Box COO Dan Levin believes partnerships are evidence of Box’s superiority, but will it change now it’s part of the IT establishment?
In previous years, Box CEO Aaron Levie’s keynote speeches at BoxWorks have been characterised by humour and tongue-in-cheek comments about other tech firms that don’t subscribe to his firm’s vision of an open, collaborative form of IT.
No member of the tech aristocracy was safe from Levie’s sharp wit, especially if your name is Larry Ellison (among other things, his involvement in the 2013 America’s Cup led Levie to rename the century-old sailing competition as ‘Larry’s Boat Show’).
But at 2015’s edition of the event, and buoyed by a successful initial public offering (IPO) in January, Box was no longer the noisy upstart, but a key member of the establishment.
We’ve come a long way
Levie’s presentation style is as jovial as ever, but this time he was on stage with IBM’s Rich Howarth, Microsoft’s Steve Guggenheim (clad in a Rugby World Cup shirt to match Levie’s signature trainers) and Apple CEO Tim Cook – all waxying lyrical about Box.
“I think what you saw was quite extraordinary,” Box COO Dan Levin told TechWeekEurope in San Francisco. “You saw the CEO of Apple, a senior vice president from Microsoft and a very senior executive from IBM on the same stage in the same morning, all saying that the same company – Box – is the one to beat in enterprise content management in the cloud and they are supporting our efforts.
“That doesn’t happen very often and I think it’s an incredibly important statement of our place in this ecosystem and the role we’re going to play.”
Partnerships were an obvious theme at BoxWorks. Box has signed deals with all three of the aforementioned heavyweights, including one with IBM that Levie has described as the most substantial in Box’s history.
The first fruits of this wide-ranging deal, which will see technology integration and resell partnerships, were announced at the event. IBM’s enterprise content management products will be made available to Box customers, while users will also be able to store data on Big Blue’s SoftLayer cloud network – the first third party platform to be supported.
“We believe we’re pursuing a $50bn-$70bn opportunity and we’re not going to do that by ourselves,” continued Levin. “Our ability to pursue it aggressively alone was limited in a variety of ways.
“IBM is unusually well situated both to benefit from a relationship from Box and to support us in that broad vision.
“They have a very large global sales force that has great relationships with large enterprises. Secondly, they have a bunch of very compelling technology like Watson that can help push our own efforts in enterprise content management forward more quickly. And three, they have a very sophisticated and capable systems integration and automation capability.
“We believe [the partnership] will supercharge our business.”
Just a few years ago, former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was one of the figures lampooned by Levie. Now the two companies are working together, with new chief exec Satya Nadella depicted with a halo above his head during the keynote.
“There’s been a huge culture shift [at Microsoft],” said Levin. “Yes, in some areas we might be competitive with them, but in a bunch of core strategic areas where Satya is really driving the business – Azure, Windows, Office – Box can be very supportive of those strategic initiatives and has been.
“I mean did you ever think you were going to see a post on the Office 365 blog about how cool their integration is? I didn’t think I’d see that, never mind seeing ‘Guggs’ at BoxWorks.”
A happy relationship?
Box is keen to insert itself into as many business processes as possible and for now, companies are lining up to partner. But as Box becomes part of the furniture, its ability to call out and criticise traditional ways of IT and other companies will be compromised. And at what point will its partners see Box as a competitor or decide to take it on?
“I think you see the opposite happening,” Levin argued. “One or two years ago, there was a ‘that’s not so hard, let’s do it ourselves’ mind-set. Salesforce.com announced they were going to compete with us, EMC bought a competitor, IBM spun off an effort to build a competitor and now it’s a different landscape.”
“Salesforce has abandoned its efforts to compete with us and is partnering with us even more closely. EMC has sold its competitor to a private equity firm for $1 as best we know and said ‘this is way too hard’. IBM has decided to end their effort to build a competitive product and partner closely with Box.
“What you’re seeing is a brand new appreciation for the complexity of content platform for the post PC era and a sense that the battle is sort of over and Box is the winner and you’d better get on board.”
Startup ethos, professional attitude
Despite its commitment to a startup ethos, Box is now a public company – although Levin says in reality nothing has changed.
“We were very fortunate in that we were operating the business as if it was a public company eighteen months before it was listed,” he said. “So not really much has changed. We’ve always been very thoughtful about the needs of our shareholders and meet their needs, so the fact they are public investors rather than private doesn’t really change anything for us.
“We were already doing earnings calls internally and issuing guidance internally for practice, so we’re already in a rhythm there.”