OnQ Blog

Q&A with Box CEO Aaron Levie

Jul 4, 2012

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

This year at Uplinq, young CEO Aaron Levie took the stage to talk about backend data storage and how it plays a role in mobile innovation. We got a chance to sit down with the high-energy CEO after his keynote to find out why cloud storage is important to mobile developers.

QUALCOMM SPARK: So what exactly does Box do?

LEVIE: Box allows businesses to store, manage, and access information from anywhere. We store in our data center the infrastructure data businesses traditionally store in their centers and virtualize it, making it available over the web so that employees can get to business content and information from any mobile device, share and collaborate with anyone, wherever they are, securely.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Why does mobile matter for your company?

LEVIE: Mobile is changing how people are working, where they can work from… it’s changing the devices we’re using to do business, it catalyzes a lot of changes for the underlying architecture in our IT environments.

We can no longer get by as businesses by managing all this infrastructure onsite. We need technology that allows us to work from anywhere. So mobile and the cloud converge and provide this huge catalyst for an enterprise to re-architect their business. We think it’s the biggest disruption in the enterprise since the move away from the mainframe to client-server computing.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Why should developers care about cloud storage?

LEVIE: People are building apps for the media and entertainment space and they’re going to need a backend data storage service to power that type of application.

QUALCOMM SPARK: You have an open-ended API for each one of Box’s features. Why do you think that’s important?

LEVIE: We have an internal philosophy at Box: we want developers to be able to build almost all of the core capabilities that we have in Box on their own if they wanted to just use our APIs.

So you, as a developer, can take our APIs and rebuild our entire mobile application, or rebuild our entire web application because of the APIs we expose – we think that’s very powerful because we’re only going to be able to solve the very horizontal problem of how do you store, share, access and collaborate around data. But in the financial services industry, there’s a lot specialized collaboration that happens and we cannot specialize that field. The same goes for construction, pharmaceuticals, health care, media, and entertainment.

QUALCOMM SPARK: You said that Box focuses on dynamic software and updates. Why do you think this is important and what other companies are leading the way?

LEVIE: Traditionally, when building company software, you have two, three, four cycles in which you update your technology. That’s why you have “X” Software 2008 and “X” Software 2010. The challenge with that is the pace of today’s marketplace.

You need a technology that updates and changes as the environment around us changes. You need a technology that’s up to date with trends and the only way to do that is if you have dynamic software that’s updated far more regularly than every three to five years. The leaders are Google, Salesforce, Workdata, etc. In the enterprise software space, it’s the companies that are built fundamentally like web-scale consumer Internet companies that are succeeding.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Do you wish you bought Yammer?

LEVIE: Ha! I think Yammer was a little too expensive for us but I think what they’re doing is amazing. The Yammer acquisition by Microsoft is a huge sign that underscores the level of disruption and innovation that’s happening in the enterprise. Microsoft spending more than a $1 billion is a positive sign for all enterprise software startups that have a similar ethos in how we develop and how software should be social.

QUALCOMM SPARK: How does fragmentation in the market play a role in Box’s overall strategy?

LEVIE: Fragmentation is good and bad. Obviously, it creates a challenge for mobile and applications developers. And at Box, we create more developer kits and more apps for more platforms, which means more work and organizational challenges on our end. But the benefit is that you get competitive innovation happening – different platforms of different OSes and devices are competing with different functionality, better services and capabilities and that means consumers and businesses win.

And there’s this other opportunity where, when you have all this fragmentation, it means that startups that are platform agnostic will fundamentally compete much more than ever before because you won’t be able to buy all your technology from a single vendor because you’ll have all these different platforms you’ll want to work from.

QUALCOMM SPARK: You’ve been quoted as saying it’s an open market because there’s no declared leader in the enterprise cloud. How does Box plan to become that leader?

LEVIE: We work to build a very open platform that developers can work on top of, and we take a lot of the traditional standards and practices of the enterprise and flip them on their head.

By looking at all the dimensions that are inefficient and slow and don’t drive innovation, and inverting those, we’ve been able to capitalize on the fact that we’re a more agile and dynamic startup. We’re going to continue to do that and be an open platform.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Do you think that competition is more important than collaboration?

LEVIE: I think that you need both, and that’s what you’re seeing today with the larger players in the ecosystem. You’ll see Google working with Apple and Apple working with Microsoft because you know Microsoft will be working applications into iOS yet they’re competitive with their own OSes.

In an environment like this there’s a lot of co-op competition – you have a lot of companies working together to deliver great experiences for consumers, but at the same time they’re competing so that they deliver better dollar value for consumers. We think that’s going to create amazing value for customers.

QUALCOMM SPARK: Do you think the recession has played a role in people’s opinions of cloud storage?

LEVIE: The cloud tends to do well in good and bad economic environments. In good, we’re investing more in our IT systems and the cloud is often the choice because it’s often faster, more powerful and easier to use than traditional technology.

In a more challenging economic environment, when you’re paring down on IT spending and new initiatives, we think business are going to go for the solutions that are faster to implement, cost effective, and give the most bang for the buck. That means cloud solutions too – as an IT buyer, I’d be looking for the solution where I only pay for what I use, can implement quickly and easily.

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Anthony Eng

Senior Marketing Mgr., Qualcomm Technologies