As Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie took the stage Thursday afternoon at the Box World Tour road show in his hometown of Seattle, he didn’t start talking his company’s pending IPO or its ambitions to conquer the cloud.
Instead, the 28-year-old went off about ride-sharing.
“Did anyone take Uber here?” asked Levie, a Mercer Island, Wash., native who has criticized the Seattle City Council for its decision to limit the amount of Uber, Lyft and Sidecar vehicles on the road. “Were you one of the lucky 100 people?”
After he let off a little steam on the controversial issue, Levie spent the next half-hour talking about the past, present and future of the company he co-founded nearly a decade ago in Seattle with fellow Mercer Island High School grad Dylan Smith.
Box, an online file storage company focused on the enterprise space, filed for a $250 million IPO on March 24 and has been hosting half-day conferences around the world for the past few months to tout its services.
Levie, speaking in front of 100 at the Bell Harbor Conference Center, touched on his well-documented struggles to raise money in the Emerald City.
“We tried everything,” Levie said. “We even dropped off a business prospectus at Paul Allen’s house. He didn’t respond — must be a policy he has or something.”
But the founders — who still “deeply have Seattle in our hearts,” Levie says — landed some initial funding from Mark Cuban and then found more willing investors in the Bay Area, where the 972-employee company is now headquartered.
Box has grown into a major player in the file storage industry with 25 million users and 34,000 paying organizations. Levie is clearly bullish for the company’s future, noting a “revolution happening in the workplace” enabled by cloud storage.
“We’re moving from an industrial economy to an information economy,” he said. “Every job is becoming software-enabled and every industry is becoming digitized.”
Looking ahead, Levie said that Box is focused on reaching customers in highly-regulated industries, like healthcare, financial, government and security, while also allowing third party applications to take advantage of Box’s features to build their own workflows.
“What we see is that we’re building the most advanced content-oriented platform that’s going to be available in terms of the services we offer,” he said. “We want to be the most powerful place to manage and leverage your content.”
Levie also touched on the NSA issues a bit. He said that Box has not received any NSA requests due to the enterprise nature of its business, but the CEO is still very much worried about countries implementing different Internet surveillance and security policies.
“That just doesn’t work. It will curtail the growth that we’ve had for the past 20 years,” he said. “The Internet is driving business across the world, and we can’t live in a world where as a cloud provider or Internet service provider you have to be constantly worried about every single country’s jurisdiction and how they’ll use the Internet for their own purposes. We fundamentally believe that this needs to change.”
As for his thoughts on the ride-sharing issue in Seattle, Levie said that artificially capping companies like Uber and Lyft is not a good strategy for the city. He specifically called out Transportation Committee Chair Sally Clark for wanting to “buy a year for the taxi world to adapt.”
“I don’t know how to process that sentence,” Levie said. “She’s basically saying that they’re being corrupt and they’re going to block access to a disruptive innovation to ensure that the incumbent monopoly has time to catch up with the marketplace. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
While he doesn’t think the regulations will necessarily hurt Seattle’s image as a city that welcomes innovation, Levie still is perplexed by the rules set forth by city government.
“It won’t have any actual ramifications from an ecosystem standpoint,” he told GeekWire. “But why not take the opportunity to be forward-thinking when it’s available?”