“It never occurred to me that somebody like yourself would take over the enterprise business,” Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told Box CEO Aaron Levie today.
Schmidt’s on to something.
Levie, a sprightly twenty-nine years old and dressed like he almost always seems to be in a suit jacket, jeans, and sneakers, looks like the dictionary definition of your average Silicon Valley entrepreneur — which is to say, the opposite of the suit-and-tie crowd that has long dominated the world of business software.
And, in turn, Box’s cloud storage service has always tried to bridge the gap between the two worlds, aiming to help third-party developers build consumer-like apps with slick interfaces that also meet the strict requirements imposed by any serious business.
That conversation between Levie and Schmidt took place on stage at BoxDev 2015, Box’s first big public hoopla after going public earlier this year, with 2,400 registered attendees — about twice as many as last year.
And while Levie shows no signs of changing out of his sneakers any time soon, Box as a company seems to be growing up a little bit.
Where Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, and others choose seem content to put their consumer feet forward, Box has long focused on the enterprise market. Previously, Box tended to present itself as an upstart versus its rivals, given its smaller market share — the Pepsi to Dropbox’s Coke, if you will.
Now that it’s on the public markets, Box can no longer play that card. It’s a Serious Company with Serious Expectations. And thanks to the IPO, Box’s venture investors have gotten their payday, freeing Box to forge its own strategy and its own identity, out there in the world.
Which is probably why Box got Schmidt and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff to speak with Levie at BoxDev: For the sake of perception, it’s extremely effective optics to get the leaders of two of the biggest publicly-traded Internet companies in the world to talk to you as a peer about trends affecting the world of business software.
It’s probably also why Levie left the big product announcements of the day — a new Box for Developers product that makes it a lot easier for its customers to build Box functionality into their own services at a deep level, and new software development kits (SDK) to build some of Box’s own tricks into their own apps — to other executives like SVP of Product and Platform Chris Yeh and Senior Director of Platform Engineering Heidi Williams.
“[Customers] can spend their valuable developer resources on making their apps successful,” says Williams.
This new set of responsibilities thrust upon Box as a public company means that it has to learn how to handle itself on a stage where it’s not the only player. Letting Levie step aside, just a little bit, to let others talk, is this same effect in microcosm.
And where before it was the beneficiary of a lot of Silicon Valley hype (and scrutiny) that led it to IPO, Box is paying it forward by working with venture capital firms Bessemer Venture Partners and Emergence Capital Partners to offer up to $US40 million in funding for startups working to build on top of the Box service.
In other words, Box talked a big game that got it this far, promising that it could help developers succeed. In order to deliver, it needs to meet those commitments, even as it works to improve its offering for itself.
It’s a little bit like adulthood, even if it doesn’t immediately look like it.