Everyone from Bloomberg to the Wall Street Journal to TechCrunch is reporting that Box has delayed its initial public offering (IPO), yet again. Most cite market volatility as the reason.

It’s the same rationale the company has (reportedly) used in the past, though we don’t know for sure because at this stage of the game Box isn’t offering much more than boilerplate answers like, “Our plan continues to go public when it makes the most sense for Box and the market. As always, investing in our customers, technology and future growth remains our top priority.”

Understandable – at First

Box’s early hesitation was easy to understand. Even CEO Aaron Levie’s fans were put off by the “horrid financials and high cost of customer acquisition,” it revealed in its original S-1 filing. A little time and spin helped the shock wear off. Besides, the big spend began to make sense. Time was of the essence lest the competition catch up. Not only that, but there was also a lot of hoopla over its winning a massive deal with giant GE.

Its second delay was accepted without much criticism as well because Cloud shares had fallen as much as 26 percent in a six-week period. However, during that time, fellow start-up Zendesk had a successful IPO and has done fine since. If Box was sure it had the right product, this may have been exactly the right time to exit, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

The market as a whole recuperated and rumors of ringing the bell loomed large again. But that didn’t happen. Just as Gartner announced Box as a leader in the Enterprise File Sync and Share (EFSS) market, Box reeled-in more cash from investors.

Though, this time, the $150 million came with “ratchet” provisions, which basically guarantee that Box will go public at a certain price or that it will give up more shares to the investor. How’s that for a little pressure to come out big?

What's the Plan?

In the months that followed, things began to look good for Box once again, but Levie and his team didn’t pull the trigger then either.

What Box did do, however, is hire mergers and acquisitions expert, Villi Illtchev, in late August. GigaOm surmised that Box might be planning to do a little shopping. But an M&A expert might also come in handy if you were doing the opposite, no?

Some Box watchers suspected that BoxWorks, the company’s show and tell pep rally for customers held last month, might be a defining moment. We thought it went off pretty well. There were announcements around its productivity solutions, an announcement of a new workflow product and Senior Vice President Whitney Bouck’s compelling presentation of Box as an Enterprise Content Collaboration solutions provider. You can charge more for your service if you provide more, right?

This was Box’s opportunity to step out of the crowded Enterprise File Sync and Share box it once built. Though Bouck and some of Levie’s deputies said all the right things, not enough people noticed.  Maybe they were too busy passing around Oscars and ogling as Levie chitchatted with celebrities.

If so, that’s a shame because if Box has to go head-to-head with EFSS vendors like Microsoft One Drive for Business, EMC Syncplicity, VMWare’s AirWatch, Google Drive for Work and many others on price alone, it will lose. Some of their services are already cheaper and their features keep improving.

While Box may indeed be offering something different than the 100 plus EFSS vendors it’s boxed in with, it won’t mater if it’s not perceived that way.

Increasing Competition

Not only that but its differentiation may also decrease quickly as Microsoft’s Office365 and OneDrive pump out new features at a lightning fast pace and mega-vendors like Amazon, Oracle (and there’s  a compelling smaller vendor to announce next week) bring their own file-sharing solutions to their current customers whom they don’t have to win over.

It’s practically a given that every enterprise will use an EFSS product and that every vendor will keep improving on they have to offer. And some of these vendors, mind you, have a lot more than $150 million at their fingertips.

As for Box, its problem may be not only that it’s burning through cash but that it’s also running out of time.

It either needs to make the world believe that it has risen out of the EFSS box that it once built … or maybe the M&A guy has the answer.

Title image by carnagenyc  (Flickr) via a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.