Enterprising college duo starts box.net
A weekly column profiling companies and personalities. This week:
What: box.net, based on Mercer Island.
Who: Co-founders Aaron Levie, 20, and Dylan Smith, 19.
What it does: Sells subscribers online space to store music and video files and other items.
A class idea: Levie and Smith went to Mercer Island High School. The pair collaborated on a 75-minute film during senior year. The collaboration didn't end there. Levie, who now attends the University of Southern California, researched the online-storage business for a marketing class. He called Smith, who attends Duke University, with his findings and proposed building a company around the concept.
Moving ahead: The two founded the company last fall, began leasing server space from a vendor in Houston, and launched the service this year. They incorporated the company — with help from Smith's father, an attorney — in April. They received $80,000 in funding from angel investors, which they used to upgrade servers and boost their marketing budget. Most of that is still in the bank, they said.
Getting the word out: Smith and Levie began marketing their company guerrilla-style, on online forums and by advertising through Google's AdWords program. They offered free accounts to influential online reviewers and Web loggers. They say they now have nearly 1,500 customers.
Busy summer: The two have been holed up on the upper floor of Smith's parents' Mercer Island home this summer, sitting with laptops at a card table and developing their company. They've hired a development team in Russia and a programmer in California to work on new features, including a file sharing/social networking application they say will debut early next year.
Education, Bill Gates-style: No one's talking about dropping out, but Smith and Levie say they might take some time off from school if box.net continues its momentum. Their parents are supportive, Smith said, because they don't want the two to juggle the company and a full year of school. But when the conversation turned to Gates' educational record, Levie was hopeful. "The track record of certain people dropping out is pretty good," he said with a smile.
Filling the role: Smith majors in economics, and Levie in business, with a focus on entrepreneurship. They have BlackBerries, read Business Week and discuss "exit strategies." What else would you expect?
— Kim Peterson