Just as we were putting this issue of Inc. to bed, the cloud-storage and productivity company Box filed to go public. Box's co-founder and CEO, Aaron Levie, has been a favorite of Inc.'s--we named him 2013 Entrepreneur of the Year, after all--because he so perfectly represents the audacity we admire in entrepreneurs (a quality we celebrate again in this month's cover story). As a leader, he's a 100-hours-a-week, two-coffees-at-a-time perpetual-motion machine. He made gutsy smart bets on technology and his market. He has created jobs for nearly 1,000 people so far. He challenged Microsoft on turf the giant once owned. And, what matters most to us at Inc.: He seems sincerely devoted to building an enduring company.
We also recognized Levie for attributes that have no direct bearing on his virtues as a businessperson but which do capture the feel of tech entrepreneurship today: He is 29. He launched out of his dorm room. His service is cloud based, mobile optimized, and device agnostic. People at his office ride scooters.
Oh, and there's this: Box isn't profitable, or even close to it. The IPO prospectus records $168 million of losses on $124 million in sales last year. Box is hardly alone in going public without profits (Twitter went into its IPO, for example, showing a six-month loss of $69 million), and, in that sense, it epitomizes a more worrisome, frothy aspect of tech entrepreneurship in these times.
Right now, the story of Aaron Levie and Box is all about boldness and possibility--and the faith that headlong growth in users, revenue, and bookings will yield a lasting business. Eventually, though, Levie will have to figure out how to bring more money in the door than goes out. Audacity alone will take you only so far, as cover subject Mark Cuban tells Inc. (and he ought to know). At some point, Cuban says, "The thing has to speak for itself."
One hopes that simple reality isn't lost on the new wave of investors due to enter the startup market as the new securities crowdfunding rules go into effect. At presstime, the SEC hadn't released its final regs, but the feds are close enough for freelance writer Robb Mandelbaum and editor James Ledbetter to cooperate on a frank look at what this new source of capital means for you. If you were hoping that crowdfunding was going to make entrepreneurship easy, prepare to have your expectations right-sized. It's no panacea. Launching and running a company will remain the toughest--if potentially most rewarding--path you can take in business. You can crowdfund, bootstrap, or whatever--you still have to be pretty audacious even to try.