There’s something Aaron Levie can do even better than pulling a rabbit out of a hat — charm VC’s into investing in his ideas.
As the co-founder and CEO of money-losing Enterprise File Sync and Share service Box, Levie, an amateur magician, had to make a big move to assure doubting Wall Street investors that he was on to something big.
Yesterday he began to do exactly that at his company’s developers’ conference in San Francisco. He tried to convince the 1500 plus coders gathered there that Box could provide the platform and the tools they need to become the big enterprise application builders of the future. Sort of like the next Aaron Levies.
His pitch went way beyond bringing tech luminaries like Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Google’s Eric Schmidt onto the stage. He also pulled out a bag of cash. Not his own money, mind you, but that of Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Bessemer Venture Partners and Emergence Capital. They have each committed to invest as much as $20 million into startups that build applications on Box’s platform.
But it will take more than the lure of cash and a pep rally to get developers going. They’ll also need great tools so they can build on Box’s platform.
A Slight Pivot?
Needless to say, Levie’s team had those ready to offer as well, in the form of Box Developer Edition. According to a blog post by Box’s Heidi Williams, it provides an independent, developer-owned Box instance, with full Box enterprise functionality; a new user and authentication model that makes it “incredibly easy” to create new Box users for your application; and all of Box’s enterprise grade functionality that’s been 10 plus years in the making.
The big question now is will they build? Especially after the adrenaline from yesterday’s powwow fades and they begin to realize that the platform they are building on, or with, doesn’t yet have that big a following.
Sure, Box likes to boast that it has 35 million users worldwide, including 45,000 paid enterprise customers, spanning 50 percent of the Fortune 500.
But a look under a magnifying glass reveals that not every employee or even every department within each company pays for or even uses Box. The implied connections and the love for Box’s technology may not be as sticky as one might be tempted to believe.
And that raises the question. Is it Levie or is it Box? After all, Levie is such a successful pied piper that he’s been called a “cloud celebrity," tech’s court jester and is even has his own page on Starsightings. In fact, Levie may be more popular than Box.
A Corner of the Cloud?
Jason Green of Emergence Capital admits Box owns only a tiny percentage of its market. So, in essence the developers who build on Box will also be making an investment in Levie’s company, only it won’t be with money, but their best ideas and the time they spend designing and coding. At least initially.
Because once they are successful, they will pay a per user fee for applications that leverage Box’s technology. Box has yet to define what that fee will be.
Box Built It, Will Developers Follow?
This looks like a low risk play for Box but not so much for developers.
“We’re trying to put innovation into as many hands as possible,” Sam Schillace, the company’s head of engineering told the New York Times. Box’s intention seems to be to create a content store from which enterprises can create and consume content. “If you can do 100 cheap experiments, fast, and one of them produces something amazing, it’s worth it,” Schillace told the Times.
This leaves a lot of “if’s” open for Box, developers who might build on its technology, and for investors. For everyone to win, Box has to capture a substantial part of its target market and the hearts of developers, developers have to build solutions that produce competitive advantages for customers using Box’s technology, and investors would only win if Enterprises buy.
That’s a lot of ifs.
But if it works, Box could have a significant new source of revenue which it doesn’t have to spend much money to gain. After all, as Green pointed out, some of Salesforce’s largest customers are the companies who build solutions on its platform.