On Wednesday, March 16 I attended the Box Dev 2014 conference at the Fort Mason Conference center in San Francisco. There was a large crowd of close to 1,000 attendees and dozens of Box employees on hand.
Building the next generation
The focus of the conference was to bring together developers and entrepreneurs building the next generation of enterprise software leveraging the Box platform. They also unveiled several new and exciting features of their platform like Box View, which converts documents of all types into HTML5 for embedded viewing. There were two tracks to this conference: developer, and innovator. The developer track focused mainly on the technical aspects of the new Box platform features. I chose the innovator track instead. Here’s how the day went.
The advantage of start ups
The conference started with a keynote by CEO Aaron Levie, who talked about the enterprise software shift to the cloud and mobile. This shift, he said, affords startups an enormous opportunity to disrupt older, entrenched companies, who can’t easily move away from their installed software packages. The development cycle times are so much shorter with SaaS software (weeks instead of months or years), that installed software has no hope of keeping up.
Box View demo
A lively interview between Aaron and Ben Horowitz
Next up was a fireside chat between Aaron and entrepreneur Ben Horowitz, talking about Ben’s new book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things. If you haven’t read it, I’d highly recommend it. The book covers all of the hardships Ben’s been through in his experience of starting and running several companies. Plus, it’s filled with humor and great advice. Their discussion was lively and periodically filled with inane (but funny) questions such as “If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you rather have – Twitter or Bitcoin?” (The answer: Twitter.)
A delicious chicken sandwich
We broke for lunch at this point and Box had corralled five excellent food trucks outside the conference hall for the attendees. I chose Doc’s of the Bay and had their delicious buttermilk battered chicken sandwich – highly recommended!
The disruptive technologies discussion was next, with an interview of Joe Lonsdale, one of the co-founders of Palantir. The topics varied wildly – from the history of Palantir, to the impact of Oculus Rift and VR on the enterprise and to Joe’s thoughts on the government stifling startups and innovation. He has a large personality and strong opinions, which made for an interesting interview.
The VC panel
This was followed by a VC panel discussion with VC’s from Greylock, Intel Capital and others. They’re seeing more contract and remote workforce members in the industry overall, and everyone is bringing their own devices to work. This bodes well for companies building enterprise software that fosters collaboration. They also mentioned a lot of SaaS companies are moving to full contracts with 90-day cancellation periods rather than free trials. This is an interesting idea which I imagine helps quite a bit with the sales qualification process. Finally, they emphasized that companies need a customer success team as large as the sales team. Especially if you’re building an open collaboration platform; people need to be successful immediately and look good or they’ll leave you.
How cloud software changes the role of CIOs
The CIOs came on stage at this point – a heavy hitting panel from Gap, Cisco, HP and Netflix. These folks talked about the changing role of the CIO as the wave of cloud software as developed. The going opinion focused on the need to scale and manage risk as they vet potential solutions, and look for partners – and not be “sold” a product. Spamming the CIO doesn’t work; instead, build a relationship with them first and understand their business. They’re also constantly scanning their networks for “shadow IT” apps, those installed under the radar by teams. They aren’t looking to stamp them out, but often to see if there’s demand for a full-company rollout.
Advice on scaling startups
The final panel of the day featured CEOs from several startups and former startups: Open DNS, ZenPayroll, Illumio and RelateIQ. They talked about building their companies and the importance of listening to your customers and solving their problems. You have to think not only about the solutions, but whether the time is right and the customers are ready for what you’re building. They had great advice on scaling your startup as well: most important is to handle inter-team communication. It can kill your productivity and cause huge problems when teams don’t share full details or assume that someone else is covering an issue when they’re not.
Overall, this was a well-run, informative and engaging conference. Kudos to the folks at Box for pulling together an A-list group of speakers and running a flawless show.
Jason Carlson is LiquidPlanner’s Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer.