Aaron Levie on Mark Cuban: "It was obviously scary that a billionaire was asking for his money back."
As Pando has tackled before, Box is the unicorn that Mark Cuban let get away. Cuban was the first investor in the cloud storage company, but pulled his $350,000 from the company when it tacked toward a freemium model, offering customers 1GB of free storage space upfront. As Box prepared for its now in question IPO, Cuban’s decision looked shortsighted.
At this morning’s Southland event Box founder and CEO Aaron Levie reflected on the strange feeling of being a young man and entrepreneur, staring down the billionaire angel investor and owner of the Dallas Mavericks.
Deflecting a question about the guts needed to go toe-to-toe with Cuban in a debate about business in his early 20s, in self-deprecating fashion Levie responded, “I stared down an email from Mark Cuban. You can be way more badass when you’re like 'Noooo!' Type, type, send.”
Levie continued, “It was obviously scary that a billionaire was asking for his money back. While we’re doing this transaction, he would be fined $250,000 for running on the court at an NBA game. He literally needs the money back here, but he’s going to get fined the exact amount.”
“Maybe he needed the money to pay it off,” Levie laughed.
Responding to jibes that Levie was intimidated by the notorious Shark Tank host, he quipped, “I am so scared. I love you Mark.”
Levie said that in reality it was just a routine disagreement over the direction Box was taking. He saw that Box needed to offer something for free up front, or risked being obliterated by its competition.
“We pitched that and he responded that he had signed up to invest in our business based on our pay only model,” Levie said.
“He’s a smart and savvy investor.”
It was a business decision not taken personally, and Cuban had his reasons for what he did.
“To be fair to Mark Cuban, it wasn’t like, 'You do this and I’m out,'” Levie said.
“He sort of said, if you find other investors for this strategy, I might not be one of them.”
As Box struggles with volatility on the stock market, Levie said that maybe Cuban's early change of heart prepared them for the ups and downs they're battling now.
"I think in some way, Mark Cuban trained us very early on about the volatility of markets – for that we thank him!"