Lifestyle

Young Islanders form tech company

By Jon Womack

Aaron Levie and Dylan Smith didn't plan on spending this summer home from college by the pool. Or for that matter, folding shirts or selling movie tickets at the mall for spending money. They planned on managing the next big steps for their fledgling technology company.

The friends, both 2003 Mercer Island High School grads, have been working on the project since last fall, when Smith was beginning his sophomore year at Duke University and Levie his at the University of Southern California.

They knew that other companies offered online storage for documents and photos and the like, but they believed they could make that type of storage easier for customers to use and less costly.

``We were trying to re-brand online storage as something that was easy and obtainable by the average customer,'' said Levie, a business major.

The pair believe they have done that with their site Box.net.

What they created from their dorm rooms was an online file storage and sharing site, where computer users can upload data and access it from anywhere in the world.

Anyone with Internet access can back up their files, music and photographs without having to burn them to compact discs or an external hard drive. In the case of a computer failure, a client's data would be within easy reach. The site also allows users to share their data with anyone they give access to. Individuals within a company can share secure information, or give family members access to their family photos, for instance.

The site offers subscribers a variety of plans, from student rates of $15 a year for 500 megabytes, to one-gigabyte commercial rates at $2.99 per month.

Despite the business partners' location on separate coasts and the fact that each of the young men were taking a full load of college courses, the site went up in February. It now has about 1,200 users, Levie said.

After getting out of school in May, the pair focused their attention solely on the business, and revenue jumped 70 percent, Levie said.

The idea they put together on late-night, cross-country cell phone conversations became a registered corporation with investors and stock certificates this spring. And they moved home for the summer and into their new company headquarters.

``Our offices are a section of my parent's house, upstairs,'' said Smith, ``a cluster of computers and a whiteboard. We have the cats wandering by while we work.''

``It's a step-up from working out of the garage,'' said Levie, 20.

The friends are advertising to attract people already looking for online storage. They have run promotions for free accounts for bloggers and tech-site reviewers to help spread the word. They said it's working.

``We talk to our companies' customers when they call in, and we're getting more and more people now who say I heard about your service through a friend. Our sign-ups are picking up, so it's spreading,'' said Smith.

``The funny thing is,'' said Smith, 19, and an economics major, ``is that as every day goes by it gets less and less like an experiment, because the day before was the experiment, and then we learned from it, and as we are getting more and more users it's ... more like a job.''

Smith's parents are both lawyers, and his dad has helped with the legal aspects of the company.

``So we get to do that cheaply,'' laughs Smith.

And their parents advice?

``My parents have been really good about supporting us and also letting us do our own thing,'' said Levie.

``My mom's advice was to be as big as eBay,'' said Smith.

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