Interview with Box CEO Aaron Levie

Molly Wood Mar 25, 2014

Interview with Box CEO Aaron Levie

Molly Wood Mar 25, 2014

You’ve heard plenty about cloud computing, but have you heard of the company called Box?

In the world of online storage and big data, Box is the David to tech Goliaths Microsoft and Oracle. The company had filed for an initial public offering earlier this year and now Box has made the details of that filing public. CEO Aaron Levie and company hope to raise $250 million, though Box isn’t profitable yet. In its regulatory filing, the company says it has 25 million registered users.

We spoke with 29 year-old Aaron Levie about Box before his company released the details of his IPO.

Q: Give me a basic description of the Box mission.

At Box what we’re really focused on is helping businesses take all the data that they create and generate, all the files and information in their company, and move that to the cloud. So they can securely share information, collaborate around it, work with partners and colleagues and distribute all of the data they need to all of the right people in and outside of their company. And that’s what we do for now 200,000 companies across the globe.

Q: It’s an interesting time for companies like yours. Why is this such a moment for service companies?

Right now, I think we’re in a really important and interesting time in the software ecosystem, particularly as it relates to the enterprise world. You have nearly $300 billion that is spent every single year on traditional software and hardware that goes into managing the sort of information backbone of enterprises. And the vast majority of that technology’s going to migrate to the cloud.

We’ve seen companies like Workday and Google and Salesforce that have delivered next generation technologies that help companies use their information, and it means that the enterprise doesn’t have to have any of that software or hardware in their business anymore. And so what we try and do at Box is we are trying to power the content layer of the next generation enterprise that can let you collaborate and share much more efficiently.

The exciting part is how much this can change how businesses operate and work with their information. So we’re seeing companies from manufacturing to health care to financial services that are beginning to change the very nature of how they work and the products they deliver, because now they have so much data they can work with from anywhere.

Q: Your particular area has some pretty big competitors. Microsoft is a competitor. Amazon is a competitor. How is Box different?

We, for some reason, just really enjoy pain. We chose one of the more dynamic markets that are out there from a competitive standpoint. But, interestingly, when we started the company nine and a half years ago, we had this idea that as the cost of storage went down, as mobility increased, and as bandwidth increased, that you’d want to be able to get to your files from anywhere.

That led us to being early enough in the market where we were able to create early competitive advantage by always focusing on delivering the absolute best customer experience while also ensuring that enterprises of all sizes could use our technology. Our real differentiation is: Whether you’re a company of 10,000 employees or 50,000 employees or 250,000 employees, you can use our product as the most secure solution for sharing and collaborating on data, but as an individual, you experience our service just as you would any consumer application. And it’s that sort of balance and pairing of a consumer focus with an enterprise technology set that allows us to compete very effectively for large enterprises like Proctor and Gamble and E-bay and Eli Lily and Schneider Electric, all of which have rolled Box out to tens of thousands of their employees.

Q: If one of your big competitors came to you and asked to buy, would you say yes?

No. We’re very focused on building out an independent company. We’re only a couple percent of the way thought this journey that we’d like to go on, and as we look at the space and time that we operate in right now, we’ll look back at this period and it will be very similar to the early 1980s, when PCs entered the enterprise and changed every single thing about IT within organizations. We’re in one of those periods right now with the combination of mobile computing and cloud [computing] coming together. This is going to enable every business in the world to change how they’re going to work and how they build products and how they compete in their own marketplaces. We’re very early in what we want to create and accomplish in this market, so we are definitely not selling.

Q: You’re 29. What are the pressures that come with that? Do you feel pressure related to your age and what you’re doing? What people expect from you and what people expect from your company?

Well actually, I’m feeling quite old these days. Most of the up and coming founders are 21 and 22 — I literally have grey hair — and I’ve been through quite a bit with Box. I think we’ve certainly been through a lot of the learning events that startups go through, and I think that’s helped us mature as a company. The space that we play in, the enterprise world, means that we have to surround ourselves with incredible talent that can allow us to go execute. So I think we’re very fortunate to have built up a company where age hasn’t been as much of an issue, because we’ve built a very strong team around us. But there’s a lot of pressure to always be growing the company and always be competing as effectively as possible.

Q: Is there a form of software or hardware that doesn’t exist that you’re waiting for that will make a huge change to what you do?

About a week ago I would not have had a good answer to that question, and now I do. We’re really starting to see some pretty tremendous use cases for our technology and for lots of enterprise technologies out there. As an example, there are a lot of conversations about drones. So if you’re a construction company and you want to be able to have aerial imagery of your construction site — to be able to either monitor it, or be able to see certain angles that are really hard to get to — if you’re in agriculture and you want to be able to study your crop yield or be able to see different kinds of patterns from a weather standpoint, you can now have drones that basically are augmenting our ability to collect information and gather data.

What we didn’t realize was that a couple of these commercial drone companies are using Box as the storage platform for the data that they generated. So all of this aerial imagery can go into our platform where you can look at it, share it, collaborate around it and have a secure place for accessing that information. Every day we’re seeing all these new use cases for information that is going to change the competitive dynamics of companies that begin to take that information. If you’re a farm and you’re using drones to augment your talent force, you’re going to be much more competitive than the farm that’s not getting that information.

So we think a lot of these technologies are going to come together to change competitive advantage in ways we never imagined.

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