Cloud content management company Box is one of the most anticipated tech initial public offerings of this year. The company raised $100 million in a Series E funding on Dec. 2013, obtaining a valuation close to $2 billion. This late-stage capital is rumored to be led by a group of strategic Japanese investors who are willing to help the company expand its customer base in Asia.
According to Quartz, the cloud storage company may already have secretly filed paperwork for an initial public offering in an attempt to start trading before its main competitor Dropbox, which may have reached a $10 billion valuation according to The Wall Street Journal. Does Box have sufficient economic moat to continue growing in a fierce environment, where even giant competitors such as Amazon.com (NASDAQ: AMZN ) and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG ) are struggling to capture market share?
Understanding Box's economic moat
Despite competing in a fierce market, Box has a real chance to become a huge company in the mid run thanks to its unique focus on the enterprise market. Unlike Dropbox, Box started to switch its focus from massive cloud storage solutions to the rich enterprise market as early as in the summer of 2007.
Simply put, a clear focus on the enterprise market allows Box to develop specific competitive advantages. Since 2009, the company has been mainly hiring engineers and executives who understand the enterprise market. As a result, Box has made all its main business and technological decisions with a clear enterprise focus in mind.
For example, apart from providing simple and secure file transferring, it has developed a platform that gets salesmen working with the most up-to-date and effective sales collateral, pricing information, and product specs. Salesmen using this system get email notifications when the marketing team adds new information regarding a particular product.
Thanks to its focus on enterprise, more than 200,000 businesses already use Box to a certain extent; these include everything from start-ups to big corporations. Procter & Gamble uses it to enable 18,000 global users to share content immediately. Fujifilm is using Box in Australia to replace insecure mail attachments. Columbia University's Neuroscience department relies on Box to produce the field's most widely used textbook, an effort involving 80 contributors from 50 universities.
Box isn't the only company interested in the rich enterprise segment. Amazon offers both personal cloud storage solutions --Amazon Cloud Drive, which comes with free 5GB-- and enterprise solutions: Amazon Web Services (AWS), a complete set of web services. Amazon Web Services is among the cheapest options in the industry when it comes to industrial cloud storage. According to IDC research, it represented a 70% savings as compared to on-premises solutions.
Like AWS, Google's Cloud Platform is a set of modular services that allow companies to create anything on the cloud, from storing sales documents to developing complex websites. The service allows start-ups to run their apps on Google's robust infrastructure, which serves over six billion hours of YouTube video per month without any major technical trouble. The service is also said to have more regional data center coverage in Europe than AWS.
Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) is also in the game. On Oct. 2013, the company announced a new wave of enterprise products to complement Office 365 and other cloud services. The company's public cloud platform, Windows Azure, is available in 109 countries, including China, and supports more than 15 currencies and 10 languages.
Although Box appears to lack scale advantages against Amazon, Google and Microsoft, the company is trying to emphasize its mobile advantage to win market share, as evidenced by its recent ads. While most competitors have the option for working on your phone or tablet, Box's mobile platform is among the best when it comes to user experience. More importantly, since the company doesn't sell or support a particular operating system, Box is available on every possible mobile device: you can use it on the Ipad and iPhone, Android, and even the Windows Phone or BlackBerry operating systems.
Final Foolish takeaway
In a fierce market, Box is trying to differentiate its service by focusing on the enterprise segment where customers are looking for something more than just cloud storage. This is why Box focused on adding innovative features around raw storage --sharing, collaboration, multi-platform, integration with Salesforce products, sales features-- to make sure that a file hosted on Box had more value than a file saved on Dropbox, Amazon Web Services, or Windows Azure.
This has allowed the company to remain highly competitive, despite lacking scale advantages against tech giants. In this way, Box --which is hoping to go public as early as April, according to a Forbes' source-- may have a good chance to become a huge company in the mid run.
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