SAN FRANCISCO — Box chief executive and cofounder Aaron Levie says that startups shouldn’t necessarily pay attention to their customers but should instead remain dedicated to their vision.
Kicking off the first-ever Startup Summit as part of Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference, Levie participated in a fireside chat with Salesforce IQ CEO Steve Loughlin and spoke about how his company has scaled and established its culture. Before Box became a public company, it underwent a bit of a transformation on its path from consumer-oriented startup to what it is now: an enterprise platform.
The company’s shift to the enterprise has been well-documented, and it was during this process that an important belief came to Levie: Don’t build your products around a specific customer’s requirements, rather “build for the vision you’re trying to create.”
He explained to Loughlin that in the classic enterprise software space, startups might build their products around specific requirements established through traditional Request for Proposals. In today’s cloud-based world, startups need to build what’s core to their vision. “Take the pain points of the customers and help them understand why we developed this solution we have, which may not match the features they want (as established in an RFP),” Levie said. In doing so, the product can help customers see that it is solving problems they may have a year or two from now.
“Say no to deals that would have come if you built tools that matched [your customer’s] requirements,” he said. He added that you’re going to wind up building tools for individual customers if you keep taking that next $100,000 deal. It’s more important to have a cohesive and coherent product that will appeal to every customer.
Levie also offered advice to attendees, many of whom are entrepreneurs themselves, saying that it’s important to always review why you’re building a product in the first place, why are you solving a problem a certain way, and to understand who your customers are. If you’re not doing this, he said, then you won’t have a good product.
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