Aaron Levie On His Billion-Dollar Box And Other Startup Lessons
Two minutes into watching Aaron Levie’s talk to Stanford University last year, and I’m sold. The college drop-out turned billion- dollar Box.com founder is young, smart, funny, and (yes, I’m going to say it) kind of cute. Started in 2005 in his USC dorm room, Box has re-invented the way companies share content and is now used by 82% of Fortune 500 companies. Oh yes, and it just secured $125 million in financing, officially making it a billion-dollar business.
Here’s some ‘trep takeaways from his talk on startup fails, creating the best culture and not dying too soon.
“Start something that makes sense”
Aaron tried to start three companies before Box, and here’s the reasons why they failed:
- Zizap.com – the fastest search engine. Fail: One word, Google.
- Socalendar.com – find events in LA. Fail: Aaron hated the events in LA.
- Fastest.com – the fastest way to by homes. Fail: Aaron didn’t own a home.
His advice? Don’t start companies that don’t make sense to what you’re doing and what you’re interested in. They will fail.
In 2005, no one was in the cloud, and info storage wasn’t streamlined. Aaron saw a gap in the market, and Box was born.
“Culture will make or break us”
Aaron, along with his CFO Dylan Smith still approve every offer from potential employees, because the culture of the company for him is the most important determinant of success.
His advice? Hire fun, smart, quick employees with low-egos, and fire the people that don’t work.
Aaron also shares four lessons to think about before building a business…
Lesson #1- Do something that wasn’t possible 3 years ago
Aaron says one of the best competitive advantages you can have is utilizing brand new technologies and build something you couldn’t five years ago.
Lesson #2- Do something you’re extremely passionate about
This one is a pretty obvious one, but Aaron believes this is essential if you want to make others passionate about your product. He says project your company for 5 years and make sure you still want to be working on it because….Startups are HARD!
Lesson #3- Don’t compromise
One of the coolest things about starting a company is making lots of decisions and seeing your vision come to life. When Aaron is making decisions he asks, “What’s the BEST way we can do this?” Create the best team, best marketing strategy, best product, etc., and don’t compromise on what the best means to you.
Lesson #4- If you feel comfortable, you’re probably not doing it right
Important decisions to make for your startup are usually not easy and you need to go way beyond your comfort zone when making them. Aaron says, that’s a good thing. That means your doing something right.
Lesson #5- Don’t write your obituary too early.
Google, Microsoft and EMC were all suppose to dominate the content-sharing world and crush Box, but it didn’t stop Aaron from believing in his company and his product.
Today, the company has over a million users and has scaled to a billion-dollar business.
Moral of the startup story—Start a company that is innovative and you’re passionate about, create a strong culture around it, and don’t compromise (or get too comfortable). You just may end up in Aaron’s tax bracket, or box, if you will.