In 2007, at the age of only 35, Drew Houston founded Dropbox. Following a recent IPO, it is estimated this Silicon Valley entrepreneur is worth a cool $3 billion.
Whilst Drew has nothing to do with law and lawyers (though he must have instructed many of our profession), his life and work can undoubtedly inspire us. Here are 6 key lessons lawyers could learn from him:
Learning doesn’t finish at college or university
Lawyers are no strangers to professional development; we all have to stay up to date with changes in our field. But this point runs deeper than that.
Drew is evidently quite the bookworm. He encourages everyone to read and to read well. The multi-billionaire puts some of his success down to his habit of reading great, instructional books. How many lawyers read outside of their area of law, or non-legal development books?
To be super successful, we lawyers need to read widely, taking inspiration from the top people in other disciplines. Amongst the books which Drew recommends is one which would be of use to every lawyer: The Effective Executive by management guru, Peter Drucker.
It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know
In a recent interview on the Tim Ferris podcast, Drew explained how, time and again, he relied upon brilliant, helpful people to achieve his success. MIT, where Drew studied and where he gave the commencement speech in 2013, has spawned many highly successful people, including Buzz Aldrin, Kofi Annan and Richard Feynman.
Similar parallels can be drawn with many prestigious institutions, such as Eton School in England, which has churned out more Prime Minsters than any other school in Britain. For Drew, it’s who he met and bonded with at MIT that helped with his success.
“One thing I’ve learned is surrounding yourself with inspiring people is now just as important as being talented or working hard.”
It certainly helps who you know. Your circle pushes you to be better. But you don’t need to have attended an elite learning institution to meet brilliant people. Anyone can meet talented people and cultivate connections with them.
Email can be evil
Law was much easier to practice before email came along. Of course, it isn’t just in the field of law that email is so disruptive. Imagine the volume of emails – often emails begging for help – that an internet billionaire receives? Drew has some very wise words:
“I think email is good for quick, discrete tasks where you’re holding someone up by not doing them. Then I think it’s also useful for broadcast […] if you have some long-form, written direction that you want to give a group of people, then that’s a good use of it.”
Although many lawyers try to reduce meeting and email overload, particularly on return to work from a holiday or a trial, it can be an uphill struggle. Drew has advice for inbox management.
“If you’re getting a lot of little requests, it’s better to just batch them up and have some kind of weekly cadence where you can deal with a lot of quick requests without having the overhead of email.”
Don’t forget to do the important-not urgent stuff
Legendary US President and World War 2 commander, Dwight D Eisenhower, famously invented a matrix to help him to plough through his never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Tasks would be split into four squares: important and urgent; important and less urgent; less important and urgent; and less important and less urgent. Drew is a fan of this line of thinking, as he explained to Tim Ferris:
“the biggest crisis of prioritization is […] how do you make sure that you elbow out time for the important, not urgent, stuff? Because the important and urgent stuff will get taken care of but then you end up with a lot of stuff that’s not important; urgent, not important; or not important, not urgent.”
So, when faced with an overwhelming task-list, you could do a lot worse than trial methods which have worked for a billionaire has and a former US President.
Lawyers, and their logical way of thinking, have a crucial role to play
Smart, brilliant billionaires-to-be like Drew have major blindspots; they don’t always consult us lawyers before making some seismic decisions. As Drew explained to Tim Ferris – without any degree of embarrassment – that when deciding to go with the Dropbox brand, the company owned some Dropbox domain names, but they didn’t own www.dropbox.com. What’s even more surprising is that Drew hadn’t secured the trade mark when creating the Dropbox brand either.
The individual who actually owned Dropbox.com refused to sell the domain to Drew. It was only through the help of a specialist IP expert that the situation was resolved. Drew’s company paid $300,000 for the domain.
We lawyers need to remember just how useful our logic is for others: we all would have foreseen the trade mark and key domains as issues well before this very smart man and his team realised it. We are smart, smarter than we often give ourselves credit for.