For IT departments, the convergence of these trends presents an extraordinary challenge: How do you manage so much information on so many different platforms?
"You have iPads, Android devices; you have iPhones; you have Macs," Levie tells his new recruits. "It's changing the IT landscape fundamentally. And we have to make sure that we're growing as aggressively as possible, selling to all the CIOs as the solution to run their business on."
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Box has about 20 million users, spread out among 180,000 businesses, who use the platform to upload files, collaborate, and share content online. Box has customers at 97 percent of the companies on the Fortune 500.
"We have to build the best brand," Levie says, "and we have to develop our site around the enterprise. If you don't become the company that rallies developers in the ecosystem, you don't get to have the network effects."
His speech is winding down. He clicks to the last slide.
"What we're relying on is that we can build enough traction, get enough of the industry, that we become the de facto platform in enterprise," he says. "That gives us a launch-off point into a bunch of other services. It will be determined in the next year and a half to two years, because the market is adopting this right now."
Levie asks for questions, and an awkward pause ensues. He stands there sipping his coffee, eyeing the room, when, finally, an employee raises a hand.
"Is it possible for a company to last forever?" the employee asks.
Levie laughs, a sort of nerdish chortle that echoes through the room.
"Well, um, ha ha, yeah," Levie says. "I appreciate you think I know the answer to that. So that's good. And…the answer is yes. It is possible. And we will be that company!"
The recruits laugh as Levie takes a moment to actually consider the question.
"I mean, it's possible we won't even have capitalism in 200 years. Maybe the Internet even won't exist. The idea is that you're always talking about disrupting, always talking about what's next."
Box, which Levie launched out of his dorm room at the University of Southern California in 2005, is a golden child among Silicon Valley tech companies. The company has more than doubled its revenue every year and is on pace to reach $100 million by the end of 2013. Box has more than 900 employees, spread out in offices in Los Altos, San Francisco, London, Paris, and Munich. Next year, Levie and his co-founder and chief financial officer (and boyhood friend), Dylan Smith, plan to take the company public.
Investors, who have poured $300 million into the start-up, are valuing the business at $1.2 billion -- a sign both of their belief in Box and their confidence that cloud computing has finally matured. In one recent survey of IT buyers, researchers noted a "whopping 65.6% of respondents indicated cloud as a top investment area for 2013."
Even these numbers, however, don't explain why Aaron Levie is Inc.'s Entrepreneur of the Year. That has more to do with his anticipation of change and his boldness in doing what looks crazy in the short term but in time looks revolutionary. Cloud storage is basically a commodity. Levie recognized this early on and changed Box's orientation from consumers to enterprise customers, where his relentless focus on great design was particularly striking -- and thus he put some distance between Box and the pressures of the commodity marketplace. He moved quickly into mobile. He got out in front of fears about security. He was, and is, unencumbered by legacy ideas and models, and he keeps making good decisions.
Levie likes to say that fundamental shifts in technology come around only every 10 to 15 years, and much the same could be said about an entrepreneur like him. He possesses the sort of wisdom and focus you'd expect of an industry guru, but he acts with the 24/7 obsession of a scrappy start-up founder. Give him 10 minutes, and he will make you a believer. Scott Weiss, a partner at Andreessen Horowitz, one of the venture firms that have invested in Box, describes Levie as a "glow-in-the-dark" entrepreneur. "He's unmistakable," Weiss says. "You talk with him for five minutes, and he says something funny and something smart and something insightful. He's a larger-than-life character."
He's also only 28. Levie stands a little under 6 feet tall and has a slim, wiry frame. His hair sprouts in a graying forest above his forehead. His eyes, deep-set and bluish-gray, are each covered by a thin wisp of a brow. Like a lot of young tech entrepreneurs, he has a uniform; his is a slim-cut J. Crew suit, a pressed button-down shirt, and red sneakers.
Levie's routine over the past several years has been stringent. He wakes at around 10. He showers quickly, and arrives at the office by 11 a.m. He downs two coffees, sometimes holding two cups at once. He rarely eats breakfast or, for that matter, lunch. He spends 90 percent of his daylight hours in meetings or interviews, to which he walks very quickly or even runs. He is almost never at his desk. At around 7:30 p.m., he takes a nap for about an hour, and when he wakes up, he gets really, really productive. Each night, he probably sends a couple of hundred emails, and by 2 a.m. or 3 a.m., he's finally done. Levie does not take weekends off, and, in the last handful of years, he has taken one vacation, a three-day trip to Mexico with his girlfriend.
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