SugarSync

Dropbox: 25 million users and counting

April 18, 2011: 10:00 AM ET

The popular start-up says it grew more than 500% in 15 months. How's that for viral effectiveness? 

FORTUNE -- As many in Silicon Valley know, very few start-ups succeed, and even if they do, even fewer stumble upon the kind of growth Dropbox has in such little time. But since January 2010, CEO Drew Houston and CTO Arash Ferdowsi's file-syncing and sharing service has exploded, from 4 million to 25 million, with 200 million files now saved daily, despite having spent zero dollars on advertising. According to Houston, it's all thanks to word of mouth: 30% of new sign-ups now come via its user referral program, where users get a free, additional 250 MB for each successful referral, while 20% are due to its easy file-sharing features. And despite Dropbox's focus on consumers, it counts hundreds of thousands of businesses among its userbase now, including United Airlines (UAUA), Red Bull, and Tishman Construction, the construction manager for One World Trade Center in New York City. 

Houston dropped by the Fortune offices last week to discuss where his company is headed. Here's a recap:

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When you're a start-up like Dropbox with rapid growth and fiercely loyal userbase, it's all right to think big. Certainly that's how CEO Drew Houston is thinking now, as he figures out how to take the four-year-old file-syncing and sharing start-up mainstream.

In case you're not already familiar with Dropbox -- and as more tech-savvy Fortune readers pointed out after our recent story, who isn't? -- here's a quick refresher. Houston, an MIT grad, co-founded the Y Combinator start-up in 2007 with fellow student Arash Ferdowsi, with the goal of letting users store digital files -- photos, personal documents, music -- in an electronic locker accessible and shareable over any Internet-connected device. The key was keeping things simple: download the utility, create an account and folder, and go.

Dropbox isn't the first product of its kind, and there's no shortage of consumer-facing contenders like PogoPlug and the SugarSync, but it's a service that many in -- and increasingly outside -- Silicon Valley seem to swear by. Meanwhile, the company claims more than 80% of Fortune 100 companies use Dropbox, either officially or, ahem, not.

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