Box CEO Aaron Levie better have had an extra cup of coffee before he arrived at his company’s Silicon Valley offices this morning. Chances are he was staring at the NASDAQ ticker all morning -- his company’s shares are down a whopping 15.64 percent (as of 3:03 EDT).
Some analyst consensus for $Box non-GAAP EPS for Q4’15 had wrong share count; FactSet had estimate of -$1.99; at -$1.65, Box beat by $0.34.— Box IR (@BoxIncIR) March 11, 2015
And while he might be tempted to attribute it to some botched calculations analysts made when they set their expectations (they were apparently using the wrong number of shares), investors don’t seem to think that’s Box’s problem. It’s the rest of the figures the company turned in.
'Your Loss Is Everyone's Loss'
“I like the CEO so much personally,” said Bloomberg’s Cory Johnson, “It pains me to look at these numbers.” He pointed to the fact that Box spends 88 cents on marketing for every dollar it earns.
What it amounts to, according to Johnson, is that Box is “paying money for people to use the service.”
While this isn’t shocking to those of us who watch Box closely -- last April we reported that Box was spending $1.38 for every dollar it was earning -- Wall Street seems to be appalled. You may have to spend money to make money, but …
You also need to face investors. And while Box was private it could do what it thought was best, the game has now changed. Once you’re public, “your losses are everyone’s losses,” as Johnson so eloquently pointed out.
And this leaves Levie between a rock and a hard place because the big spend is a necessary evil. The Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) market has more than 100 players, each one clamoring for a piece of the pie.
Hot On Its Tail
As we explained last year:
The time for Box to win the lion's share of the market is now. Later may be too late even if Box has the most Enterprise-grade features and has teamed with the largest ecosystem of partners and developers.
After all, the competition is catching up.”
And that competition is not only substantial, but much of it is deep pocketed as well. There’s EMC with Syncplicity, Microsoft with One Drive for Business, Google with Google at Work, Citrix with ShareFile, VMware with AirWatch and many others, all of whom are on Gartner’s pick list.
Not only that, but Box’s service is more expensive and its competitors are catching up in terms of features and functionalities. (To be fair, its value proposition might be seen as different by some).
And given that, according to a recent survey, only 9 percent of documents are stored in a company-authorized file sharing service right now, the market is wide open.
The competition is also quite aggressive. Dropbox for Business, for example, adds new features almost as quickly as we can write, and businesses are paying attention. Not only does it have more paid company customers (more than 100,000) than Box, but Dropbox is the default choice of many workers. Microsoft realized this and added a Dropbox “save to” option on its menu.
But it’s not just the big guys Box needs to worry about. Startups like Egnyte are nibbling at its customer base. Earlier this week just before Box’s numbers came out, Egnyte, as it has a habit of doing, made news announcing that Red Bull North America had ditched Box in favor of it. Their pitch to reporters, “Egnyte Signs Massive Deal With Red Bull, Giving Box Inc. the Boot.”
The Kimono Is Open
It may not be just the competition and Wall Street that Levie needs to worry about, but what it means to run a publicly traded company where everything is out in the open. EMC Syncplicity’s General Manager, Jeetu Patel, told me months ago that Box’s behavior would be tested when it had to open its kimono. So far, Wall Street doesn’t like what it’s seeing. And the problem with that, when it comes to marketing, is that you can’t change it by spending more and more money to win customers.
Levie now stands on a tight rope. Forget the investors. It will be interesting to see if enterprises in need of EFSS services will now see how Box handles its business as a bigger risk than its “cloud only” proposition.