"One of the coolest things about the technology industry right now is the industry itself is going to be fairly meaningless as a concept. Everything is going to be based on technology." says Aaron Levie, Co-founder and CEO of Box, a cloud computing company that allows users to upload, collaborate and share content online.
Sharing his vision for the future where technology is disrupting and innovating in regulated industries, Aaron predicts, "This is the last period where there are going to be 'tech' conferences. Every business no matter what industry you’re in is going to be powered by software. Everything is going to have a software & technology at the core of the business: life sciences, financial, healthcare providers," he shared with Lichal Lev-Ram of Fortune.
Bringing Sexy Back to Enterprise
As co-founder and CEO of a company as successful as Box, Aaron Levie would know what it takes to disrupt a traditional industry, having spent more than a decade bringing sexy back to the Enterprise while competing with behemoth Microsoft. "In 2010, doing enterprise software was still considered to be very boring, very slow moving, not a lot of innovation. What Salesforce did, Workday did, what other disrupters did was how can we break the enterprise software cycle," he says.
Enterprise software is now at an inflection point where users can bring their own technology into the workplace and solve problems themselves without requiring to go to the IT department. "We are in the Renaissance period where we've figured out how to bring consumer experience to a world of software," says Aaron.
As a disruptor in the cloud technology and storage space, Box spent years competing with Microsoft. But Microsoft ignored strides in cloud technology and continued to build the software and products they always did. When new CEO Satya Nadella came in, he saw that the world outside of Redmond had changed dramatically. It had completely transformed thanks to new companies and new technologies. "Microsoft decided they have to find a way to work with that ecosystem. Their have inverted their earlier strategy completely. Now they focus on partnering first, competition second." says Aaron.
"The market size and opportunity size is so massive, we’re no longer in zero sum world of this industry. In the next 5-10 years, there will be 3X scale of software, productivity technology, internet, mobile devices." says Aaron. Box currently has 27MM+ users and 240K+ businesses using its products - and there is clearly more than enough of the pie for everybody to share.
Aaron's tongue-in-cheek advice? Make sure whatever incumbent you are competing with, they get a new CEO.
How Technology Affects Privacy versus Security
Another issue close to Aaron's heart is the recent Apple encryption versus FBI discussion.
"Serious national security issues makes this even more complicated. It’s not in black and white." says Aaron. "You have to decide what timeframe you are optimizing for and what problem you are trying to solve. If you are just trying to solve getting better information about a situation, then everybody will say you should be able to do that and open up the phone. But if you zoom out a bit and you say I’m trying to solve National Security for the next 5 years, then you have to think of the implications of if I were to open up this phone. Then the communication that the criminals are using, they will move to a more secure platform. In 2-5 years, people would have just moved off using devices that the FBI is able to crack." he says.
"On the most macro level, for our ability to trust our technology, we should trust that other governments cannot go to Apple and say we need to break this open or some intruder can also find that same backdoor and get access to information," says Aaron.
We have to think about whether we want to be operating on the micro basis of a domestic situation or on the macro basis of national security.
The Stakeholders: FBI vs Government vs Internet
"We have to think about whether it is within the FBI charter to open up the phone for their goals and what about the overall government charter and what is within the overall internet charter, how should we think about implications and the precedent." says Aaron. "FBI says this does not create a precedent, it is a one time thing. But by definition that creates a precedent." says Aaron.
"I’m generally for more security, more encryption is going to be better. It can be used in harmful ways of course, but the attackers can always move to a better platform if they choose. This is an incredibly challenging topic. It’s not one that our current political system is well set up to work though. We don’t have a political environment good at dealing with nuanced issues. In a recent debate, Donald Trump said, 'We need Bill Gates to shut off the internet in Syria'. We are not in the right timeframe to do this." Aaron says as to laughter and applause from the audience.
From Disrupting One Another to Disrupting Industries
Echoing similarities with rules and regulations, Aaron advises about how entrepreneurs thinking about disrupting traditionally regulated industries could succeed. "Thanks to companies like Uber and Airbnb, we now have the opportunity for building software companies that go after traditional non-technology industries." he says.
"There used to be for the first 20-30 years in the tech industry, we were insulated and kept disrupting each other. Lycos built a better version of Excite. Google built better version of Lycos. Facebook built better version of Myspace. Myspace built a better version of Friendster. We were constantly disrupting each other. With iPhone and ubiquitous mobile devices and spread of cloud computing, we realized as the rest of the world can be connected, then we can create new digital experiences that let us transform many of these industries." says Aaron.
It is inevitable that there is going to be tension between regulation and disruption. By nature, laws and regulations are in conflict with what can be possible in the digital world. That is why it is in every startup's interest to think about the timeframe within which they have to be successful as a company. If they can't change the law, they will have to build their company within the compliance of the regulation.
"We are going to see even more controversy with things like healthcare and life sciences where it deals with my personal information in a more significant way. We have to learn how to navigate around that." says Aaron. "Especially in DC and lot of state local regulators are not ready for this. Regulatory infrastructure is built for industrial worlds that changes every 5-10 years. So they write things in with no anticipation of it changing soon."
Aaron Levie wants each and every one of us to think hard and think carefully before deciding what you believe in. It is important to be able to zoom out and think broadly about National Security versus striving to protect Personal Privacy. Think about moving from disrupting each other to disrupting traditionally regulated industries.
As an entrepreneur developing software for the real world, what we believe in and are willing to fight for, will define the future we live in.