Dropbox and Google storage models 'a loser’s game' while Microsoft lags 'eight years behind' Box says VP of engineering

By Peter Gothard
03 Sep 2014 View Comments

Dropbox and Google are playing a "loser's game" with their enterprise storage models, while Windows' model is lagging at least eight years behind the rest of the industry, Box's VP of engineering has told Computing.

Sam Schillace makes these outspoken comments while outlining the company's current philosophy on building up its platform offerings that seeks to move above and beyond simply offering storage, which it now offers for free on any enterprise contract.

Further reading

"We have a fairly unique take on the market," says Schillace.

"A lot of the Dropboxes and Googles of the world are very broad consumer products that are not particularly differentiated and are more focused on asking, ‘How cheaply can I give you hard disks?'."

"That's a loser's game, right? That's going to go to negative margin, if it isn't already."

Instead, Schillace believes cloud storage providers now need to offer more to differentiate themselves from the competition - and are quite free to innovate in a $30bn industry that Box is still just a small part of.

"I still believe there's plenty of room. Fundamentally, we're in the business of helping businesses deal with their most valuable asset, which is their content. Well, after their people," Schillace says.

"But content is the heart of what a business is. There's just an infinite amount of stuff of value you can add on top of that; there's security, governance, all kinds of stuff. And the market is $30bn a year, depending on how you count, and we're much smaller than that. So there's plenty of room."

Straddling the line between consumer and enterprise thinking is still very much what Box is about, explains Schillace, and aiming products not just at CIOs, but at a growing army of BYOD-toting workers is key to a win.

"Our enterprise competitors are classic enterprise products that aren't very exciting to use," he suggests.

"They're designed for CIOs exclusively. We believe you have to sit in the middle. If people bring their own device into the office every day, they're not going to want to use some piece of crap that their boss told them to use if there's an alternative to use on the mobile phone."

Schillace says Box development teams are currently focused on Box Notes, which launched in September 2013 and, Schillace freely admits, does not yet have much to differentiate it from Google Docs (which he, of course, indirectly created himself, as Google acquired his Writely product in 2006).

"Cloud's a given now, and it's combined with mobile. Our guys are trying to figure out what's the next step - do you turn it inside out and make it more about people, with a document as a side-effect - do you say a document is no longer a linear thing anymore, and it's just pieces?"

A document, states Schillace, is not - and never was - about "saving stuff for your personal benefit".

"It's a business communication function. Nobody gives a shit about the ‘document' anymore - I think we've been stripping away artifice [such as formal letter-writing] in the document for the past 20 to 30 years because it's no longer important. It was just a crutch because of the transaction cost per letter when it was still done on typewriters.

"I was meeting a journalist recently and he was running late," Schillace says, "and I texted him to ask him where he was, and he just replied 'minute'. And to me, that's a business document in itself."

Referring to Microsoft's ongoing thinking on cloud-hosting its document creation and collaboration services, Schillace says the company is still "eight years behind what I was doing at Google" - which in itself was over two years ago.

"When I was at Google, they couldn't form a coherent sentence about Box during the first two years of our existence. They'd literally come on stage and say, 'This is stupid, and none of our users will want to use it', and we were like ‘Do you even know what you're saying?'."

Schillace concedes that the Redmond software giant is "getting there now", but "getting there by doing what everyone does - by taking the old paradigm and wrapping it in the new".

"If you're lucky," he says, "you make a 'transcription error' and come up with something, which is what we did, kind of."

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