Having had a little while to reflect on a month that saw me attend both DreamForce and BoxWorks, I wanted to get down some thoughts on what is happening with Box, one of Silicon Valley’s current darlings. This is all the more relevant given the slightly uncomfortable position that Box found itself in after DreamWorks and the announcement by Salesforce that they were launching their ChatterBox file sharing product. All of this comes at a time when Box is rightly proud of a massive growth of customers (140000 currently), individual users (14 million plus) and exposure within the largest enterprise companies (92% f the Fortune 500). A quick roundup of the news from BoxWorks:
- BoxEmbed, an HTML5 framework that allows a kind of “Box inside” frame within other applications was launched (more on that here). An initial 10 partners joined the program with more to come
- BoxEdit was announced, a plugin that allows users to edit content directly without having to go through the roundtrip download-edit-upload process for files
- A partnership with SAP to integrate Afaria a mobile device management product, with Box
- More integration – including GoodData for administrator-level analysis of Box usage – more integrations on the way
- A partnership with ProoPoint for data loss prevention (DLP) services integrated with Box
- An improved search to make sense of the copious amounts of content modern workers face
- The previously announced rollout of twofactor authentication and more granular security scope
Box CEO Aaron Levie was quick to talk about the post-PC era and the massive growth of connected individuals who access their data either exclusively or partially via mobile phones and tablets. In Levie’s view, this fundamentally changes the software paradigm for enterprises and means that the hegemony of the integrated full-stack suite is no longer a sure thing.
At BoxWorks we heard from Mark Tonnesen of Electronic Arts – he told of EA’s gradual move to the cloud and their perspective that content collaboration is an appropriate first step. Tonnesen told of the tipping point that came for EA when internal business units became the champions for the more widespread rollout of Box throughout the organization. In some ways the pressures that forces EA to look at tools like Box are the very ones that Box is banking on to provide growth going forwards – EA needed to increase its ecosystem because they simply could not build every game for every demographic in every region. rather a wide ecosystem allows them to scale – and according to Tonnesen, cloud enables the ecosystem to thrive.
Box is remarkable in the fact that a company started by a couple of young college dropouts, focused on a consumer file-sharing tool has managed to pivot successful into an enterprise powerhouse. ne can’t understate the brilliance and copybook execution that Levie and co-founder Dylan Smith bring to the company. But clearly they have some brilliant advisers around them also. This is demonstrated by the fact that the Box executive team is a fascinating selection of individuals – half of whom have come from webscale consumer companies and the rest from more traditional enterprise software companies. This creates a product that has the sometimes conflicted attributes of having an empathy for users along with the requirements that large enterprise IT demands.
Box is doing a stellar job of building an impressive ecosystem around itself – the fact that it has got such varied players as NetSuite, Jive, Zendesk and SugarCRM to talk a consistent story of content collaboration within their own applications, but provided by box, speaks not only to the forcefulness of their vision but also to the real fear that the best of breed vendors feel about the elephant in the room, Salesforce. This really struck home when speaking to Box customers during the event who, while being real evangelists for the product and the company, admitted that had a fully functional content collaboration application existed in the Salesforce stable when they were doing their due diligence, their decision would more likely have favored the behemoth of the cloud industry. Box realized that and is moving fast to shore up its response to that threat – two key people who will deliver on that need are Chris Yeh, VP of Platform and Sam Schillace, VP of Engineering. Sam in particular is a coup for Box, Levie describes his hiring as a sever year project – not surprising since Schillace created Writely, the product which eventually became Google Docs.
Box has some breathing room, Salesforce pre-announced ChatterBox and it’s only due for release in 2013. The likelihood, given history, is that ChatterBox will be a fairly lightweight product initially. The question is whether a lightweight product from a full stack vendor outweighs a deeply functional offering from an ecosystem player. Time will tell on that one. At the same time there are other players, in particular Huddle who have credible, robust and compelling products to offer. Those other vendors however will find it hard, Box has roughly 10 times the funding of Huddle and this make it very difficult or Huddle to gain attention in the space – I’m picking a short to mid term trade sale of Huddle. Box meanwhile has far bigger sites – it truly wants to be one of the top-table vendors of this next cloud age.
There are no certainties in this industry – but Box has the ecosystem, the smarts, the funding and the leadership to deliver on its promise – it would be a ballsy man that betted heavily against that.
(Cross-posted @ The Diversity Blog – SaaS, Cloud & Business Strategy)