Box.net Uses Collaboration For Cloud Storage Advantage
Vendor is at the forefront of capitalizing on social, analytics, and other capabilities that we only dream about--or don't even know to dream about.
Providing cloud-based storage seems so commodity-like, and so hard to defend as a unique differentiator, that it would seem that Box.net, despite the dynamic vigor of the company and its CEO, Aaron Levie, couldn’t really make a go of it in the market. After all, some very very big companies, like Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, are competing in this space. And don’t forget Box.net’s many small-fry competitors, including Dropbox, among others. You’d think that with these kinds of enemies, how the heck can Box.net find enough customer and investor love to keep its momentum going.
That’s before I went to Box’s user conference a few weeks ago, where several important reasons why Box.net might stand a chance came to the fore. And that was before I started tracking all the times Box.net came up in conversations about social and collaborative software. And before I actually started using the free Box.net account that came with my HP Touchpad.
Suddenly, Box.net’s real opportunities started to make a whole lot of sense.
The first inkling that Box .net was doing something right came when I ran into some SAP folks at the conference. These weren’t your tire-kicking market researchers or even someone from the partnership organization. These were the investor types, the guys you send over to do the due diligence before you put your money down. And it was clear, they were there to do a deal and follow in the footsteps of Salesforce.com and investor Marc Andreessen, among others, in buying a piece of the Box.
That the company has raised $162 million so far is far from the only reason to pay attention to it (unfortunately, the amount of money a company raises isn't highly correlated with success), but when you see SAP Ventures and Salesforce putting their money where the mouths are (or want to be), it’s definitely makes you stop and think.
The other indication that Box.net has legs came from presentations and casual conversations with its customers, who gushed about the company’s value to their organizations. Having used Box.net now for a few weeks, I agree that it’s a great productivity tool (despite a little glitch that I’m having with Office 2010 on my desktop PC). There’s a nice app for my new iPhone, my Touchpad, my iPad, and, on my laptop, the Office 2010 integration makes it pretty easy to move documents from the cloud to my devices and back again.
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But is that really enough to make Box.net worth whatever multiple of $162 million is needed to make back its investors' money? The answer is simple: no.
What Box.net needs--and fear not, dear investors, I’m pretty sure Levie gets this--is an understanding of the meta-opportunities that add value on top of what's otherwise a cloud-based version of a good-old sneakernet. Those meta-opportunities come from three major areas, in my opinion:
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