Box.net to IPO, Likely to Raise More Cash First

Box.net is going public! Probably. Not soon, though, said Aaron Levie, the startup’s CEO.

“It is part of the plan,” he acknowledged, when I had the opportunity to catch up with him in New York City during a visit (or, more like, whirlwind tour). He’ll be here a bit more often, for events, and later, to open Box.net’s offices. His startup’s explosive growth won’t be constrained to prior years. Levie said he anticipates that one of the hottest cloud storage startups on the planet will expand its headcount from 300 to 500 over the next 12 or so months.

So, the IPO is in the cards, just not in the near future, he said. Having raised more than $150 million, the overwhelming majority of it during the last 12 months, his company’s plan is to grab market share and fulfill projections before any loftier goals are set. Some of Box.net’s most recent funds may get spent making deals to tuck in needed security for the first time as well as other acquisitions.

Box.net’s 2011 funding came from a number of Series D investments that seemed to grow at a kudzu-like pace, spreading to new investors, as Levie’s company gained trajectory and market share. The most recent funding round, which, has packed on more than $100 million, includes cloud empire Salesforce.com. It might not be the last strategic investment Box.net takes on either, Levie said.

At one point, he commandeered a reporter’s notepad, going all Carl Richards and whipping up a quick Venn diagram-style summation of his view of the industry’s clientele spectrum. At one end, was Dropbox’s (the ‘consumer’ side); at the other, Box.net’s (the ‘enterprise’ side). Under the Box.net side, he quickly jotted down a number of enterprise clients—some public, some, he would later reveal, have yet to be announced, including a Fortune 100 company—for which his company provides services.

There is, in fact, a point where the ‘Box’ and ‘Dropbox’ Venn circles intersect and cohabitate the same space. More to the point, that will be where Dropbox and Box.net are subject to side-by-side comparisons. With its Dropbox for Teams offerings, cloud storage’s best-valued startup looks to grow the shaded portion of Levie’s Venn-o-gram. But he doesn’t seem terribly concerned Box.net is going to lose these users to Drew Houston or Dropbox’s gaudy valuation.

Levie said he thinks the consumer storage space can’t earn more per client than $10 per month—ever.

“It’s not a space we focus on,” he said. And, so, what he views as the bigger piece of Dropbox’s Venn-pie will lay unchallenged. He is worried about Bill Gates, though. When I asked Levie who his biggest challenger is, he immediately came up with Microsoft.

The thing about the cloud storage space is: no matter how many individual clients you’ve got, they’re all pretty much worthless, Levie says. If you’ve got, say, a 20,000 users at an enterprise like Proctor & Gamble (one of the ones that he rattled off which he is, in fact, allowed to publicize), they’re worth more than hundreds of thousands of freemium clients. So why, then, with less raised than Dropbox, is Box.net fetching (reportedly) about one-eighth of its valuation? Tough to tell. We already know what Dropbox’s 2011 revenues will be (about $36 million) and what it projects for the future—but Levie declined to share any figures with us.

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