Box: Enterprise cloud content platform

The Box Platform provides enterprise developers with a powerful set of cloud content management APIs

CONTEXT

Box is a SaaS enterprise platform that lets users securely share and edit files from anywhere.

Knowledge workers at Fortune 500 companies like GE and IBM use Box to access, share and collaborate on their work files.

Use cases include: mobile access and sharing (e.g. sales teams), real-time collaboration (e.g. marketing teams), virtual data room (e.g. Board of Directors), secure FTP replacement (IT teams), records management and eDiscovery (e.g. legal teams)… and many more.

For large enterprises, the Chief Information Officer is the decision maker for purchasing thousands of annual subscription licenses for the knowledge workforce. Box is priced in three tiers, based on size of deployment, number of features, and amount of storage.

In Box’s evolution from startup to public company, it moved increasingly upmarket to sell larger contracts to larger enterprises who required more technical and idiosyncratic features. To continue growing sustainably, and avoid the engineering strain of building resource-intensive custom solutions for each large customer, Box developed an API for developers to build apps on top of Box’s infrastructure. Developers want users on their apps and to get paid for it, enterprises want functionality and have money. Box sits in the middle of this two sided platform, courting both developers and enterprise users.

Clearly, Box has direct network effects, in that it is easier to use Box if your colleagues are already using it, and indirect network effects, in that the more developers and apps built on Box, the better the experience for users.
VALUE CREATION

The Box platform creates value by providing a robust, secure cloud storage layer on which enterprises can build applications. All the content an enterprise uses to get work done — from electronic medical records to creative marketing assets — can be accessed in highly efficient, productive and, most importantly, customizable ways through leveraging the Box Platform API.

To give a concrete, simple example: Toyota built a branded iPad app for their sales reps to use in closing deals. The application’s user experience and interface were completely designed and developed by Toyota. When the app showed a preview of a marketing document, behind the scenes the app made an API call to Box servers (where Toyota’s content was stored) and the Box Platform would return the information requested to display the content in the app. Box’s cloud storage platform created value for Toyota by providing the backend content management architecture from which the Toyota sales team’s iPad app could draw the large video assets or one of many documents required in the sales process. Different enterprises and industries employed the various Box Platform APIs in a wide range of use cases to solve their diverse content management needs.

Operationally, Box eventually carved out a Platform enterprise sales team to offer greater technical sales expertise and augment the platform product and marketing teams efforts to grow the functionality of the platform and increase its use. Box heavily recruited developers to their platform through hosting large developer conferences, writing strong documentation, and growing the number of API request types and platform functionalities available to third party developers. Given the indirect network effects of this two sided platform, this investment in acquiring developers to build on the Box platform was a critical part of the platforms ability to create and capture value.

VALUE CAPTURE

Access to the Box API is grouped into all of the “Enterprise” pricing tiers of Box’s service offerings. Platform pricing is tiered by number of API calls but is also highly “custom” (read: case-by-case) meaning that the Box sales reps would work closely to understand the customers needs and then find a way to maximize both value creation for the customer and revenue capture for Box. Customers are either charged a flat rate for a certain number of API calls, or are charged more dynamically on a “per API call” basis.

2 thoughts on “Box: Enterprise cloud content platform

  1. Great article Erik. I was wondering how do you visualize the entry of behemoths such as Google (with the G suite of apps for business) and Microsoft’s Office 365 impacting Box’s value proposition and future growth? (since Microsoft and Google have the rest of the ecosystem such as e-mails etc figured out for enterprises)

  2. Hi Erik,

    Thanks for sharing!
    I find Box extremely interesting in how it was quick to differentiate itself from Dropbox in its appeal to Enterprise customers, allowing greater security and flexibility in its service offering.

    Interesting to see that they realized they wont be the ones to develop all functionalities and opened it up.

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