Twenty months ago Aaron Levie, all of 26 years old, did something arguably foolish, undeniably gutsy and entirely counter to the prevailing mood that startups should be “lean” in the Internet age. Forty-five minutes into a routine meeting with his board at Box, Levie blithely announced: “I want to make a small adjustment. We need to raise an extra $50 million.” An awkward pause followed. Box had previously raised $106 million, already a heady sum for a company with just $25 million in sales and no profits. Levie’s early investor and biggest booster, Josh Stein of venture firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson, piped up: “I’m sorry, but you said $15 million, right?”
Nope. Five-oh. A month earlier Levie, with the board’s acquiescence, shot down a $600 million offer from virtual-computing giant Citrix. That would have given the guys in the room 3 to 50 times what they’d put into Box just a few years prior. Now Levie was asking them to dilute their stake by some 15%. He hadn’t even told his cofounder about it.
They should have seen it coming. Levie is on a mission, and it’s an expensive one: to be the Oracle ORCL +% of the next generation of enterprise applications. Box is an online storage and collaboration service that finished 2012 with about $70 million in revenue, up 160% from 2011. Levie figures he can double that this year, but that’s not interesting to him.