At the end of January 2015--after 10 months of sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the stock market to calm down long enough for Box to go public--Aaron Levie and his co-founders rang the fabled opening bell on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The Redwood City, California-based enterprise-software company that they had founded in their dorm room 10 years prior was finally a public company, with shares that popped 70 percent in their first official day of trading. The spectacle garnered $175 million in gross proceeds. But that wasn't the endgame for Levie, Inc.'s one-time Entrepreneur of the Year--not by a long shot.
Here, Levie discusses that fateful day and the key differences he sees between running a public versus private company. (Spoiler alert: it involves more gray hair.)
What was it like to take Box public?
Exhilarating, partially because you're on no sleep. You come off eight to 10 days on the road pitching your heart out, and then, the day of, you think: I control the world economy this morning. (Note: I did not control the world economy.) It's important in terms of credibility. It's important operationally. It adds more scrutiny and transparency, which I think lead to really good things. But it was not like, "Oh, wow, bucket-list item complete--now I'm done."
What's been the biggest difference between running a private company and running a public one?
Your hair absolutely changes color. Seriously. Everything is instantaneously different. And, as quickly as possible, you have to adapt. One day our stock drops 20 percent, and the next it goes up 15 percent. When you're a private company, you control how your stock performs. You can decide whether or not to take investment, which updates the valuation. In the public market, every single day we're being bet on or bet against.
So, why did you do it?
It all stems back to 2011, when we decided to not sell the company. It was so early in the journey that we felt we would not have the impact we thought was possible. Also, from a purely strategic standpoint, we were like 1 percent of the market at that point. And we thought: "Why would we sell so early?" It was a do-or-die moment: You're basically forgoing the mergers and acquisitions path as a private company. That meant we were going to have to go public.
None about not selling. When we filed to go public, there was a market collapse. Four days after we filed, the market started dropping dramatically. We were like, "Holy shit--what are we going to do?" We actually stayed on file but didn't go public. Ultimately, it was 10 months of the outside world talking about our business without our being able to update anyone on what was actually happening internally. Honestly, that's probably one of the worst things you can ever do as a company.