Box Reaches Out to Developers in a Bid to Promote Its Cloud File Sharing Service

Box, the Palo Alto file-sharing startup that recently snagged another $81 million in venture funding, has started to throw around the “E” word: ecosystem. At a media event in San Francisco last Thursday night, the company announced the formation of a community program called the Box Innovation Network—abbreviated /bin, a clever reference to a common name for a Unix directory containing executable files.

The bottom line here is that Box wants more outside developers and companies to build apps that take advantage of Box’s own cloud-based file storage system. So it’s getting serious about creating and sharing the application programming interfaces, or APIs, needed to do that. And it’s ready to put some money behind the program—Box said it has set aside $2 million to support faster software development by selected /bin members.

Box CEO Aaron Levie calls /bin an “open ecosystem,” in contrast to supposedly closed systems, such as Microsoft’s Sharepoint, that aren’t as easily accessible to third-party developers who want to add their own features. “Slow-moving enterprise software giants have produced very little innovation in recent years, and their closed ecosystems have made it all but impossible for outside players to create compelling experiences for customers on legacy systems,” said Levie, who never misses an opportunity to criticize Microsoft, Oracle, and other big incumbents.

But what kinds of “compelling experiences” does Box think its own partners will create using the company’s APIs? To find out, I talked Friday with Chris Yeh, whose title at Box is vice president of platform. Yeh joined Box this summer from Yahoo, where he spent four years running developer programs and managing community products such as Yahoo Groups and the Delicious social boomarking tool. Here’s an edited writeup of our chat.

Xconomy: At what point did Box start to think of itself as a platform or an ecosystem, not just a service?

Box Vice President of Platform Chris Yeh

Chris Yeh: I think Aaron has been talking about Box as a platform company for quite some time now, whether internally or externally. I think what Aaron realized is that Box’s core business has a long runway of growth, but you look at what the company really needs to do in the long run to become dominant, it needs to evolve toward being a platform company. Now is the right time to invest in this part of the business.

If you think about what we do at the very lowest level—storage of files for sharing purposes in the cloud—that is a function that is fairly low on the stack of functions that people need. We think there is a real opportunity to bring in third-party developers in a way that grows the ecosystem around us and drives business value for the company. When I came aboard, the mission was to push the pedal to the floor. That means my responsibility at Box is to do a few things. First, I own the product roadmap for our platform. We’re hiring engineers as fast as we can into the platform team. We have grown by 3x or 4x already. So we are starting to add some muscle. The other side of my job is to get out into the ecosystem and meet as many people as possible and make people aware of what we are doing and how they can integrate. So you are seeing the push within Box to start doing this.

X: How are companies using Box in their applications? Give me some of your favorite examples.

CY: The first /bin member we announced is a company called LiveOffice. They are an e-mail and file archiving company down in L.A., and they have built a legal e-discovery solution against Box. E-discovery isn’t everyone’s favorite example, but it’s one of my favorites, and somebody really needs this. We had a pharma customer who, when they heard this was even possible, asked if they could … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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