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Business Management

Box's Whitney Bouck Seeks Vertical Progress

Odd. I’ve stepped off Oxford Street, reached the correct building and taken the lift to Box’s EMEA offices in central London, but at one of the hottest companies in B2B software there’s an eerie silence and a complete absence of staff to be seen. It turns out that there’s a major offsite event as employees meet to hear about the latest plans. Oh to be a fly on the wall and maybe even discover something about the “secret IPO”… more of which later.

Box is, to use Geoffrey Moore’s phrase from the first dotcom phase, “inside the tornado”: that is, experiencing the wild ride of hyper-growth, usually characterised by head-spinning jumps in revenues and headcount, doses of venture capital and media obsession. I’m there to meet Whitney Bouck, the company’s marketing and enterprise chief who, it appears to me, must be an apt counterpart to CEO Aaron Levie and antidote to that chaotic world. He is the serially entrepreneurial, terrifyingly young, tech-obsessed, cherubic icon of the company. She is the Californian enterprise software veteran who has seen it all before at previous companies like Oracle, Sybase and Documentum, all of which she served at times of soar-away sales growth when Levie would have been (metaphorically at least) in short trousers.

Box is among the leaders in a market for file synchronisation, sharing and collaboration that is keeping watchers entertained because of the vast number of competitors, the vast threat to incumbent document automation companies and, not least, the vast amounts of cash raised in VC. But, she argues, this is just part of the perfect storm of events that always take place when new technology meets urgent buy-side demand.

“It’s typical in a hot market that there are lots of entrants that lead the way, the market moves like wildfire and eventually there are winners and losers,” she says.

She also argues that the large group of competitors should really be broken down into three or four markets. According to Bouck, Box isn’t even in competition with the company it is usually bracketed alongside: near-namesake, Dropbox.

Perhaps this marketing segmentation is an attempt to re-route perceptions but she dismisses the Dropbox business offering as “really, really simple” and lacking the security and sophistication to “serve the needs of enterprises today” because the rival company’s DNA is in the consumer space.

Then there are the “sync and share” players like Syncplicity, Accellion and Egnyte. And then there are the giants, like SharePoint (“difficult to share with external parties, only works with Microsoft”) and Google GDrive (“not really built with a lot of enterprise intention”). Some will fall by the wayside and some, like ShareFile, SlideShare or AirWatch, will be acquired.

And then, of course, there is Box…

“Really what we do is content collaboration and team working [with high levels of security and governance controls]. The platform is incredibly rich and we become the glue or single source of truth.”

Market maturity will come and pioneering CIOs are already pointing the way with sophisticated cloud deployments. But cloud has been “really real for only five years. We’re out of [the phase where it is] just the innovators and into early majority: there are more CIO communities learning from each other.”

Enterprises will seek the security and other business-grade features that Box offers and the company wants to hold their hands through that process. In a clever stroke, Bouck recruited the aforementioned Geoffrey Moore, the eminent business thinker and writer, to create a “user-centric model” of how the cloud will affect business processes. 

“The poor CIO has no star chart for what the IT landscape looks like in five years from now so Geoff said ‘let’s create one’. We want to coach IT into thinking about the future of their IT infrastructure.”

I wonder whether Bouck with her deep experience of software sector hyper-growth ever acts as a mentor for Levie, pointing him in the direction of a lesson learned from Larry Ellison or other executives. She pats this off but adds that Levie, a keen student of tech history has “an unquenchable thirst for knowledge” and “huge respect” for that master of corporate strategy, Larry Ellison.

So what’s missing at Box today? Bouck concedes while Box is building out an international presence there’s a “lot of work to do in verticals” and she believes that showing a deeper understanding of companies’ unique KPIs and talking in the language they use is the way forward. She’s also helping to build dedicated sales, marketing and implementation teams to bulk Box up across individual industry segments.  

Bouck is also honest enough to say that the NSA brouhaha has given some buyers cause to pause as they ponder security, governance and data residency implications. Safe Harbor is “outdated and not really fit for purpose … more specific and rigorous rules” are needed, she contends. Local datacentres are on the cards to assuage those concerns but they are unlikely to be built this year. The new Binding Corporate Rules (BCR) regulations might offer another answer.

Finally, I have to ask about the elephant sitting on the table throughout our meeting: the reported secret IPO that takes advantage of a process whereby companies are allowed to file to float without the usual public disclosures. Would I be way out, for example, if I wrote that Box would be a public company by Easter? Before Dropbox? Or any other parameter you’d care to summon? Answer came there none, unsurprisingly.

Interview over, there’s a slight diversion to see a Box meeting room made from a London taxi cab. And with that it’s back to business… full speed ahead, driver.

 

Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect

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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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