Box CEO Aaron Levie discusses the real reason behind the Silicon Valley hype

Box CEO Aaron Levie says that it’s not the free lunches, beanbag chairs, or even the ballooning startup valuations that increasingly draw developers and financiers alike in to the strange world of Silicon Valley.

“They come because they realise we make decisions on a daily and weekly basis,” Levie says.

In the “industrial world,” Levie says, it can take months or years to get anything done.

But Silicon Valley has adapted to become much faster and more agile, Levie says, to stay relevant in a world where “Steve Jobs or Tim Cook is going to be on stage tomorrow and change your business like that.”

Levie’s comments came in conversation with payments startup Stripe co-CEO John Collison, cloud hosting startup DigitalOcean CEO Moisey Urtesky, and GitHub CEO Chris Wanstrath.

(Levie also says that Box’s offices used to have a slide, but they had to remove it. “Get your slides now,” he advises startup founders.)

Stripe’s Collison cites the major brick-and-mortar retailers as an example. Maybe it’s ok if the CEO of a big-box retailer takes a long time to come up with a big idea to reinvent their stores, he says.

“You can plan it over four years, and not much is going to change in how people buy things in stores over four years,” Collison says. “You used to be able to plan five years out.”

“And you kind of had to,” Levie agreed.

But those same stores took years to get their shopping websites up and running, and did eventually get there — just in time for the advent of the iPhone and mobile to render all their work irrelevant, amid a shifting technology landscape. By the time they follow through, the world has changed.

Meanwhile, startups move quickly and, sometimes, break stuff. When a big change happens, Silicon Valley companies are better able to shift to meet the new reality, the collected CEOs agreed.

A big part of making that possible, say these CEOs, is because they rely on products like Box itself, or Stripe, or GitHub, or DigitalOcean, rather than legacy technology. They handle all the hard stuff, like file storage or accepting international payments or hosting an app, all on the backend, so companies can just do the thing they do best.

It’s an existential threat to the legacy vendors, GitHub’s Wanstrath says. When new founders set out to build their startups, they’re not looking to SAP or Oracle for databases or Microsoft for Windows Server licenses.

These developers are looking for services that abstract all of that stuff away, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time Apple or Microsoft or Google comes out with a new, gamechanging thing.

Stripe Cofounder John CollisonGetty Images/Brian AchStripe co-CEO John Collison

“SAP isn’t an option to them,” Wanstrath says of these new classes of developers. “It’s not the new thing versus the old thing to them.”

It’s especially true given that a lot of future developers are going through their education, both formal and informal, using services like Box or Dropbox in school, and hosting their earliest websites and apps in the cloud. They won’t even know that there was ever another way.

“If you can show that your product actually minimizes friction, minimizes frustration, I can’t say enough how critical that is,” says DigitalOcean’s Urtesky. “We used to be used to frustration.”

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