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Dropbox CEO Drew Houston's 2013 MIT commencement address transcript

Network World Staff | June 10, 2013
Below is the prepared text of the commencement address by Drew Houston '05, the CEO of Dropbox, for MIT's 147th commencement held June 7, 2013.

Every now and then I'd give Adam a call and hear how things were going. Things were always pretty good. "We met with Vinod this afternoon," he would tell me. Vinod Khosla is the billionaire investor and co-founder of Sun Microsystems. Then Adam dropped the bomb. "He's going to give us $5 million."

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.

They say that you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Think about that for a minute: Who would be in your circle of five? 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 co-founder, Arash, and there would be no Dropbox.

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 five had been a bunch of guys in Italy? Your circle pushes you to be better, just as Adam pushed me.

And now your circle will grow to include your co-workers 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.

The last trap you might fall into after school is "getting ready." Don't get me wrong: Learning is your top priority, but now the fastest way to learn is by doing. If you have a dream, you can spend a lifetime studying and planning and getting ready for it. What you should be doing is getting started.

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 to $1.2 million. 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?

 

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