Aaron Winsor Levie is an American entrepreneur also known as the co-founder and CEO of Box, a cloud-management and file sharing service for businesses.

By Balthazar Malevolent


Aaron Levie was born to a Jewish family from Mercer Island, Washington, a small suburb of Seattle. His parents are Ben and Karyn Levie. Levie attended the University of Southern California before taking a leave of absence in 2005 to start cloud storage company Box.

The idea for Box originated as a college business project that Levie was working on in 2004. The project examined cloud storage options for businesses and after contacting several organizations to ask how they are storing their content and data, Levie came to the conclusion that the market was fragmented. Levie saw an opportunity to build an online file storage business as a way for individuals to access and store documents and files.

In December 2005, during his junior year at USC, Levie took a leave of absence to launch Box (originally called box.net) with his friend and Box CFO, Dylan Smith who was attending Duke University. At the time, Box was a storage service where users could pay to store their files in the cloud.

Levie and Smith incorporated Box in April 2005 while operating the company out of Smith's parents' house on Mercer Island. Soon after, they moved the company to Berkeley, California. Levie and Smith first secured angel investment for Box from Texas billionaire Mark Cuban after a cold e-mail.

In 2007, as the consumer cloud storage marketplace was becoming increasingly crowded, Levie and Smith decided to shift Box from a consumer service to one focused on selling to businesses (cloud storage).

Box expanded its operations into Europe in 2012, with the opening of its first office in London, England.

As of 2014, Box reported that 40% of Fortune 500 companies are paying Box customers. The company is headquartered in Redwood City and was backed by several venture capital firms and investors such as Andreessen Horowitz, Bessemer Venture Partners, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, General Atlantic, Meritech Capital Partners, New Enterprise Associates, U.S. Venture Partners, and Salesforce.com. The company filed for IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in March 2014. Citing market fluctuations the company delayed its IPO until January 23, 2015.

Levie has spoken at industry events such as Fortune Brainstorm Tech, Dreamforce, CxOTalk, LeWeb, RSA, MobileBeat, GigaOm Structure, TechCrunch Disrupt and DEMO. He has also written articles on innovation in the technology industry for publications such as The Washington Post, CNN.com, Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Forbes, ZDNet and Fast Company.

A lot of times, at the board level, a conversation will start with, “Do we have the right CEO?” And especially for early founders, you ask yourself that question. “Am I going to be a good CEO? Am I going to be able to scale the company?” But when you ask that kind of question, you end up defining what a CEO is in unnecessarily strict terms. Whereas, actually, the most important job of a CEO is just to make sure that the company succeeds. So if there’s a whole chunk of work that you’re not good at, you don’t personally have to be good at it to be a good CEO. You have to make sure the company is good at it to be a good CEO.

Early on, when we were scaling Box at 20 or 30 employees, we came to this question. And I asked myself, “Do I look like these other CEOs that have scaled big companies?” A lot of times it didn’t feel like I was like them. I focus on a very different set of things. I don’t really like all the stuff that they like to do. But I ended up realizing that it was actually just my job to make sure that we got all of the problems solved, not that I had to personally solve them all.

I end up seeing a lot of companies make this mistake—and it’s obviously happening much less these days than in the ’90s and early 2000s—where you shoot the founder and then bring in an experienced CEO. Imagine all the better outcomes we would have if those companies actually kept their founders focused on what they’re great at, and then added counterparts to help them build the business.

My thing is this: Founders can get burned out for two reasons—I mean, probably a hundred reasons, but let’s just say there’s two for now. One reason is that you’re tired. You just aren’t as passionate about the problem space anymore, and you want to go off and do something completely different or take some time off. That’s scenario one, and realistically it probably happens just as much as scenario two.

But I think sometimes it can get confused with scenario two, which is when you are doing a set of things that you no longer like to do, and you have not found a way to get them off your plate. You haven’t found a way to get back to focusing on the thing that you are uniquely passionate about. If I spent 90% of my time in performance-review meetings and organization meetings and compensation-decision meetings, I would be burned out and say, “This is not what I want to do.”

The key is to not conflate what you are doing on a daily basis with falling out of passion with the overall mission. But a lot of times you end up doing that if you don’t have any way to complement your skills.

So my recommendation to anyone who’s running into that situation would be to try a COO first. See if the desire to stop has to do with dreading your day-to-day activities, or if it’s actually where you are in life.

-Aaron Winsor Levie

Aaron Levie

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