Dreamforce 2015: Box CEO Aaron Levie on startup scaling secrets

Growing a tech startup into a publicly-traded company often involves familiar business lessons - with a few twists, based on comments by Box CEO Aaron Levie.

SAN FRANCISCO---As the number of billion-dollar valued tech startups (a.k.a. unicorns) continue to multiply by the day, many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists alike are seeking out the secret sauce fueling this growth.

The hard truth for many might be that there isn't actually a secret formula at all.

Growing a tech startup into a publicly-traded company often involves familiar business lessons -- with some twists, based on comments by Box CEO Aaron Levie at the Dreamforce Startup Summit on Tuesday.

Speaking with Steve Loughlin, CEO of Salesforce IQ, which itself launched from Salesforce's acquisition of Relate IQ last year, Levie recounted some of the lessons learned since Box launched over a decade ago.

The early years of the company, Levie recalled, were often directed by customers using the products in ways the company founders never imagined, influencing the shift to serving enterprise clients.

"We've been so focused on ensuring we're building the dominant platform for managing content in the enterprise," said Levie, later explaining this has been driven by not spending as much time on debating the architecture but rather the collaboration aspects of the platform.

"Clearly what the cloud has enabled is this notion of much more consumer-oriented enterprise software," Levie remarked, asserting we can "actually have usable, enterprise-grade software" if the technology vendors understand the customer vision.

But understanding and responding to customer demands are just as vital as doing the same in building the workforce, Levie hinted.

As Box grew toward serving the content management software industry, Levie noted Box hired a number of veterans from that market who acknowledged they were joining a startup to do things differently and weren't carrying the same expectations as they might have previously.

This evolved to "being able to have that kind of dual culture where you have really experienced senior talent that have seen where you're going mixed with folks that have a fresh mindset," Levie described.

"That's how you get real disruptive innovation," Levie argued.

Levie admitted there will "always some class of customer" that won't find the Box platform as it stands now serving its needs. But the goal, he posited, is that the company will eventually meet those needs as the platform ebbs and flows with the industry.

"I don't recommend our strategy for the faint of heart," Levie quipped. "You have to be willing to take lot of heat from the market."