Ep. 14 Aaron Levie on the Decoding Digital Podcast

Decoding Viral Enterprise Growth: Aaron Levie on Building a Brand

Decoding Viral Enterprise Growth: Aaron Levie on Building a Brand

32 min

Ep. 14 Aaron Levie on the Decoding Digital Podcast

32 min

“Work doesn’t have to be complicated and software doesn’t have to suck.” That’s the message that Aaron Levie—co-founder and CEO of Box—believes enterprise companies need to take to heart. In this episode, Aaron shares his vision on the new era of work and why companies need to focus on building simpler, better software that makes it easier for people to collaborate.

Read transcript

“The question is, can we actually change the nature of work? Can we make work faster? Can we make work simpler? Can we make work more enjoyable? Can we get people out of the challenges that we're so used to?”

Quick takes on...

Building Disruptive Software


“In a perfect world, we should all be building software that doesn't require training, that doesn't require change management, because it's either so dead simple, so delightful, or so obviously necessary that it's a better way to do things that we want to adopt it right away.”


Saying No


“To build simple software is to be hyper focused and saying no to more things than you say yes to, and then hold the line when you start to see that you're losing that focus or that simplicity.”


Living By Vision and Values


“We spend a lot of time making sure to reinforce our company's values, reinforce what we want our company to continue to look like going forward... You can usually pull off being able to reinvent yourself or build something for the future, assuming you've got a strong culture and a strong vision of where things are going.”

 

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Meet your guest, Aaron Levie

CO-FOUNDER AND CEO, BOX

Aaron Levie Spotlight

Aaron Levie is the CEO, co-founder and chairman at Box, which he launched in 2005 with CFO and co-founder Dylan Smith. He is the visionary behind the Box product and platform strategy, incorporating the best of secure content collaboration with an intuitive user experience suited to the way people work today. Aaron leads the company in its mission to transform the way people and businesses work so they can achieve their greatest ambitions. He has served on the Board of Directors since April 2005.

Listen to the next episode

Ep. 15 Dax Dasilva, CEO and Founder of Lightspeed

Decoding the Changemaker Mentality: Dax Dasilva on Igniting Change

A CONVERSATION ABOUT IGNITING TODAY’S CHANGEMAKER

25 min

Great leaders inspire change, and according to Dax Dasilva, changemakers can emerge from everywhere. In this episode, Dax brings us along his changemaker journey, from leading one of the fastest growing e-commerce companies, to founding a non-profit cultural space, to writing his first book, "Age of Union," a guide for creating change. Prepare to be inspired.

Episode transcript

[0:00] [background music]

Aaron Levie: [0:06] A question is can we change the nature of work? Can we make work faster? Can we make work simpler? Can we make work more enjoyable?

[0:13] Can we get people out of the challenges that we're so used to, which is, how hard it is to find information to collaborate in real-time, to make decisions with other people, to get everybody organized in your company?

Dan Saks: [0:25] That's Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, the content management and collaboration platform that reaches more than 95,000 businesses around the world. Aaron started Box out of his dorm room at USC, and then dropped out of school to run the company full time with his co-founder and childhood friend, Dylan Smith.

[0:44] At just 20 years old, they made the bold move to cold email, Mark Cuban and brought him on as their first angel investor. In 2015, they took the company public, and Box is now worth more than $3 billion. Aaron was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013 by "Inc. Magazine" and is an industry veteran with over 2.4 million followers on Twitter.

[1:08] Aaron's story and mission have always been an inspiration to me. It's an honor to sit down with him and decode his vision for building products that enable people to achieve their greatest ambitions.

[1:19] This is Daniel Saks, Co CEO of AppDirect, and it's time to decode viral enterprise growth.

[1:27] Welcome to "Decoding Digital," a podcast for innovators looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks. I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs, and changemakers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode.

[1:48] [pause]

Dan: [1:53] Aaron, welcome.

[0:00] [background music]

Aaron Levie: [0:06] A question is can we change the nature of work? Can we make work faster? Can we make work simpler? Can we make work more enjoyable?

[0:13] Can we get people out of the challenges that we're so used to, which is, how hard it is to find information to collaborate in real-time, to make decisions with other people, to get everybody organized in your company?

Dan Saks: [0:25] That's Aaron Levie, CEO of Box, the content management and collaboration platform that reaches more than 95,000 businesses around the world. Aaron started Box out of his dorm room at USC, and then dropped out of school to run the company full time with his co-founder and childhood friend, Dylan Smith.

[0:44] At just 20 years old, they made the bold move to cold email, Mark Cuban and brought him on as their first angel investor. In 2015, they took the company public, and Box is now worth more than $3 billion. Aaron was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013 by "Inc. Magazine" and is an industry veteran with over 2.4 million followers on Twitter.

[1:08] Aaron's story and mission have always been an inspiration to me. It's an honor to sit down with him and decode his vision for building products that enable people to achieve their greatest ambitions.

[1:19] This is Daniel Saks, Co CEO of AppDirect, and it's time to decode viral enterprise growth.

[1:27] Welcome to "Decoding Digital," a podcast for innovators looking to thrive in the digital economy. I'm your host, Daniel Saks. I'll sit down with other founders, CEOs, and changemakers to decode the trends that are transforming the way we work. Let's decode.

[1:48] [pause]

Dan: [1:53] Aaron, welcome.

Aaron: [1:54] Hey, thanks, man. Thanks for having me.

Dan: [1:56] Great to catch up. In a lot of ways, you have the classic Silicon Valley founder story. You started Box in your dorm room at USC, dropped out of college, then 10 years, later took the company public. Looking back, did you always know that that was the path you wanted to take?

Aaron: [2:10] [laughs] We started the company...It was born out of our own personal challenges that we were running into in college around sharing files and collaborating. We ended up doing some research and identified that there was a much bigger market that we could go after. This was back in 2004.

[2:28] If you think all the way back then, the way that most people commonly shared their files was you would email yourself files, you had USB thumb drives, you had to set up lots of server infrastructure to be able to manage data. We felt like there had to be a simpler way to be able to work from anywhere, be able to access files from anywhere.

[2:46] We built this application. Fortunately, it struck a chord in the market. People started signing up and using it more actively. We then were able to raise some early angel investment from Mark Cuban, and that led us dropping out of college. Then 15 years later, this is where we're at.

[3:02] The idea was really, "Let's go and solve a really big problem," one that we personally were running into but ultimately one that ended up being much bigger than we even imagined as we were getting started.

Dan: [3:13] You've been legendary when it comes to building a brand, Box is always the SaaS service that I always called out as being the leader in building a brand and driving clarity of purpose for enterprise software. Can you explain? Was that done deliberately? How did you think about it?

Aaron: [3:28] I appreciate that. Maybe it's working. When we started Box, it was very early in the evolution of SaaS, software as a service, and cloud computing in general. What we realized was, we had to find a way to get enterprises to rethink what they define as enterprise software and what the future of work was going to look like.

[3:47] We realized that we were competing against these massive incumbents and became this that competing with us was much greater distribution, much larger sales teams, a large incumbency in terms of the customer based that they had.

[4:02] We realized that the only way we were going to turn that around was by trying to get people to imagine a different way than we could look in the future.

[4:11] Effectively how we thought about building our brand was, "Let's go and redefine what the future of work looks like, especially the end-users and the business, not just IT. Let's get the users excited about what the future can look like in terms of how work can become much simpler, and people can work together and collaborate much more effectively."

[4:28] That's where we built our brand from. Now, we're excited because there are many other players in this ecosystem broadly of companies like Zoom and Slack. Other companies have entered the sphere to help accelerate this message of work doesn't have to be complicated. The software doesn't have to suck. You can have simple end-user experiences. We can make it easier to get work done in the enterprise.

[4:50] That was the origin of the company. It was to try and bring that kind of consumer-grade disruption to enterprise software. It's been exciting to see that that has taken on a life of its own at this point.

Dan: [5:02] It's incredible. In 2005, if you think back to work software, we were both still young, but it's clunky and tough. You look at how many companies have been built around your ecosystem. It's truly amazing as well.

Aaron: [5:14] It's been fun. I do consider it very unfair that I'm the only one that seemed to get gray hair out of this whole thing, but it has been a fun journey. It's great that enterprise software has gotten so much better for users. That was the whole intent of business to begin with. We consider it mission accomplished on that dimension.

[5:28] Now, when we look out at the market, there's still so much more opportunity, especially when you look at things like, unfortunately, COVID, from a health standpoint, has been the catalyst for this. Ultimately, this new era of work where we know that businesses are going to be more distributed, more remote, collaboration's going to look very different in the future.

[5:47] Even though we're 15 years into this, we recognize how early we are in the broad scale transformation that's going to be happening in businesses.

Dan: [5:54] It's incredible that you've lead the charge of transformation to SaaS. With your thoughts around the future of work, early days, where in the next 15 years do you think Box is going to be, and where do you think SaaS is going to be?

Aaron: [6:06] I'm glad that you're giving me full credit for all of that. I'll take as much of it on this podcast as I can get. Certainly, we're collectively amongst a broader ecosystem of players that have been creating the landscape that we got to go play in, like Salesforce and Workday, others.

[6:20] When we look at the next 10 or 15 years, if I look at the past 10 or 15 years in software, it was much more about the delivery model of technology being modernized. What we were doing is fundamentally bringing software from on premises systems and technologies to the cloud. If you look at the next 5, 10, 15 years, the delivery model is now well understood. It's going to cloud.

[6:42] The question is, can we change the nature of work? Can we make work faster? Can we make work simpler? Can we make work more enjoyable? Can we get people out of the challenges that we're so used to, which is how hard it is to find information, to collaborate in real time, to make decisions with other people, to get everybody organized in your company?

[7:01] The exciting opportunity is if we can go from the disruption being about the delivery model of software to the disruption being about what work looks like and how we can go change it, that's the Holy Grail. We're excited that when we look out at our product roadmap, it's very much around, can we bend the curve of what work should look like going forward?

[7:19] When we look out at the partner ecosystem that we have, again, when you take into consideration companies like Slack, and Zoom, and others, work is going to look very, very different in even next 12 months than it has for the past 20 years. That's what's extremely exciting for us.

Dan: [7:35] How do you bend the curve of an industry?

Aaron: [7:37] Usually, through the will of the users and the people. It turns out, if you go to most companies and you say, "What still kind of sucks about work?" I think you'd get a long list of answers, and some are very pertinent to a particular company.

[7:51] In general, usually what you'll hear are things like, "It's too slow to get things done. I'm not empowered to make decisions. I'm spending too much time trying to find information, or recreating work, or spending too much time dealing with software." The question is, can we go and solve that problem generally across industries?

[8:10] That could be in a retailer trying to get new products out to market faster. It could be a technology company trying to innovate in a new product launch. It could be a government agency trying to better serve their citizens.

[8:22] It could be a life sciences company trying to go and drive a new discovery, whether it's something urgent like responding to COVID or long range R&D going after niche diseases.

[8:34] When you look across all these different industries, what is propelling the world forward? It's information, it's people collaborating, it's people that are making decisions faster on leveraging data. It's being able to collaborate across boundaries, in continents, between institutions. The potential of all of that is for software to get better to go solve those problems.

[8:54] When you go and talk to users and you go talk to people and you say, "What are the big difficult things in your way for moving your business forward?" It usually has to do with speed, usually has to do with bureaucracy. It usually has to do with how the lack of agility in their company.

[9:09] That's where we think the big opportunity is, can software go solve those types of problems? That is ultimately what bends that curve is people looking for better, faster, simpler, cheaper ways to do things, and then bringing software in that can go and power that.

Dan: [9:23] Now, there's so much software everywhere that it's hard to decide what is going to make sense for your business and how do you adopt it. You talked about the challenges around bureaucracy. How does a person inside a business choose the right software and ultimately use that for more agility and speed?

Aaron: [9:39] The great thing is, certainly, for both of us, there is so much more innovation, so much more software in the world that people are leveraging. It's interesting, because if you look back 10 or 15 years ago, there maybe was, I don't know, 20 or 30 SaaS companies that you could list if you were forced to, maybe 20 at best.

[9:56] Today, if you sat down with a piece of paper, you could probably remember a couple hundred. Then, as soon as you start to look in any category of software, you'll instantly find that there's thousands of software companies today, all effectively working on your behalf to try and make your company, or your business process, or your team, or your particular function more efficient.

[10:17] That's what's amazing is 15 years ago, when you said, "OK, I want my finance team to be more efficient," maybe you could build some macros inside of Excel. Maybe you could get them onto the new version of Oracle or NetSuite, and there was maybe 5 or 10 pieces of software you could use.

[10:35] Today, if you said, "I want to get my finance team more efficient," you have to ask the question, what part do you want more efficient?

[10:40] Do you want procurement more efficient? Do you want financial planning more efficient? Do you want M&A transactions to be more efficient? Do you want how you transact with your customers and collect their revenue more efficient?

[10:50] What's amazing is that you have software that has been created for every single function of every single role in every single organization in every single industry.

[11:00] On one hand, that's a lot of software. That means you have a lot of work to do to navigate in an IT organization, be the arbiter of what software should come in and out and deciding what makes sense for your industry and your business.

[11:13] The amazing thing is that you have thousands and thousands of companies that are all working to try and make your organization move faster, generate more revenue, save money, automate more of the business, and that's an incredible thing.

[11:27] Now, it's all about making great judgment decisions of what software you bring into your enterprise and having the right kind of tools available to your employees.

Dan: [11:36] When you speak to your power users, is there certain things that you recognize that makes an incredible user or adopter of software versus someone who hasn't? A lot of people botch the adoption of software, and the people who get it right can effectively transform their industries. Those who get it wrong can fail. What do you think?

Aaron: [11:53] I totally agree. Most of this, I put the blame on the vendor's side. Software vendors make it harder than necessary a lot of the time. I still think most software is harder to use than it should be. We still have a wholesale industry problem that enterprise software could be made simpler, it could be made more delightful.

[12:15] While I think we all generally agree that software should all look like the best consumer technology in the enterprise, not all software is there yet. We all, as an industry, have more work to do on that front. The best way to create power users, the best way to enable users to adopt technology is making it simple, making it easy to bring in, easy to solve immediate problems.

[12:37] This whole idea of training, and change management, and all of those kind of things, in a perfect world, we should all be building software that doesn't require training. That doesn't require change management, because it's either so dead simple, so delightful, or so obviously necessary that it's a better way to do things that we want to adopt it right away.

[12:55] That's the Holy Grail I think we all are striving to get to.

Dan: [13:00] You've always, obviously, done a lot, in terms of virality in your product, in your business, scaled users. I remember in the early days, you used to have billboards talking about how you power a percentage of the Fortune 500. From the outsider's perspective of Box, I've always seen you've had this viral magic. Was that intentional, and how do you create that virality?

Aaron: [13:20] We've definitely tried to make our software be able to spread as easily as possible. Part of this is just the nature of the product category when we build software that makes it easy to share files and collaborate.

[13:29] It's almost by definition, you're using our product to spread information to other people. We do think that the virality of software is very important. Beyond making a simple product that's easy to spread between teams and organizations, the rest is the demand of the market and trying to follow that demand.

Dan: [13:48] In the early days, you were visionary about competition and ensuring that you can beat SharePoint, beat Dropbox. You're probably one of the people that I've seen that's faced a lot of competition but also had a unique approach to it. How do you live in the world of competition, and what lessons would you have learned along the way?

Aaron: [14:04] I prefer to not have any competition. I haven't yet been lucky enough to choose a market that is lacking competition. It's also probably a sign of how big the market you're in, based on how much competition you're going to be dealing with.

[14:18] In general, we want to try and do things that we don't think our competition can do, and so we've attempted to build a strategy that we don't think is easily replicable by another company.

[14:32] Our investment in data security, our investment in simple user experiences, our investment in really, really powerful software that helps our customers with their workflows and manage unlimited amounts of data inside of their organization.

[14:46] Our job is if we can build something that the competition can't build, not because we somehow have all the world's best engineers. We know that we're going to compete with great engineering teams, but because the decisions we make are hopefully going to be decisions that are in the best interest of the customer, in the best interest of either long term data architecture and technical architecture.

[15:06] We are very, very religious about how we design our software to ensure that we don't introduce any complexity into the technology. When you add all that up, we think that's the sustainable approach to how we're going to be able to outcompete in a very, very competitive landscape. That's always been our approach and we'll be maintaining that going forward.

Dan: [15:27] What's the code, the rigorous approach to easy design and interface? What do you do at Box specifically that gives you and the company the focus on rigorous design and easy user interface?

Aaron: [15:38] We just put the time into it, frankly. Unfortunately, every time I try and describe design processes, it ends up sounding more inane than it's meant to. The reality is that it's very straightforward of what to do. The reason why companies don't do it is because you end up making compromises and trade offs that prevent you from doing it right.

[16:00] The kind of compromises that tend to happen is you start out with a simple, amazing design. Everybody loves it, it's great. Then, you go ask customers about it and they say, "Well, could you add this button or this feature? Or can you move this thing around? Can you add this capability?"

[16:14] You start to say yes, and yes, and yes, and yes. Over time, you end up having scope creep in the software that at some point, the software becomes too difficult to use. A simple example is like if you look at Microsoft Excel, or Word, or PowerPoint, that's 25 years of features getting added. Nothing getting subtracted, just getting baked into that technology.

[16:35] It's no wonder that when you look at the next generation of employees or students, they're like, "Hey, I just want to use a Google Doc, because it's instantaneous, it has just the base features that I need, and it's easy to collaborate with others."

[16:47] It's a classic challenge that any company has to deal with, which is you almost know too much about your customers, so you're packing too many of the features that you suspect they need into your technology.

[16:58] Making it more and more complicated and not having the discipline to hold the line of what, ultimately, you're going to deliver, what you're going to make available to your customers, what you're going to say no to.

[17:10] The reality is the only way that I know, at least, to build simple software is to be hyperfocused, saying no to more things than you say yes to, and then hold the line when you start to see that you're losing that focus or that simplicity.

[17:24] What can happen sometimes in organizations is I've heard this line within Box, but I think it happens a lot everywhere you end up having your own internal employees product managers, engineers, or whatever effectively rationalize the complexity that they've introduced.

[17:42] You'll start to hear things like, "Well, this is what the customer asked for." Or, "It's not that hard to use." Or, "People will get used to it." Or, "If they just do this training experience, they'll understand it."

[17:54] The moment you start to hear those types of things, you know that you've effectively lost the plot, and you got to go back to basics and really rethink, "Are you building the right kind of simple experience?" That can be painful because it can take longer. You have to be much more intentional about the software you're building, but that's the only lessons I know from doing that.

Dan: [18:14] Whose role is that in the organization?

Aaron: [18:17] Hopefully, it's everybody's role. Now, at some point, what ends up happening is you do get to a point where there might have to be effectively tradeoffs or somebody has to make that ultimate vote one way or another. Ideally, product managers, designers, engineers are able to get to that conclusion themselves.

[18:35] Occasionally, that's not possible. Occasionally, you need to be able to, in some cases, give permission to those teams.

[18:42] There have been situations where a team has said, "We want to build the software like this, but the market is giving us feedback that they really need X, Y, Z features."

[18:50] It might take somebody like the CEO or head of product to basically say, "You know what? In the best interest of our broader user base over the long arc of our business, we're going to say no to the customer for now, and we're going to do it the simple way. That is going to be actually what we go and drive."

[19:04] We've had to make those decisions occasionally. It can be annoying, because you might have a customer that's like, "I really will pay you more money if you just build this one thing," and you're having to say no to that customer. That can be super difficult.

Dan: [19:17] We met, you cold emailed me, it was like 2:35 AM or something like that. It was maybe a two liner being like, "Hey, I'm Aaron Levie, CEO of Box. I want to chat about this." Is that a strategy [laughs] you use a lot, and who do you cold email?

Aaron: [19:31] That sounds like me, 2:30 in the morning. I'd say that's authentic email that you got. As we were both very early in this industry, it was important to find peers and colleagues that we're similarly scaling businesses, ways of partnering and working together on growing the industry.

[19:47] What's been exciting about the software and tech space is that there's so much innovation, so many different companies having lots of approaches that you can benefit by partnering up with companies, learning from each other's experiences. Figuring out different distribution models, different partnership approaches, different ways to grow.

[20:06] This industry is rich with those types of experiences. That was certainly how we got to know each other early on, and what's been so exciting about the cloud industry.

Dan: [20:16] When you do outreach to people, it seems like you have this great network. You angel invest a lot, you've built a great ecosystem of partners. What drives that? To wake up in the morning and say, "Who am I going to reach out to today? Who do I want to meet?"

Aaron: [20:28] Certainly, since the pandemic, I've been a little bit less focused on expanding the network. There's been not enough hours in the day to even do the basics, but in general, there's just so much exciting innovation happening.

[20:39] Some of that draws me in from an investor standpoint, where you see an interesting trend or a company emerge that might have a disruptive approach to a particular industry or category. That's exciting to go and get involved in.

[20:52] Again, the industry is great because of how hyperconnected. Everybody is online 24/7, and so that makes it easier to be able to stay connected with peers and friends, and that's just always been my approach.

Dan: [21:05] One of the things I found really hard is you have to manage your own psychology and running a company. There's times when you've been here on the cover magazine, other times when people probably are giving you a hard time. How do you deal with that personally?

Aaron: [21:18] We've been through every roller coaster there is. We've had funding rounds that fell through. We had to get bridge rounds from investors. We've been through now to economic crises. We had an IPO that was delayed.

[21:30] You are constantly hearing bad news about lost a deal or an employee going off to do something different. This is not a business for the faint of heart. In terms of the kind of stuff that we run into, it's a very fast moving, very dynamic industry.

[21:46] The only thing I found that gets me through any of those difficult moments or challenges is trying to step back, but the current situation and perspective, and really remember the long arc of the strategy and the vision the mission that we're on.

[22:02] That's helped me get through most difficult events was you step back and you said, "OK, that was brutal news. We just lost this deal. We're spending a lot of time on it. That really sucks. That would have been game changing for this industry or whatnot."

[22:15] Then, you zoom out, you say, "OK. 5 years from now or 10 years from now, if you look at our what our mission is to go out and do, is this really going to be the defining moment of the company?" You setback, you realize, "No, we're going to be able to get through this. We're going to be able to charge through this one," and that recharges me to think about the future.

[22:32] The cool thing about this industry is that because we're in the new third or fourth cycle of the industry itself, there's great lessons in history that you can learn from a wide range of companies.

[22:42] The thing that's always exciting and obviously you can tell these stories for yourself to the point of becoming delusional, but you have companies like Oracle, where they were quarters away, maybe even sooner from bankruptcy in the early '90s. This is a company that has, depending on the day, worth $200 billion. They could have gone bankrupt because of a massive business and financial restatement issue that they had to deal with.

[23:04] You look at Apple. They lost maybe 5 to 10 years of relevance, where they were not considered to be the future of technology, the future software, the future of hardware, and a very, very niche, small player in the technology industry. Low, low, low single digits in market share in the '90s from all of their products.

[23:24] Now, it's the world's largest company. It's like holy crap, in this industry, if you have the patience and you have, hopefully, the vision, you can ultimately get through almost any difficulty that you're dealing with.

[23:35] Probably, the only difficulty that we've seen to be fairly unrecoverable is if you create a toxic culture, if your company blows up from internal issues. For the most part, the external environment, even though it's hypercompetitive, even though it's hyperdynamic, doesn't tend to ever be the final factor for most companies.

[23:53] You can usually pull off being able to reinvent yourself or build something for the future, assuming you've got a strong culture and a strong vision of where things are going.

Dan: [24:03] What do you do to protect your culture?

Aaron: [24:05] We spend a lot of time owning it. We spend a lot of time making sure to reinforce our company's values, reinforce what we want our company to continue to look like going forward, invest in the internal community itself as well as the external community.

[24:20] It means you have to ensure that you're continuing to live by your values, which means that any time that something is an affront to whatever the core values are of the organization, you have to make sure that you're either firing people that maybe are not living up to those values, or, doing your best to hire people that fit that mould but can continue to shape the culture in positive directions going forward.

[24:41] It is something that the moment you stop paying attention to your culture for even a month, you can see a degradation of decision making, of talent, of community, of alignment. We spend a lot of time on that.

Dan: [24:53] Who are some of the tech leaders or business leaders that you look up to?

Aaron: [24:58] The cool thing is that there's a plurality of cultures that are in the tech community. There's one of everything in this industry. There's a hyper secretive approach to building a business, and that's Apple.

[25:11] There's a hyper transparent, and I'd say relatively collaborative approach, which is Google. There's a hyperdata decision oriented type of culture like Amazon. There's a very values driven oriented culture like at Salesforce.

[25:27] You try and pick and pull different parts of those cultures that you respect for you that you think align to who you are as an organization. We've learned a lot over the years from Marc Benioff or Tim Cook on the value oriented nature of building a business. We try and live up to having a culture that cares, again, about the values of the employees and of the organization.

[25:50] At the same time, we probably are not as hyperdata driven as Amazon. We're probably a bit more like a Facebook or a Google, where we'll make a bet on a market and we're going to go and drive to build the best product or experience in that market.

[26:06] You're always trying to connect the dots between different types of cultures and different types of business models to create something that works for your organization.

Dan: [26:15] I remember I visited you at your office a few years back, and there was such a feeling of this being the headquarters. It's the center of Silicon Valley. I remember you said, "I'd never go up to the city. This my spot." Now, we have this remote, diverse world. How did your culture evolve through that?

Aaron: [26:31] I don't think I could've been less remote oriented as a founder. My ultimate dream was if you could have a gigantic warehouse as an office, where it was completely flat. You could see everybody get to everybody, talk to everybody, having hundreds of thousands of people in that type of setup. That would've been my dream state.

[26:50] Now, we're in the exact opposite, where you're on a computer all day long. You don't leave your little room and you're on Zoom calls all day. We've had to adapt. We've been like everybody else, that this has been a curveball that was thrown on us.

[27:02] Two things that prepared us I think well, I don't know if better than most, but certainly, well one is the way that we operate as a business was well set up for this. Everybody's on Slack. Everybody's on Zoom. Everybody already works in this type of modern way.

[27:14] We have a culture that is built on collaboration, is built on being agile and responding dynamically to events in the market. It's been fairly smooth in unleashing the energy of the organization, pointing it in the right direction, and going out and executing on our mission, even though we've had to adapt to this environment.

[27:35] I don't totally love the remote only nature of this situation. I would much more prefer that there's more of a hybrid approach, and that's ultimately what we think the future looks like. One where you'll go back to the office for certain things, but you'll have more flexibility to work remotely when you so choose.

[27:49] For now, obviously, we're heads down, trying to get through the health pandemic.

Dan: [27:54] If you were to close your eyes and visualize 15 years out future of work with a day in the life of the average worker, 15 years out, how's it different?

Aaron: [28:02] I'd say that 15 years exceeds my ability to predict these things because it could either be everything looks exactly the same, or we're all wearing VR goggles and looking at it at AI dashboards with augmented reality.

[28:16] Let's say timeline aside, post health pandemic, what we do imagine is that offices are still going to be a pervasive part of workplace culture. People want to get together. They want to work with their colleagues in person. They want to see their colleagues and be able to work on projects or get mentorship. Even just frankly, it's a social fabric that a lot of people are attached to.

[28:39] I don't think the office goes away, but I do think that remote has shown us is that you can be very productive. You can be incredibly effective as an organization with a distributed workforce. There are some companies that have always done that.

[28:51] Now, the rest of the economy, let's say, the 90 percent of companies that didn't operate that way previously are now realizing, "Oh, wow, this is actually an effective way that we can run our business."

[29:02] I do think that we're going to enter a hybrid world. Maybe you come in for three or four days a week. Maybe you're able to work remotely. You have longer weekends. You have more flexible hours.

[29:12] I probably think that things don't change as much as we're picturing, because right now, the way that we're working is so much more catalyzed by necessity as opposed to it being voluntary. Once it's voluntary and not being unnecessary, it'll be interesting to see where things settle out on a rolling basis.

Dan: [29:33] You're like a Twitter power user extraordinaire. Do you think that's critical as part of the work fabric in the future? How do you think that platform will change?

Aaron: [29:41] No, I do not think it's critical to that in the future. Twitter is a fantastic medium for being able to get your message out. I've had a lot of fun with it as a platform. It's questionable for our democracy. I think it has some challenges. We've seen how it can be exploited for negative outcomes. I consider Twitter to be almost entirely a personal use case.

Dan: [30:05] What other personal things you try to do for fun?

Aaron: [30:08] I don't have a long list of hobbies, but I do have 18 month old kid that we're having a lot of fun with. That's where most of my discretionary time is going into. That's been a blast at this point. Other than just working and trying to grow the business, I'm not doing too much else right now.

Dan: [30:24] How's your magic coming?

Aaron: [30:25] [laughs] I'd say that there's been fewer audiences for magic during a pandemic. I've sold out in my skill level.

Dan: [30:33] Do you have audio only magic tricks?

Aaron: [30:35] I don't. I'm not a big fan of number. I guess you can have somebody guess a word or something, but I don't think I can pull it off right now.

Dan: [30:42] Nice. Aaron, this is fantastic. I really appreciate you spending the time discussing the future of work and sharing your passion.

[30:48] [background music]

Dan: [30:48] Thanks so much, man.

Aaron: [30:50] Awesome. Thank you.

Dan: [30:54] On the next episode of "Decoding Digital."

Dax Dasilva: [30:57] Anybody can be a change maker. It's really remarkable when you see the power of the individual, the impact that an individual can make on the planet in their community. You can be a changemaker that uplifts you, uplifts people around you, and build a better society, a better community.

Dan: [31:14] CEO of LightSpeed, one of the fastest growing commerce companies, Dax Dasilva.

[31:22] Thanks for listening to Decoding Digital. Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to the show in your favorite podcast player. To learn more, visit decodingdigital.com. Until next time.

[31:35] [music]

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