Box CEO Aaron Levie: The post-PC era and our partnerships will help us win

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But the challenge is most of their business was being driven by the operating system and a few core applications that are being disrupted because of post-PC and mobile. It's not actually obvious what they do because of that. On one hand they can build applications for other platforms like Apple and Google. If they do that, all they're going to do is make those other platforms more viable and more compelling, which means you have even less of a reason to go buy the mother ship operating system. But if they don't support it then what ends up happening to some other core business areas that they often have been well known for? They have a huge paradox that they're facing, which is that any move they make will not produce the same kind of level of dominance that they once had. That's not an easy thing to grapple with. That is not a straightforward answer, and when they're competing with companies like Box, where we have a very straightforward path that doesn't really have any contradictions to any of our legacy business models because we have no legacy business models. We're going to be moving at full speed to make sure we're building the most innovative product and platform that works across all devices and environments.

MR: I read recently you were testing some internal apps that sound like they might expand what you're doing. There's a possibility you could get into some content creation stuff, or there's a possibility you could get into some other types of collaboration with more real-time communication. Are you thinking in those adjacent markets at all?

AL: We're definitely thinking in those markets. We've long had a view that more and more content creation will be cloud first. And what we mean by that is data won't just start on your desktop and then be transferred to the cloud It will actually be started in a cloud-native environment. So if you think about that kind of transition that's going to occur, the value proposition that we have to customers is we are the place where you share and store your information. So very naturally we might also need to be or want to be a place where you can create that information as well. We're actually exploring a lot of different directions around that. I would say that anything we do in this space will be far more oriented around our platform more than anything else. Our view is that we want to be a platform for this content creation and content collaboration, but occasionally you have to go build out proof of concept or applications that can help lead people to this type of future. We're absolutely exploring different kinds of technology there, but certainly nothing that I can announce or talk too much about right now obviously.

JG: You've talked about the enterprise software companies that people are familiar with today, and typically they started off in a particular area, whether it's database, financial or human resources. Then they expand the product line to cover a lot more of the waterfront. What is the ultimate expansion strategy for? What will and won't you do?

AL: We're very focused on staying true to our mission and making it easy to store, share, and manage information. What I think you'll see us do is focus more on what are the implications when end points like mobile devices change that proposition, rather than us getting into different vertical product areas. We think a lot about what content and collaboration looks like when you are doing it in a mobile-only environment. Imagine if you will, there is no PC in the picture of your workflow. What would it mean to create and share information? What kind of technologies would we want? What kind of capabilities would we want to make that happen? That's one dimension that we're putting a lot more focus on.

Another dimension is that we're thinking a lot about how to move into different industries and different spaces. We're a horizontal product that's focused entirely on making it easy to store, manage and share information, but in the healthcare space that is done slightly differently than in the financial services space, which is done slightly differently than the pharmaceutical space and so on. You're going to see us verticalize our partnerships and our go-to-market and our alliances as we want to move into more of these industries in more of a concerted way. You'll see more kinds of capabilities like that will begin to emerge. We have an announcement coming in the next couple of weeks specifically around the healthcare space that we're very excited by. So it's not so much that we'll move into different application categories. It is that we're trying to evolve and add to the concentric circles around content management and collaboration to be able to support more types of use cases for customers.

MR: I know you've talked in the past about how devices like the iPad Mini can expand your overall market [13] by giving people who previously didn't have a PC with them access to a computer. Have you seen any other new devices, new form factors that you're similarly excited about? Is there anything on the horizon that you think has a lot of potential in terms of mobile devices?

AL: The super far out one is obviously Google Glass. I applied to be an explorer, whatever that means. So I think...

MR: Don't you have a board member from Google or something that you could get a demo of that?

AL: Not from Google. We do have a board member from GE, ex-GE, but we do have some high-up employees from Google. But I'm confident that we'll be able to get Google Glass, I'll put it that way. It would be impossible for us to discuss whether or not that's going to be successful. I'm not going to make any sort of assumptions or predictions on that. But it's a good example of how people are going to access information will change over time and we're building a platform that will support any of those new kinds of end points or environments. So, whether you can pull up a document from your glasses, that's the kind of capability that, obviously we would want to build for it if that actually becomes a core part of our future. Again, I have no ability to know whether or not that's the case. But our view is that we want to work wherever people are and we want to work on any device that people are accessing information from. We're pretty excited about a lot of the innovations going on. I think the wearable computing trend is really fascinating.

Sometimes I am embarrassed to admit it, but the good news is so few people have heard of it that it tends to not be that embarrassing. Microsoft had this watch back in the early 2000s that I owned that let you pull up sports scores and stock ticker and email from your watch. So I've always been very excited about this idea that we should have really convenient ways to access information and we would want Box to be a core part of how that happens in a business context.

MR: I remember the SPOT Watch. I never owned one.

AL: I'm glad you know the name. Nobody, literally, I can be in the geekiest of groups and nobody ever owned a SPOT Watch.

MR: Is there anything cool going on at Box that we didn't ask about?

AL: There's definitely one thing. Because of mobile devices and because of all these new platforms that have emerged, the barrier to create software is actually dropping quite dramatically. What we're seeing is much more distributed innovation all throughout the world for building applications on these mobile devices and these mobile platforms. We're seeing these five and 10 and 20 person startups that are emerging that are building applications that are being used by hundreds or thousands or millions of end users inside of businesses.

The challenge is those companies don't often have a very straightforward go-to-market path within the enterprise beyond the end user. We actually see the emergence of what we're thinking about as kind of an enterprise app economy which is -- how do you make it possible for all these apps to be more enterprise-ready than they are by default? How does that then create a possible monetization channel and a possible economic opportunity for those app developers that they wouldn't otherwise have access to? This is where our OneCloud Platform comes in. But the bigger idea is we're moving to a world where you might have thousands or tens of thousands of developers and application providers that are able to create really meaningful businesses because of the post-PC revolution and change. But it's going to take new kinds of economics to make that happen. That's something we're exploring quite a bit internally. We're hoping to figure out ways that we can really introduce our customers to these app developers and these application providers and then create a really compelling business model for all these apps that are focused on the enterprise.

JG: We always wrap up with the $64,000 question. You're talking to a group of senior IT executives and you say to them: If you have this problem you should be talking to us. What's the problem?

AL: This will sound redundant at this point. But if you all of a sudden are implementing bring your own device to work, if you have sanctioned or purchased a truckload of iPads or mobile devices, once you get those devices secured in your organization, the very next thing that employees are going to ask for is -- how do I get access to my information? How do I share? How do I collaborate? Box has built an incredibly secure platform to make that happen. We have tried to do everything in the opposite way that something like SharePoint has done, and build incredibly simple applications for businesses of all sizes. We're finding that more and more enterprises need solutions like Box to make their employees productive.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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