Dropbox CEO’s speech
Bill Gates’s first company made software for traffic lights. Steve Jobs’s first company made plastic whistles that let you make free phone calls. Both failed, but it’s hard to imagine they were too upset about it. That’s my favourite thing that changes today. You no longer carry around a number indicating the sum of all your mistakes. From now on, failure doesn’t matter: you only have to be right once.
So that’s how 30,000 ended up on the cheat sheet. That night, I realised there are no warmups, no practice rounds, no reset buttons. Every day we’re writing a few more words of a story. And when you die, it’s not like “here lies Drew, he came in 174th place.” So from then on, I stopped trying to make my life perfect, and instead tried to make it interesting. I wanted my story to be an adventure — and that’s made all the difference.
And today on your commencement, your first day of life in the real world, that’s what I wish for you. Instead of trying to make your life perfect, give yourself the freedom to make it an adventure, and go ever upward. Thank you.
It took me a while to get it, but the hardest-working people don’t work hard because they’re disciplined. They work hard because working on an exciting problem is fun. So after today, it’s not about pushing yourself; it’s about finding your tennis ball, the thing that pulls you. It might take a while, but until you find it, keep listening for that little voice.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. No one has a 5.0 in real life. In fact, when you finish school, the whole notion of a GPA just goes away. When you’re in school, every little mistake is a permanent crack in your windshield. But in the real world, if you’re not swerving around and hitting the guard rails every now and then, you’re not going fast enough. Your biggest risk isn’t failing, it’s getting too comfortable.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been “ready.” I remember the day our first investors said yes and asked us where to send the money. For a 24 year old, this is Christmas — and opening your present is hitting refresh over and over on bankofamerica.com and watching your company’s checking account go from 60 dollars to 1.2 million dollars. At first I was ecstatic — that number has two commas in it! I took a screenshot — but then I was sick to my stomach. Someday these guys are going to want this back. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
They say that you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Think about that for a minute: who would be in your circle of 5? I have some good news: MIT is one of the best places in the world to start building that circle. If I hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have met Adam, I wouldn’t have met my amazing cofounder, Arash, and there would be no Dropbox.
And now your circle will grow to include your coworkers and everyone around you. Where you live matters: there’s only one MIT. And there’s only one Hollywood and only one Silicon Valley. This isn’t a coincidence: for whatever you’re doing, there’s usually only one place where the top people go. You should go there. Don’t settle for anywhere else. Meeting my heroes and learning from them gave me a huge advantage. Your heroes are part of your circle too — follow them. If the real action is happening somewhere else, move.
One thing I’ve learned is surrounding yourself with inspiring people is now just as important as being talented or working hard. Can you imagine if Michael Jordan hadn’t been in the NBA, if his circle of 5 had been a bunch of guys in Italy? Your circle pushes you to be better, just as Adam pushed me.
I was thrilled for him, but it was a shock for me. Here was my faithful beer pong partner and my little brother in the fraternity, two years younger than me. I was out of excuses. He was off to the Super Bowl and I wasn’t even getting drafted. He had no idea at the time, but Adam had given me just the kick I needed. It was time for a change.