Jen is the VP of Marketing at Box, and in this episode she talks about what she learned from being a Product Marketing Manager at Google, and how she helped Box transition from a B2C to a B2B company.
→ Find out what Box does
→ What she learned from being Product Marketing Manager at Google
→ How she helped Box transition from a B2B Company
→ Her insights from Google working on things like Gmail and marketing to startup
→ What drew her to Box
→ Her thoughts about the big part of going from a consumer facing business to a business
→ Why was it important to go after the business
→ And a whole lot more
Bronson: Welcome to another episode of Growth Actor TV, Bronson Taylor. And today I have Jim Gray with us. Jim, thanks for coming on the show.
Jen: Hi. Thanks for having.
Bronson: Me. Absolutely. I’m definitely looking forward to this talk because you are the VP of marketing at Box, a little startup some people might have heard of, but just in case they have it. Tell us, what is Box?
Jen: Well, Box offers two businesses, content management and collaboration software. That’s sort of the official way to think about it. But really, at the at the end of the day, we make it easy for people to get to their content from wherever they are and share it with people in their business.
Bronson: Perfect. So we’re talking file sharing here, right? If we go to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator.
Jen: Right. File share. You got it.
Bronson: Perfect. How long have you been at box?
Jen: Almost five years. So very long time.
Bronson: So it’s been a chunk of life now. You’re not new to this. This is good. You’ll be able to give us some great insights on what you’ve done there. That’s a long time to be at a startup, you know, a company like that. Now, previous to Xbox, you were a product marketing manager at Google. And if I have it right, you worked on apps such as Gmail and Google Calendar, among other products. So I have to ask, why would you want to go from Google working on things like Gmail and marketing that to a startup? What really drew you to Box?
Jen: Well, I loved working at Google. There’s smart people. I had a so much fun. We had a lot of great marketing campaigns that we did. But I had been at Google for four years and I had started to get that sort of itch to get smaller, to to be able to work on something where I would have more impact and be able to do a little bit more, have a little more, less people to ask permission. And that was really what kind of got me to the point where, okay, I’m ready to go back to startup. So I’m ready to, you know, I’ve learned a ton from Google and I want to take what I’ve learned and then build something from from the very beginning.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you feel like you’ve had that opportunity, a box where you’ve been able to make decisions, run fast, get rid of bureaucracy?
Bronson: Yeah, that’s good. So we’ll talk about that in more in a second. But let me ask you something about Google before we get in a box. Were there any lessons there that you know? Yes, I learned this at Google. I learned this about marketing work in it, you know, in Gmail, Google calendar, whatever. And I’m applying it in your career now, is there anything like that that you really take away from there?
Jen: Yeah, I think there are two things. One, which is just really a part of Google and the culture and how people think. It’s really focusing on the happiness of the people using your product. So if the people, you know, if your users are happy, then nothing else is better than that. Nothing is. There’s no marketing that will help unhappy users. But if your users are excited. So when you look at your Gmail, people love using Gmail and it’s emails, so who cares? But people really loved it. So that was a big takeaway from Google. Just to constantly be looking at and remembering. Users need to be happy. The product needs to make them happy. Yeah, and I think the second thing is Google did a very good job of explaining a lot of different products. So I was working on essentially with the head of all what they called apps. So that was like something like 20 apps. Blogger Calendar or Kit at the time was still there. We were talking about Open Social. There was just a ton of stuff. And I think one of the things that the Google product marketers do very well is getting very clear in describing what the heck this product does and why someone should care. And I think what you’ll see and what you’ll see it a box and how we do our marketing versus some of the bigger companies like Microsoft or Oracle or SAP is we strip out all of the extraneous language of, you know, sort of this synergistic enterprise, you know, like all of the jargon that’s so prevalent in most certainly most B2B marketing and a little bit in B2C. And I’d say that was a big learning from Google it, strip it out. What does this product do for the user and add a benefit? Like it makes it easy or it makes it simple or it makes you happy or whatever, whatever the benefit is. Certainly add it, but strip out the jargon because nobody really wants like synergistic enterprise content. You know, there’s just there’s just too much jargon out there. So those would be the two things from Google that I definitely took with me.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you think about, you know, how you use language the way you’re talking about and leaving out the jargon? Do you think that’s a part of the trend of Canada consumerization of the enterprise where it’s becoming more human?
Jen: Yes, absolutely. You’re not a lot of times or at least in the in the past, it’s oh, it’s B2B. I’m selling to a business and it’s the recognition. No, you’re selling to a person who is representing a business and has maybe people that they need to please within the business. But at the end of the day, it’s your selling to a person who might be selling it to their people. But they’re all people. And we need to be just very clear. How does this help me? How does it help my buyer? How does it help my team as opposed to. Well, you need the ECM product that has the blah, blah, blah. You know, it’s just not helpful.
Bronson: Now, that’s great insight. I like that a lot. Now, once you arrived at Box, if I if I have it right, part of your initial task was actually kind of transitioning the company, which is quite a mantle to put on someone that’s the VP of marketing, you know? You know, usually it’s the CEOs who are transitioning the company, but it seems like you actually had a big part in going from a consumer facing business to a business facing business. Is that accurate? Is that was was that one of your big goals there when you first arrived?
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. When when I joined, they said, oh, yeah, we want to sell the businesses. And I said, well, that seems like a good idea. And I did the whole sort of step back and said, okay, let me do some research into where we are in this, your consumer tool and wanting to be a business tool. And it was very clear, very quickly that nobody thought of Box as a business tool. You know, the bloggers that wrote about Box would say it’s a consumer widget. It’s for a back up for consumers know it was consumer everything. And then you would look at I started talking to all our customers. We did and had business customers and asked them, are you using this? And they would talk about how helpful it was to share externally and with their partners and all of these different use cases that to some extent they had discovered by themselves and we hadn’t really helped them out, you know, explain how it would work for their business, but they had figured it out because they had used it for their personal whatever and then had said, Oh, I can use this for my company. So there was a lot of enthusiasm around all the use cases they had. And then you would and then I, then I sort of interviewed everyone internally and everyone was talking about how, yeah, we want to be, you know, we want to go after Microsoft, SharePoint, and we’re going to be the next enterprise content solution. It’s like, okay, well, we’re not there yet. We need to figure out how do we get there? So it was definitely a big task, but it was certainly that’s part of what made it fun.
Bronson: No, it sounds great. And we’ll talk about how you got there because that’s a great story. And there’s a lot of, you know, detail points to learn from there. But first, let me kind of back up one level higher. Why was it important to go after the business? Are we just talking because of revenue? Are we talking because of what your internal streams were and how they aligned with that kind of market? Like what was actually the big picture of why it was so important to you guys to go there? Because some people would be happy being known as the consumer file sharing widget if that’s what they were going after.
Jen: Right, exactly. I think the main thing so this was right, I started right in 2008. So this was a middle of a recession and people were getting serious about you actually have to make money in a business now. And they were making money. They were selling upgrades of storage. And then we had a few of these businesses that were paying. But when you really looked at the market, there was an awful big opportunity on the business front that nobody was tackling. Certainly in 28, 29, nobody was there except for a little bit Microsoft, SharePoint. But when you look at what they were into at that time, they were server based. They were not cloud. They were not easy. They were not cheap. And there was just a big gaping hole in people need to share files easily and there really wasn’t a solid cloud solution that met businesses needs. So it just it sort of opened up a huge opportunity that we saw through the lens of the people who had bought our product and came to and said this, this is solving a problem for me. And then also through saying, okay, we have to get serious about how are we going to make money and how do we go after the biggest opportunity that’s out there. So that’s a lot of what pointed us at it was just like, this is a market that’s ripe for somebody getting in there with the right product and really serving a need that that’s happening right now.
Bronson: Yeah. So now help us understand how you actually executed such a titanic kind of turn, you know, because there’s a huge shift because, you know, like we talked about before we started recording here, you know, you guys used to be boxed on net and then you changed your name, just a box or vox.com. And that’s a difficult transition. People will get used to it eventually. But day one, it’s like it’s hard to not say boxed on net, you know. So I can only imagine how difficult it is to go from consumer to business facing the same kind of hurdle that you have to overcome there. And I failed where you gave a presentation online and you actually listed out some of the things that were kind of instrumental in changing the direction. One of the first ones was targeted messaging, and that might go back to your original point about what you learned at Gmail. But talk to us about targeting messaging a little bit.
Jen: Yeah, definitely. A lot of that had to do with the fact that we. Hat. We knew that we wanted to be so much bigger than we were. We knew we wanted to be known as competing with Microsoft, SharePoint. So that was our big vision. But you can’t go from consumer backup to a competitor with Microsoft SharePoint. So it was sort of a really big road to go after. So what we ended up doing is kind of architecting a messaging solution where on our website and with our sales team, we were still selling what essentially was FTP replacement. So a very simple we make it easier to share externally because when you look at SharePoint, the biggest issues that people had with it were it’s hard to use. It has. And later on, this became more important. It has no mobile anything, so you can’t get anything from a phone, a tablet, whatever. But the real big at the time, sort of Achilles heel was you could not share externally. So the whole world had gotten to a place where businesses actually were sharing externally all the time, that it didn’t make sense that everything was behind a firewall and you couldn’t work with vendors or contractors or partners or customers or whomever. And so that was like, okay, we know we can sell this, but we don’t want, from a brand perspective to be known as FTP replacement software because that’s very limiting. It’s sort of small. We wanted to be known as something big. So our sales team and our website and all of the sort of acquisition like search engine marketing we did was very focused around a clear use case that people were buying in the moment. But all of our outreach to the press and when we talked to analysts like Forrester and Gartner, we always were telling the bigger picture story, the story about how Microsoft, SharePoint was not meeting the meet the needs of businesses, and that we were bringing a very easy to use solution into an environment that needed it. And we were we were going to make it happy by having all of the security tools that they need. The admin console certifications, we had all sorts of certifications now around even HIPA compliance. And that’s, you know, part of our strategy was then to get into business and have both of those things. And we told that story to sort of the people that were willing to see the vision. But then we’re selling certain, you know, solutions in the meantime just to keep the business going. And then over time, those things converged. We were able to kind of move upstream and now we sell enormous deployments. P&G is like 18,000 seats a box, and clearly they’re not using it just for app replacement. They’re using it as their file system. So it was sort of the messaging, different things in different places and then eventually moving kind of to where we wanted to go, the future vision.
Bronson: Yeah. So I’m sure that’s hard as a, as a marketer to actually have two stories that you’re putting out there because you want there to be a single story, a single line that everyone’s hearing. And you kind of probably had to live in the gray area of different stories for different people until they converge somewhere down the road. Was that hard for you?
Jen: It was. And I think I think that the challenge was being able to tell the whole story all together, to be able to say, here’s what we’re selling today. Here are all these customers that are using it and happy. And then here is where we’re going and here’s what the future is. And and actually, it goes sort of the second thing in that presentation you found, which was finding customers to tell the story. And that’s what helped us move kind of along this from the simple solution to the vision is finding a customer. Obviously, we had customers that were sharing with their partners and loved Box, but finding those customers that started to come on board and got what what the big vision that box was that could then start telling the story of, well, this is what we did with my business. It’s everything, it’s our file system, it’s change the way we work, which is got us all excited.
Bronson: And how did you publish those stories? Because these are great growth tactics. I mean, what you’re going through here, just so people know, they’re watching this, it’s a transition from consumer to business, but it’s also how you grew something in a new market. So these are just, you know, growth one on one kind of things here. How did you publish their stories? Are we talking, sending out emails where they’re the case study? Is it a landing page? Is it a video that they’re talking? Is it all the above? Is it quotes on the sales page? Like, What did you actually do with those stories?
Jen: Yeah. So all of the above, it started with we would get their story, we would put together the traditional case study. We started to basically it was just an ongoing effort to create all the content. So we create videos. We had quotes on every page of the website. There was a quote from a customer, and then we created a whole section of the website that was one of the highlighted tabs that had what we call the logo grid and then had the videos in the case of. Everything we had. So that was kind of on our end, all the content. But then we extended it to social media channels. So, you know, we would tweet, we would put it on our blog, would be on our Facebook page, and all of that is sort of cut and dry. Got to do it. The thing that I think we did some of we probably could have done way more of and are doing more now is things like getting the customers themselves to start talking about it. So we did a little bit we we now have sort of an MVP program and we’re giving them reasons to tweet or reasons to blog about how to use box in a certain way and how I set up box for my business. We now have what we call box world tour, which is where we we do events and we have a customer speak and we bring in both customers and prospects and we get them all talking together. But we really highlight the customers either speaking by themselves or in panels. And now we have a user conference that we’re going on our third year where again, it’s all about getting customers, talking about how we’re helping them and how they can advise other customers to to use box. I’m trying to think about everything we did. I mean, basically, it was just we also had advisory boards. That’s another thing that we did that I highly recommend is getting it doesn’t matter whether you’re going after small businesses or huge enterprises, having advisory boards where you bring people in and get them very feeling like they are part of the team. Not only will they give you great product feedback, but then they’re also very excited to tell people, Oh, well, I am on the advisory board and I worked with them to make sure that this and so was better in the product and you really need to use box. They’re so responsive. They listen to us, they’re building a product that’s great for your business and for mine that that kind of all that stuff is worth every moment you spend doing it.
Bronson: Yeah, well, tell us, why is that? Because it seems like you’ve integrated, you know, what people are saying and letting the customer speak for you at almost every level of this transition. Why is it important? This may be obvious to people, but it’s still worth sharing. Why is it important that a person tells your story and that the company is not always telling their own story?
Jen: Yeah, well, I mean, the quick answer is it’s it’s more believable and customers are telling the story. I think the sort of interesting research side of it is that there has been a lot of research lately that because of the Internet, because of access to such an extraordinary amount of information that everybody has, that fundamentally how people search for products has changed. And it used to be we would talk to somebody and they were like, well, you know, maybe I’m thinking of buying this product. And so then the sales rep would take them through the center speed, a cycle of, well, here, you know, here are the problems that you might be trying to solve. And now let me help you understand the you know, how this fits in your business and what the competitive marketplace looks like and why what we’re looking what we do is better than everybody else. And here’s some analyst research that proves that we’re better than everybody else instead of all of that which used to be sales. Walking a customer through, isn’t it really marketing? And it’s marketing that we can’t control how they go through our website, but we have to have all the the components of that cycle on the website and even even outside of that in Facebook or Twitter or all the external areas that can have it. So it’s all about how do you switch the buying cycle from sales, being able to walk them through to marketing and being able to offer every section or every part of the the map that people go through when they’re buying a product and customers is just such a powerful piece of that.
Bronson: Yeah. I mean, it seems like, you know, it used to be that 9% of the sales was inside the organization and 1% was the friend telling the friend and bringing them in the front door initially. Now, the friends on the outside of the organization are the 9% and moving them through the entire cycle and they show up with you guys having already done research, heard from friends, knowing what the pros and cons are and why they’re choosing you or not choosing you. And then you’re almost closing the deal, you know, in a very backwards way than it used to be done. So I think that’s a great insight. One of the other things you mentioned was that, you know, you wanted to give them reasons to blog about you, reasons to talk about you. I’m assuming you’re referring to incentives of some kind, right? Maybe there’s a social incentive of you’re on the advisory board, you’re important. And that’s kind of part of it. But maybe you mean more than that. What kind of incentives did you guys or are you experimenting with doling out here?
Jen: Yeah, that’s a great question. So that actually goes back to some of the stuff that I did with Gmail, because the the insight we had with Gmail was people loved email, but why would they ever talk about it and what they loved about Gmail? Certainly, you know, this was back in 2005 is that the spam catching was so superior to anything else that here you have all these Gmail. People are like, what stands not an issue. And if you’re not on Gmail, everyone else is like, Oh, I have to go through spam. But there wasn’t that. We wanted to do things that would give them a reason to talk about it. And so we did a bunch of campaigns that were all about sharing videos and being a part of a Google video, even though you’re just a Gmail user, you know, all sorts of things like that. And that was sort of the core insight that I took from Gmail and then brought to boxes. Okay. We have people who love Box. How do we get them to talk about it? And we went we did have a lot of conversation around. Do you use incentives? Like if you tweet about box, you get a gig of storage or we send you a gift card or things like that. And we ended up more on the we do give out T-shirts, we do sort of fun swag, stuff like that. But we decided not to. I think we tested a couple of times. We decided not to go to the direct do this for that, because the most important thing about that word of mouth is that it’s authentic, is that they actually do really like the product. They’re not just trying to get something or earn something or, you know, but what we wanted to do is it’s like give them a topic of conversation that doesn’t make it awkward because if you were just, you know, like you and I were hanging out at a bar and I was like, Hey, this box product is awesome. You’re like, Whoa, why? I’m trying to say, hey, here’s here’s a new case study on how this company used box to solve this problem. Okay, well, do you know someone with that problem? That’s a reason to talk to them. Or, you know, here’s a discount that we’re offering anybody. If you signed up for box right now, let’s say, oh, tell people about that because hey, I use box. It’s really awesome. They’re doing this little discount thing. You guys should sign up for it. So that’s kind of what we meant by giving reasons to giving them reasons to talk about Box.
Bronson: Now, that’s great. And I love hearing that perspective because I think we don’t have enough people on the show talking about it in that kind of language. It’s always, you know, quid pro quo. You do this, I do that, you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours and growth occurs, I think think that way by default instead of the more organically. Hey, this is a community, let’s make it authentic. Let’s give them reasons without their being so explicit and direct all the time. But that’s a part of growth as well. I think there’s something to learn from both sides of that equation, so that’s great. Another thing you talk about in terms of, you know, changing, you know, the making it business focus instead of consumer necessarily was finding trends in the marketplace. I know you talked about some of the marketplace was ready for this earlier. Is that what you’re getting at here, that the market was ripe for this kind of product?
Jen: Yeah, absolutely. And this is all in sort of the the the PR strategy of telling the bigger story of what’s going on in the world that’s driving to our solutions. So at the time and still it’s true today, it’s the consumerization of it, it’s end users in the business saying, hey, this product is hard to use. And I go home and I share things on YouTube and Facebook and it’s super easy. Why are you making it harder for me to do my job? So there was that sort of outcry from end users really comparing to consumer products, and then secondarily then looking at, you know, making the choice of I have to get my job done and I can’t do it with these tools. So let me use this tool that I have out here that I don’t as a as a person in a business, I don’t give a poop that it’s not secure. Now, my it cares a lot so that that sort of imbalance of people trying to get their job done, which is admirable and then the I.T. guy going, oh my God, you’re sending stuff from this insecure thing and you’re scaring me. And I don’t know where our content of our businesses and like, we’ve got to lock this down. So there was this tension between users trying to get their job done and i.t trying to do their job, which is to secure the business. So there was this lovely gap that we could fill and say, ha ha will make you both happy. This is the solution that everybody will go after. So that was one trend. And then there was the whole mobility trend. So even gosh, I don’t remember what year was when the first iPad was launched. That was a massive we saw it in our business, massive increase in business for us because all of a sudden everybody wanted content on their iPad and nobody knew how to do it very well. And certainly nobody knew how to do it in the context of secure for my business. So all of a sudden the entire i.t organization was getting calls from the ceo saying I got an ipad, get me my content, make it secure. And they all went, oh, what do we do? So it was a huge opportunity for us to be like, Hey, we do that, come talk to us. And we were one of the one of the first apps on the iPad. We worked very hard to get that done, and that was a huge boon to our business to be there first. Yeah, but also just. The world is moving towards a more mobile kind of scenario and we solve that problem. So it’s kind of finding those things that when you tell someone the story of this is happening, they go, Yeah, I totally noticed that. And then saying, and this is why our product fits right in the solution for these trends kind of intersecting.
Bronson: Yeah, I think it’s great as the story of box, but I think there’s also takeaways there from other people in terms of just business insight and how to view trends and how to view action. Because, you know, I think anybody watching this, if you find a place in a business where there’s two people admirably trying to do their job and they have friction with each other, there’s probably a solution waiting to happen. And then also when there’s a new device on the market that is not being exploited but is going to be huge, there’s probably an opportunity waiting to be, you know, waiting for you. And so I think there’s two insights there, the friction and the new devices. You put those together and it’s a way to spot marketplace trends to really inform us.
Jen: Absolutely. And there’s and there’s a lot of people really interested in hearing the story of that. So when you talk to a journalist, when you talk to an analyst, they they that’s the kind of interesting deep story that they want to tell is the world is changing and this product is doing something different. It just makes it much more compelling and it’s compelling for their readers. It’s not like you’re pitching your story of your product and the journalist is like, Well, you know, maybe I’ll write about it. It’s like, No, this is a really interesting trend and your readers are going to be interested in the article that you write about it.
Bronson: Yeah, absolutely. Now, one of the other things is not only telling your story through the consumers using it, but you talk about telling the story through the CEO himself or herself. How did you guys actually do that? How do you tell the story through the CEO inbox.
Jen: Yeah. So some of this is luck.
Bronson: That’s okay.
Jen: This is thought through. But I was really lucky to have a very interesting CEO. So he’s young, he’s got big hair. He’s when he speaks, he’s very charismatic and he kind of waves his arms and he gets all riled up. And so he has this wonderful drop out of college start company story that, of course, people are just really interested in hearing. The funny thing about Aaron was he had all of that, but he he he didn’t want to tweet, which was crazy because he I think last year, Business Insider was saying he’s one of the most interesting business tweeters of all time or whatever. He’s hysterical. He’s very funny, very witty, and he’s great at it now. So it’s sort of it’s taking what was there and using it in a way, getting him on Twitter, getting him speaking to the press, getting him out on the road and doing keynotes and telling his story. And there was a little you know, we had to he had so many things in his head that he wanted to talk about. And he was he would often he would often in a keynote, he would tell five different stories all at once, and he’d do it in 20 minutes. And then we’d go, okay, so let’s take this first thing you talked about and let’s slow down and breathe and pause and let people take in what you’re saying and maybe dove in a little deeper and slow down. And eventually we got to a point where he got really good at being able to tell an exciting, interesting story and then all the things about him that were fascinating to begin with, just sit so you know, you’re going to be there, be some companies, you’re end where the CEO is. Well, you know, he’s cool and he’s smart, but he’s you know, he doesn’t have big hair or have all these crazy things about him where you can’t use that as much. But it’s always great to find that story that really grips people and gets people excited. And, you know, honestly, we did we looked at Marc Benioff, we said like, wow, he did a lot for Salesforce in just being kind of big and blustery and saying strong things and sometimes pissing people off. And, you know, there was something in that. How can we how can we kind of capture the essence of who, Aaron, my CEO is and really make that work for us and get people interested in his story, not just the business. The story.
Bronson: Yeah, well, it’s a good role model to look at Salesforce because, you know, they’re the ones putting something in the cloud that wasn’t there. And you guys, not only are, you know, imitating them in the way they market, but imitating their business plan just with the different kind of business, you know? Okay, tell me if I’m wrong here. But it seems like as the VP of marketing, part of your job is not to imagine best case scenario, but to actually look at what resources do I have to work with? Okay, I have the CEO. Here’s the resources within his skillset. Let me put those to use. Do you think that’s important? Not just a dream up the perfect scenario and then try to execute something that’s not actually right for your team as opposed to just using what you have in front of you?
Jen: That’s absolutely right. And I think that’s that’s true across everything. So when you look at your CEO and maybe even the other executives on your team, maybe you have two founders and they’re. Some sort of story between the two of them. We we found all sorts of interesting, just personal things that people relate to people. It actually goes back to what we were saying before is you’re not marketing to a business, you’re marketing to a person. And so when you tell the story of the people in your business, it humanizes everything about you and you end. And honestly, that’s where Brand is. It’s in the emotion that they feel around, Oh, that witty young guy who had that great idea, like, I love that company. Or, you know, sometimes it’s from the great experience in the product. I love that product, but you use what you got. If you have these interesting stories, it’s really important to kind of craft them into something that is, you know, fascinates people.
Bronson: So as that kind of lead into the next thing of developing a distinct personality because it’s almost like it goes both ways, you, you want to market to people in the business that you’re marketing to as if they are distinct personalities. But then the company itself box needs to have its own distinct personality to relate to them with. Is that what you mean there?
Jen: Absolutely. And I think this is really critical. A lot of times I’ll see startups doing marketing and everything that they’re doing looks like everybody else. So the, you know, the the sentences, the colors, the way their website looks all just seems very like, oh, okay. And that’s where you kind of need to stand on the edge of not offensive, but just a little punchy. So we used to talk about we want to be sort of sassy and punchy and we want to say something that’s different from what everybody else is saying. And I’d say the biggest thing that we did in developing that distinct personality is we put a billboard on the one on one in the middle of Silicon Valley that said box versus SharePoint sharing should be simple. So we kind of poked at Microsoft a little bit like we poked the bear. And people’s emotional reaction to that is usually quite positive because they see the the David and Goliath, the little company taking on the big company. And so there’s a certain little warmness about that kind of activity. And then on the flip side, it actually positioned us on the same space as SharePoint. I mean, used to say that and I said, look, we wrote the word SharePoint in the same sized font as Box. We literally just stepped up and said, There’s only two people in this market and it’s us and Microsoft, which, you know, this was I think we did this in 2009 was almost like a crazy thing. Just really aggressive thing to say is it’s just us. It’s all about us. And but it was incredibly successful in helping that transition to people, seeing us as business because they go, Oh, I know what SharePoint is. Or Box must do that. Yeah. Oh, yes, we do.
Bronson: Exactly. Now, talk to us about the growth then, you know, after this transition and you’re still in the middle of the transition to some degree, I’m sure. Figure it all out. How much is box grown? And I don’t know what you guys can disclose. I don’t know what’s public and what isn’t, but what can you tell us in terms of anything, revenue, users, files, whatever kind of data is out there?
Jen: Sure. So, for example, when I started at Box in 2008, I think we maybe had 2 million users. We have 15 million users today. At least that’s what we talk about. It’s more than that. But that’s sort of our latest number on it. And I think at the time we had all sorts of conversations around, well, how many businesses? We launched a new website in 2000. I want to say it was the beginning of 2010, but it might have been 2009. And we were saying, Oh, okay, we have 25,000 businesses. This is huge. We have 150,000 businesses today. So there’s just been a huge trajectory that we’ve kind of rode the wave of growth. And then and now we’re seeing 100 and 150% sales growth year over year. So we’re seeing this kind of continuing momentum. And of course, the the the glorious news about a subscription based business model is that every you know, you end the year and you say, well, we grew the business by this much and you get to start from there. It’s not like, okay, let’s go back from zero and start selling some more stuff. So there’s I know at first, often it’s, you know, with a subscription model you feel like, oh, well, from a cash flow perspective, you don’t get as much in the early days because they’re paying monthly and but longer term, it’s absolutely a solid business model because you can stand on top of everything you do and just grow from an already high point. So anyway, so that’s been a definitely a for me, something to watch and to really experience and to say, yeah, the subscription model really rocks.
Bronson: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. There is there’s a reason why growth accretive is a subscription. It’s not a one time fee because I’ve seen the line. I’m not going back.
Jen: Yeah, exactly.
Bronson: Now, let me ask you. Do you think that it was an important first step, that box focused on the consumer and then transition to business? Or if, you know, you could go back in time, do it all over again, would you just go straight to the business side of things and totally ignore the consumer side? What do you think that actually strategically worked as some kind of Trojan horse, maybe? Or is it just the way it played out?
Jen: You know, I think it absolutely was the right thing to do. It’s funny because anyone who is like us and started with a freemium model and they grow over time, they’re going to have that conversation on a. Every year there is a. C. L o. P. But don’t we stop it? Well, they’re doing it because they know about our product, because either they use the free version or they know someone who use the free version. So the constant sort of conversation. But I think looking back, I would not change how they started with the consumer. And I think even in the early, early days, Aaron and Dan, the two founders or Aaron and Dylan, the two founders really thought hard about, okay, this freemium model is the way we want to go. And I think it has helped us in building awareness. It certainly helped in, you know, people using the product and directly upgrading to our business solution. And it’s just gave us such a runway that we could really more quickly build and grow a company on this, you know, millions of users who already knew about us and were already using the product.
Bronson: Yeah. Do you think there’s other companies and kind of learn from their transition? Maybe their focus on consumers and there’s a huge opportunity in business? Or do you think that you guys just happened upon something that was luck or chance or just your perfect, you know, stars aligning?
Jen: We’re just so brilliant.
Bronson: That’s right. That’s what it is, right?
Jen: I absolutely think people can learn from it, I think. Thinking about how do you balance making money with growing awareness? And obviously you have to have a balance because, you know, unless you’re Google and you have so much money, you don’t know what to do with it and you can just do cool stuff all the time. Everybody else has to sort of sustain their business and come up with a business model that your investors will go, Yes, okay, I’ll fund that. I see how that will make us money. But on the on the on the freezer side, it gets you a tremendous amount of awareness. And it’s it should be the right kind of awareness. If your users are having a positive experience with your product, they’re going to tell other people. So right there, that’s your influencer marketing, that’s your word of mouth marketing. All of your customer stories are going to come from there. That, you know, there’s just a tremendous opportunity to sort of farm the people who love your product and really get them to be your marketers. And so I would recommend that probably not every business model, but many business models, I think work very well with that kind of balance.
Bronson: Yeah, that’s good to hear. Now, besides transitioning box to this business focus, what were some of the areas of focus that when you came in? You know, what is now five years ago, I think you said four years ago, whatever it was where you said, okay, this is something I want to tackle, this is something we’ve got to work on. This is on my punch list. Tell us about the other things that you had to focus on and if they weren’t quite as big as the transition we’ve been talking about.
Jen: Yeah. So there were probably two things and one of them I have talked a little bit about, and that’s just the consumer, the sorry, the customer marketing type stuff. So we did a lot there. I’d say the second thing we focused on, but I don’t think we cracked the net yet is social media. So we’ve we’ve tried so many things. So social media was a halo to all of our PR. So we would do a press release, we would talk to journalists, we’d announce some sort of product page, and we would put it out on our blog and tweet and Facebook and all those things. And then we tried some things with content marketing through social media, and that worked. But it wasn’t it wasn’t a massive scale. It was, yeah, we got people interested. We could continue to talk to them and get them content, and that was good, but it was small. And so now we’re still in this, you know, okay, we know how to use it for PR, we know how to use it for getting some new users interested in learning and educating about our about our product and how to use it. And now we’re starting to look at, okay, how can we really use this to not just get us being interesting and getting our brand out there, but to get the people who also are tweeting and blogging and on Facebook to interact with us much more. And the good news is, I feel a little better because most marketers will say, I haven’t cracked the nut on social media yet. Yeah. So I don’t feel like I’m alone. But that’s definitely an area where I feel like I really want to get that right and we’re still kind of figuring it out. So maybe a year from now we’ll be able to say we know how to do that one, right? Yeah. So those are two of the areas.
Bronson: Oh, that’s great. Let me ask you about this, too. You mentioned SharePoint a couple of times. You’re putting yourself in the conversation with them. It’s them and it’s us and that’s it. That’s where you go for enterprise level, you know, file sharing. What have you all learned about trying to grow a product when there’s such an entrenched opponent that’s already there? They have so much market share because you have to attack it differently. An open market is different than a market that’s already been captured, and so the tactics are different. The way of thinking is different. What are some of the takeaways there that you guys have learned?
Jen: Yeah, so it really depended. This is where we started to say we need to split by size of business. We need to start thinking differently for different sizes. Because when you looked at the. Very small businesses, like 20 employees and less. It was open field and there’s no way they could use SharePoint. So that was just easy. Use us. Everything else is more expensive. And then in the middle ground, maybe they were looking at SharePoint, but we also had a much more what we sometimes call the the full use of box versus any sort of extra. What was interesting is I’d say about two years ago we got really serious about big, big companies. So thinking about how do we talk to CIOs? How do we talk to P&G being one of the very first large companies that we talk to? Even they actually helped us understand some of this by saying, know, you need this, that, this, that’s what any business our size would need. And that actually got us to start to think about, okay, we can’t have a conversation about, oh, rip out SharePoint, replace it with Box because they’ve already spent millions on integrating SharePoint to all their other systems. It’s a part of their architecture and you know, it’s, it’s kind of like telling someone their baby is ugly. That’s not very effective. So what we started to do is talk about, okay, here are the things that SharePoint doesn’t do. Here are issues that you’re having in your business. We can actually connect with SharePoint and solve those issues. So the particular ones were content on your mobile device and then external sharing. So those two we could do. So we built actually a connector from Box to SharePoint in order to sort of work with the incumbent. Now obviously, long term, we hope that they use box and they go, Oh my gosh, this thing is so easy. This is the future. As we continue to develop the architecture of our business, we will phase out SharePoint and be able to put box in there. And that has happened and know and we’re in conversations where we think that will probably continue to happen, but we had to even had to a year and a half ago start to soften our anti SharePoint messaging that had done such good things for us when we were a little company. And as we got bigger and started having conversations with these CEOs who had years with SharePoint in Microsoft and it’s already there, we had to soften the message a bit and talk about, okay, you actually have a whole thing that you’ve set up already. We can we can complement what you’ve got and solve. Some of the issues are seeing with, of course, the strategic underpinning of of saying, okay, we can’t have this, you know, we can’t totally take over your business right now.
Bronson: Yeah. No, I’m so glad you walked us through that because sometimes, you know, in business, we just want it to be scorched earth winner take all its ups or nothing with the bears, they don’t know what they’re doing. Reality is usually not that way. Reality is more nuanced and is more balanced and it’s more there’s people using things they’ve grown accustomed to. And sometimes the wisest thing to do in business is to know when to get along and then know when to fight head on. And there’s a difference, you know, and there’s a time and a place for each tactic, right?
Jen: Exactly. Yeah. That’s a perfect way to put it. If we’re kind of head on in the smaller companies where it makes sense. But when we get to the bigger companies, it’s definitely we’ve got to play nice with everybody else who’s already there.
Bronson: Yeah. Now that’s great. I’m so glad we went into that. Now, talk to me about where your customers are coming from right now. It’s always interesting for me to know personally, you know, what are the customer acquisition channels? Are they all inbound? If they are inbound, are they coming from Google searches? They come in from social media aware or if they’re more outbound or do you do what are you calling them on the phone or, you know, how does that look like? So tell me about the customer acquisition right now.
Jen: Yeah. So we’ve talked a bunch about, you know, we still have a chunk from word of mouth, which is everything from PR branding people using our free product. So that’s a big chunk. But we’ve also really spent a lot of time kind of building out the mechanics of region and saying, okay, we have the ability to nurture through email. So we have Eloqua, we’ve hooked it up with Salesforce. We have sort of the process of kind of bringing people in and being able to sort of send emails and content and all that thing over time. And we use sort of many of the traditional channels that people typically use. Search engine marketing is always a channel. It’s we, we, it delivers us a good amount of leads and that do well. We still we’re sort of at that point where we kind of are hitting the well, you know, if we put more money into this, do we get enough benefit out of the more money? So we do feel like sometimes we’re kind of hitting the ceiling of this as much as this is about as much as we can do, although we continually look for other angles, like are there industry specific things we could do? So that’s a big channel for us. One of the really interesting campaigns that that we’ve had a lot of success with is more on the bigger business side side. But it’s giving people we called a meeting makers. Giving people an incentive to just meet with us. And we started doing it with the iPad, of course, where these are your customers. We know we want to talk to them. And so that’s worth it for us to spend an iPad for, meet with us. We’ll show you a demo. And it also fit with our business where we could say, look, we’re going to show you how box works on the iPad. We’re going to show you how you can literally do everything you need to do on the iPad. And then, you know, we’ll give it to you if you if if you meet with us and you sit down and we have a good conversation. And that’s been an excellent way to just motivate people to get up and have the conversation. And we’ve done very well because we’ve been able to connect it to the iPad and tell this wonderful story about tablets and mobility. And, you know, this is really going to move your business forward. Of course, the key is you got to have a very good list of people that you make that offer to. You can’t just sort of wireless from anywhere. And, you know, you never know what a Yahoo! Is are going to say. Oh, sure, yeah. I don’t have any ability to buy, but I’ll have a meeting and get an iPad. So we have to be very careful about making the list, but it has been a really great one for us. So yeah.
Bronson: I like that idea. That’s really cool. How do you guys think about retention? You know, in my mind, it may not even be an issue for you guys because once somebody has your files on something, it’s just hard to change. There’s so much friction, but maybe I’m wrong. I don’t know. Is retention something you guys have to worry about? Think about, plan for, you know, strategize against that? How do you feel about retention right out of the box?
Jen: Yeah, so we definitely think about it. I think one of the advantages that we feel we have so in the in the time since it was just us and SharePoint, there have been other competitors, namely Google, that have jumped in with things like Google Drive. And one of the key advantages we have over Google is that while there’s two, we are focused primarily and only on businesses. We’re not thinking about beating Facebook or doing all the other things that they’re doing. We are just here to help businesses be more successful. So that would be the first and that really manifests itself in how we treat our customers. So in having a whole organization around customer success and making sure that when a business signs up with box that we walk them through, here’s the best way to set it up and here’s best practices for how you roll it out to everybody in your company. And then here’s a phone number you call if you need help. And we also support the every single end user. So in a business of 100 to business of 20,000, if an end user calls us or emails us, we will support them. And many other companies won’t do the same. They’ll say, Well, I’ll go talk to the ad, talk to your admin, and if they call us, then we’ll help. So we try to be as hands on and helpful as possible because, you know, with a subscription business, retention is super important. So we want to make sure we keep our customers happy and we consider it really a competitive advantage that we have over a company like Google.
Bronson: Yeah, you’ve mentioned happiness now in two places in the funnel, the very top and the very bottom. I think you’ve been there. You know, they come to the product and use it initially because it makes them happy. They stay around because the customer support makes them happy when they do have a problem. So really, the whole thing is just about happiness, isn’t it?
Jen: That’s right.
Bronson: It’s all about happiness. Well, Jim, this has been an awesome interview. I have one last question for you here. It’s kind of what I call the fortune cookie question. You can say anything you want. That sounds like really pithy advice for people, but what’s the best advice you have for any startup that’s trying to grow right now?
Jen: I would say be unique, be distinctive, and say something compelling that gets people interested in what you have to say. I think if you can do that, everybody starts to listen to what you what you’re saying and who you are and what you’re selling eventually.
Bronson: Yeah, well, that’s perfect advice to end on. Jen, thank you so much for coming on growth after TV.
Jen: Thanks. I really appreciate it. This was fun.
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