Box CEO Aaron Levie: "We will always have a free version"
Box CEO Aaron Levie bounds onto the stage at his company's BoxWorks conference and immediately the energy level goes up a few notches. He is a bundle of manic enthusiasm that often seems ready to spiral out of control. He speaks so quickly it's almost as though he can't keep up with the thoughts in his head before they come tumbling out of his mouth.
At one moment, we see Levie on stage joking about the size of his conference compared to the previous week's Oracle OpenWorld -- "We didn't shut down city streets, but I understand we shut down an alleyway" -- and the next he is giving the audience the historical context for the development of consumerization and mobile and how they relate to the development of cloud services like Box.
Later when I speak to Box Director of Communications Ashley Mayer, she confides that Levie is not a morning person and she worried about him speaking so early in the day. She needn't have. Whether fueled by coffee, Red Bull, or his own inner fire, Levie charged through his morning talks.
Yet for all his frenetic energy, he is focused, passionate, and driven to succeed and make his company the poster child for building consumer-style apps with a distinct enterprise focus.
I caught up with Levie on Day 2 of his company's BoxWorks conference. I've been having an ongoing conversation of sorts with Levie since 2010 when he and Mayer showed up at the AIIM Conference in Philadelphia. At the time, few people had heard of Box. Within a year, they were being held up at conferences as the prime example of content management in the cloud. Last year's BoxWorks -- the first -- had about 400 attendees. This year, there were more than 1,800.
Box's growth was fueled by the freemium model -- users can try a version of the service for free, but enterprises have to pay to get all the features they're likely to want. At a talk in 2010 at the Web 2.0 Expo, Levie explained the reason for going freemium. "If you want scale," he said in his presentation, "you need low friction. Happy customers will pay you." As it turned out so far at least, enough customers are paying that venture capitalists have been falling all over themselves to fund Box.
Now, Levie says that he sees no reason to let up on the freemium model, which has helped fuel this growth, even though Box is becoming more broadly accepted by traditional enterprises.
"I think about freemium differently. I see it as a foundational element to our business model. We will always have a free version and let anyone join who wants to start using it." It's because he believes it's the best form of optimization. End users can take advantage of the basic functionality, while the enterprise gets the scalability and integration that they need.
He adds, "The alternative is that we become a traditional software company and sell to the CIO. We want end users to have instant access," he says.
To grow, Box wants to continue to build its partnerships, like the ones it just announced with Jive and ProofPoint. The latter, which provides security as a service, is particularly important, as many companies worry about confidential data leaking through cloud service like Box. Proofpoint CEO Gary Steele says his service integrates with Box to check Box files for certain sensitive information before they are allowed in the repository. If an issue is found, users might get a warning email, or their case could be forwarded to a supervisor.
If you believe what Levie says, he has no plans to sell his company and has turned down several overtures in the last year. When I asked him why he says because "we are so early into this transition -- a fraction of a fraction of the way to change the space, and not just Box, but the space. To stop doing this, to sell would completely compromise the mission. Nothing is more interesting than to try and build Box and innovate a platform as [best as] we can."
As for the future, when I ask Levie what his plans are for 3 years out, he jokes he doesn't know what he'll be doing in 3 hours.
But then he turns serious and drops a broad hint. Box recently hired Writely founder Sam Schillace (who later sold his company to Google, where it became the foundation for what is now Google Docs) as its VP of engineering. "We hired Schillace for a reason," Levie states.
This week, a National Transportation Safety Board judge dismissed a $10,000 fine that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration had lodged against a photographer who had used a drone to take aerial photos for the University of Virginia. The judge found that the FAA hadn't actually issued any enforceable rules regarding the use of commercial drones.
If you've got a Windows XP machine -- either at home or in the office -- consider yourself lucky. In the past, you'd upgrade to a more recent Windows operating system without a thought. Today, you have many options.
It's designed for the 3.5 billion people who have feature phones today. It solves technical problems Google is not interested in and is a better fit for the pre-paid phones popular in developing countries. The only trick is getting developers on board.
The cloud has overcome a lot of its technical challenges, especially when it comes to security. But the biggest problems in cloud computing now are cultural.