Trends are Your Friends
We all know that many startups arise because they not only identified a major problem in the tech culture, but could see several steps forward when it came to the solution. It is extremely important for a startup to be able to get a sense of the startup climate around them, and assess exactly what is missing, and how they will solve it better than any competition that might arise. This can be exemplified with a certain company, Box, and how Aaron Levie and his team was able to see a couple of trends before they started, and adjust their company accordingly.
First and foremost, Aaron Levie wasn’t even out of college when he started identifying the problem. In fact, the team were college sophomores and freshmen in 2004 and 2005. Mr. Levie was noticing that the way that data was being shared was still extraordinarily cumbersome. Of course, steps were being made, and one of these steps was the USB thumb drive. This is not to say that the thumb drive isn’t convenient, but Aaron Levie and his friends knew that using thumb drives and e-mailing yourself wasn’t the most efficient way to share information and data, and that there had to be a new and improved way. He even saw the same problem in his internship, where the enterprise software being used was working, but was extremely complicated and complex. Aaron Levie knew that so much work was collaborative, whether it was in the tech sector or otherwise. It was very clear that more people around the world would need to work together, as industries became more inter-connected globally. It was also obvious that something had to be done to make this process as seamless as possible, if companies were to be successful over the next several decades.
One way in which Aaron Levie and Box “saw the trend” is that they saw something that many people did not in 2004: they saw mobile ubiquity. This is not to say that smartphones weren’t a factor in 2004, but these days, the mobile space is the dominant factor in terms of apps and many startups. This wasn’t the case back then, but Box “saw” the trend growing. It was this realization that helped them forge a path and take the right steps to ensure that while some of their decisions may not make as much sense now, that they were ultimately taking steps that would prove how far ahead they are of their competition.
They also “saw the trend” when it came to cloud storage. The truth is that technology helps to make the lives of human beings more convenient, and almost every technology begins to drop in price as it evolves, so that more people can use it. In 2004, cloud computing certainly was a sector that people understood would be the future, but Box was able to see just how necessary and cheap it would be. Companies around the world would go out of their way to build their own infrastructure, if need be – because one thing was for certain: data wasn’t going anywhere. The only result is that the cost of storage had to go down, as more and more people around the world needed to store data for all sorts of reasons, whether it is personal, scientific-related, business-related, or anything else.
This may sound like a natural conclusion, but Box also saw before many how INTERCONNECTED this cloud computing would need to be. The truth is that while there are times when information needs to be uploaded and protected, most of the time we need information to be constantly shared. This can apply to everyone from vendors, clients, colleagues, co-workers, students. When many companies were focusing on using cloud computing as some sort of a corporate strategy, Box understood that cloud computing was going to be much more interactive and interconnected than people were predicting.
It was the knowledge of these three big trends that truly gave Box a unique competitive edge over anyone else. If everybody is going to be on mobile, and cloud computing is going to become cheap – we need to be the people offering that service to everyone who needs it, and we need to be first. We have to be a service where people can upload and share files without the process being overly complicated, and this would allow us to be in a position to grow exponentially. Box was able to be in this position because they were able to foresee the kind of requirements that people would have very soon, even if the solution wasn’t available at the time.
It isn’t hard to see that Box would gain users very naturally, as a result. They started simply as Box.net, and thousands of users began signing up for the service, and realizing how convenient this new way to share files was. Of course, it’s not as if Box didn’t have its own issues that it would work on later – but it was out there, and people recognized that it was solving a very basic problem. There are companies that spend millions on research and development and end up coming up with nothing, and here was Box – doing the bare minimum to solve a very simple problem, but nonetheless – having people sign up for it already.
It’s important to recognize sometimes it is not about having the most well-known investors or the most incredible software or layout that people have ever seen. While these could be appealing features, they aren’t going to lead to customer loyalty. Ultimately, people want a simple solution to a simple problem – and if you can provide that, you’re in a great space. If you can foresee that it will be at the intersection of some very important technological trends – well, that’s even better! Box provided a much easier way for people to work, and they did so immediately, even if it wasn’t perfect. This was enough for them to be in a position to then fix these problems and grow tremendously – but it’s important to remember that it all started because they “saw the trends”. It’s amazing how far a little foresight can go.