Box CEO Aaron Levie co-founded the content management and collaboration platform as a college student in late 2004. The original idea was to build an Internet service for “being able to share and access files from anywhere,” with small businesses as the majority of Box’s early customers. Today, more than 50,000 organizations, including some 52% of the Fortune 500, use Box’s products.
Levie dropped by the Salesforce-hosted Dreamforce 2015 cloud computing conference earlier this month, where he shared how Box has evolved over the past decade and what other startups can learn from the company’s journey.
1. Go where the business is
Box began with a freemium model. This served as a great window into what people were actually doing with the product. About a year and a half in, Levie says he and his co-founder Dylan Smith “realized we had inadvertently built this disrupter to legacy content management technology.” At that point they decided to focus entirely on the enterprise market. “We were 22 and 23 at the time, so it wasn’t the coolest thing,” says Levie, but it was “the only way we were going to be able to succeed over time.”
2. Hire to fit your culture
For Levie and Box, this means only adding team members who check the boxes as high energy, very optimistic about the future, collaborative, positive, and disruptive. Box even has an internal motto of “Make mom proud*,” with an asterik of “unless she’s evil.” Levie says this type of environment doesn’t work for everyone, so it automatically weeds out those who aren’t fits and “selects for people that are going to improve and expand the culture.”
3. Have a mix of experience levels
When scaling up, at some point it becomes necessary for companies to make executive hires. According to Levie, Box’s approach has been to “hire experienced individuals who the reason they are joining a startup is to do it differently, not hold onto the same exact ideas that have existed.” This group of leaders is mixed with individuals who don’t have extensive experience and as a result, also lack “any baggage about how to solve a problem.” Levie says this kind of tension is how a company can “get real disruptive innovation.”
4. Communicate whenever possible
From the very beginning, Box has hosted an all hands lunch every Friday. Now that the company has offices in ten countries, Levie says the focus is still to find and use all the mechanisms necessary to continue this level of communication, so “everyone's clear on our strategy.” This takes on many forms, from the weekly lunches now being videotaped and broadcast in various time zones, to emails sent in the middle of the night.
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