behind the scenes is why they [non-technical users] don’t know how to use it”. According to Ferdowsi, the company is working on “a way to have a client-side without putting off the earlier adopters”. Despite the obstacles to non-technical people, their users “love Dropbox because it is invisible”.
The most loved and used Dropbox functionality by users; is the ability to sync multiple devices, allowing access to files from a primary computer. When I asked Ferdowsi which feature on Dropbox he likes that is underused he told me about the Undelete feature:
“Anytime a file is deleted on your Dropbox or a file is changed, Dropbox records a snap shot and stores it. So you can go back to any point. If you’re a free user you can go back 30 days. If you’re a paid user you can go back to unlimited revisions. So it’s cool to know you can go back to a file you deleted 2 years ago”.
Dropbox is planning a few dramatic changes in the coming months, starting with the internationalization of Dropbox. Currently 65% of Dropbox users are from outside of the USA, with England, Germany, and Japan topping the list of countries where Dropbox is most popular outside the USA. Ferdowsi also added that, sadly, they haven’t been able to conquer the “Great Firewall of China”.
Dropbox is working to release French, German, Japanese, and Spanish versions of their website and smart phone apps by the end of March.
Screen-shot of Dropbox Japan.
The sharing functionality will also be dramatically changed. Currently, to share a file publicly in Dropbox users must drag the file to a public folder and are then given a link to it.
Ferdowsi revealed that, also by the end of March, “users will have an easy way to share any file or folder in your Dropbox with a link. Share any folder or file in your Dropbox without having to move it to the Public folder. So you can just right-click on a file to share it.”
Users will “be given a nice web view of that [shared] content. Dropbox will automatically transcode any video that you have in those [shared] folders”. Ferdowsi explained that the new feature will let users to “stream mp3s, view photos in galleries, and read text files straight from your browser”. The web view and link features allows for sharing with those not using Dropbox, something that can’t currently be done.
Other goodies we can expect from Dropbox in the future include an iPod-style view of music files and Google Docs syncing. Both of these ideas were born in Dropbox’s Hack Week last month, an event for employees to pursue new ideas inspired by Facebook’s Hackathons. “They [the developed products] are still breaking and confined to a few people using them, but these features will be added to Dropbox”, said Ferdowsi with excitement.
After looking at the photos from Hack Week on the Dropbox blog, Ferdowsi laughed out loud and then showed me another post and said,
“Dropbox is being used to coordinate multiple tractors on a farm. So that they stop crashing into each other. I never thought Dropbox would be used for that!”
It appears that Dropbox is not only stopping loss of data when computers crash but also helping stop tractors from crashing into each other. With plans of internationalization and a ton of new features, Dropbox certainly will help plough a few more fields as it continues to grow uncontrollably.
Giveaway: The best 30 comments on this post explaining why Dropbox is awesome will be given 5GB, of extra storage on their account.