Unboxing Box: Growing up entrepreneurs

Summary:As seen with Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, startup origin stories are all-too-often overshadowed by ego and infighting over money and control. Not so with Box.

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Box's co-founders, CFO Dylan Smith and CEO Aaron Levie, at the Los Altos, Calif. HQ in November 2013. Credit: Josh Miller, CNET.

Every startup has a story.

Too often, as demonstrated with Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, those origin stories are crammed with ego and infighting over money and control.

In contrast, the history of Box seems refreshingly straightforward.

“I don’t even remember life before Box, so that’s going to be hard to talk about,” CEO and co-founder Aaron Levie told me during our first conversation in that conference room at Box’s headquarters in Los Altos, a town just south of Palo Alto—as close as one can get to the beating heart and financial epicenter of the Valley.

“We would get a call at about 12:30, and it would be Aaron, ‘What do you think about this? I think this could be absolutely insane. Like, come over right now. I got towels, just bring shorts, come over,’” Queisser remembers. “This would be at 12:30 and by like 12:40, we were in his hot tub just iterating ideas.”

“I’ve been doing this as far as my memory goes back," Levie continued. "I assume that I was born and just got into the cloud storage industry right after that moment. That’s about where my memory trails off.”

Box as a platform and company was born in 2005, but even that was well after the establishment of the friendship between Levie and his co-founder and Box’s chief financial officer, Dylan Smith.

Smith and Levie met as classmates at Islander Middle School in Mercer Island, Washington, a suburb southeast of Seattle, and then went to Mercer Island High School together.

“Even back then he started getting me interested in entrepreneurship,” Smith recalled. “He was much more interested in technology [than business] back then.”

Two other key members of the Box team were also childhood friends.

Jeff Queisser, currently vice president of Box’s technical operations, met Levie when they were in the fourth and fifth grades, respectively, as neighbors.

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Jeff Queisser, vice president of technical operations, at Box's main offices in Silicon Valley in November 2013.

By high school, Queisser recalled that the two were starting “kinda crazy businesses.”

“[Levie] was a magician, and I was very much a hard core nerd and doing programming,” Queisser laughed.

Sam Ghods, now vice president of technology at Box, joined the group in the 10th grade when his family relocated from Illinois to Mercer Island.

The same year in school, Ghods recalled that he and Queisser became friends on the bus to school, eventually hanging out more frequently with Smith and Levie as well and getting involved in various business schemes.

In high school, Levie’s parents’ hot tub served as the discussion forum.

“We would get a call at about 12:30, and it would be Aaron, ‘What do you think about this? I think this could be absolutely insane. Like, come over right now. I got towels, just bring shorts, come over,’” Queisser remembers. “This would be at 12:30 and by like 12:40, we were in his hot tub just iterating ideas.”

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Sam Ghods, vice president of technology at Box, at the Los Altos, Calif. HQ in November 2013.

And while he built a lot of websites in high school, Levie doesn’t brag about having a strong technical background, admitting, “They weren’t very good websites.”

One example was a search engine dubbed Zizap, which Levie facetiously peddled as “the world’s fastest search engine if you have never been to Google.”

Another project was Fastest.com, a website that let people buy and sell their homes online. Levie notes sarcastically that it “made sense as a high school senior to launch that company.”

These early rumblings of entrepreneurship would soon pay dividends. Levie enrolled at the University of Southern California in 2003 to study business, which is where the idea that was to become Box began to develop.

Ed. Note: This is an excerpt from "How Aaron Levie and his childhood friends built Box into a $2 billion business."

For the full long read as well as a downloadable PDF version, head over to TechRepublic.

Topics: Cloud, Enterprise Software, Start-Ups, Tech Industry, Web development

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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