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Dropbox   startup lessons learned 2011
 

Dropbox startup lessons learned 2011

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  • Aprenda com a nova série: 50 e POUCAS DICAS https://sites.google.com/site/andreluizbernardesarticles/home/50_poucas_dicas_promover_blog_site

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  • (as I spent the bulk of my 20s discovering) This is not your typical rails app that you can bang out in a weekend.
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Dropbox   startup lessons learned 2011 Dropbox startup lessons learned 2011 Presentation Transcript

  • Startup Lessons Learned 2011 Drew Houston Founder/CEO, Dropbox @drewhouston
  • How things get built at Dropbox Challenges we face at scale How we decide what to build
  • Dropbox by the numbers
    • Just a year ago:
      • 20-ish people
      • 5mm users
    • Today:
      • 55-ish people
      • >25mm users
      • 100+ billion files
      • 300mm files saved daily (1mm every 5 min, more than tweets on Twitter)
      • Paying users in 175 countries
  • People > process
    • Great engineers are dramatically more productive than average engineers
    • Hiring fewer but better people reduces need to be great at coordination, planning, etc.
    • Plan/design with Etherpad, track bugs with Trac
    • ~25-person engineering team split up into smaller, loosely-coupled sub-teams
      • Client, server, web, mobile, analytics/growth, API, etc.
      • Each with own roadmap, release cycle, process, team meetings, Etherpads, tests, continuous deployment, etc.
      • Core protocols & APIs reasonably frozen, enabling loose coupling (a la Amazon)
  • Find great people…
    • … and get out of the way
      • In general we don’t tell people how to work – no mandatory hours, etc.
      • Make the office somewhere people like to be
      • Pick whatever workstation, tools (no budget)
    • Minimize overhead & decentralize day-to-day decisions through culture/values
    • Cofounder Arash maintains “soul” of the user experience; designer Jon keeper of look and feel
  • Big results with small # of people
    • One visual designer (formerly community manager!)
    • Server team of 3 manages 100+ billion files, 10+ petabytes of data, etc.
    • Strategy: divide & conquer, keep teams small (won’t scale forever but has for now)
    • As team grows, values/culture/mission made more explicit & deliberately taught to new people
  • Planning
    • We don’t do a lot of advance planning
    • But we need more than we used to
      • More stuff going on
      • Functions outside engineering
      • People don’t know what other people are up to
      • Less information spreads by osmosis
      • As we grow more leaders internally, they need to stop and plan for their teams
    • For a while we were doing too many things, and nothing would ship for months
  • Dropbox company goals
    • Modeled after Google’s OKR system
    • Yearly goals & quarterly goals
    • Forms a hierarchy that is shared publicly
      • Overall company goals
      • Overall product goals
      • Team goals (e.g. client team)
      • Eventually per individual
    • Perfect is the enemy of good enough here – your planning process needs iteration too!
  • Study how other companies grew
    • Challenge with scaling orgs is things that used to work start failing quietly
      • “ What are we doing? Why?”
      • “ Why does what I’m doing matter?”
      • “ What is most important?”
    • We try to learn from other companies growing pains; don’t reinvent the wheel
    • Take comfort in that all other high-growth companies were pretty #!$@ed up too in their own special ways
  • Challenges we face at scale
  • Launch fast and iterate quickly…
    • … unless you’re making pacemakers
    • Different sub-teams need different engineering tradeoffs (e.g. server core team vs. web team)
    • Our most valuable asset: people’s trust. Years to build, seconds to lose if data is ever lost
    • Need big investments on e.g. client team to keep cycle times fast
      • Google Chrome, others have set good examples here
      • But getting there takes a lot of work! (test coverage, continuous deployment, automatic updates, etc.)
  • The world is more complicated…
    • … when you have lots of users
      • More at stake: paying customers & public scrutiny
      • On the desktop, combinatorial explosion of different environments; impossible to test all
      • A problem affecting just 0.1% of user base is still 25,000 people when you have 25 million users
    • … when the code has lots of moving parts
      • Performance & memory footprint optimizations add lots of complexity to the code
      • Harder to add people, harder to add features
  • It’s not easy being lean
    • Split testing & optimization is great, but you quickly run out of low hanging fruit
      • Early wins on e.g. shared folder & referral flows
      • … remember A/B tests won’t get you an iPhone
    • Analytics are essential but hard to maintain
      • Our data volume increases 10x/year
    • Most needle-moving projects don’t have MVPs that are easy to make
      • Requires more coordination, effort to test ideas
      • Especially tests requiring UI on the desktop
  • Build the right thing & build things right
    • But if you have to choose one, build the right thing
      • No good to run fast in the wrong direction
      • No silver bullets in software methodologies; context matters
    • We’re getting better
      • Our chronic optimism is slowly getting cured
      • Company goal process helps predictability
      • Continued investments in core infrastructure & reducing cycle times
  • How we decide what to build
  • Some design principles
    • Everything should “just work”
      • Don’t make users think
      • "It's not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works." – Steve Jobs
      • Usability, speed, reliability requires relentless, continuous improvement
    • Don’t launch anything half-assed
      • We usually launch “when it’s done”, but trying to get more predictable
      • “ Does less” is okay; flaky/ugly/confusing is not
  • Votebox: our tracker for user requests
  • BUT…figuring out what your customers want is your job, not theirs
  • Big problems hidden in plain sight
  • Big problems hidden in plain sight
    • For most people, technology fails the “Minority Report” test
      • i.e. in “the future”, Tom Cruise would not be e.g. logging into his Gmail or carrying around USB drives
    • Unsolved problems are all around us
      • Seeing photos on your TV, listening to music in your car, sharing wedding pictures with family
    • In the future, everything will “just work” but it definitely doesn’t today
  • Wrapping up
    • It’s worth the pain, though
    • Incredibly rewarding making things people actually use
    • A bigger audience means we can solve big problems for tens and soon hundreds of millions of people
    • Yet we all still fit in one room (for now!)
  • Thank you! Questions? @drewhouston Slides: bit.ly/dropboxSLL2011