Jessica Nemzoff




United States





By Jessica Nemzoff

Web Summit Day 1- Part 2

Web Summit Day 1 Part 2: Drew Houston on Success and Life as they relate to Tennis Balls and 30,000 Days

As per my previous post, Web Summit Day 1, Part 1, the underlying theme of Web Summit’s opening day was that the secret of success for these extraordinarily young billionaires was essentially to come up with something you want, have the brains to create it, and if you do a good job at creating it for yourself, chances are there are millions of other people who also wanted that same thing. Voila, you make billions, sounds easy enough right?! Not so much. If it were easy, everyone would do try to do it and many would succeed. We all know this is not the case, and of those who even knowingly take on challenges of such magnitude, there are very few who succeed on the same level as the men and women who spoke on Center Stage at Web Summit. So the question then becomes, what makes a company great? And moreover, how can you tell from an early stage that a company is going to be great? Don’t get your hopes up too high, I don’t have the answer, if I did, I’d be one of those aforementioned billionaires by now. What I can offer you are Drew Houston’s words of advice on what differentiates the good from the great.

Closing out Center Stage Day 1, Houston, founder of Dropbox, shared what is perhaps the most unique take I have ever heard on why passion and drive are the elements of success. Drawing from the commencement speech he gave at MIT not long ago, Houston recalled the two words he opened with at MIT and cited them in his opening lines here at Web Summit: Tennis ball and 30,000. At this point, I was that much more curious as to what he was going to say. The unique spin Houston put on these words in relation to success was as follows.

“Have you ever seen a dog go after a tennis ball?”, he asks of his now entirely perplexed audience, “You know how there is something a little bit crazy in the dog’s eyes as he chases the ball? And how it doesn’t look like there is anything that could get in the way of that dog getting to that ball?”,  audience nods yes, “That’s the level of obsession you need to be successful.”

This level of obsession, as Houston calls it, is what enables you to be able to become impervious to those who doubt you, an imperative additional component to the secret of success. Although difficult to relay, this concept is one I agree with and one that I am also rather familiar with – this concept is, in essence, the very notion of passion/obsession’s influence on perseverance. What Houston was saying is to capitalize on this perseverance such that the fire that comes from within when someone tells you what you want to do is impossible, becomes the greatest fuel on earth.

Onto the second key word of the evening: 30,000. Apparently, the average person lives 30,000 days, and at the age of 24, when Houston heard this statistic, he did the math and realized he was already almost 9,000 days into his 30,000. His take on that was: 9,000 down and what do I really have to show for it? At the time he had a company that was doing SAT prep, and as he put it, “I wasn’t super interested in the problem I was solving.”  Around that same time, he happened to forget his thumb drive for an important meeting, and thought to himself: “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could access all of our documents from anywhere?” ….and then we had Dropbox. No, but really, that’s actually EXACTLY how it started – again, developing something to solve a problem for himself, that just so happened to be something millions of other people also wished existed. Needless to say, from his 9,000th day on this planet he has been making his time to the 30,000 day mark really count. Not only has he made everyone else’s lives significantly easier with his invention, but he has also made a remarkable fortune for himself. Let’s just say he’s worth $1.2 Billion as per Wikipedia, and he is 31 years old, which means he’s got on average another 50 years or 18,250 days to go, which breaks down to about $65,750 a day…well played Mr. Houston, well played.


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