Tweetstorm Digest: May 19, 2015

Lest you missed a bit of a @charlesfitz victory lap for Cloud City (Seattle) on Twitter:

1/ A geographic look at the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud is revealing:

GeoMQ

2/ The Leader quadrant for cloud computing shall henceforth be known as the Seattle quadrant.

3/ Seattle has also annexed the best real estate in the visionaries quadrant.

4/ Yes, Google does their cloud infrastructure work in Seattle.

5/ The MQ has more companies from south of the Mason-Dixon line than from Silicon Valley.

6/ VMware (wedged in there like Oklahoma) is Silicon Valley’s champion, almost by default.

7/ The Cloud BS Brigade of Silicon Valley BigCos (Cisco, HP, Oracle) only appear in their own press releases.

Bonus: a fun timelapse of how this Magic Quadrant has evolved over the last five years.

AWS and the Bonfire of Amazon’s Vanities

The Bonfire of the Vanities

TL;DR – It is time for Amazon Web Services to get out of Amazon

A recent interview with Amazon Web Services’ chieftain Andy Jassy repeatedly touts the “trillion dollar opportunity” associated with the inexorable transition of enterprise IT to the cloud. Perhaps because his interlocutor was so busy inserting himself into the interview, Jassy isn’t actually quoted uttering the T-word (although he does manage to land “TAM”). But he certainly isn’t refuting the notion there are thirteen orders of magnitude associated with the Enterprise Cloud Jackpot (and I use Jackpot in a thoroughly non-Gibsonian way, though legacy vendors may see it apocalyptically). As the cloud computing leader today, AWS is in the pole position for this tectonic shift. The question is whether being part of Amazon going forward is on balance more help or hindrance to AWS winning their fair share of the Jackpot.

Amazon obviously was able to conceive, nurture and build a heretical idea into AWS today. It is inconceivable any traditional IT vendor could have done this and hard to imagine other candidates with comparable wherewithal and “willingness to be misunderstood”. But we’re past the point of being misunderstood. Pretty much everyone now accepts that vast chunks of IT are shifting to the cloud (with the notable exception, admittedly, of legions of enterprise IT people clinging to their servers in a desperate bid to preserve the status quo). Even the biggest technology dinosaurs now recognize that the incoming cloud meteor is a potential extinction event.

AWS continues to innovate and execute well. Their near and medium-term success is not in doubt. But being part of Amazon raises questions about their ability to fully capture the big prize. Can they achieve generational dominance a la IBM or Microsoft in their primes? Will they be one major player among several? Or does their early lead whither away? Being part of Amazon brings benefits, but also significant baggage, specifically difficulty concentrating, having sufficient cash to compete and adverse cultural factors.

Concentration

Big as it is in its own right, AWS is a relatively small part of Amazon and gets lumped into their glamorous “Other” segment, which did $5.6B in 2014 (about 6% of Amazon’s overall $89B in revenue). Notably, “Other” was the fastest growing segment at 42% vs. 20% for the company overall. The Amazon-branded credit card gets cited as another occupant of “Other”, but our grasp of the AWS business remains tenuous.

Beyond the trillion dollar Enterprise Cloud Jackpot, Amazon’s core e-commerce business still has tremendous upside. E-commerce in the US last year was over $300 billion and but only 6.5% of overall retail sales. Amazon takes an expansive view of the ecommerce business, investing in drone and local delivery, a broad line of consumer hardware for direct distribution of digital goods, a robot army and private label brands for everything from diapers to TV shows.

In contrast to Apple who says “no” by default, when confronted by new opportunities Amazon seemingly leaps up on the table and screams “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Their bonfire of initiatives has resulted in some notable and expensive misfires of late, including the disappearing Kindle Fire, the disastrous Fire Phone and the under-heralded Fire Diaper blowout And the jury is still out on Fire TV, the not-exactly-setting-the-world-on-fire Echo Fire, The Man on Fire in the High Castle, WorkMail Fire, and “hair on fire” one hour delivery amongst other efforts. And, for completeness, this is an AWS Fire.

It can be argued the company has poor impulse control, is fighting too many battles on too many fronts and must allocate cash, talent and attention across a very wide range. Amazon’s historical “willingness to be misunderstood” and success in defying past criticism (to which I hereby add my name to a long list) don’t do anything to suggest new restraint is imminent. This scattershot approach may make sense before product-market fit, but AWS is beyond that point. Many of these other activities are a distraction given AWS is chasing a plausibly trillion dollar market.

Cash

Cloud computing is not for the light of wallet, requiring many billions of dollars to build cavernous datacenters scattered around the planet, stuffed with millions of servers. GigaOm breaks down last year’s capex spending by the big players:

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Now these numbers aren’t pure apples to apples comparisons. Amazon’s capex also goes to erect even more cavernous e-commerce distribution centers with “more than 15,000 robots in 10 fulfillment centers across the U.S.” Google and Microsoft both spend big on search infrastructure, and Google’s numbers include YouTube, flotillas of automotive, sea-going, aerial and space-faring vehicles, and based on the sheer magnitude, maybe the odd space elevator.

For comparison (and in lieu of a much-delayed “So You Want to be a Cloud Wanna-be” post with etiquette and strategy tips for cloud also-rans), here are similar period capex numbers for some of the cloud wanna-bes and their growth (or lack thereof) over the preceding year as they try to play catch-up:

 

CAPEX (TTM)

Growth over 2013

HP

$956M

+4%

IBM

$3,779M

0%

Oracle

$727M

26%

Rackspace

$430M

-5%

VMware

$352M

2%

(These are the budgets from which bonsai datacenters are built).

Meanwhile, returning from Lilliput, Amazon has the shortest stack at the grown-up table, with $17.4 billion in liquid assets to Google’s $64.4 billion and Microsoft’s $90.2 billion. Google in particular intends to push Amazon to the wall financially, though it was Bill Gates who said, “Never get into a price war with someone who has more money than you.” Amazon has notably lost its prior enthusiasm for price cuts and obliquely grouses about networking costs where Google and Microsoft have a huge advantage in terms of facilities.

It has always been a bit of a mystery how Amazon could serve more cloud computing customers, spend less than Google or Microsoft and support aggressive build-outs of both datacenters and distribution centers. The assumption was search required significantly more infrastructure and/or Amazon was just somehow more efficient. But we’ve recently learned that Amazon has used capital leases to keep billions in capital spending off their cash flow statement. So their capital spending is closer to double what has been reported. This means their free cash flow, the metric they have relentlessly told investors is the key lens onto the company, is actually negative and declining in recent years (remember this: we’ll revisit it below when we talk about employee recruiting and retention).

It is an easy quip as a low margin retailer to say “your margin is my opportunity” but you still have to pay for your datacenters. Every dollar spent on half-baked consumer hardware (or worse, doubling down on a failed consumer hardware brand) or random TV shows, or giant distribution centers and bright yellow robots to support the core e-commerce business, is a dollar that isn’t going to AWS. And Amazon must continue to invest significantly in its core e-commerce business, whether defined narrowly or broadly.

Culture

It is an open secret, at least in Seattle and amongst top tier technology firms, that not many people enjoy working at Amazon. Many companies have come north to open offices (e.g. DropBox, Facebook, Palantir, Salesforce, Twitter) and usually say they are there to lure talent from Microsoft. Yet with the notable exception of recent SoCal immigrants Oculus and SpaceX who are on Microsoft’s side of the lake, most choose to locate their offices a stone’s throw from Amazon’s campus.

Amazon relies heavily on its stock for both recruiting and retention. They pay below market salaries, offer signing bonuses that pay out over the first two years and after that rely on stock to both carry the compensation load and overcome the drawbacks of the work environment. Independent of stock performance, you see a lot of Amazon resumes on the street as soon as the signing bonuses are paid out.

Amazon’s stock price obviously reflects perceptions of the company broadly. It has been run as a profitless machine yet been richly valued for most of its history. Skepticism has emerged over the last year or two about whether the company will ever get out of “investment mode” and focus on financial returns. Amazon turned in a strong Q4 including an unexpected profit (they have conditioned Wall Street well…) which popped the stock by over 25%, but it still trades below its all-time high even as the rest of the market hits record highs.

Amazon has guided investors to focus on its free cash flow as opposed to profits. Yet they felt the need to more explicitly call out the significant use of capital leases in their most recent earning call, which had heretofore been buried and largely ignored amongst the footnotes. The free cash flow picture looks very different, in both magnitude and trend, when these leases are considered:

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And note this debt is being incurred today at unprecedentedly low interest rates, a phenomenon that is unlikely to continue much longer.

AWS is growing fast and needs to continue to hire rapidly as it chases the Jackpot. Dependence on Amazon’s stock, and the company’s ability to sell Wall Street on anything-but-profit metrics, adds risk to their ability to recruit and retain. AWS also needs to build a culture that can meet enterprise customer expectations and that culture surely looks different than today’s Amazon.

For example, Amazon’s secrecy fetish and chronic inability to put numbers on the y-axis of charts is inconsistent with need to provide long-term roadmaps for customers contemplating taking enormous dependencies on AWS. The secretive culture alienates a whole range of useful hires for AWS. Further, Amazon the retailer gets confused about what it means to be a platform company. AWS has generally done a decent job walking this fine line (and platforms and their ecosystems are never static, which is a topic for another day) but a deft touch in nurturing the ecosystem is critical to AWS’s future success.

Set the Cloud Free

On balance, I think AWS would be better positioned to realize the opportunities in front of it as an independent company, away from the vanities and vicissitudes of Amazon.

A full spinout of AWS from Amazon or even a partial IPO a la VMware would establish a focused entity that can single-mindedly pursue the Jackpot, with its own culture and compensation model. Amazon can stake the new company and the transparency associated with being a pure play chasing a $1 trillion TAM should give it the opportunity to raise all the money it needs to compete, especially while growth is still in the mid double digits. More distance from Amazon would also help AWS land more customers. Many large retailers consider AWS verboten and as Amazon’s sprawl continues, that competitive dynamic could impact AWS’s ability to sell to media, consumer products and other industries.

A spinout of AWS may already be in progress. Amazon announced it will start disclosing AWS numbers this year, which could be a first step. These numbers will be scrutinized every which way and will be fascinating to see. We could learn that it is AWS’s capex specifically that is being capitalized and thus intended to be portable. Rumors also suggest AWS gets far less attention from the chief product designer and octopus taster at Amazon.

Will AWS still be part of Amazon in two years?

Book Review: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The latest in digital technology and Big Data in particular are increasingly fodder for novelists. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer is a wry story of mostly earnest millennials who end up in “pitched battle with a fascist consortium of data miners”. The Google–esque bad guys are too nerdy and tone-deaf to achieve full-on Bond villain status, but Google is inexorably becoming the template for the next generation of thriller/movie villains (after The Interview, the only villains left seem to be evil corporations lest we offend even the most backward of movie-going audiences and/or their hereditary dictators, although they pale in comparison with classic villains in their menace, reach and ambition).

Shafer has some great turns of phrase in addition to exploring the dark side of Big Data:

They call it the cloud, but that’s wrong, isn’t it? Their cloud is heavy and metal and whirring.

But maybe that’s not how life works at all. Maybe you’re not supposed to put up so much resistance. Maybe a lot of that is pride and ego and pointless in the end. In which case she’d been misled by all that required reading and by the Die Hard movies.

Besides, there is the scrape of luck in everything, from the missed bus, to the dinged chromosome, to the hurtling asteroid.

“Why the hell would you be collecting shit like this?” Mark said, looking straight at Cole. “It’s public. It’s over our network. We call dibs on it.” Dibs? They were calling dibs? “But it’s illegal, to spy on people like this.” “Information is free. Storage is unlimited,” said Cole, totally unbothered. “Our privacy policy is reviewed regularly, and our mandate to collect is spelled out in the implied-consent decree of 2001. We’re just keeping this stuff safe, anyway. The other server giants have terrible vulnerabilities; they could be erased so easily.” Did he just smirk? “But that’s not really my department.”

“And what is the product, exactly?” asked Mark, a little desperately. “It’s a product and a service,” said Straw proudly. “It’s order. It’s the safeguarding of all of our clients’ personal information and assets. But it may be a while before our clients discover that they are our clients.”

“And yes, right now this part runs up against something called the ‘right to privacy’”—she made air quotes—“which is a notion that hasn’t really meant much in thirty years and means less every day. You may as well defend people’s right to own steamboats. Someone’s going to control access to all the data and all the knowledge. All of it. Everything that every government, every company, and every poor schmuck needs to get through the day. You want that to be the other guys? Once everyone’s on our network, the old, unwired world will be worthless.”

Tweetstorm Digest: January 26, 2015

Lest you missed an @charlesfitz Twitter excepting of a (paradigmatically paywalled) Goldman Sachs report “The Hardware Download” dated January 20, 2015:

1/ Missed a good Goldman Sachs report on cloud last week with focus on “the cloud’s impact on IBM”. Good CIO/VAR survey data.

2/ VAR survey “How has migration of your customer’s workloads to the public cloud impacted spending on infrastructure companies?”

3/ Positive responses minus negative responses: SAP +44, MSFT +40, RHT +35, VMW +6, CTXS -36, ORCL -50, IBM -74 (!)

4/ CIO survey shows $RAX a bigger player in the race for the enterprise public cloud jackpot than $GOOG

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5/ “many investors are focused on IBM’s ability to counter many of these secular pressures with its investments in cloud platforms”

6/ “the early read from our team’s surveys suggest much work is still needed in this respect”

7/ GS coyly concludes: “IBM’s infrastructure software sales could be seeing more pressure than peers with migration to public cloud.”

A Dispatch from Cloud City – 2014 Retrospective

IMG_6035

In an effort to make this an annual event, here is a plumbing-palooza stream of cloud consciousness. Last year’s broad themes remain intact though my Rackspace call didn’t pan out.

Cloud Infrastructure

  • Public cloud has won. Thanks Target. Thanks Sony. Thanks Kim Jung Un. If your public cloud gets hacked, you get to blame someone else and will have company in your misery. Public cloud will absorb vast quantities of enterprise on-premises IT spending and thus be an enormous pot of gold.
  • Docker – everyone likes Docker. Even people who don’t.
  • There are two and a half big league public cloud providers vying in what John Connors has dubbed the (WTO-free) “Battle in Seattle” (Google does a lot of cloud work in Seattle too):

Amazon remains the leader with incredible execution and is relentlessly pushing up the stack. They are on the same “enterprise journey” that Microsoft went through beginning in the late ‘90s (with some of the same people in fact), in an effort to get IT comfortable paying them vast sums of money. Amazon seems to have abandoned price leadership as they find themselves in a price war against competitors who have vastly more money than they do. Frittering away valuable cash on hardware misfires and TV shows is a growing opportunity cost. If Amazon’s stock price doesn’t recover, expect their employee retention problems to grow and discussions of spinning out AWS to get more serious. But they’re not going to yield their leadership in 2015.

What I said last year about Microsoft still works:

“Azure has become the clear challenger to AWS. The much maligned Mr. Ballmer is not getting credit for Microsoft’s embrace and execution on cloud. Unlike most of its cohorts rooted (mired?) in previous generations of technology, Microsoft is well on its way to making the cloud transition.”

Microsoft is executing like old school, taillight-chasing Microsoft with the added advantage of glass-half-full perceptions about the company for the first time in nearly two decades under the regime. The open source embrace (sans extend) is real after enactment of the strategy tax cut. If you’re still having cognitive trouble with this, the best analogy I can offer is Microsoft has become Intel and just wants to soak up all those datacenter compute cycles (a pithy analogy for what Intel has become eludes me, but it could be a fun exercise).

Google I don’t give a full big league integer to because cloud is still basically a hobby for them. In technology terms, they are in many respects the leader, but they’re just not serious about the non-technology investments they need to make to really compete for that broad enterprise transition to the cloud (they too need to embark on an “enterprise journey” as opposed to hoping those enterprises beat a path to their door). The company seems more interested in n+2 or n+3 opportunities (self-driving cars! life extension! an air force!) than mundane n+1 opportunities like cloud (which gets interesting if you believe we’re seeing weakness in Google’s search cash geyser for first time – will the further out new businesses spin up soon enough to offset slowing and/or deteriorating desktop advertising?). Presumably all those robotics investments are so they won’t have to hire humans to do enterprise sales and support. Google is the Crazy Eddie of cloud (note Eddie didn’t have much of an enterprise business and but did have a fraud problem. But far be it for me to suggest that the ad business is anything but squeaky clean). They will continue to push prices down which is a great way to push Amazon to the wall. But Google needs more than just technology and lowest price to really compete for the enterprise cloud jackpot.

  • Docker – did I mention Docker?
  • Below the big boys we have a bevy of wanna-bes, characterized by varying levels of self-delusion about their ability to really play this game. The old school announcements of “one billion dollar” multi-year investments aren’t even table stakes – Google spends that on capex in a couple weeks. IDC slyly and without elaboration predicts “75% of IaaS provider offerings will be redesigned, rebranded, or phased out in the next 12-24 months”, which brings us to this group:

IBM has been my poster child for the existential threat cloud poses to old school IT vendors. I’ve been pontificating about the peril they face and their clueless response for quite a while (here, here, here, here, here and here as a start). I took a lot of grief about this view when I first wrote about it but now their plight is widely understood and even conventional wisdom:

Bloomberg Businessweek (US)

My inner contrarian even wants to go bullish on the company just to flout the crowd except I can’t see any path that looks like clear success. Even the best outcome, where IBM keeps all its market share, still results in a dramatically smaller company (in terms of revenue, workforce and stock price) due to the deflation of cloud computing. IBM’s fundamental problem is it is their traditional customers who are being disrupted by technology wielding upstarts and they are going to have to show customers can actually use IBM technology and “business consulting” to be successful against competitors who don’t have that burden. Good luck with that. IBM’s streak as the worst performer in the Dow Jones two years running may not be over.

To their credit, IBM woke up this year and is no longer downplaying cloud or attributing their woes to simply poor execution of ye olde business model. I am amused that IBM’s leadership has expressed far more public concern about their prospects than the normally curmudgeonly IT industry analysts and pundits who evidently are telling IBM’s customers not to worry about generational transition risk.

Beyond their cloud wanna-be status, it is hard to get enthusiastic about their big initiatives of Watson and becoming an iPad reseller. After what seems like decades of hype, Watson is being devoured by hundreds of much more focused machine and deep learning startups. And it is uncanny how iPad seemed to flatline just as IBM got interested in it (and if you contend IBM’s apps are just what the iPad needs to reestablish growth, I ask only that you name an IBM app, and if you can do that, name one that you’d like to use). Delusion factor: low. The dubious marketing underscores their desperation.

HP (sorry Hewlett Packard Enterprise) trails IBM significantly in terms of existential angst and has a massive internal distraction in splitting themselves up. Helion: they only wish they had another L. While I have been assuming a “better than Autonomy” bar would lead to acquisitions like Box or Rackspace, their efforts to get their hands on VMware suggest there may be some sanity lurking somewhere. Delusion factor: medium.

Cisco is the company with the biggest gap between reality and their own cloud blather. While they are one of the few growing server vendors, their reckoning approacheth on multiple fronts. Delusion factor: highest

Rackspace – my prediction last year was they would not be an independent entity by the end of 2014. They did put themselves up for sale, but had no takers (HP let me down). They have realized they can’t play with the big boys and have retreated to their old hosting turf. OpenStack was a huge distraction for them. But their stock price supposes there is still an acquirer out there. Delusion factor: low. They touched the hot stove, and will not make that mistake again. 

Telcos – CenturyLink (also in Seattle) is executing the best here while the others are too busy chanting “cloud is our birthright” to do much. Delusion factor: medium to high.

OpenStack – another year where the number of press releases probably exceeds the largest number of nodes in production in any instance. They lost ground this year as public cloud continues to outpace private cloud and OpenStack public clouds aren’t very public. A pivot to Docker is coming, even as they perhaps settle to be a telco supplier. Delusion factor: high.

  • Docker – the most interesting aspect of Docker is it works because Linux has won as the operating system of the cloud (and having written those words, a new operating system must surely be upon us imminently). If you don’t need to virtualize multiple operating systems, you can push application isolation up above a single OS. But while Linux has won, Red Hat has lost. They just don’t play any material role in cloud infrastructure. They’re a legacy, on-premise operating system company. Maybe this year the markets will ask why they’re trading at a multiple of over 70.
  • Digital Ocean – while the old school vendors huff and puff, I’ll just note this is increasing where the cool kids run their apps. The problem with taking the “enterprise journey” is it almost always leaves you somewhere developers don’t want to be.
  • Docker – they really mishandled their first competitive blitz, which was actually pretty minimal. But good practice for when VMware finally gets around to announcing vCenter will manage both VMs and containers (and I have no inside knowledge here, it just seems like an obvious thing to do).

Cloud Platform

  • PaaS is still a zero billion dollar market, but there are signs revenue is ramping to the point where we can have a serious discussion about this threshold next year (note I define PaaS narrowly to net new, general purpose application platforms and don’t subscribe to xPaaS speciation/inclusion of decades old code) I still think this is the only layer at which most companies should be doing private cloud.
  • The Cloud Foundry Foundation – not sure if I’m more disappointed that it exists or that it wasn’t called the Foundration.
  • DevOps is a distraction and something you want other people to do on your behalf: if you’re actually doing DevOps, you’re doing it wrong. (That sentence will probably bring me more grief than any other in this post).

Big Data

  • FOMO is the biggest driver of big data in the enterprise. Lots of data is going into the lake, but not much is coming back out yet.
  • Hadoop, or more accurately HDFS, has won based on storage cost advantages and addressing the administrative and governance needs of IT. The programming model can charitably be described as unsettled, which is one of the factors hampering the realization of material value from big data. A big question for 2015 is how quickly Spark matures.
  • The most amusing announcement of the year was Google sucking it up and announcing full support for Hadoop, which they view as an obsolete and decade-old Google technology laundered through Yahoo.
  • The hype around big data will shift to the Internet of Things in 2015. IoT-washing will make cloudwashing look modest, as every data player adds at least those three letters to their home page. Some are doing more and actually building for specific IoT needs. Samsung is the biggest threat to IoT as they feel the urgency to ship half-baked spec sheets devices and crummy software that could set the whole market back significantly.
  • Get ready for data protectionism, as the EU (as a front for European manufacturers) decides they need to control their own data exhaust and not let those evil American technology companies squeeze all the value out of precision metal bending. We could see some very strange big data acquisitions by German manufacturing companies.

What else should we be watching in 2015?

Boxed In

Caged Wild Man by gillfoto, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   via Flickr

The oft-repeated explanation for Box’s failure to IPO is that they somehow filed at a bad time and “missed the window”.

As usual with Box, the sound bites are better than the substance. They filed on March 24th of this year, a year that has seen the most IPOs since 2000. Since Box’s filing date there have been over 40 technology IPOs (with at least one in every month). These have included various software, SaaS and subscription companies like Hubspot, Yodlee and ZenDesk as well as HortonWorks and New Relic this week. What window exactly is closed?

Meanwhile, the stock market is not far off all-time highs, even as oil plunges, China slows, Russia invades and retrogrades, the Middle East burns, Europe self-immolates, and Ebola spreads, so it isn’t a macro problem.

The “Wall Street just doesn’t get it” argument is that because Box is a subscription business, they should get a free pass for their huge losses, because “lifetime customer value” means it will all turn out fine in the long run (this is of course counter to the Keynesian orthodoxy that in the long run we are all dead).

The people who generously have taken the time to educate us all on this topic (who coincidently often happen to be investors in Box) never seem to want to use Box’s own numbers to illustrate the virtues of a subscription business. Instead, they walk us through companies like Workday and imply that Box is somehow comparable in its subscription economics. They’re not.

There are good subscription businesses and bad subscription businesses. The spreadsheet-wielding denizens of Wall Street, despite their innumerable flaws, understand this quite well. They’ve been running the numbers on Salesforce, Workday and others for years, as well as subscription businesses in other industries.

High customer acquisition costs (traditional top-down enterprise sales model) combined with low revenue per customer (commodity file storage) doesn’t make for a good business. Add seemingly moderate churn and it can get ugly. There are some really crummy subscription businesses out there (TiVo and Vonage come to mind though it has been a while since I looked at their financials).

Add the very real cost of goods sold for petabytes of storage and the overhead of a freemium model (90% of Box customers don’t pay), and it gets even worse (I’ve wallowed in the storage economics and it can be ugly). To own Box stock, you have to believe they will retain their customers for a really long time to pay back the acquisition costs and/or significantly increase their revenue per customer. It is hard to make this case and Box notably doesn’t make much of an effort.

How will Box extract significantly more revenue per customer? They have neither moat nor unique technology (unless you count their “which one of these things isn’t like the others” participation in the Linux Foundation’s Dronecode Project). They don’t have an operations at scale cost advantage. Their “platform ecosystem” is superficial at best. They face giant competitors like Apple, Google and Microsoft with untold billions in the bank who are happily giving cloud-based storage away as a complement to their other services, as well as Dropbox which continues to ooze into the enterprise with a bottoms-up strategy which has dramatically lower customer acquisition costs. Box is still doing the same thing it always has, even as the market has evolved. They no longer have the luxury of just highlighting SharePoint’s inadequacies. Some argue Microsoft’s refusal to support Android and iOS has been the singular Box value proposition – obviously, that is a window that has closed.

The implicit financial bet/hope is Box will find a new and better business soon. But if you read the S-1, you discover Box doesn’t really know who they are or where they are going (though they do claim they’ll be really agile getting there). They’re happy to make a few jokes and compare themselves to all of Apple, Facebook, Zappos and Salesforce with a straight face, yet can’t describe their own raison d’etre (beyond giving good soundbite which I yield to no one in my respect for but tragically that competence is not a foundation for spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year):

We design our software with the passion and attention to detail that you’d expect from leading consumer companies like Apple. Similar to Facebook, we release updates to our product continuously, which allows us to act on user feedback to improve the Box experience and respond to opportunities with agility. We support our customers with the greatest care and attention, delivering Zappos-like support. And we’ve created an open ecosystem much like salesforce.com [sic], leveraging the talents and skills of tens of thousands of developers outside of our corporation to build value on Box.

What would it mean for someone to describe their company as “like Box” in a positive way?

Which brings us to their updated S-1. The good news is Box has reduced their burn, but with it their growth. Box has been a poster child for the recent “excessive burn rate” startup critique. But this is not entirely fair, as Box’s massive spending is not sumptuous employee benefits or other discretionary items, but rather is baked into the business model for customer acquisition.

Then there are the details of the Series F (as in “F#&ked”) financing Box raised this summer when it became clear an IPO was not in the cards while they were still burning mountains of cash. The private equity investors dictated stark terms and will get “theirs” well before any other investor.

Given the Series F investor preferences ratchet up even further if Box doesn’t IPO by July 7, expect an all-out push to get this turkey over the finish line. Amid that push to ring the bell, I hope Box’s fans will explain to us how the company will become a viable and even decent business in the future as opposed to just chanting “LTV FTW” because they really want to get it out of their portfolios. Customers and investors beware.