Aaron Levie, the 29-year-old founder of closely held Box.com, calls himself the online storage company’s “chief magician.” Chief wiseguy might be even more apt. He packs his Twitter posts with sassy thoughts about everything from spying scandals to other people’s start-ups. Now — with Box preparing to go public — his lawyers will probably tell him to stop talking.
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Let’s hope he ignores his handlers’ advice as much as possible.
I’ve been following Levie on Twitter (@levie) for about a year, and by my tally, he provides the best blend of jibes, jokes and genuine business insights of any chief executive officer in tech. Box has grown into a big, valuable business, having raised private funding last year at a $2 billion valuation. It’s understandable that company advisers won’t want Levie’s ad libs to run afoul of rules about what companies can and can’t say as IPOs loom. But in a world where most CEOs’ public comments are as empty and banal as possible, Levie’s banter is a breath of fresh air.
Consider these Levie epigrams of recent months:
- Jan. 28, 2014, right after President Obama’s State of the Union address: “Huge missed opportunity for Obama to standardize the U.S. on Bitcoin.”
- Jan. 22, 2014, in the wake of reports that 77-year-old New York investor Carl Icahn is challenging management strategies at both eBay and Apple: “My understanding is Carl Icahn is getting so into Silicon Valley he’s looking for a technical co-founder.”
- Jan. 13, 2014: “With home automation, self-driving cars, robots, mobile, and life sciences, Google is setting itself up to own the 21st century.”
- Dec. 9, 2013: “First Day at NSA: ‘You are the brightest minds of this generation. Now please follow around these avatars in Second Life.’”
- Nov. 6, 2013: “Blockbuster Video is officially shutting down. Which means the best strategy to avoid late fees is to be *really* late.”
- Nov. 4, 2013: “IBM claims Twitter infringes on its patent for “Programmatic discovery of common contacts.” I mean who doesn’t use IBM for that.”
Peel back the calendar even further, and there’s evidence that Levie has been speaking his mind — regardless of the consequences — since his teenage years In a FORBES magazine feature last year, Victoria Barret recounts’ Levie’s habit of pitching his parents on all sorts of business ideas while he was in high school. “Honestly, it was tiresome,” his mother, speech pathologist Karyn Levie, recalled in the article. “He even told me I should start a company with some tool that other speech pathologists need. I mean, I kind of stopped listening after a certain point.”
Indications are that Box may try to complete its initial public offering as soon as April. If so, Levie will spend much of the first half dealing with a thicket of disclosure rules that apply to companies’ statements before, during and immediately after an IPO. That’s a long period for someone with Levie’s verve to try to stay mum.