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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston will be MIT’s 2013 Commencement speaker

MIT alumnus and co-founder of popular file-transfer service will address the Class of 2013 on June 7.
Drew Houston ’05, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox
Drew Houston ’05, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox
Photo: Chad Riley

Drew Houston ’05, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, the popular Web-based file-transfer service, will deliver the address at MIT’s 147th Commencement exercises on Friday, June 7, in Killian Court.

Dropbox lets users easily transport and share photos, documents and videos. Files saved to Dropbox automatically save to a user’s computers, phones and tablets, and are backed up on the Dropbox website.

“Drew Houston has made cloud computing available to people everywhere,” says MIT President L. Rafael Reif. “His experience offers a powerful example of how a young MIT graduate can give the world something truly useful. I am delighted that he will share his story, and some of the lessons he has learned along the way, with our Class of 2013 and their families and guests.”

Houston holds an SB in computer science and engineering from MIT. After graduating, he recognized that people needed a way to bring their files with them without sending e-mail attachments or carrying USB drives. He began writing a solution to this problem in 2007, sharing an early version with Arash Ferdowsi, then an MIT undergraduate. The two then began working on the project that would eventually become Dropbox.

“I’ve had some of the most formative experiences of my life at MIT,” Houston says. “It’s where Dropbox started and where I met my co-founder, Arash, so it’s an honor to come back and share my story. Technology is at the heart of how we shape our future and confront our challenges, and more than ever the world needs MIT graduates to lead us forward.”

Since Dropbox’s founding five years ago, Houston has led the company’s growth from a simple idea to a service relied upon by millions around the world. Prior to starting Dropbox — and while studying at MIT — he also founded Accolade, an online SAT-prep startup.

“Drew Houston’s combination of vision, persistence and commitment to quality transformed a simple idea into the can’t-live-without product that Dropbox has become,” says Undergraduate Association President Jonté Craighead. “An MIT education prepares students for the unknown and the unimagined, and we are privileged to have him share his entrepreneurial success story with our community.”

“Dropbox has become a household name for simple file transfer and convenient collaboration,” says Amanda David, president of MIT’s Class of 2013. “But beyond the technology, Drew Houston is inspirational as an entrepreneur who leveraged his insights and connections at MIT to identify and solve a problem. I can only imagine that his Commencement speech will remind us to believe in our ability to learn and persevere to pursue our ideas.”

“Drew’s work with Dropbox has the fingerprints of MIT all over it,” says Graduate Student Council President Brian Spatocco. “It suggests to us that MIT is made great not just by the labs in its buildings, but by the connectedness of its people. It reminds us that at MIT, innovation and entrepreneurship can happen anywhere and at any time — even in the most informal of settings. Most importantly, Drew’s story inspires us to follow passion, rather than prescription, for careers of true meaning and impact.”

Houston conceived of Dropbox on a bus trip from Boston to New York: His hopes to finish some work during the long ride were dashed by the realization that he had left his USB drive on his desk at home, leaving him with nothing to do. Out of frustration he opened his text editor and started writing the first lines of code of what would eventually become Dropbox.

Shortly after, Houston met Ferdowsi through a mutual friend at MIT and showed him an early version of Dropbox. After several meetings, Houston and Ferdowsi decided to jump into the project together; Ferdowsi left MIT and the two started working out of a tiny sublet in Cambridge. They eventually moved to San Francisco and received their first venture capital investment from Sequoia Capital, early investors in Google and Apple.

“At MIT, we teach students to identify problems and propose their solutions,” says MIT Chancellor Eric Grimson, who has long served on the Commencement Committee. “Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi took that approach, as many before them have, and turned it into the basis of a business. I’m thrilled that Drew will share his insights and experience with the next wave of MIT’s graduates as they go forth and change the world.”

Houston joins a notable list of guest speakers at recent MIT Commencements, including Khan Academy founder Sal Khan ’98, MEng ’98 (2012), Xerox CEO Ursula Burns (2011), Raymond S. Stata ’57, chairman and co-founder of Analog Devices Inc. (2010), Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (2009), Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus (2008), MIT President Emeritus Charles M. Vest (2007) and alumnus and Federal Reserve Bank Chairman Ben Bernanke (2006).

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