Big news last week was the confirmation of a massive new funding round for perennial crowd favorite box.net. For those that didn’t see the news, Box snagged $81M from existing and new investors including salesforce and SAP ventures. While others carried news of the funding, I wanted to spend some time speaking with co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie to get some insight into the deal.
This funding needs to be seen in context with the swirling rumors that in the past few months Levie and co turned down an acquisition offer in the vicinity of $600M. That’s a significant amount of money and I wanted to delve into why Levie felt confident to turn his back on the offer to carry on executing upon his vision.
With this in mind I quizzed Levie on where he sees Box going and what his endgame is. The announcement recently of the Box Innovation Network, an initiative that aims to have developers build offerings around the Box platform speaks to Levie’s ambitions to build a true powerhouse and not a simple application company. This interested me as Box’s arch rival, Microsoft, gained it’s position of power by leveraging a virtual monopoly of the operating system. In the cloud computing world the OS becomes largely irrelevant and I put it to Levie that content management is not sufficiently broad to build the sort of momentum that Microsoft did in its early days. Levie spoke to this contention by saying that, while Box is obviously content and document centric, he envisages an ecosystem built around their platform that is far broader than this – including work flows and even development offerings like Heroku.
I put it to Levie that this might create some tension between what Box considers its core offering and product roadmap and what third party developers build upon their platform. Levie responded by saying that their focus is on building the preeminent place to store and manage data and that there are multiple opportunities around that upon which partners can build compelling propositions. Levie gave the example of a commercial real estate company that has built an entire real estate sales tool on top of Box – the underlying engine is the Box API but what they’ve built on top of that is an exceptionally broad offering.
We then discussed how Box has been able to pull off a meteoric rise to fame in a market sector that, to be honest, isn’t unique. Levie believes that their focus on including enough complexity for enterprise needs, but always maintaining the simplicity and usability of the product explains this. While it’s undeniable that Box does indeed deliver on these two conflicting drivers – complexity and simplicity – it has to be said that their success is also down to two other factors, a degree of serendipity and Levie’s uncanny ability to intuit which are the right deals to make and where the product needs to go. Much has been made of Levie’s relative youth, given the success of his company that’s a little disrespectful, however I will say that talking to Levie is generally more informative and gives one a better perspective on the technology landscape than one gains through talking to so called “experienced executives”.
Finally we spoke about Box’s success in building a platform that has a really compelling proposition beyond simple file storage. I contrasted this to DropBox which, while a great product to use, is essentially just a nice UI to cloud storage. Levie was suitably complementary of DropBox but did agree that the Box differentiation comes from the secret sauce that they’ve wrapped around simple storage. Their roadmap going forwards is based around adding to this proposition – workflow and process that moves storage form being a commodity to being a critical part of an organizations process.
Box has an exciting future ahead of it – this generous funding round speaks to that fact.