The founding team was made up of engineers, as the product demanded signicant technical expertise to build. It required, for example, integration with a variety of computer platforms and operating systems: Windows, Macintosh, iPhone, Android, and so on. Each of these implementations happens at a deep level of the
system and requires specialized know-how to make the user experience exceptional. In fact, one of Dropbox’s biggest competitive advantages is that the product works in such a seamless way that the competition struggles to emulate it.
Customers often don’t know what they want. Houston learned this the hard way when he tried to raise venture capital. In meeting after meeting, investors would explain that this “market space” was crowded with existing products, none of them had made very much money, and the problem wasn’t a very important one. Drew would ask: “Have you personally tried those other products?” When they would say yes, he’d ask: “Did they work seamlessly for you?” The answer was almost always no. Yet in meeting after meeting, the venture capitalists could not imagine a world in line with Drew’s vision. Drew, in contrast, believed that if the software “just worked like magic,” customers would flock to it.
To avoid the risk of waking up after years of development with a product nobody wanted, Drew did something unexpectedly easy: he made a video. The video is banal, a simple three-minute demonstration of the technology as it is meant to work, but it was targeted at a community of technology early adopters. Drew narrates the video personally, and as he’s narrating, the viewer is watching his screen. Drew recounted, “It drove hundreds of thousands of people to the website. Our beta waiting list went from 5,000 people to 75,000 people literally overnight. It totally blew us away.” Today, Dropbox is one of Silicon Valley’s hottest companies, rumored to be worth more than $1 billion. In this case, the video was the minimum viable product. The MVP validated Drew’s leap-of-faith assumption that customers wanted the product he was developing not because they said so in a focus group or because of a hopeful analogy to another business, but because they actually signed up.