首先我想要感谢 Reed 主席的邀请，并祝贺在座的 13 级同学们即将踏上新的旅程。
当我 21 岁的时候和 Andrew Crick 成立了第一家公司，当时我们从来没有经历过这样的大事，幻想着是不是要穿着正装去市政府办理手续，或者总得弄一个公司图章来签署重要文件。却没想到最终只要花费不到 2 分钟，在网上填一张表格，我们的公司就算成立了。这么说起来挺让人扫兴。胡思乱想过后，我们定下了公司的业务：提供一种全新的在线 SAT 课程（美国大学入学考试）。那时大多数的学生还在使用 800 多页厚的教材，而网上的一些考试复习资料做得也不够好。于是我们选择了 SAT 上的一个表示卓越贡献的词汇——荣誉（Accolade）作为公司名。为了看起来更像回事，我们将其命名为「荣誉集团有限公司」（The Accolade Group, LLC）。
在回家取卡片的路上我在 Staples（美国办公用品超市） 门口停住了脚步，突然想到开公司最为关键的一步就是将 PS 的公司标志和自己创始人的头衔印在名片上，接下来在出席的会议上交换名片，然后表情轻松地回复来自女孩儿们的敬仰「这就是为何我开了一家公司。」感觉棒极了。
在这期间我的父母希望我们一起去 New Hampshire 度假，但我一心想完成我的扑克牌机器人程序。于是我打开 Accord（本田汽车雅阁） 的后车厢，将所有的电脑配件搬进度假屋内，为了能放下我的所有显示器，我将厨房内地锅碗瓢盆全都搬到了外面，当时我母亲深信我一定病得不轻，迟早要进监狱。
但大多数人都没有找到自己网球，虽然我也认为考试非常重要，但是做 SAT 考试网站并不能真正吸引我，最让我感到吃惊的是扑克牌机器人程序和 Dropbox 开始分散了我的注意力。头脑中总是有冥冥之声告诉我应该做什么，而我选择克制住自己，但是其实内心的声音才最为了解你。
让我们回到我毕业后的暑假，也就是你们即将度过的假期。我的一个兄弟会的朋友 Adam Smith 和他的朋友 Matt Brezina 开办了一家公司，我们认为能在一家公寓里一起工作将会非常有趣。
那是一个完美的夏天，由于空调坏了，我们只好在自己的小隔间里编程，Adam 和 Matt 则日日夜夜地不停工作，随着时间地流逝，潜在的投资人找到了他们，并且带他们乘坐了直升机。当时我有些嫉妒，我已经为自己地公司奋斗了几年，但 Adam 却才刚刚开始干几个月罢了。何时才能轮到我做直升飞机？
我总是时不时给 Adam 去个电话问问近况，他们似乎一直进展顺利，「这个下午我们见了 Viond （Vinod Khosla 是一个资金丰厚的投资人，也是 SUN 的联合创始人），」 Adam 说。接着他又放出了一个重大的消息，「Viond 准备给我们投 5 百万美元。」
为他的成功我感到激动，但是却对我是一个打击。他是我 beer pong 游戏（美国大学里一种喝啤酒游戏）的好搭档，兄弟会的好朋友，而且比我小两岁。我没有什么借口。他似乎已经要参加超级碗（ the Super Bowl）而我连选秀的资格也没有。当时我正处在迷茫期，但 Adam 警示我，我需要改变。
他们说你的成就将基于周边 5 个人，我考虑了一分钟，我周围的 5 个人是谁呢？MIT 对我来说是建立起社交圈的最佳地点，如果我没来到 MIT 则不会认识 Adam ，也不会认识我的联合创始人 Arash ，当然也不会有现在的 Dropbox。
我了解到找到一群给你带来启发的伙伴形成的圈子和才智与努力工作同样重要。你能想象如果迈克尔乔丹没有进入 NBA，如果他的圈子中的 5 个人都是意大利的普通球员会怎样么？你的朋友会加速你的成长，正如 Adam 对我的推动一样。
诚实地说，我从来没有「准备好」。我还记得第一个投资人准备像我注资并问我将钱打到哪里的那一天。对一个 24 岁的年轻人人来说，这就像是圣诞节你的礼物正在不停的增加，看着你的公司支票从 60 美元，上升到 1 千 200 万美元。我变得异常兴奋，账户上的数字达到百万，我还特意截了屏，但后来却受到打击，某天这些人却想要把钱要回来。
你一定明白我的感受，在 MIT 这叫做从消防栓里狂饮（drinking from the firehose），听起来十分搞笑，但我们却扎扎实实地体会到了。今天你们可以以此为鉴，一个阀被关上了，你们所做的是找到下一个。
我以前常常杞人忧天，不过我还记得让我突然冷静的那个时刻，当我搬到旧金山的时候，一晚睡不着觉，于是打开了电脑，在网上读到了一条新闻「人的一生只有 30，000 天」。当我拿起计算器将 24 乘以 356 ，天呐，我已经用掉了 9，000 天！ 我都干了些什么？
在这张作弊纸条上的 30，000 就是这个含义。那晚我意识到生活中没有热身，没有练习，也没有重启的按钮。每天我都会写一个小故事，当你去世，并不会写着「这里躺着 Drew ，学分排名第174 位」于是从那时起，我便放弃了让自己完美的计划，我希望我的生活变得更加有趣。我希望自己的故事充满了冒险，因此而与众不同。
我的奶奶今天也来了，再过一周就是她 95 岁的生日。由于我已经搬到了加州，于是我们常常通过电话交流，每当电话的结尾她总是会说「精益求精（Excelsior）」。
Below is the prepared text of the Commencement address by Drew Houston ’05, the CEO of Dropbox, for MIT’s147th Commencement held June 7, 2013.
Thank you Chairman Reed, and congratulations to all of you in the class of 2013.
I’m so happy to be back at MIT, and it’s an honor to be here with you today. I still wear my Brass Rat, and turning this ring around on graduation day is still one of the proudest moments of my life.
There are a lot of reasons why this is a special day, but the reason I’m so excited for all of you is that today is the first day of your life where you no longer need to check boxes.
For your first couple decades, success in life has meant jumping through one hoop after another: get these test scores, get into this college. Take these classes, get this degree. Get into this prestigious institution so you can get into the next prestigious institution. All of that ends today.
The hard thing about planning your life is you have no idea where you’re going, but you want to get there as soon as possible. Maybe you’ll start a company, or cure cancer, or write the great American novel. Or who knows? Maybe things will go horribly wrong. I had no idea.
Being up here in robes and speaking to all of you today wasn’t exactly part of my plan seven years ago. In fact, I’ve never really had a grand plan — and what I realize now is that it’s probably impossible to have one after graduation, if ever.
I’ve thought a lot about what’s different about the life you’re beginning today. I’ve thought about what I would do if I had to start all over again. What got you here was basically being smart and working hard. But nobody tells you that after today, the recipe for success changes. So what I want to do is give you a little cheat sheet, the one I would have loved to have had on my graduation day.
If you were to look at my cheat sheet, there wouldn’t be a lot on it. There would be a tennis ball, a circle, and the number 30,000. I know this doesn’t make any sense right now, but bear with me.
I started my first company in a Chili’s when I was 21. My cofounder, Andrew Crick, and I had never done this before. We were wondering if you needed to wear a suit to City Hall, or if you needed to make a company seal for stamping important documents. It turns out you can just go online and fill out a form and be done in about two minutes. It was a little anti-climactic, but we were in business. Over onion strings we decided that our company was going to make a new kind of online course for the SAT. Most kids back then were still using these old-school 800-page books, and the other online prep courses weren’t very good. We called it Accolade, an SAT vocab word meaning an award of distinction. Well, actually, we called it “The Accolade Group, LLC” which we thought sounded a lot more impressive.
I stopped at Staples on the way home to pick up some card stock. Clearly, the most important order of business was to Photoshop a logo and print out some business cards that said “Founder” on them. The next order of business was to hand them out at conferences, and tell girls “why yes, I do have a company.” It was awesome.
But the best part was learning all kinds of new things. I lived in my fraternity house every summer, and up on the fifth floor there’s a ladder that goes up to the roof. I had this green nylon folding chair that I’d drag up there along with armfuls of business books I bought off Amazon and I’d spend every weekend reading about marketing, sales, management and all these other things I knew nothing about. I wasn’t planning to get my MBA on the roof of Phi Delta Theta, but that’s what happened.
A couple years later, things started going downhill. I felt like I had to paddle harder and harder to make progress, and at some point I just snapped and couldn’t deal with any more math questions about parallel lines or the train leaving Memphis at 3:45. I figured something was wrong with me. I felt guilty for being so unproductive. Starting a company had been my dream, and, well, maybe I didn’t have what it takes after all.
So I took a little break. Of course, if you’re in course 6, sometimes “taking a break” means writing a poker bot. For those of you who don’t know what a poker bot is, what happens when you play poker online is first, you sit for hours and click buttons, and then you lose all your money. A poker bot means you can have your computer lose all your money for you.
But it was a fascinating challenge. I was possessed. I would think about it in the shower. I would think about it in the middle of the night. It was like a switch went on — suddenly I was a machine.
In the middle of all this, my mom and dad wanted all of us to come up to New Hampshire to spend a family weekend together. But I really wanted to keep working on my poker bot. So I pull up in my Accord and open the trunk, and next I’m dragging all my computer stuff and all these wires into our little cottage. The dining room table wasn’t big enough so I started moving all the pots and pans off the stove to make room for all my monitors. This time it was my mom who thought something was wrong with me. She was convinced I was going to jail.
I was going to say work on what you love, but that’s not really it. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you love what you’re doing — who wants to admit that they don’t? When I think about it, the happiest and most successful people I know don’t just love what they do, they’re obsessed with solving an important problem, something that matters to them. They remind me of a dog chasing a tennis ball: their eyes go a little crazy, the leash snaps and they go bounding off, plowing through whatever gets in the way. I have some other friends who also work hard and get paid well in their jobs, but they complain as if they were shackled to a desk.
The problem is a lot of people don’t find their tennis ball right away. Don’t get me wrong — I love a good standardized test as much as the next guy, but being king of SAT prep wasn’t going to be mine. What scares me is that both the poker bot and Dropbox started out as distractions. That little voice in my head was telling me where to go, and the whole time I was telling it to shut up so I could get back to work. Sometimes that little voice knows best.
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.
Let’s go back to the summer after my graduation, the summer you’re about to have. One of my fraternity brothers, Adam Smith, and his friend Matt Brezina were starting a company and we decided it would be fun for all of us to work together out of one apartment.
It was the perfect summer — well, almost perfect. The air conditioner was broken so we were all coding in our boxers. Adam and Matt were working around the clock, but as time went on they kept getting pulled away by potential investors who would share their secrets and take them on helicopter rides. I was a little jealous — I had been working on my company for a couple years and Adam had only been at it for a couple months. Where were my helicopter rides?
Things only got worse. August rolled around and Adam gave me the bad news: they were moving out. Not only was my supply of Hot Pockets cut off, but they were off to Silicon Valley, where the real action was happening, and I wasn’t.
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 cofounder of Sun Microsystems. Then Adam dropped the bomb. “He’s going to give us five million dollars.”
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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?
You already know this feeling: at MIT we call it “drinking from the firehose.” It’s about as fun as it sounds, and all of us have the internal bleeding to prove it. But we’ve also learned it’s good for you. Today, one valve shuts off. Now you need to go out and find another firehose.
Dropbox has been mine. As you might expect, building this company has been the most exciting, interesting and fulfilling experience of my life. What I haven’t really shared is that it’s also been the most humiliating, frustrating and painful experience too, and I can’t even count the number of things that have gone wrong.
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.
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 favorite 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.
I used to worry about all kinds of things, but I can remember the moment when I calmed down. I had just moved to San Francisco, and one night I couldn’t sleep so I was on my laptop. I read something online that said “There are 30,000 days in your life.” At first I didn’t think much of it, but on a whim I tabbed over to the calculator. I type in 24 times 365 and — oh my God, I’m almost 9,000 days down. What the hell have I been doing?
(By the way: you guys are 8,000 days down.)
So that’s how 30,000 ended up on the cheat sheet. That night, I realized 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.
My grandmother is here today, and next week we’ll be celebrating her 95th birthday. We talk more on the phone now that I’ve moved out to California. But one thing that’s stuck with me is she always ends our phone calls with one word: “Excelsior,” which means “ever upward.”
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.