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Arash Ferdowsi

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Profile

Arash Ferdowsi, the co-founder and chief technology officer of Dropbox, was born October 7, 1985 in Overland Park, Kansas. The Iranian-American entrepreneur developed an interest in computers and programming at a young age. He was introduced to Q basic by his father while he was in elementary school, and he built his first computer around age 10 with parts purchased for him by his parents. By the time he was in middle school, he was taking classes in C++ at a community college. In 2004 he graduated first in his class from Blue Valley Northwest High School and went on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to continue studies in computer science.

It was at MIT that Ferdowsi discovered his love of algorithms, beginning with one of his favorite classes, 6.046, Introduction to Algorithms. His fascination with algorithms translated into a passion for scale (making things work across thousands of computers and distributed systems to make every aspect of a design horizontally scalable) that would prove key to Dropbox’s success. His time at MIT also left him with a creative, entrepreneurial yen that he credits to his fellow students’ “infectious curiosity for hacking and innovating.” While he was there, he started a book exchange website called BookX@mit with several of these young innovators, some of whom would later join him at Dropbox.

In the summer of 2007, Ferdowsi was introduced to Drew Houston by a mutual friend. Houston had been told by a venture capitalist to get a partner to build Dropbox, and he thought that Ferdowsi was “real talent,” “really smart and yet sort of crazy enough to jump in.” Five hours after meeting, the two were a team. They started working on Dropbox, a virtual file cabinet that makes it possible for users to access files from various devices, in a Cambridge apartment. By September 2007, Ferdowsi had dropped out of MIT to move Dropbox to San Francisco, where the co-founders raised $7.2 million in venture capital from Sequoia Capital, Accel Partners, Y-Combinator, and a smattering of individual investors.

Dropbox took off, however, after a three-minute video demo about the program went viral, rocketing their beta waiting list from 5,000 to 75,000 users in twenty-four hours. They continued to attract users using word of mouth and a faith in the quality of their product, providing at least two gigabytes of Dropbox space free and waiving fees for additional space for users referring new customers. In 2009, when the company was only two-years old, the co-founders turned down a nine-digit offer from Steve Jobs, choosing to maintain the integrity of their vision. It was a good decision; by 2011 Dropbox was flourishing, garnering a $250 million investment round. In 2013, they grew from 200 to 500 employees and acquired Mailbox as well as teams from several smaller startups. They raised another $250 million round in 2014.

For Ferdowsi, company culture is key. He’s known to be the detail-oriented half of the team, meeting every new hire to make sure they fit into the passionate, excited company culture. He’s also extremely focused on the quality of the product, using a rigorous approach to problem solving to make sure Dropbox works well and is easy and enjoyable to use.

Ferdowsi currently lives in San Francisco, but remains a huge Kansas City Chiefs fan.

Companies and Investments

Dropbox (Founder and CTO)

Lessons Learned

Care about quality – Ferdowsi makes the quality of his product a priority. Providing a valuable service to the user is his passion; in fact, he and Houston turned down an offer from Steve Jobs early in Dropbox’s trajectory because of their love for what they created and their passion for making their users happy. Ferdowsi’s emphasis on an easy, enjoyable user experience and attention to detail paid off. The company does very little advertising; Dropbox’s success was largely fueled by word of mouth. Offering users two gigabytes of space free, and waiving fees for additional space for those referring new customers, the start-up was able to rely on the quality of its product to speak for itself.

Complementary co-founders – Houston says he and Ferdowsi have a “kind of yin and yang thing going,” with Ferdowsi bringing pragmatism to meet Houston’s optimism. While the two didn’t spend more than five hours together before deciding to go into business, their naturally complementary skill sets are key to their success. They agree on the important stuff – the values that drive the company, company culture, and product integrity – but they also take on unique roles that individually help the company thrive.

Inspire your employees – Ferdowsi is meticulous about company culture, personally meeting each new hire to make sure they are not only highly skilled, but also highly compatible with the team. He pushes his employees to a high standard of excellence, but gives them freedom to reach it creatively. The company is purposely intimate, with an open workspace that allows employees in different departments to intermingle and engage with ease. Ferdowsi and Houston seek to keep their team inspired, integrating programs like Hackweek, a weeklong hacking session held multiple times a year. The result is a constantly evolving product full of new innovations and powered by a united team.


Inspiring Quotes

Arash Ferdowsi's Quotes

There will always be a job at the larger companies. So take risks early in your career when there is not so much to worry about.

Arash Ferdowsi

Ive always been really internally focused. I tend to focus on hiring—ensuring that every person we hire is both a really good fit and really good—and also that everything we put out to our users is very high-quality.

Arash Ferdowsi

We continue to focus on actually solving problems that real people have and not being distracted by what power users want.

Arash Ferdowsi

I think the best things happen to each of us when we find the most brilliant people and surround ourselves with them. I think its certainly true in startups and tech where everyone is really smart. Your competitive advantage is being around the absolute best. It just makes such a big difference.

Arash Ferdowsi

Influential Books

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