Distribution and Growing Your User Base | Drew Houston

Last updated on January 18th, 2024

Natasha Hoke
Natasha Hoke

Growing your user base from scratch is a challenge. Discover one simple distribution hack from founder and CEO of Dropbox, Drew Houston. This quick experimental distribution trick grew Dropbox’s waiting list from 5,000 to 75,000 people overnight.


Key Takeaways:

  • Don’t underestimate the value of distribution
  • Spending heavily on marketing, sales and PR materials, doesn’t always guarantee success.
  • Thinking outside of the box, remaining human and distributing via experimental channels that target your key audience


There were a couple things that that were pretty instrumental in the early years of dropbox. One of them was really figuring out distribution. I think it’s something that people kind of underestimate the importance of. It was especially interesting in our case, because we made a couple of mistakes.

We we’re launching this company and we should probably get real and hire PR and advertising people to do all of these different things like SEO adwords. So, we bought a lot of Adwords.

We spent a bunch of money and time on this, and the results were just terrible. It was like five hundred or a thousand dollars to acquire a user that was going to pay us one hundred bucks. So, it was very clear that it wasn’t going to work.

We had actually done these more kind of guerrilla things, which was inspired by reading the book guerrilla marketing, which was actually really instrumental.

We put this video of Dropbox on dig, a year after we started. What we managed to do is put all of these little easter eggs in it, and because if you’re familiar with dig or reddit, they’re kind of these classic internet communities. They have these little memes and things like that.

It was just this deadpan demo of me talking over a screen, but the files are all named things like chocolate rain, which was youtube sensation viral video back in the day. It references office space and Obama and XKCD and all these things. But, it’s just me narrating how dropbox works and we gave it a link bait title: google drive killer coming from MIT startup”.

From this, things absolutely took off. The video hit the top of dig with 12,000 digs, and hundreds of thousands of people visiting the website. Our beta waiting list went from 5,000 to 75,000 people overnight. We’d be wringing our hands about how we could get started. But with that one light-hearted thing, it ended up working extremely well. In fact, it literally solved our distribution problem overnight, or at least the getting started problem.


Related: Why some people are years ahead in distribution strategies.

Transcription by Upscope: ‘See your user’s screen from live chat’

Natasha Hoke
Natasha Hoke

Natasha Hoke was Upscope's head of marketing.