Is Box Really All That

Today, at SXSW, Box CEO Aaron Levie revealed that Ashton Kutcher (yes, the Ashton Kutcher) and Guy Oseary (Madonna’s manager) have invested in his company. The investment happened in December, but why announce it then when you can do it just before IPO-time?

Opportune, no?

On Friday Bloomberg reported that the company plans to make its prospectus public in the next few weeks.

This comes as a surprise to no one. In January we reported that Box had exercised the JOBS Act and filed for a secret IPO. That news was initially “broken” by Quartz, repeated by The New York Times (make note, the Times called Box a storage startup ) and The Wall Street Journal, and all but verified by Forbes

And though a sleuth journalist might have wrestled the “secret” out of one of the firms involved in early filing, the “leak” could have just as easily been intentionally orchestrated by Box and/or one of its savvy investors from Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Emergence Capital Partners, General Atlantic, Intel Capital, Meritech Capital Partners, NEA, SAP Ventures, Scale Venture Partners and US Venture Partners.

We named them all because there are so many. Who knows what number of them is giving Box’s 28-year-old CEO, Aaron Levie advice? There’s so much to ponder.

It’s also interesting to note that Ben Horowitz, co-founder and partner at Andreessen Horowitz is one of the speakers on the agenda at boxDEV, Box’s developer conference being held in San Francisco later this month. There are other investors in the lineup as well, notably, Mamoon Hamid, general partner, The Social+Capital Partnership; Christine Herron, director, Intel Capital; Jerry Chen, partner, Greylock Partners; and Joe Lonsdale, partner, Formation 8 Partners.

You can’t help but wonder what all of these investors are doing speaking at a conference, geared not for the business or investor community, but for developers.

Developers’ conferences are typically for geeks.

Take, for example, DBX, Dropbox’s developer conference held last year. The presenters there worked for Dropbox: they spoke on subjects such as Dropbox’s platform and datastores, the future of programming, building for business on the Dropbox platform, designing products for people, etc.

So we can’t help but wonder, what’s up with the long list of VCs at boxDEV?

Some of them may want to be on stage at a Box-related event to pitch the company, not to the developers, per se, but to a larger audience who will see or hear about the conference from the press.

Or maybe Levie wants to use boxDEV as a vehicle to make Box’s market value appear to be even bigger (current estimates suggest $1-2 billion) than it is at present. It’s something that investors would be able to do without any coaching from Box.

Does Box Really Think It’s Ready to Take On EMC?

There are also a few curious paragraphs we came across in a March 6 Wall Street Journal article about storage giant EMC’s 35 anniversary. It mentions not only Box, but also a quote from Levie (note: execs of companies who have filed "secret IPOs" are usually told to stay quiet at this stage).

We probably compete a lot more with EMC in the long run than we do with many of the typical competitors you would put us in the running with," Aaron Levie, the company's 28-year-old co-founder and CEO, says. "For every $100 that is spent on managing information and content, cloud providers probably get a couple dollars of that spend, and that is where we think the massive migration is going to come from over the next five to 10 years."

So, it seems that Levie believes that Box will one day rival EMC which boasted $23.2 billion in annual revenue and profit margins of 62.3 percent last year.

It’s a nice way to boost your perceived market valuation, eh?

Hey Aaron, EMC's Syncplicity May be Growing Faster Than Box

But what the article didn’t mention is that 18 months ago EMC purchased Syncplicity, which is a direct competitor of Box. According to EMC Syncplicity General Manager Jeetu Patel, Syncplicity is now the world's fastest-growing EFSS (Enterprise File Sync and Share Solution).

“EMC bought Syncplicity because we believed enterprise customers wanted an elegant user experience for file sync and share for all their business files without sacrificing security,” says Patel.

It’s worth noting here, that EMC knows a little something about security -- it owns RSA, one of the world’s leading security and compliance companies. And when it comes to what Patel calls a “user-inspired, elegant UI,” EMC rivals Box, see the recent article about the EMC Syncplicity for SharePoint.

While Box wants to replace SharePoint, EMC Syncplicity wants to enable its customers to extend its use, provided that’s what they want to do.

As Patel told us in an unrelated discussion a few weeks ago, it’s one thing to disrupt a market and offer a better, breakthrough way of getting work done; it’s quite another to disrupt your customers.

Enterprises Want Hybrid File Sharing and Collaboration Solutions

A recent study conducted by the Enterprise Strategy Group, ESG, says that companies are now looking for hybrid cloud/on-premises solutions, as opposed to the pure cloud-based approach. Many of Box’s competitors such as Egnyte, Syncplicity, Workshare and others offer those.

The Jury is Out On Box

It will be interesting to see what tactics Box has up its sleeves as it moves toward its IPO.

Rest assured, we’ll be watching to see if Levie’s charm will overpower investors’ needs to ask the tough questions.

You can bet that enterprises will be asking them long after the IPO.

Title image by jdlasica (Flickr) via a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License