Startup Class Lecture 12 Notes – Aaron Levie

These are my notes from Lecture 12 of the Startup Class taught by Sam Altman. Aaron Levie, CEO and Founder of Box gave a talk on building for the enterprise.

My notes from the previous lectures are here.

Story of Box

  • Got the idea back in 2004, before iPhone, Facebook
  • Noticed it was really hard to share files (expensive, hard to move data through corporate networks)
  • So decided to try to make it easier
  • Noticed a couple of changes:
    • cost of storage was reducing rapidly
    • more powerful browsers and networks
    • more locations and people to share with
  • Put together a quick version of Box to make it really easy to share files
  • Raised some angel funding and dropped out of college to work on it
  • Faced a problem: over-serving consumers and under-serving businesses
  • So had to make a choice between consumer and enterprise
  • Consumer looked fun; Enterprise looked very hard
  • Consumer had issues with monetization
  • Enterprise was slow (sales cycle, approvals), complex (building, selling)
  • Decided they had to go for it. Wanted to see how we could use the changes that had happened in the last decade to build a better enterprise company.
  • Now used by 99% of Fortune 500 companies

Changes in Enterprise

  • Everything has changed
  • Most magical time to build an enterprise software company
  • Most technology moving to the cloud, even in enterprise
  • Moving to a world of cheaper on demand computing
  • Moving from customized software to platforms with customizations one level on top of that (which opens it up to small businesses as well)
  • Mobile devices (1.75B smartphones in the planet) has led to a user-led model as opposed to IT-led
  • Every single industry is going through a business model and technology orientated disruption, which means that they will need better technology.
    • Retail: Technology to accelerate multi-platform commerce
    • Healthcare: Technology to enable more personalized healthcare
    • Media: Technology for global media creation and distribution

Every company in the world needs better technology to work faster, smarter and more securely
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How to get started

  1. Spot technology disruption
    • Look for new enabling technologies that create a wide gap between how things have been done and how they can be done
    • What was not possible (Technologically or economically) before the change that now is.
    • E.g, Plangrid: iPad app to make collaboration easy in the construction industry
  2. Start intentionally small
    • Start with something simple and small
    • Expand over time
    • If people call it a “toy” you’re definitely onto something
    • Think about gaps in the incumbent solution which you can solve as a discrete problem.
  3. Find asymmetries
    • Do things incumbents won’t or can’t do (for technological or economic reasons)
    • E.g, Zenefits which helps business manage benefits for employees
  4. Find the almost-crazy outliers
    • Find customers that are working in the future and use them as early adopters and to help you discover how your product should evolve
  5. Listen to customers
    • Listen to their problems
    • Build what they need, not what they tell you they need
  6. Modularize not Customize
    • Build a platform you can customize
  7. Focus on the User
    • Build with user-experience in mind
    • Makes it easier to adopt
  8. Your product should sell itself
    • But you still need sales people