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13 Mar 2013
Aaron Levie talks to IP EXPO Online about jetlag, his international ambitions for the cloud-based content storage and collaboration company and the dangers he sees in ‘overshooting’ customers’ needs.
Aaron Levie, the 27-year old CEO of Box, says he’s suffering from jetlag, but it’s pretty hard to tell from his characteristic high-energy, rapid-fire speech and the impression he gives, even sitting down, of being permanently in motion.
“If I keep having to travel like this, I’m going to need to find a sleep doctor in London,” he says. “I’m sleeping for three hours; then I’m up for four; then maybe I grab another hour, but that’s the best it’s going to get.”
Levie is in London as part of the ‘Box World Tour’ - a charm offensive where customers and prospects get the chance to rub shoulders with the management team of one of Silicon Valley’s hottest cloud companies, a specialist in content storage, file-sharing and collaboration. In truth, it’s more of a US-wide tour: London is the only international venue that features on the itinerary, but Aaron Levie and his Box team are here with good reason.
Last year, Box set up its first international operations here, just off Oxford Street. That’s not to say it didn’t have UK customers already: the BBC, for example, uses Box, as does EMI Music and mobile and broadband provider O2. However, most big international customers, like these ones, were signed up through Box’s US-based sales operations.
The man that Aaron Levie has put in charge of changing that situation is David Quantrell, a former HP and McAfee exec and now Box’s general manager of EMEA since mid-2012. He has a team of 40 people in an office just off Oxford Street and, he says, a sales pipeline that’s looking “very, very positive.”
“If anything, I’d like to have been in the position we are today about a year earlier, because the opportunity is huge,” says Quantrell. “But I’m not focusing on that. I’m focusing on the speed and momentum that will be needed to exploit this opportunity to its fullest.”
Right now, 15 percent of Box’s revenues are generated outside of the US. That will grow slightly this year, says Quantrell, and “more dramatically” next year. He should have a team of around 100 EMEA employees assembled by July, he reckons.
Across both the US and EMEA, however, Box’s target audience is clear: corporate customers, not consumers. The economics of the consumer market are not attractive, says Levie. Enterprises, by contrast, “are far less price sensitive and far more value sensitive,” he says. “We realised early on with Box that we could build more value and more innovation in an enterprise context.”
The company does target individuals, however - but these are “professionals that bring Box to work and get it adopted in their workplaces.” Today, 150,000 individual companies use Box.
As for Levie, he says he’s a product guy at heart. Innovation is important to him, but he’s acutely aware of the dangers of ‘overshooting’ customer needs by adding unnecessary features and functions to the company’s platform. “It’s tempting. Our customers push us and I see dollar signs flashing, and I’ll go to the edge, but no further,” he says. That was one of the biggest mistakes made by the first-generation enterprise content management companies, he says - vendors such as Documentum and FileNet.
That’s also why Box has developed its own platform and software development kit (SDK), so that developers can build apps based on Box, but with add-on features and functions tailored specifically to the demands of individual companies or industries. Part of the London leg of the ‘Box World Tour’ will include a launch to a developer audience in East London, in the Silicon Roundabout area where many tech start-ups and developers congregate.
Box has made an bold start with its international ambitions. “Obviously, world domination is our goal,” Levie jokes. “But we have another, more existential goal - to build really great products. That challenge just gets more interesting every day, even eight and a half years into this company. I could do it for a few more decades at least.”