Like many modern relationships, this one started with a Facebook message.
That was how Aaron Levie, the CEO of Box, connected with Steven Sinofsky after hearing that the former Windows and Office chief was making the rounds in Silicon Valley. They ended up meeting, talking over Pho, and hitting it off.
“Very quickly I realized that we were extremely aligned on how we saw the future of collaboration, productivity software, this mobile era of the enterprise,” Levie said. “It was exciting, because you were talking with someone who has spent even more time thinking about that kind of problem than you have. That’s fairly rare, because we’ve been doing this for about nine years.”
Levie explained, “Pretty quickly I realized it would be great to find a way to get him involved.”
Box is announcing today that Sinofsky has become an advisor to the enterprise cloud storage and collaboration company.
“I’m excited to have the chance to work with Aaron and team in this capacity,” said Sinofsky via email, when asked about his advisory role. “They are taking a unique and modern approach in an area for which I have a lot of passion.”
The arrangement is notable in part because Sinofsky, during his Microsoft career, was in charge of products including Microsoft Office, SharePoint and SkyDrive, which compete to varying degrees with the Box’s online service. So will Box leverage Sinofsky’s experience to compete more directly with Microsoft?
“Not so much, really,” said Levie, 28, who grew up on Mercer Island. “In fact, if anything, we’d love to get closer to Microsoft.”
Box, for the record, was not among the companies named in a non-compete agreement between Microsoft and Sinofsky after the former Windows chief’s departure.
The role is also separate from Sinofsky’s recently announced position as a board partner at Andreessen Horowitz, even though the venture capital firm is one of Box’s investors.
As a Box advisor, Sinofsky is in a position to help in areas including product strategy and organization, particularly in engineering, product development and Box as a platform, Levie said. Sinofsky has already helped out by giving input on one unreleased product, slated to be announced at the BoxWorks conference next month, Levie said.
Levie said Sinofsky, apart from his experience, “has tremendous thoughts and ideas on where collaboration and productivity software are going.” He cited, as an example, the principles outlined in Sinofsky’s blog post last week, Continuous Productivity.
Did Box initially try to hire Sinofsky in an executive role?
Levie laughed. “You know, in the back of my mind, I’m always trying to do that with people like this,” he said. “But no, he was very clear, and it was very obvious, that he was at a stage where he wanted to get involved in a number of different things.”
“So, no. We did not pop the question,” Levie said. “But if he’s out there and listening, I would love to talk about it.”