Why SharePoint isn’t scared of Box, formerly Box.net
Prepare to be shocked, it’s another story of a hyper-cocky, young entrepreneur rising from the dust to challenge Corporate America with off-cuff remarks and zany marketing campaigns and then slowly becoming part of the very machine he once tried to change ( a la Facebook, Groupon, Nirvana, etc.)
There’s billboards out there along with an intrepid marketing campaign led by the youth of Box (Justin Timberlake told them to drop the .net) and their 26 year old CEO, Aaron Levie. The privately owned company’s message is clear: Box.net is simple; SharePoint is difficult. What they’re currently comparing, however, is apples to oranges.
Box, a 6 year old content management vehicle, has been fueled recently by an influx of $81 million from investors like Bessemer Ventures, NEA, Salesforce and SAP Ventures. The funding balloons their capital to $162 million and, now valued at $600 million, produces enough incentive for the start up to challenge their personal Goliath, Microsoft SharePoint.
Recent interviews with Levie have him painting a picture of Microsoft as the problem maker and Box as the problem solver. “We wouldn’t exist if Microsoft didn’t exist. We are solving problems that they created–so we’re actually happy about that!” Call it a smear campaign if you like, but Microsoft seems to be letting it bounce off its back.
With 125 million customers to Box’s 7 million, SharePoint has one card firmly planted up its sleeve: it’s a platform. SharePoint’s content collaboration platform is the “apple” to Box’s content collaboration storage “orange”. The two simply don’t play in the same league. Box’s 7 million customers are in part a result of the basic service being free. A $15 monthly fee for any additional file storage or password protection comes after that. But where Box stops at just being secure online file sharing, SharePoint reigns as a web application platform.
But there’s no argument that Box is intriguing. As stereotypical a role as the fast-talking, devil-may-care CEO has become, it’s essential in today’s marketplace because they tend to cater more directly to what the modern consumer is after. They usually exhibit vibrant, fresh marketing with a more candid approach to the consumer and in most cases, they’re confrontational to their competitors. Any slip in what the public is after and you’re left in the dust. Myspace, anyone?
That being said, let’s look at what SharePoint can learn from Box:
SharePoint can certainly learn how to sell their product a bit better. Box’s user interface shows a clean, organized layout that provides the user with everything they need and nothing more. There’s no clutter or overkill like SP2010’s “kitchen sink” approach. A little effort on making their product’s message clear could go a long way for SharePoint.
Aesthetically speaking, Box has lots of whitespace, beautiful icons and a nice color palette to create a great visual balance on-screen. They boast intuitive user actions so there’s no surprises when you interact with an element. SharePoint can be a bit of a maze, but Box’s consistent navigation makes it easy to get where you’re trying to go.
With the upcoming launch of SharePoint 2013 we can hope that Microsoft has heard the cries about usability and responds with something along the caliber of Box’s usability. If we’re lucky, SharePoint will have shed some weight and the left column navigation will be sorted.
Oliver Marks from ZDNet.com points out the lack of mobile focus that can cause trouble for SharePoint as well. At the recent ‘BoxWorks’ event in San Francisco, all attendees were given a Xoom Android tablet bundled with Box preinstalled. SharePoint is currently only available on Windows phones. Missing a pretty big market there… In a world where 5 million hours of Angry Birds are played every day, web content on phones is pretty crucial. SharePoint can’t afford to miss out on a sure thing the same way that Borders Bookstores missed out on the whole e-reader trend.
Box is shaking things up, yes. But at the moment, they simply don’t have the product to compete with SharePoint. SharePoint is everything – maybe not the best at everything, but everything. Web features, public websites, search applications, custom solutions, etc. Yes, Box will store your info in the Cloud but they’ve yet to even offer a Private Cloud solution that can give the consumer confidence and control both in the security of their content as well as knowing where it is in the Cloud-o-sphere.
Box is doing so much right, other than trying to make a run at SharePoint. Find your niche and shout it from the rooftops. Better to speak towards what you’re good at then to lose your voice talking about other companies the whole time. Box would be best suited to refocus their marketing cash that’s currently being exhausted in feint jabs at SharePoint into the production side where they can take some tips from SharePoint and become the full content management solution that businesses and enterprises need.
Further reading on the Box verses SharePoint topic, with qualified comments:
Box.net verses SharePoint 2010: Ring the bell for Round One by Colligo
Box.net vs. SharePoint vs. Box.net and SharePoint by James Downey
How does Box.net compare to SharePoint a Focus Q&A