Aaron Levie, No. 59 on our list of the Most Creative People in Business, has a simple vision: Users should be able to share and access their content from anywhere, on any device. But as simple as that notion sounds, the execution is far from effortless for Levie, the cofounder and CEO of cloud-storage startup Box (formerly Box.net). After all, we're no longer all wired to Windows XP desktops. Rather, users are hooked up to Macs at the office, Windows 7 laptops at home, Chromebooks on the go; they're accessing files on Android tablets, and listening to music on their iPhones, and thumbing through emails on their work BlackBerrys. In other words, the digital world is a fragmented world—and Levie couldn't be happier.
"Our response to fragmentation is: God bless it," he says.
That's why today the startup launched new apps for Android tablets and RIM Playbooks. It's why they also launched a slick new HTML5 web app, accessible from any Internet-connected device. And it's why they've already launched Box apps on iOS devices (for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch), BlackBerrys, and other Android iterations; on Windows Mobile; and on HP's WebOS. Box's strategy is to be everywhere—that's Levie's plan to compete against cloud-space giants such as IBM, Cisco, and Microsoft, as well as newcomers like Apple.
"Mobile deployment is literally driving our business model at this point," Levie says. The startup, which has raised roughly $77 million in funding, has tripled its engineering, mobile, and product teams in the last quarter, and directed serious resources to attacking the fragmented mobile space. Box.net has "two Instagrams" worth of people focused on mobility, Levie says, referring to Kevin Systrom's tiny but booming photo-sharing network.
Competitors in the space, on the other hand, have less of an incentive to be as platform agnostic, Levie says. When Apple launches iCloud, for example, the company is doing so to drive use on Apple devices. The same goes for Microsoft, which hopes to bring enterprise clients to Sharepoint and Windows Mobile products. But if you have an Android tablet, it's doubtful you'll have access to iCloud or Windows cloud apps anytime soon. If you're on a BlackBerry or HP TouchPad? Not a chance, at least in the near future. "Microsoft is really only going for Microsoft platforms," Levie says. "iCloud only works for Apple first."
The more fragmentation comes to market, he argues, the less likely Apple and Microsoft will be accessible across platforms. "If we had just Apple devices, and Apple laptops, and Apple servers, then there would be no place for the innovation we're seeing in the marketplace today because Apple would drive the whole conversation," Levie says. "But because we have Google and Apple and Microsoft and RIM fiercely competing against each other, the enterprise is facing this world where they have to live in this diversity—more choice drives the need to be able to have your content centralized and syndicated out to these platforms."
For Box, a much smaller company than its competitors in the space, it has no choice but to be available on these platforms. "We have to make sure we're not turning away deals because you deploy TouchPads or BlackBerrys in your organization—that's ultimately our competitive advantage," Levie says.
The strategy is paying off. It's increased mobile deployments by 600% in 2011; it's grown to more than 6 million users; and recently, it inked its largest enterprise deal yet, with corporate giant P&G for nearly 20,000 licenses. A Forrester Research study even pegged Box as a leader in mobile collaboration, ahead of IBM, Salesforce, Google, and Dropbox.
For whatever reason, Microsoft was not included in the research report's mobile chart.
"I think they didn't include anything that's beyond the white space of the square," Levie jokes. "They're [Microsoft] at the intersection of weak and weak."
[Image: Flickr user Hisperati]