Dropbox is a technology giant, valued billions, that became a worldwide success by accelerating and adopting the Lean Startup principles. But what differentiates them from other companies is that they did not overcomplicate things and had the courage to showcase their product during its early stages. Dropbox’s initial MVP was introduced to the public by a 3-minute video, and it was a big hit!
Dropbox is a product that allows you to synchronise your files across all your devices. When you upload or edit a file on one of your devices, you can access the same file on your other devices. It is a complicated product to develop as it requires managing the conflicts between different operating systems while providing a smooth UX.
Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox, forgot to take his USB drive with him on a bus ride, losing access to the documents he needed. He believed that not being able to access files anytime and anywhere was a problem not only he but also others must have faced. On that same bus ride, he started developing the initial version of the billion-dollar idea product: a cloud-based file storage and sharing service, Dropbox.
After proposing the idea that people should be able to access, store and synchronise their files in the cloud regardless of their operating system, Houston started working on the early version of Dropbox. However, this MVP product was not ready for public use, and it only operated on Windows. He wanted to validate his idea before spending countless hours and money on the finalised product.
Not having the perfectly developed product did not stop Houston from validating the idea. Houston directly reached out to his potential users for confirmation. And how did he do that? He recorded and narrated a short video explaining how Dropbox would function, its main features and use cases. The video was the introduction of Dropbox’s MVP, which was published on Hacker News on April 5, 2007, as a part of his application to Y Combinator. The waiting list for the product’s beta version was at the bottom of the video: in the space of one night, it increased from 5,000 to 75,000. The video-formed MVP introduction had helped Dropbox get eyeballs and exceed expectations. It had also proved Houston’s hypothesis: other people faced the same problem he had faced; other people wanted a simple solution and other people would pay to own this product.
After receiving approval from the target audience, Houston and his team started improving the product. In 2008, one year after the initial MVP’s launch, he recorded another explanatory video, this time on a Mac.
Dropbox also proposed a referral program, with rewards for users who invited a friend who then signed up using a link. This program helped to keep the company growing quickly and organically.
Eventually, Dropbox turned into a billion-dollar idea, easing the lives of people every day. In 2021, Dropbox reported having over 700 million users, saving a cumulative 1.2 billion files daily.
An inspirational story, full of key take-aways that you might consider in your Startup journey!
The idea of Dropbox arose from a real-life problem experienced by Houston personally. Your product should solve a real-life problem. Having first-hand experience of the problem or in your inner circle is a good start, but it’s vital that you then validate your idea. Conduct your research and find out whether others outside your circle have the same problem.
Feedback is key. Don’t be afraid of getting feedback from the market at the early stages of your product. You might need to adapt your product to solve a problem faced by many. Their feedback will improve your product.
Reaching out to your target audience shouldn’t necessarily be expensive. There are different ways to call out to your potential users cost-effectively, so check what others do and be creative!
Inspired by Dropbox’s story? Many other tech giants started with just an idea and a simple product. Visit our blog and follow our social media accounts for more inspirational stories and tips.
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