What is Salesforce? This is how Marc Benioff built a software giant

How did Salesforce get started?

Okay: not in a garage, but certainly in a small San Francisco apartment. Marc Benioff was already thirteen years one high potential working with Oracle before deciding to start his own business as a 34-year-old. With a clear vision: the future of software no longer lay in selling packages, but the Internet was the way to deliver software: online, as a service.

He chose software that streamlines customer contacts, the so-called customer relationship management of crm, and attracted three software developers as co-founders of Salesforce.com. Notable Early Investor: Larry Ellison, Mr. Oracle and Benioff’s former mentor.

The early years of Salesforce

That was in 1999, at the height of the dotcom craze. In 2000, Salesforce.com was able to go live. His product coincided with a mission: The end of software. As a small mover, it was important to make a lot of noise. And it worked: Benioff made a quasi-portrait campaign of his message that software was dead and the Internet the future, complete with protesters throwing posters and slogans at events like Siebel, the then Goliath in the CRM country.

With its “software ban” banner sign and their subscription model, Salesforce appealed to many companies from day one. One year after launch, it already had 1,500 customers, 30,000 users and a ten-man R&D department.

Two Salesforce mascots. Photo: Salesforce

Salesforce breakthrough

The number and size of customers grew thanks to the disruptive innovation that Salesforce offered: customers no longer had to pay in advance for annual licenses on software that required significant upfront investment and cumbersome installation. Their browser gave them access to a user-friendly system that was always updated and charged after use.

For many, Salesforce was the first introduction to professional cloud software. As the product matured, large customers flocked to it as well. When Benioff was listed in 2004, his business was valued at more than a billion dollars.

The role of Steve Jobs

Remarkable is the role that Steve Jobs – according to Benioff himself – played in Salesforce’s success. Benioff began his career as a programmer in Apple’s Macintosh division. Jobs is his great example, the guru and inspirer. “Without him, there would not have been Salesforce.com,” he once said.

He remembered how Jobs at a convenient time laid out what Benioff was doing with Salesforce: it was to grow ten times in size within two years. To do so, it should not only win a large customer, but also create an ecosystem of applications. ‘What is it, an app ecosystem?’ “I do not know, but it is high time you found out,” Steve Jobs recalled to his disciple.

In 2005 – a few years earlier than Apple – he launched Force.com, a development platform that enabled third parties to build new applications that were much needed by Salesforce users. For example, Salesforce strengthened its own R&D department with many partners.

Marc Benioff Sales Force Dream Force
Marc Benioff in 2021 at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual conference. Photo: Salesforce

Salesforce is the king of the cloud

Today, Salesforce has gone from pioneer to king of the cloud, serving more than 150,000 customers. In the Netherlands, big names like Aegon, KLM, KPN, Philips and the PostNL use the CRM platform.

Salesforce has been at the top of the Forbes list of the world’s most innovative companies for years. Benioff got cabinets full of awards as CEO.

The annual revenue in the ruined fiscal year 2022 amounted to more than $ 26 billion, a quarter more than in the twelve months before. Below the line, there was $ 1.4 billion in net profit. In short: Salesforce is a big player. It also appears from the San Francisco office. At 326 meters, the Salesforce Tower is the tallest skyscraper in the city center.

Entrepreneurship from Marc Benioff

Benioff once wrote a book about his vision, Behind the cloudand listed in a blog what steps an entrepreneur needs to take to establish a successful growth business.

1. Dream big

‘My vision was software that was easier to buy, easier to use, and easier to install than the CD-ROMs of the day. Now our offer is called Software as a Service, and that’s perfectly normal, but in our early days, software from the cloud was a dream I had to keep believing in. ‘

Hire top talent as if your life depended on it

Benioff did not hire his ingenious team of software developers, but asked them to start the business with him. Parker Harris is considered the most important genius, and as technical director is still one of the leaders of Salesforce.com.

3. Determine the culture and values ​​of your company in advance

“At Apple, I learned that the secret to creating creativity and making the best possible product lies in keeping your employees happy and satisfied. We wore Hawaiian shirts, took our dog to work, and ate a nice late breakfast. a restaurant around the corner. ‘

4. Limit yourself to what is important

‘We were able to build our first prototype within a month because we only assembled the most necessary. “Do it fast, easy and right the first time,” the developers said. Of course, you always lack time and people. So focus on the twenty percent of the work that makes a difference of eighty percent. ‘

5. Listen to your leads

‘From the beginning, I invited friends and acquaintances to come and see our apartment, which I called the laboratory. I wanted them to try out the website and tell them how it went. I asked friends who worked at Cisco what they did not like about the business software at the time. That way, we knew what Salesforce was not supposed to be. We also quickly got the software tested by a company that used video recordings of users. ‘

6. Be untraditional

‘That way of asking for feedback sounds like common sense, but it was completely unusual in the software industry. Making a product that looks attractive and is comfortable to use was not the rule with software either. It is no coincidence that Steve Jobs’ products were nothing like this. Think differently in everything you do.

7. Think bigger

‘We started in the dotcom era, where companies were sold for huge sums. At one point, it was about Hotmail, which was sold for $ 400 million. “I would not have sold it for that, they really made a lot of money,” I said to one of my co-founders. He could not believe that I could think so big when we were so small. But then our size, dotcom style exploded. “

also read: Rodeo, Lytho and Formitable are the best performing SaaS companies in the Netherlands

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