What do you do when potential new customers constantly compare your solution against SharePoint? (news, site) choose to take business productivity solution head on -- and in some cases are winning big.

From Personal File Sharing

It may be hard to believe that Box started five years ago as a service for personal file sharing and now provides services to over a few hundred businesses -- some of whom are in the Fortune 500.

It was at the beginning of 2008 when Box choose to start focusing on enterprises and SMBs. According to Aaron Levie, co-founder and CEO, this was about the time the company started its "we're better than SharePoint" campaign -- remember the billboards?

Levie told us that the first billboard was simply a response to what customers were asking about. So there doesn't appear to have been some secret plan to seek out and go after the SharePoint market. The truth was, and still is, that Box and SharePoint play in the same ball game, with a few exceptions.

And Levie openly admits that SharePoint as a product is compelling. The problem is, according to Levie, it is not end-user centric like

Built for End User

Box has been designed to make it easier to get up and running without IT. The focus is on the needs of the end-user. They base their success to date on the fact that their solution is easy to use. Now that's not to say that Box wants to completely keep IT out of the picture. They don't.

They want to enable IT governance transparency and control. Levie says what they are trying to help organization avoid is the constant workarounds that users do to avoid the security and controlled environments that IT try to build. So while the end-user may get them in the door, Box still wants to support IT's governance needs while providing better, more usable software.

Staying True to the Cloud

Levie opened up to CMSWire about the vision and strategy for their cloud-based document collaboration service. One area where he indicated that Box would stay true was to the cloud. While many vendors offer both an on-premise and cloud solution, Box will continue to only provide a cloud-based offering.

Levie says their vision is to provide cloud enterprise content management and collaboration for SMBs. It's definitely a market in demand of quality solutions.

There are a couple of aspects to Box's solution offering that will appeal to not only SMBs, but also to larger enterprises:

  • An Open API: Box has an open platform called OpenBox that enables third party app providers to integrate with Box. You can build mobile applications, desktop applications and web-based applications using the API that connect to the data stored within Box.
  • A Mobile Experience: Box has already started building rich mobile apps for both the Blackberry and the iPhone providing remote access to your Box content from pretty much anywhere. Levie admits that Box is very bullish on mobile.
  • Integration with Google Apps: Box was one of the first vendors to announce they were a part of the new Google Apps Marketplace. Levie says there are two ways this integration works: 1)Single sign-on from Google Apps into and 2) Create a Google Doc in Box and/or create a document in Google Docs and save it to

We asked Levie if he thought the Google/Box relationship opened new markets for his solution. He indicated that there was already a lot of overlap between Box and Google Apps' user bases, so it was important that they addressed these customers. As for whether it will open new markets, Levie says it's possible, depending on the level of investment Google puts into the marketplace.

What Can We Learn from

In many ways size is not important -- capabilities are. Box is able to go into markets where SharePoint and Google are and come out a winner based on these capabilities. The company has focused on getting things done easily and that has helped get them into a number of organizations.

But to be truly competitive, they will have to evolve in some areas. Security is one of them. While there is tight security within the Box environment, there is no integration with enterprise security systems, like Active Directory. While this may be fine for some SMBs, the larger enterprises will want this capability. And to be fair, Levie says they are working on this.

With SharePoint 2010 coming with all its new and enhanced capabilities, Box will have to continually innovate to stay competitive. Levie indicated there are more changes coming soon that we should be watching for. And as usual, we will be watching.