Skip

Enterprise startups - the best-kept secret in tech.
September 9, 2011 2:05 PM   Subscribe

This 26-Year Old Founder Is Raising $100 Million To Take On Giants Like Microsoft. As a 20 year-old college student, Aaron Levie created Box.net, together with Dylan Smith. It was launched from his dorm room in 2005, 'with the goal of helping people easily access their information from any location'.

'About three years in, he looked at the company and saw a split between consumers and business users. He realized he would have to choose one or the other, and banked on enterprises.
It turned out to be the right move: Box.net has made the turn from being used by individuals and small departments to selling directly to CIOs, and is winning contracts away from giants like Microsoft—the company just got an 18,000-seat deal with Procter & Gamble.

In fact, the company's customers are growing so fast that Box recently filed for a new $35 million round—just months after closing a $48 million round in February. The company is on track to have more than $100 million in funding at a $500 million valuation. It's also overflowing its current headquarters with more than 240 employees, and is planning to move into a new space early next year.'

From the interview with Levie: "why Google+ will fail"; "why time is on his side—and working against Oracle and Microsoft"; "one reason Steve Jobs will be irreplaceable".

Plus an earlier NYTimes interview.
posted by VikingSword (47 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Don't forget, if you've got a touchpad you get 50GB free on Box.Net.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:12 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Box.net is pretty slick, and if I didn't already have dedicated resources available I would migrate much of my company's file storage to them. As it is, I was fortunate to get their 50GB free account in conjunction with a cheapo HP Touchpad. You can build out hacky but very usable cloud based media storage that you can access on all devices and share with others. Plus, the interface is much more pleasing than others like DropBox and I'll shut up now since I don't get paid to endorse them.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:12 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Gosh, it's just like HotOffice, 12 years ago. Except not running on Java.
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:14 PM on September 9, 2011


Levie talks a TON of sense for someone who's only 26.
posted by Edgewise at 2:14 PM on September 9, 2011


The most recent xkcd seems eerily relevant.
posted by FfejL at 2:16 PM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


At the giant corporation where I work the Microsoft hate from the senior execs is palpable. They would try just about anything just to have an alternative to the standard Microsoft tools. Microsoft so far has had businesses over a barrell, people are afraid because they are locked in, our entire business is dependant on Microsoft. They offer solutions, then deprecate them the next quarter. We invest millions in Microsoft's hot new technology, just to have them pull the rug out from under us.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:17 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


where I work the Microsoft hate from the senior execs is palpable. They would try just about anything just to have an alternative to the standard Microsoft tools.

WHERE DO I APPLY?!??
posted by DU at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Yup, it's amazing that the one thing our desktop operating systems are not doing very well is sharing files across a network, or even organising them locally very well. It's become easier to upload and download to a data centre.
posted by mattbee at 2:24 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This 26-Year Old Founder Is Raising $100 Million To Take On Giants Like Microsoft.

I guess they're setting their sights lower after failing to take over the alpha quadrant?
posted by palidor at 2:27 PM on September 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I do not approve of his hair.
posted by mrnutty at 2:28 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where can I find an objective comparison of box.net versus dropbox? I have the 100gb dropbox now, and wouldn't mind something cheaper and even larger. I love dropbox - no complaints at all. I do a lot of sharing with coauthors, so it'd be hard to switch, but I could easily just use the lower free 20gb dropbox without much trouble if box.net is considerably better.
posted by scunning at 2:33 PM on September 9, 2011


Wow, from the pic in Business Insider, I kind of expect him to sparkle in the sunlight and seduce sullen teenage girls.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:33 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


So it's like Dropbox without the synching bit?
posted by scruss at 2:35 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've just signed up for box.net. I am interested to see how it compares to Office 365 or sharepoint , both of which I think are a better comparison than Dropbox.

WHERE DO I APPLY?!??

It isn't that great, it leads to a lot of clusterfucks. Like, getting marching orders to rewrite entire swaths of LOB apps to run on google app engine. Or attempting to migrate 60k people to gmail. Now nobody replies to email in a timely manner or shows up for meetings because nobody has tray notifications.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:36 PM on September 9, 2011


> So it's like Dropbox without the synching bit?

Pretty much. It also lets you customize things a bit more to make it look kind of like a Sharepoint-y collaboration thing.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:37 PM on September 9, 2011


That lad's just one cybernetic armband and a pair of jet boots away from being a complete supervillain. Someone hide the squidgun.
posted by bonehead at 2:38 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's easy — too easy — to be seduced by highly valued tech startups and stories of young innovators who went from $0 to millions in a couple of years. Innovation is very important, and for a fraction of the innovators it pays off very handsomely. But I see an important issue that entrepreneurship evangelism leaves unaddressed.

One can be an effective innovator without financial gain. A researcher I work with has been perfecting a tool for EEG waveform analysis. In very limited contexts, it is an extraordinary tool. It collects numerous advances in data analysis, popularizes novel and advanced processing methods, and puts them into the hands of less technically-skilled researchers. This tool is a mainstay of more than one lab. It's also free. The demand for its capabilities is so low, its uses so specialized, that it makes no sense to put a price on it. There are lots of other tools in the general niche where the tool might be useful. A few of them are commercialized: there are a few absolutely mandatory, institutionally-priced software packages that most labs have. And then there's homebrew stuff that people create as a labor of love, painstakingly, over many years.

So the innovation must be useful in a wide range of contexts. Most of the big names in tech innovation represent services that the everyman can be reasonably expected to use. Very simple ideas find a massive client base and become astronomically successful. But they're very simple ideas. There's only so many times you can invent them. The companies that grow up around them are very prone to creating monopolies and oligopolies. There's the leader in the field and numerous imitators that will never reach critical mass. We talk about giants toppling each other. A winner-take-all market is not a healthy one.

Is tech entrepreneurship a valid career path? Absolutely. Is it a valid career path that tens of millions could take, even provided with the necessary skills? It will turn into a commodity just like any other. One in a thousand will be fantastically successful. Many will create accomplished products with limited appeal and use. The majority will fail.
posted by Nomyte at 2:38 PM on September 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


FfejL: The most recent xkcd seems eerily relevant.

I read that and thought: does no one IM any more? Then I realized: I'm not in high school (or early college years) any more. The late 1990s became the late 2000s, and texting has replaced IMing.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:46 PM on September 9, 2011


So it's rsync with a GUI then?
posted by PenDevil at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


File sharing is an extremely well developed technology. It's just that the people who work on it tend to go by online handles instead of names, and occasionally get arrested by the police. I'm not sure what this Box.net has over things like BitTorrent or plain old FTP applications - except that it's encrypted. Maybe that's what makes it special.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:57 PM on September 9, 2011


I would love it if whenver anyone said to me "we need to allow our lawyers, accountants and a team in india to review and make edits to this document" I could tell them to use "Meh, use bittorrent"
posted by Ad hominem at 3:02 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would hard for it to not be better than SharePoint but people have been promising to take down MS for years and no one's succeeded. I work for a company that makes a product for Linux but our executives are still wedded to Windows and MS-Office.
posted by octothorpe at 3:03 PM on September 9, 2011


i guess this is what happens when you'd rather have a software and service contract than invest in a "business methods/software engineering group"....
posted by ennui.bz at 3:13 PM on September 9, 2011


I do not approve of his hair.

His hair doesn't appear to approve of his head.
posted by katillathehun at 3:13 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


His point about kids not understanding the problems of real companies is spot on. The problem is the decision makers at real companies (and the enterprise software vendors that serve them) are all stuck thinking that they've got to continue to run the Oracle playbook from 20-30 years ago. As in, everything's negotiable, your customer experience will suck, drive by sales cycles, etc. etc. etc.

If I'm starting a business today, I want to know how much building that business on your product will cost me. Ideally, that cost will take the form of rent instead of one giant honking capital expenditure up front, where the vendor can take the money and run while I'm stuck trying to succeed on my own. He's absolutely right about him not getting paid unless his customers do.

Ultimately? File sharing is small potatoes compared to what most enterprises need to do. The first company to provide a true enterprise class, cloud based database/datastore is going to rake it in hand over fist.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:17 PM on September 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I would love it if whenver anyone said to me "we need to allow our lawyers, accountants and a team in india to review and make edits to this document" I could tell them to use "Meh, use bittorrent""

Just run it through TOR, they'll be fine. It'll save the company millions!
posted by Kevin Street at 3:38 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Google+ will fail because a) anyone who wants what it offers is already set up on Facebook, b) its "circles" system makes no sense and c) it's been open for how long now and NOBODY is using it. It's DOA, and I can't imagine what will happen to change that.

I'm a visionary now! Give me some venture capital!
posted by Legomancer at 4:11 PM on September 9, 2011


I feel bad for the diaspora guys.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:25 PM on September 9, 2011


The first company to provide a true enterprise class, cloud based database/datastore is going to rake it in hand over fist.

I work in engineering at a company that builds an enterprise "private cloud" solution used at many Fortune 500 companies, and I don't see what you describe happening. Those companies and organizations need control over their data and networks in house. For security reasons, for privacy reasons, for compliance reasons, for technical reasons. They are already running massive intranet, they have IT staff, they have a data center. They want intelligent, dynamic data tiering between their edge nodes, NAS/SAN arrays and archiving platform. I don't think organizations that have the expertise to know, and the money to buy whatever they want, are even remotely interested in storing company data on Box/Dropbox/Amazon/Rackspace/etc.
posted by sophist at 5:44 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I misread and you just suggesting that corporations need cloud infrastructure, you are 100% correct. However, that need is already being met by companies like EMC, HDS, NetApp, Nasuni, etc.
posted by sophist at 5:49 PM on September 9, 2011


Google+ will fail because a) anyone who wants what it offers is already set up on Facebook, b) its "circles" system makes no sense and c) it's been open for how long now and NOBODY is using it. It's DOA, and I can't imagine what will happen to change that.

I hear it's HUGE in Brazil.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:02 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I feel bad for the diaspora guys.

I don't. They stole mindshare away from the Appleseed guys (who were much further along and more on the ball technically) and had very little to show for it before G+ roared into town.
posted by Jpfed at 6:21 PM on September 9, 2011


Shhhh sophist...don't say anything about massive intranet! Just play along and let's go to the next big Cloud Party with promiscuous celebrities hired to "educate us" Cloud is the next big thing !
posted by elpapacito at 6:25 PM on September 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


And then ipv6 will get adopted, and we won't have to use NAT anymore, and there will no longer be anything stopping people from running tiny file servers on their desktop PCs.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:35 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


So it's like Dropbox without the synching bit?

Kinda, but not for that reason. There is sync, where you pick the folder(s) you want to sync from your local machine/mobile device to their servers, but the primary interface is the website, which is very suit-friendly for uploading and sharing files around with other suits - access control, invites to see the files etc is finer-grained than dropbox, and considerably more friendly.

dropbox focuses on the local app sync, for sycing your own files between computers; box.net focuses on sharing folders/files between different users whether it's via website or sync app. Both can do what the other does mostly, but they're not really aimed at the same market.

When I saw this xkcd I did immediately think of box.net. We use it for sharing files between senior management (uploaders/editors) and the governors (read only), and once it was setup and running, I just leave them to it, which is nice.
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:03 PM on September 9, 2011


The most recent xkcd seems eerily relevant.

The xkcd's caption is weirdly out of sync with the comic itself. Early adopters / geeks have plenty of ways to share files, several of which the guy on the phone suggests; it's just that very few ways to share files are available to late adopters / nongeeks. (I guess it didn't fit into early commercialization's vision of the internet as being basically a new kind of TV with a comment box and a friend button.)
posted by hattifattener at 7:42 PM on September 9, 2011


Has there ever been a highly successful tech company that was seeded to the tune of 9 figures with VC influence? Aren't all the super-star stories in the tech world companies that learn to build on the fly, with their revenue climbing along the way?
posted by DigDoug at 7:57 PM on September 9, 2011


Or attempting to migrate 60k people to gmail.

That doesn't have to be a clusterfuck - I've worked with several similarly-sized large deployments. But it does require a level of organizational commitment that's hard to get.

Now nobody replies to email in a timely manner or shows up for meetings because nobody has tray notifications.

This can be solved fairly easily. Push a customized Chrome application install to everyone's desktop, and have them use a Chrome application (which will essentially be a separate application without a location bar) to access their mail. Desktop notifications work just fine with Chrome (only). The application part isn't really needed here, users could use a standard Chrome install, but it makes things easier for users to have a mail icon on their desktop which takes them right to their mail, looks like a separate application, etc.

Feel free to contact me by MeMail if you have any Apps questions.

Box.net is pretty nice, and it can be integrated with Google Apps, but it's not like there's any big secret or innovation about how it works, and any of the big vendors (Google, Microsoft, Amazon) could offer similar functionality if they chose - and I think that would wipe them off the map.
posted by me & my monkey at 8:32 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now nobody replies to email in a timely manner or shows up for meetings because nobody has tray notifications.

This is plain laziness imo. I have gmail at work and I read it through a regular mail reader. Mail.app on a mac, Thunderbird on a PC. It supports imap. I get mail notifications and meetings. I'm sure the custom chrome thing mentioned above is great but you don't need it, almost any modern mail app will do fine. Probably even outlook.
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:59 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Desktop notifications work just fine with Chrome (only

Thank you, I am going to look into this.

This is plain laziness imo. I have gmail at work and I read it through a regular mail reader

From what I understand, and I may have been misled about this, our authentication is actually done against our AD we need individual approval to use anything other than the web interface.
For instance, I have to change my domain password through every 30 days or I can no longer log into gmail through our email.xxxx.com gateway, even from a machine not on our domain.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:16 PM on September 9, 2011


I have gmail at work and I read it through a regular mail reader.

This is true, but IMAP/POP may have been disabled by the administrators - this is actually somewhat common for large Apps deployments. Plus, large organizations typically don't want to have to deploy and support new mail clients when deploying Apps, and you can't expect 60,000 users to do that themselves.

Probably even outlook.

With Outlook, there's a better option than IMAP, even. But people should be encouraged to use the standard Gmail web interface, I think, because it has quite a few features that standalone mail clients don't have.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:16 PM on September 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


From what I understand, and I may have been misled about this, our authentication is actually done against our AD we need individual approval to use anything other than the web interface.

If you're using single sign-on with Apps, that mostly only works for the web interface, so you probably haven't been misled. However, the latest version of Google Apps Sync for MS Outlook also supports SSO, so people could in theory use that. If you do plan to deploy that for people, there's a server-side component of the setup that's needed to push GAL updates to those users.

All that said, I'd recommend sticking to the web interface. That's one of the things that makes Apps worthwhile for users, I think.
posted by me & my monkey at 9:21 PM on September 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I just saw the guy on Millionaire Matchmaker! That was pretty funny.
posted by stratastar at 9:31 PM on September 9, 2011


I have zero say what gets deployed enterprise wide,that happens way above my pay grade but I can tell you we aren't going to go back to outlook as a front end for gmail a few scant months after ditching outlook. I can certainly install chrome myself, 99% of our employees probably can't, guess I can take comfort in the fact that at least I will be on time.

Thanks for all the suggestions guys.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:35 PM on September 9, 2011


The old IM systems were awesome, as were the personal portal systems and the personal productivity peer to peer clients from the early 2ks. Did anyone try out the groove networks client before it was absorbed by the borg? It was borrowing a bunch of ideas that were floating around at the time and it was pretty cool. some of that stuff was just too early to the market. It's a recurring theme.
posted by vicx at 10:42 PM on September 9, 2011


I don't think organizations that have the expertise to know, and the money to buy whatever they want, are even remotely interested in storing company data on Box/Dropbox/Amazon/Rackspace/etc.

You're describing the current state of affairs, where those companies had to develop and allocate for that expertise in house because they simply couldn't buy that capability off the shelf. Now they can. That's simply outsourcing to some other company's product.

Now what if you can not only outsource that expertise, but simply rent it instead of buy it upfront?

"Cloud" doesn't mean just amazon. It can also mean elasticity and more efficient resource sharing, in-house. Do you honestly think there's not a need for that either in Fortune 500 enterprises or smaller companies or secret 3 letter government agencies who either don't have the resources to staff whole IT departments on their own, or would rather spend that budget in some other way?

People used to make their own parts. Now they don't. People used to not need their own IT departments. Now they do. You think they'll still need to staff their own IT at the same level of spend 5 or 10 years from now? Matter of fact, forget what's going to happen in the future - why are Fortune 500 companies using box.net today? According to your argument, they've already got that capability, so either box.net is lying about their level of enterprise penetration, or you're got a problem with your logic.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 8:19 AM on September 10, 2011


Seconding that gmail works just fine as a faux Exchange server.

My mom prefers to use Outlook as her gmail client. It works just fine, including calendars and contacts, for both regular Gmail and Apps for Your Domain (or whatever it's called now). We've had her configured as an IMAP client for several years now and she's never known the difference.
posted by bonehead at 8:25 AM on September 10, 2011


« Older Broken Angel: architectural outsider art   |   Adventures in vertical hold Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post