Aaron Levie Talks About Box’s Early Struggles, The NSA And Microsoft’s Next CEO

At TechCrunch Disrupt Europe in Berlin today, Box’s founder Aaron Levie took to the stage with CrunchFund’s Michael Arrington for a wide-ranging conversation that touched on everything from the early days of Box and who the next CEO of Microsoft should be all the way to the recent NSA revelations and their repercussions on cloud businesses.

As for the NSA, Levie said that – as far as he knows – nobody has never received a request to disclose data to the NSA. “We have never handed data over to the NSA,” he said categorically, and noted that in his view, “the NSA fucked up royally with what they did.”

At the same time, though, he also said that the NSA scandal – and especially the reaction to it in Europe – has not hurt Box’s business. “We have no data that it’s hurt the business, but it hasn’t helped,” he told Arrington. “The only thing we’ve seen so far is that customers who were already skeptics can now use this as a reason to avoid moving to the cloud.”

He also warned that the reaction to the U.S. actions shouldn’t lead to a balkanization of the Internet and cloud technologies. For the kind of tech that Box provides, an open Internet is important, after all. People have to be able to work with each other across countries and networks. Otherwise, the value of the cloud is essentially gone.

To get to the point where Box needs to worry about this, however, it first had to overcome the odds against it. The company launched in Seattle, after all (which Levie likened to the “Hannover of America”), and in his retelling of the company’s early days, nobody in Seattle wanted to put money into it. “All of the VC community was afraid of what we were doing,” he said. In the end, though, they raised $80,000 and then moved to Silicon Valley.

As so often during Disrupt Europe, the discussion then also touched upon whether a startup has to move to Silicon Valley to be successful. Levie offered a pretty reasoned argument here. In his view, there are some ideas that are just bad and justifiably don’t get funding, and there are some companies that are misunderstood by VCs even though they have a great idea. For the second type of company, moving to Silicon Valley gives it a greater chance of finding the people who will finally understand it.

Box itself, it’s worth noting, has now expanded from the U.S. to Europe and has recently opened an office in London and may expand into Germany, too. He said Europe is now Box’s second-largest market.

While Arrington tried to get Levie to name a possible next CEO of Microsoft, Levie focused on the qualities that the next CEO should have. In his view, the next CEO of Microsoft has to be a visionary and not just an operational type. While he admitted that it would be hard for Microsoft to find somebody like that – simply because visionaries aren’t likely to be attracted to this kind of job – he believes that Microsoft needs somebody who can re-architect the company.

Here are his comments about Microsoft: