Dropbox, a file sharing and cloud storage company, is a publicly-traded company worth over $8 billion. But like all startups, Dropbox started with a name.
Co-founders Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi created the company in 2007 and brainstormed a name for the service. Houston recounted the naming story on the Tim Ferriss podcast.
Choosing a Company Name
Because having a good domain name is critical for businesses, people often default to looking for an available domain name when they choose a company name.
In the case of the founders of Dropbox, it turned out that FolderAnywhere.com was available, and Houston registered the domain for their new business. After doing more research, however, he discovered that the name had trademark issues that might prevent him from using the domain.
Houston thought back to his days playing computer games in high school. Whenever his friends needed to swap gaming files, they shared a folder called Dropbox.
Dropbox. That seemed like a great name for the upstart business—but the domain was already registered. So Houston registered GetDropbox.com instead.
Houston didn’t let the domain go, though. He began a journey to get the domain that had plenty of ups and downs.
Hey Buddy, Will You Sell Me Your Domain?
Like many entrepreneurs who find that the domain they want is taken, Houston called the owner of the domain to see if he’d sell it.
His offer was rejected.
Then Dropbox got into Y Combinator, an early-stage startup accelerator, and the team moved to San Francisco. That happened to also be where the owner of Dropbox.com lived.
Houston called the domain owner again to try to convince him to sell but still didn’t get anywhere.
“We got off the phone and I’m like, ‘All right Arash, let’s just show up to this guy’s house,’” Houston said.
So the pair jumped in a Zipcar and headed to a corner store near the domain owner’s house. They picked up the most expensive bottle of champagne they could find (which wasn’t actually very expensive). Then they headed to the domain owner’s house.
It was late—perhaps 9 o’clock at night—when they arrived.
Thinking back about how silly that was, Houston sheepishly told Ferriss, “This seemed like a good idea at the time.”
Thankfully, the domain owner let them in to talk. They pled their case and the domain owner said he’d think about it.
That was a Friday night. Houston told him they’d be back on Monday.
“So we go back on Monday, and he’s just like, ‘Yep, thought about it. Not interested. Thanks. Bye.’”
Ouch. Houston was crushed.
Nothing happened with the domain for a couple of years. Then Dropbox launched publicly on GetDropbox.com and people were immediately confused. They went to Dropbox.com and emailed the owner asking to get into the company’s private beta.
At that point, the domain owner changed what he was doing with the domain. What, he built his own website? Not even close. He parked it and showed ads.
As Houston recalled, “It was basically Adwords for all of our competitors.”
Determined, Houston decided to research trademark law.
“And it turns out you can’t just, like, get a domain from someone for no reason,” he told Ferriss. “You can’t just be like, ‘Oh, you’re not using it so therefore it’s mine.’ You can’t be like, ‘Oh, you’re not using that land. Give it to me.’”
However, he also learned that the domain owner couldn’t use the domain in a way that infringed on the company’s trademark rights. So they sued him.
There’s nothing like a lawsuit to get somebody’s attention. The domain owner finally came to the bargaining table and agreed to sell the domain for $300,000.
Dropbox offered him either cash or stock and he chose cash. Houston said that, had the man taken stock for the domain, it would have been worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Moral of that story? Sometimes it makes sense to sell a domain name for equity. (Then again, Dropbox might have failed, making the domain worth practically nothing.)
Landing the domain was a big moment for Houston.
“Sending that first email from dropbox.com…was a huge triumph,” he recalled.
Getting the Right Domain
Do you have the ideal domain for your business? It can take a lot of hard work—and sometimes money—to get the domain of your dreams.
But being persistent can pay off. Just ask Drew Houston.
And when you’re ready to land the domain of your dreams, be sure to check out all of the domain options at Namecheap.