Aaron Levie founded Box when he was in college in 2004, with friends Sam Ghods, Jeff Queisser and Dylan Smith. They were trying to solve a simple problem – how to access and share files from anywhere. It’s now one of the most dominant content management companies in the world.
Today, more than 50,000 organizations, including some 52% of the Fortune 500, use Box’s products. Not bad for a startup that was created in a University of Southern California dorm room. The company’s mantra is simple – make mum proud, “unless your mum is evil”.
Here are the 10 success lessons from Aaron Levie – “Box Founder and CEO” for entrepreneurs,
1. Make user experience your competitive advantage
For years, very few enterprise software vendors paid much attention to user experience. It simply wasn’t a top priority. When Levie and his Box team set their sights on the enterprise market, they did the opposite.
Levie predicted in 2010 that the most successful enterprise platforms of the future would be driven by mobility, design, simplicity, and usability. So, that’s precisely the direction Box took.
2. 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.”
3. 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.”
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.
5. 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.”
6. Adopt a trojan horse strategy
Another major issue with enterprise software in the mid-to-late 2000s was that enterprise software buyers were rarely the end users of the actual product. In fact, they often operated in a very different corporate silo.
Box’s strategy for addressing that hurdle was simple: Avoid the traditional route altogether by building adoption and loyalty with users first. Those users could then drive adoption upward, instead of the company having to wait for it to trickle down to the buyer.
7. Take responsibility for customer success and support
One significant challenge facing startup and expansion-stage companies entering the enterprise market is that the enterprise model traditionally requires large amounts of professional services and support, and those activities tend to absorb significant man power and capital.
Box, however, has attempted to dodge that obstacle by building a product so simple and easy to use that it simplifies (or ideally removes the need for) costly implementation and support processes. As a result, Box’s enterprise customers were able to get up-and-running quicker, and customer satisfaction was much higher.
8. Target unease and deliver a compelling solution
Of course, the enterprise software market is much different than the one Zappos targets. But Levie says the approach to identifying customer pain points and becoming the solution for those issues should be no different.
In Box’s case, one primary many enterprise customers were concerned with was the security capabilities of cloud-based storage services. Levie and his team addressed that by building security directly into the company’s value proposition.
9. Stay nimble
Levie says the key to staying nimble as a startup grows is getting great at micromanagement. Even with more than 1300 employees, Box’s product design process is exactly the same as it was when the company had just 15 people.
“You have to get really good at micromanagement at scale. You just have to be incredibly annoying all the way up,” he says.
10. The final 10% is the difference between good and great
The Pareto Rule, or 80/20 principle, states that 80% of our output is dependent on 20% of our inputs. For the most part, that’s true, but it’ll only get us to “good enough.”
If we want to go from good to great, Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, suggests working through the final stretch: The 10% between “90% done” to “100% done” takes the most time, causes the most stress, but is all of the value.”