As a person who has worked for a long time in the IBM Software space, I’ve been to a ton of IBM conferences. This past week, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and go to BoxWorks, the conference for box.com.
For those unfamiliar, box.com is a cloud-based secure enterprise file sharing and collaboration service. It’s a new hip company that’s been kind of an analyst darling as of late. I brought it into our organization a couple years ago now, and usage has grown quicker than anything else I’ve ever worked with. My rep has been bugging me to go to the conference for the last couple years, so I finally said yes and made the trip along with 5800 others to Moscone Center in San Francisco.
Out of the gate BoxWorks felt very techie. I walked in the door and was pointed to a bank of iPads. I entered my email address and they printed my badge on-demand. I was just handed the badge and lanyard. It included a very brief printed schedule and $100 worth of credit in the Box store.
I really liked not being given a bag that I may or may not use. I was able to go to the store and choose from hats, shirts, bluetooth speakers, chargers, books, mugs and pens. It was a nice way to get some swag, but to choose exactly what I wanted. It was different and nice touch.
The schedule was unnecessary because the BoxWorks app was so good. It let you choose your schedule, get push notifications to remind you when sessions were about to start, it gave you info on each speaker, sponsor and more. They did the app right and I lived in it the whole show.
The opening keynote brought CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie on stage. He’s a young, goofy, charismatic leader of the company. He wore a suit, with bright blue tennis shoes and socks with the clouds from Mario Brothers on them. Being a cloud company, it was a funny touch.
The thing that really stood out, is that you know this company is his baby. And he’s passionate about his baby. It’s not like the IBM cycle of putting an executive in “Lotus” purgatory for a couple years before they move them on. Don’t get me wrong, IBM Social Software has had some great leaders over the years, but that post was never a destination for any of them, it was a stepping stone along the way. I think it’s a completely different animal when you have a leader that is so deeply engaged.
He did a great job interviewing Jeffrey Katzenberg of DreamWorks and then academy award winning Jared Leto of movies and music (30 Seconds to Mars) fame. Both claimed to use Box heavily and loved working with the company. Leto even let his Oscar travel through the audience so people up front could get selfies with it. Pretty cool move. I spoke to several folks who said Jared was truly a big fan, and had shown up to several events and even lunch at Box on occasion.
The theme of the interviews were about leading and being entrepreneurial. In fact those were the themes all week. Every single keynote touched on leadership, and with speakers like Andrew McAfee, Jim Collins and Jeff Weiner, they definitely knew what they were talking about. I always came away from those sessions inspired and ready for action. I thought that was an excellent tactic, and something you could tell that Box was really passionate about.
There were technical sessions as well, and those were also very good. That said, as a pointy-haired boss, I connected more with the leadership messages along the way.
Now even though box.com is a huge silicone valley darling right now and I love the product, their new announcements were a tad funny to me. They announced a workflow engine for document routing and approval, and they also announced enhanced metadata.
The metadata were nothing more than forms with drop downs like Notes has had for two decades. And well, workflow was something we’ve done with Notes since its inception too. That said, the crowd loved them. It was like they were the best features ever created. It was, for someone like me, really bizarre.
Here’s the thing though. We’ve known forever how great using forms and workflow is. And box.com is not going to do anything that much better than Notes. The difference is marketing, plain and simple. Box did one thing brilliantly in its secure file sharing and is now adding things to enhance the experience. And they tout each advance, and show how useful it is. You see articles about box.com everywhere, and advertising where it makes sense. And they integrate with everything they possibly can. They play nice. Hell, there’s even a box.com widget for Connections.
They also have salespeople who actively sell it rather than alternatives, but that’s a whole other blog post.
Anyway, what is old is new again. And it makes me wonder what could have been, or what could still be if IBM really put some muscle behind Notes and Domino. But they haven’t, and they won’t, and that’s definitely sad.
It was definitely cool to see how a hip young startup does a conference, and IBM could certainly learn a thing or two. BoxWorks might be on my agenda every year. We’ll see.