Here’s that rare Steve Jobs story, one that’s never been told, about the company that got away. Jobs had been tracking a young software developer named Drew Houston, who blasted his way onto Apple’s radar screen when he reverse-engineered Apple’s file system so that his startup’s logo, an unfolding box, appeared elegantly tucked inside. Not even an Apple SWAT?team had been able to do that.
In December 2009 Jobs beckoned Houston (pronounced like the New York City street, not the Texas city) and his partner, Arash Ferdowsi, for a meeting at his Cupertino office. “I?mean, Steve friggin’ Jobs,” remembers Houston, now 28. “How do you even prepare for that?” When Houston whipped out his laptop for a demo, Jobs, in his signature jeans and black turtleneck, coolly waved him away:?“I know what you do.”
What Houston does is Dropbox, the digital storage service that has surged to 50 million users, with another joining every second. Jobs presciently saw this sapling as a strategic asset for Apple. Houston cut Jobs’ pitch short: He was determined to build a big company, he said, and wasn’t selling, no matter the status of the bidder (Houston considered Jobs his hero) or the prospects of a nine-digit price (he and Ferdowsi drove to the meeting in a Zipcar Prius).
Jobs smiled warmly as he told them he was going after their market. “He said we were a feature, not a product,” says Houston. Courteously, Jobs spent the next half hour waxing on over tea about his return to Apple, and why not to trust investors, as the duo—or more accurately, Houston, who plays Penn to Ferdowsi’s mute Teller—peppered him with questions.
When Jobs later followed up with a suggestion to meet at Dropbox’s San Francisco office, Houston proposed that they instead meet in Silicon Valley. “Why let the enemy get a taste?” he now shrugs cockily. Instead, Jobs went dark on the subject, resurfacing only this June, at his final keynote speech, where he unveiled iCloud, and specifically knocked Dropbox as a half-attempt to solve the Internet’s messiest dilemma: How do you get all your files, from all your devices, into one place?....