Mar
22
2019
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How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach

When we think of enterprise SaaS companies today, just about every startup in the space aspires to be a platform. That means they want people using their stack of services to build entirely new applications, either to enhance the base product, or even build entirely independent companies. But when Salesforce launched Force.com, the company’s Platform as a Service, in 2007, there wasn’t any model.

It turns out that Force.com was actually the culmination of a series of incremental steps after the launch of the first version of Salesforce in February, 2000, all of which were designed to make the software more flexible for customers. Company co-founder and CTO Parker Harris says they didn’t have this goal to be a platform early on. “We were a solution first, I would say. We didn’t say ‘let’s build a platform and then build sales-force automation on top of it.’ We wanted a solution that people could actually use,” Harris told TechCrunch.

The march toward becoming a full-fledged platform started with simple customization. That first version of Salesforce was pretty basic, and the company learned over time that customers didn’t always use the same language it did to describe customers and accounts — and that was something that would need to change.

Customizing the product

Mar
08
2019
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Salesforce at 20 offers lessons for startup success

Salesforce is celebrating its 20th anniversary today. The company that was once a tiny irritant going after giants in the 1990s Customer Relationship Management (CRM) market, such as Oracle and Siebel Systems, has grown into a full-fledged SaaS powerhouse. With an annual run rate exceeding $14 billion, it is by far the most successful pure cloud application ever created.

Twenty years ago, it was just another startup with an idea, hoping to get a product out the door. By now, a legend has built up around the company’s origin story, not unlike Zuckerberg’s dorm room or Jobs’ garage, but it really did all begin in 1999 in an apartment in San Francisco, where a former Oracle executive named Marc Benioff teamed with a developer named Parker Harris to create a piece of business software that ran on the internet. They called it Salesforce .com.

None of the handful of employees who gathered in that apartment on the company’s first day in business in 1999 could possibly have imagined what it would become 20 years later, especially when you consider the start of the dot-com crash was just a year away.

Party like it’s 1999

It all began on March 8, 1999 in the apartment at 1449 Montgomery Street in San Francisco, the site of the first Salesforce office. The original gang of four employees consisted of Benioff and Harris and Harris’s two programming colleagues, Dave Moellenhoff and Frank Dominguez. They picked the location because Benioff lived close by.

It would be inaccurate to say Salesforce was the first to market with Software as a Service, a term, by the way, that would not actually emerge for years. In fact, there were a bunch of other fledgling enterprise software startups trying to do business online at the time, including NetLedger, which later changed its name to NetSuite and was eventually sold to Oracle for $9.3 billion in 2016.

Other online CRM competitors included Salesnet, RightNow Technologies and Upshot. All would be sold over the next several years. Only Salesforce survived as a standalone company. It would go public in 2004 and eventually grow to be one of the top 10 software companies in the world.

Co-founder and CTO Harris said recently that he had no way of knowing that any of that would happen, although having met Benioff, he thought there was potential for something great to happen. “Little did I know at that time, that in 20 years we would be such a successful company and have such an impact on the world,” Harris told TechCrunch.

Nothing’s gonna stop us now

It wasn’t entirely a coincidence that Benioff and Harris had connected. Benioff had taken a sabbatical from his job at Oracle and was taking a shot at building a sales automation tool that ran on the internet. Harris, Moellenhoff and Dominguez had been building salesforce automation software solutions, and the two visions meshed. But building a client-server solution and building one online were very different.

Original meeting request email from Marc Benioff to Parker Harris from 1998 (Email courtesy of Parker Harris)

You have to remember that in 1999, there was no concept of Infrastructure as a Service. It would be years before Amazon launched Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud in 2006, so Harris and his intrepid programming team were on their own when it came to building the software and providing the servers for it to scale and grow.

“I think in a way, that’s part of what made us successful, because we knew that we had to, first of all, imagine scale for the world,” Harris said. It wasn’t a matter of building one CRM tool for a large company and scaling it to meet that individual organization’s demand, then another, it was really about figuring out how to let people just sign up and start using the service, he said.

“I think in a way, that’s part of what made us successful because we knew that we had to, first of all, imagine scale for the world.” Parker Harris, Salesforce

That may seem trivial now, but it wasn’t a common way of doing business in 1999. The internet in those years was dominated by a ton of consumer-facing dot-coms, many of which would go bust in the next year or two. Salesforce wanted to build an enterprise software company online, and although it wasn’t alone in doing that, it did face unique challenges being one of the early adherents.

“We created a software that was what I would call massively multi-tenant where we couldn’t optimize it at the hardware layer because there was no Infrastructure as a Service. So we did all the optimization above that — and we actually had very little infrastructure early on,” he explained.

Running down a dream

From the beginning, Benioff had the vision and Harris was charged with building it. Tien Tzuo, who would go on to be co-founder at Zuora in 2007, was employee number 11 at Salesforce, starting in August of 1999, about five months after the apartment opened for business. At that point, there still wasn’t an official product, but they were getting closer when Benioff hired Tzuo.

As Tzuo tells it, he had fancied a job as a product manager, but when Benioff saw his Oracle background in sales, he wanted him in account development. “My instinct was, don’t argue with this guy. Just roll with it,” Tzuo relates.

Early prototype of Salesforce.com (Photo: Salesforce)

As Tzuo pointed out, in a startup with a handful of people, titles mattered little anyway. “Who cares what your role was. All of us had that attitude. You were a coder or a non-coder,” he said. The coders were stashed upstairs with a view of San Francisco Bay and strict orders from Benioff to be left alone. The remaining employees were downstairs working the phones to get customers.

“Who cares what your role was. All of us had that attitude. You were a coder or a non-coder.” Tien Tzuo, early employe

The first Wayback Machine snapshot of Salesforce.com is from November 15, 1999, It wasn’t fancy, but it showed all of the functionality you would expect to find in a CRM tool: Accounts, Contacts, Opportunities, Forecasts and Reports, with each category represented by a tab.

The site officially launched on February 7, 2000 with 200 customers, and they were off and running.

Prove it all night

Every successful startup needs visionary behind it, pushing it, and for Salesforce that person was Marc Benioff. When he came up with the concept for the company, the dot-com boom was in high gear. In a year or two, much of it would come crashing down, but in 1999, anything was possible, and Benioff was bold and brash and brimming with ideas.

But even good ideas don’t always pan out for so many reasons, as many a failed startup founder knows only too well. For a startup to succeed it needs a long-term vision of what it will become, and Benioff was the visionary, the front man, the champion, the chief marketer. He was all of that — and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Paul Greenberg, managing principal at The 56 Group and author of multiple books about the CRM industry, including CRM at the Speed of Light (the first edition of which was published in 2001), was an early user of Salesforce, and says that he was not impressed with the product at first, complaining about the early export functionality in an article.

A Salesforce competitor at the time, Salesnet, got wind of Greenberg’s post, and put his complaint on the company website. Benioff saw it, and fired off an email to Greenberg: “I see you’re a skeptic. I love convincing skeptics. Can I convince you?” Greenberg said that being a New Yorker, he wrote back with a one-line response. “Take your best shot.” Twenty years later, Greenberg says that Benioff did take his best shot — and he did end up convincing him.

“I see you’re a skeptic. I love convincing skeptics. Can I convince you?” Early Marc Benioff email

Laurie McCabe, who is co-founder and partner at SMB Group, was working for a consulting firm in Boston in 1999 when Benioff came by to pitch Salesforce to her team. She says she was immediately impressed with him, but also with the notion of putting enterprise software online, effectively putting it within reach of many more companies.

“He was the ringmaster I believe for SaaS or cloud or whatever we want to call it today. And that doesn’t mean some of these other guys didn’t also have a great vision, but he was the guy beating the drum louder. And I just really felt that in addition to the fact that he was an exceptional storyteller, marketeer and everything else, he really had the right idea that software on prem was not in reach of most businesses,” she said.

Take it to the limit

One of the ways that Benioff put the company in the public eye in the days before social media was guerrilla marketing techniques. He came up with the idea of “no software” as a way to describe software on the internet. He sent some of his early employees to “protest” at the Siebel Conference, taking place at the Moscone Center in February, 2000. He was disrupting one of his major competitors, and it created enough of a stir to attract a television news crew and garner a mention in The Wall Street Journal. All of this was valuable publicity for a company that was still in its early stages.

Photos: Salesforce

Brent Leary, who had left his job as an industry consultant in 2003 to open his current firm, CRM Essentials, said this ability to push the product was a real differentiator for the company and certainly got his attention. “I had heard about Salesnet and these other ones, but these folks not only had a really good product, they were already promoting it. They seemed to be ahead of the game in terms of evangelizing the whole “no software” thing. And that was part of the draw too,” Leary said of his first experiences working with Salesforce.

Leary added, “My first Dreamforce was in 2004, and I remember it particularly because it was actually held on Election Day 2004 and they had a George W. Bush look-alike come and help open the conference, and some people actually thought it was him.”

Greenberg said that the “no software” campaign was brilliant because it brought this idea of delivering software online to a human level. “When Marc said, ‘no software’ he knew there was software, but the thing with him is, that he’s so good at communicating a vision to people.” Software in the 1990s and early 2000s was delivered mostly in boxes on CDs (or 3.5-inch floppies), so saying no software was creating a picture that you didn’t have to touch the software. You just signed up and used it. Greenberg said that campaign helped people understand online software at a time when it wasn’t a common delivery method.

Culture club

One of the big differentiators for Salesforce as a company was the culture it built from Day One. Benioff had a vision of responsible capitalism and included their charitable 1-1-1 model in its earliest planning documents. The idea was to give one percent of Salesforce’s equity, one percent of its product and one percent of its employees’ time to the community. As Benioff once joked, they didn’t have a product and weren’t making any money when they made the pledge, but they have stuck to it and many other companies have used the model Salesforce built.

Image: Salesforce

Bruce Cleveland, a partner at Wildcat Ventures, who has written a book with Geoffrey Moore (of Crossing the Chasm fame) called Traversing the Traction Gap, says that it is essential for a startup to establish a culture early on, just as Benioff did. “A CEO has to say, these are the standards by which we’re going to run this company. These are the things that we value. This is how we’re going to operate and hold ourselves accountable to each other,” Cleveland said. Benioff did that.

Another element of this was building trust with customers, a theme that Benioff continues to harp on to this day. As Harris pointed out, people still didn’t trust the internet completely in 1999, so the company had to overcome objections to entering a credit card online. Even more than that though, they had to get companies to agree to share their precious customer data with them on the internet.

“We had to not only think about scale, we had to think about how do we get the trust of our customers, to say that we will protect your information as well or better than you can,” Harris explained.

Growing up

The company was able to overcome those objections, of course, and more. Todd McKinnon, who is currently co-founder and CEO at Okta, joined Salesforce as VP of Engineering in 2006 as the company began to ramp up becoming a $100 million company, and he says that there were some growing pains in that time period.

Salesforce revenue growth across the years, from 2006-present (Chart: Macro Trends)

When he arrived, they were running on three mid-tier Sun servers in a hosted co-location facility. McKinnon said that it was not high-end by today’s standards. “There was probably less RAM than what’s in your MacBook Pro today,” he joked.

When he came on board, the company still had only 13 engineers and the actual infrastructure requirements were still very low. While that would change during his six-year tenure, it was working fine when he got there. Within five years, he said, that changed dramatically as they were operating their own data centers and running clusters of Dell X86 servers — but that was down the road.

Before they did that, they went back to Sun one more time and bought four of the biggest boxes they sold at the time and proceeded to transfer all of the data. The problem was that the Oracle database wasn’t working well, so, as McKinnon tells it, they got on the phone with Larry Ellison from Oracle, who upon hearing about the setup, asked them straight out why they were doing that? The way they had it set up simply didn’t work.

They were able to resolve it all and move on, but it’s the kind of crisis that today’s startups probably wouldn’t have to deal with because they would be running their company on a cloud infrastructure service, not their own hardware.

Window shopping

About this same time, Salesforce began a strategy to grow through acquisitions. In 2006, it acquired the first of 55 companies when it bought a small wireless technology company called Sendia for $15 million. As early as 2006, the year before the first iPhone, the company was already thinking about mobile.

Last year it made its 52nd acquisition, and the most costly so far, when it purchased MuleSoft for $6.5 billion, giving it a piece of software that could help Salesforce customers bridge the on-prem and cloud worlds. As Greenberg pointed out, this brought a massive change in messaging for the company.

“With the Salesforce acquisition of MuleSoft, it allows them pretty much to complete the cycle between back and front office and between on-prem and the cloud. And you notice, all of a sudden, they’re not saying ‘no software.’ They’re not attacking on-premise. You know, all of this stuff has gone by the wayside,” Greenberg said.

No company is going to be completely consistent as it grows and priorities shift, but if you are a startup looking for a blueprint on how to grow a successful company, Salesforce would be a pretty good company to model yourself after. Twenty years into this, they are still growing and still going strong and they remain a powerful voice for responsible capitalism, making lots of money, while also giving back to the communities where they operate.

One other lesson you could learn is that you’re never done. Twenty years is a big milestone, but it’s just one more step in the long arc of a successful organization.

Dec
24
2018
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Salesforce keeps rolling with another banner year in 2018

The good times kept on rolling this year for Salesforce with all of the requisite ingredients of a highly successful cloud company — the steady revenue growth, the expanding product set and the splashy acquisitions. The company also opened the doors of its shiny new headquarters, Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, a testament to its sheer economic power in the city.

Salesforce, which set a revenue goal of $10 billion a few years ago is already on its way to $20 billion. Yet Salesforce is also proof you can be ruthlessly good at what you do, while trying to do the right thing as an organization.

Make no mistake, Marc Benioff and Keith Block, the company’s co-CEOs, want to make obscene amounts of money, going so far as to tell a group of analysts earlier this year that their goal by 2034 is to be a $60 billion company. Salesforce just wants to do it with a hint of compassion as it rakes in those big bucks and keeps well-heeled competitors like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP at bay.

A look at the numbers

In the end, a publicly traded company like Salesforce is going to be judged by how much money it makes, and Salesforce it turns out is pretty good at this, as it showed once again this year. The company grew every quarter by over 24 percent YoY and ended up the year with $12.53 billion in revenue. Based on its last quarter of $3.39 billion, the company finished the year on a $13.56 billion run rate.

This compares with $9.92 billion in total revenue for 2017 with a closing run rate of $10.72 billion.

Even with this steady growth trajectory, it might be some time before it hits the $5 billion-a-quarter mark and checks off the $20 billion goal. Keep in mind that it took the company three years to get from $1.51 billion in Q12016 to $3.1 billion in Q12019.

As for the stock market, it has been highly volatile this year, but Salesforce is still up. Starting the year at $102.41, it was sitting at $124.06 as of publication, after peaking on October 1 at $159.86. The market has been on a wild ride since then and cloud stocks have taken a big hit, warranted or not. On one particularly bad day last month, Salesforce had its worst day since 2016 losing 8.7 percent in value,

Spending big

When you make a lot of money you can afford to spend generously, and the company invested some of those big bucks when it bought Mulesoft for $6.5 billion in March, making it the most expensive acquisition it has ever made. With Mulesoft, the company had a missing link between data sitting on-prem in private data centers and Salesforce data in the cloud.

Mulesoft helps customers build access to data wherever it lives via APIs. That includes legacy data sitting in ancient data repositories. As Salesforce turns its eyes toward artificial intelligence and machine learning, it requires oodles of data and Mulesoft was worth opening up the wallet to provide the company with that kind of access to a variety of enterprise data.

Salesforce 2018 acquisitions. Chart: Crunchbase.

But Mulesoft wasn’t the only thing Salesforce bought this year. It made five acquisitions in all. The other significant one came in July when it scooped up Dataorama for a cool $800 million, giving it a market intelligence platform.

What could be on board for 2019? If Salesforce sticks to its recent pattern of spending big one year, then regrouping the next, 2019 could be a slower one for acquisitions. Consider that it bought just one company last year after buying a dozen in 2016.

One other way to keep revenue rolling in comes from high-profile partnerships. In the past, Salesforce has partnered with Microsoft and Google, and this year it announced that it was teaming up with Apple. Salesforce also announced another high-profile arrangement with AWS to share data between the two platforms more easily. The hope with these types of cross pollination is that the companies can both increase their business. For Salesforce, that means using these partnerships as a platform to move the revenue needle faster.

Compassionate capitalism

Even while his company has made big bucks, Benioff has been preaching compassionate capitalism using Twitter and the media as his soap box.

He went on record throughout this year supporting Prop C, a referendum question designed to help battle San Francisco’s massive homeless problem by taxing companies with greater than $50 million in revenue — companies like Salesforce. Benioff was a vocal proponent of the idea, and it won. He did not find kindred spirits among some of his fellow San Francisco tech CEOs, openly debating Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Twitter.

Speaking about Prop C in an interview with Kara Swisher of Recode in November, Benioff talked in lofty terms about why he believed in the measure even though it would cost his company money.

“You’ve got to really be mindful and think about what it is that you want your company to be for and what you’re doing with your business and here at Salesforce, that’s very important to us,” he told Swisher in the interview.

He also talked about how employees at other tech companies were driving their CEOs to change their tune around social issues, including supporting Prop C, but Benioff had to deal with his own internal insurrection this year when 650 employees signed a petition asking him to rethink Salesforce’s contract with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in light of the current administration’s border policies. Benioff defended the contract, stating that that Salesforce tools were being used internally at CBP for staff recruiting and communication and not to enforce border policy.

Regardless, Salesforce has never lost its focus on meeting lofty revenue goals, and as we approach the new year, there is no reason to think that will change. The company will continue to look for new ways to expand markets and keep their revenue moving ever closer to that $20 billion goal, even as it continues to meld its unique form of compassion and capitalism.

Aug
26
2018
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Rebuilding employee philanthropy from the bottom up

In tech circles, it would be easy to assume that the world of high-impact charitable giving is a rich man’s game where deals are inked at exclusive black tie galas over fancy hors d’oeuvre. Both Mark Zuckerberg and Marc Benioff have donated to SF hospitals that now bear their names. Gordon Moore has given away $5B – including $600M to Caltech – which was the largest donation to a university at the time. And of course, Bill Gates has already donated $27B to every cause imaginable (and co-founded The Giving Pledge, a consortium of billionaires pledging to donate most of their net worth to charity by the end of their lifetime.)

For Bill, that means he has about $90B left to give.

For the average working American, this world of concierge giving is out of reach, both in check size, and the army of consultants, lawyers and PR strategists that come with it. It seems that in order to do good, you must first do well. Very well.

Bright Funds is looking to change that. Founded in 2012, this SF-based startup is looking to democratize concierge giving to every individual so they “can give with the same effectiveness as Bill and Melinda Gates.” They are doing to philanthropy what Vanguard and Wealthfront have done for asset management for retail investors.

In particular, they are looking to unlock dollars from the underutilized corporate benefit of matching funds for donations, which according to Bright Funds is offered by over 60% of medium to large enterprises, but only used by 13% of employees at these companies. The need for such a service is clear — these programs are cumbersome, transactional, and often offline. Make a donation, submit a receipt, and wait for it to churn through the bureaucratic machine of accounting and finance before matching funds show up weeks later.

Bright Funds is looking to make your company’s matching funds benefit as accessible and important to you as your free lunches or massages. Plus, Bright Funds charges companies per seat, along with a transaction fee to cover the cost of payment processing, sparing employees any expense.

It’s a model that is working. According to Bright Fund’s CEO Ty Walrod, Bright Funds customers see on average a 40% year-over-year increase in funds donated through the platform. More importantly, Bright Funds not only transforms an employee’s relationship to personal philanthropy, but also to the company they work for.

Grassroots Giving

This model of bottoms-up giving is a welcome change from the big foundation model which has recently been rocked by scandal. The Silicon Valley Community Foundation was the go-to foundation for The Who’s Who of Silicon Valley elite. It rode the latest tech boom to become the largest community foundation in eleven short years with generous stock donations from donors like Mark Zuckerberg ($1.8 billion), GoPro’s Nicholas Woodman ($500 million), and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum ($566 million). Today, at $13.5 billion, it surpasses the 80+ year old Ford Foundation in endowment size.

However, earlier this year, their star fundraiser Mari Ellen Loijens (credited with raising $8.3B of the $13.5B) was accused of repeatedly bullying and sexually harassing coworkers, allegations that the Foundation had “known about for years” but failed to act upon. In 2017, a similar case occurred when USC’s star fundraiser David Carrera  stepped down on charges of sexual harassment after leading the university’s historic $6 billion fundraising campaign.

While large foundations and endowments do important work, their structure relies too much on whale hunting for big checks, giving an inordinate amount of power to the hands of a small group of talented fund raisers.

This stands in contrast to Bright Funds’ ethos — to lead a grassroots movement in empowering individual employees to make their dollar of giving count.

Rebuilding charitable giving for the platform age

Bright Funds is the latest iteration of a lineup of workplace giving platforms. MicroEdge and Cybergrants paved the way in the 80s and 90s by digitizing the giving experience, but was mainly on-premise, and lacked a focus on user experience. Benevity and YourCause arrived in 2007 to bring workplace giving to the cloud, but they were still not turnkey solutions that could be easily implemented.

Bright Funds started as a consumer platform, and has retained that heritage in its approach to product design, aiming to reduce friction for both employee and company adoption. This is why many of their first customers were midsized tech startups with limited resources and looking for a turnkey solution, including Eventbrite, Box, Github, and Contently . They are now finding their way upmarket into larger, more established enterprises like Cisco, VMWare, Campbell’s Soup Company, and Sunpower.

Bright Funds approach to product has brought a number of innovations to this space.

The first is the concept of a cause-focused “fund.” Similar to a mutual fund or ETF, these funds are portfolios of nonprofits curated by subject-matter experts tailored to a specific cause area (e.g. conservation, education, poverty, etc.). This solves one of the chief concerns of any donor — is my dollar being put to good use towards the causes I care about? Passionate about conservation? Invest with Jim Leape from the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, who brings over three decades of conservation experience in choosing the six nonprofits in Bright Fund’s conservation portfolio. This same expertise is available across a number of cause areas.

Additionally, funds can also be created by companies or employees. This has proven to be an important rallying point for emergency relief during natural disasters, where employees at companies can collectively assemble a list of nonprofits to donate to. In 2017, Cisco employees donated $1.8 million (including company matching) through Bright Funds to Hurricanes Harvey, Maria, and Irma as well as the central Mexico earthquakes, the current flooding in India and many more.

The second key feature of their product is the impact timeline, a central news feed to understand where your dollars are going across all your cause areas. This transforms giving from a black box transaction to an ongoing dialogue between you and your charities.

Lastly, Bright Funds wants to take away all the administrative burden that might come with giving and volunteering — everything from tracking your volunteer opportunities and hours, to one-click tax reporting across all your charitable donations. In short, no more shoeboxes of receipts to process through in April.

Doing good & doing well

Although Bright Funds is focused on transforming the individual giving experience, it’s paying customer at the end of the day is the enterprise.

And although it is philanthropic in nature, Bright Funds is not exempt from the procurement gauntlet that every enterprise software startup faces — what’s in it for the customer? What impact does workplace giving and volunteering have on culture and the bottom line?

To this end, there is evidence to show that corporate social responsibility has a an impact on recruiting the next generation of workers. A study by Horizon Media found that 81% of millennials expect their companies to be good corporate citizens. A separate 2015 study found that 62% of millennials said they’d take a pay cut to work for a company that’s socially responsible.

Box, one of Bright Fund’s early customers, has seen this impact on recruiting firsthand (disclosure: Box is one of my former employers). Like most tech companies competing for talent in the Valley, Box used to give out lucrative bonuses for candidate referrals. They recently switched to giving out $500 in Bright Funds gift credit. Instead of seeing employee referrals dip, Box saw referrals “skyrocket,” according to Box.org Executive Director Bryan Breckenridge. This program has now become “one of the most cherished cultural traditions at Box,” he said.

Additionally, like any corporate benefit, there should be metrics tied to employee retention. Benevity released a study of 2 million employees across 118 companies on their platform that showed a 57% reduction in turnover for employees engaged in corporate giving or volunteering efforts. VMware, one of Bright Fund’s customers, has seen an astonishing 82% of their 22,000 employees participate in their Citizen Philanthropy program of giving and volunteering, according to VMware Foundation Director Jessa Chin. Their full-time voluntary turnover rate (8%) is well below the software industry average of 13.2%.

Towards a Brighter Future

Bright Funds still has a lot of work to do. CEO Walrod says that one of his top priorities is to expand the platform beyond US charities, finding ways to evaluate and incorporate international nonprofits.

They have also not given up their dream of becoming a truly consumer platform, perhaps one day competing in the world of donor-advised funds, which today is largely dominated by big names like Fidelity and Schwab who house over $85B of assets. In the short term, Walrod wants to make every Bright Funds account similar to a 401K account. It goes wherever you work, and is a lasting record of the causes you care about, and the time and resources you’ve invested in them.

Whether the impetus is altruism around giving or something more utilitarian like retention, companies are increasingly realizing that their employees represent a charitable force that can be harnessed for the greater good. Bright Funds has more work to do like any startup, but it is empowering the next set of donors who can give with the same effectiveness as Gates, and one day, at the same scale as him as well.

Aug
07
2018
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Salesforce promotes COO Keith Block to co-CEO alongside founder Marc Benioff

Salesforce is moving to a two CEO model after it promoted executive Keith Block, who was most recently COO, to the position of co-CEO. Block will work alongside Salesforce’s flamboyant founder, chairman and CEO (now co-CEO) Marc Benioff, with both reporting directly to the company’s board.

Block joined Salesforce five years ago after spending 25 years at Oracle, which is where he first met Benioff, who has called him “the best sales executive the enterprise software industry has ever seen.”

News of the promotion was not expected, but in many ways it is just a more formalized continuation of the working relationship that the two executives have developed.

Block’s focus is on leading global sales, alliances and channels, industry strategy, customer success and consulting services, while he also oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. Benioff, meanwhile, heads of product, technology and culture. The latter is a major piece for Salesforce — for example, it has spent Salesforce has spent over $8 million since 2015 to address the wage gaps pertaining to race and gender, while the company has led the tech industry in pushing LGBT rights and more.

“Keith has been my trusted partner in running Salesforce for the past five years, and I’m thrilled to welcome him as co-CEO,” said Benioff in a statement. “Keith has outstanding operational expertise and corporate leadership experience, and I could not be happier for his promotion and this next level of our partnership.”

This clear division of responsibility from the start may enable Salesforce to smoothly transition to this new management structure, whilst helping it continue its incredible business growth. Revenue for the most recent quarter surpassed $3 billion for the first time, jumping 25 percent year-on-year while its share price is up 60 percent over the last twelve months.

When Block became COO in 2016, Benioff backed him to take the company past $10 billion in revenue and that feat was accomplished last November. Benioff enjoys setting targets and he’s been vocal about reaching $60 billion revenue by 2034, but in the medium term he is looking at reaching $23 billion by 2020 and the co-CEO strategy is very much a part of that growth target.

“We’ve said we’ll do $23 billion in fiscal year 2022 and we can now just see tremendous trajectory beyond that. Cementing Keith and I together as the leadership is really the key to accelerating future growth,” he told Fortune in an interview.

Aug
07
2018
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Salesforce promotes COO Keith Block to co-CEO alongside founder Marc Benioff

Salesforce is moving to a two CEO model after it promoted executive Keith Block, who was most recently COO, to the position of co-CEO. Block will work alongside Salesforce’s flamboyant founder, chairman and CEO (now co-CEO) Marc Benioff, with both reporting directly to the company’s board.

Block joined Salesforce five years ago after spending 25 years at Oracle, which is where he first met Benioff, who has called him “the best sales executive the enterprise software industry has ever seen.”

News of the promotion was not expected, but in many ways it is just a more formalized continuation of the working relationship that the two executives have developed.

Block’s focus is on leading global sales, alliances and channels, industry strategy, customer success and consulting services, while he also oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. Benioff, meanwhile, heads of product, technology and culture. The latter is a major piece for Salesforce — for example, it has spent Salesforce has spent over $8 million since 2015 to address the wage gaps pertaining to race and gender, while the company has led the tech industry in pushing LGBT rights and more.

“Keith has been my trusted partner in running Salesforce for the past five years, and I’m thrilled to welcome him as co-CEO,” said Benioff in a statement. “Keith has outstanding operational expertise and corporate leadership experience, and I could not be happier for his promotion and this next level of our partnership.”

This clear division of responsibility from the start may enable Salesforce to smoothly transition to this new management structure, whilst helping it continue its incredible business growth. Revenue for the most recent quarter surpassed $3 billion for the first time, jumping 25 percent year-on-year while its share price is up 60 percent over the last twelve months.

When Block became COO in 2016, Benioff backed him to take the company past $10 billion in revenue and that feat was accomplished last November. Benioff enjoys setting targets and he’s been vocal about reaching $60 billion revenue by 2034, but in the medium term he is looking at reaching $23 billion by 2020 and the co-CEO strategy is very much a part of that growth target.

“We’ve said we’ll do $23 billion in fiscal year 2022 and we can now just see tremendous trajectory beyond that. Cementing Keith and I together as the leadership is really the key to accelerating future growth,” he told Fortune in an interview.

May
30
2018
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Salesforce keeps revenue pedal to the metal with another mammoth quarter

Salesforce just keeps on growing revenue. In another remarkable quarter, the company announced 3.01 billion in revenue for Q1 2019 with no signs of slowing down. That puts the CRM giant on a run rate of over $12 billion with the company’s most optimistic projections suggesting it could go even higher. It’s also the first time they have surpassed $3 billion in revenue for a quarter.

As you might expect Salesforce chairman and CEO Marc Benioff was over the moon about the results in the earnings call with analyst yesterday afternoon. “Revenue for the quarter rose to more than $3 billion, up 25%, putting us on $12 billion revenue run rate that was just amazing. And we now have $20.4 billion of future revenues under contract, which is the remaining transaction price, that’s up 36% from a year ago. Based on these strong results, we’re raising our full year top line revenue guidance to $13.125 billion at the high end of our range, 25% growth for this year,” Benioff told analysts.

Brent Leary, an analyst who has been watching the CRM industry for many years, says CRM in general is a hot area and Salesforce has been able to take advantage. “With CRM becoming the biggest and fastest growing business software category last year according to Gartner, it’s easy to see with these number that Salesforce is leading the way forward. And they are in position to keep moving themselves and the category forward for years to come as their acquisitions should continue to pay off for them,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Bringing Mulesoft into the fold

Further Benioff rightly boasted that the company would be the fastest software company ever to $13 billion and it continued on the road towards its previously stated $20 billion goal. The $6.5 billion acquisition of Mulesoft earlier this year should help fuel that growth. “And this month, we closed our acquisition of MuleSoft, giving us the industry’s leading integration platform as well. Well, integration has never been more strategic,” Benioff stated.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Photo: TechCrunch

Bret Taylor, the company’s president and chief product officer, says the integration really ties in nicely with another of the company’s strategic initiatives, artificial intelligence, which they call Einstein. “[Customers] know that their AI is only as powerful as data it has access to. And so when you think of MuleSoft, think unlocking data. The data is trapped in all these isolated systems on-premises, private cloud, public cloud, and MuleSoft, they can unlock this data and make it available to Einstein and make a smarter customer facing system,” Taylor explained.

Leary thinks there’s one other reason the company has done so well, one that’s hard to quantify in pure dollars, but perhaps an approach other companies should be paying attention to. “One of the more undercovered aspects of what Salesforce is doing is how their social responsibility and corporate culture is attracting a lot of positive attention,” he said. “That may be hard to boil down into revenue and profit numbers, but it has to be part of the reason why Salesforce continues to grow at the pace they have,” he added.

Keep on rolling

All of this has been adding up to incredible numbers. It’s easy to take revenue like this for granted because the company has been on such a sustained growth rate for such a long period of time, but just becoming a billion dollar company has been a challenge for most Software as a Service providers up until now. A $13 billion run rate is in an entirely different stratosphere and it could be lifting the entire category says Jason Lemkin, founder at SaasStr, a firm that invests in SaaS startups.

“SaaS companies crossing $1B in ARR will soon become commonplace, as shocking as that might have sounded in say 2011. Atlassian, Box, Hubspot, and Zendesk are all well on their way there. The best SaaS companies are growing faster after $100m ARR, which is propelling them there,” Lemkin explained.

Salesforce is leading the way. Perhaps that’s because it has the same first-to-market advantage that Amazon has had in the cloud infrastructure market. It has gained such substantial momentum by being early, starting way back in 1999 before Software as a Service was seen as a viable business. In fact, Benioff told a story earlier this year that when he first started, he did the rounds of the venture capital firms in Silicon Valley and every single one turned him down.

You can bet that those companies have some deep regrets now, as the company’s revenue and stock price continues to soar.  As of publication this morning, the stock was sitting at $130.90, up over 3 percent. All this company does is consistently make money, and that’s pretty much all you can ask from any organization. As Leary aptly put it, “Yea, they’re really killing it.”

Apr
13
2018
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Zuora’s IPO is another step in golden age of enterprise SaaS

Zuroa’s founder and CEO Tien Tzuo had a vision of a subscription economy long before most people ever considered the notion. He knew that for companies to succeed with subscriptions, they needed a bookkeeping system that understood how they collected and reported money. The company went public yesterday, another clear sign post on the road to SaaS maturation.

Tzuo was an early employee at Salesforce and their first CMO. He worked there in the early days in the late 90s when Salesforce’s Marc Benioff famously rented an apartment to launch the company. Tzuo was at Salesforce 9 years, and it helped him understand the nature of subscription-based businesses like Salesforce.

“We created a great environment for building, marketing and delivering software. We rewrote the rules, the way it was built, marketed and sold,” Tzuo told me in an interview in 2016.

He saw a fundamental problem with traditional accounting methods, which were designed for selling a widget and declaring the revenue. A subscription was an entirely different model and it required a new way to track revenue and communicate with customers. Tzuo took the long view when he started his company in early 2007, leaving a secure job at a growing company like Salesforce.

He did it because he had the vision, long before anyone else, that SaaS companies would require a subscription bookkeeping system, but before long, so would other unrelated businesses.

Building a subscription system

As he put it in that 2016 interview, if you commit to pay me $1 for 10 years, you know that $1 was coming in come hell or high water, that’s $10 I know I’m getting, but I can’t declare the money until I get it. That recurring revenue still has value though because my investors know that I’m secure for 10 years, even though it’s not on the books yet. That’s where Zuora came in. It could account for that recurring revenue when nobody else could. What’s more, it could track the billing over time, and send out reminders, help the companies stay engaged with their customers.

Photo: Lukas Kurka/Getty Images

As Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research put it, they pioneered the whole idea of a subscription economy, and not just for SaaS companies. Over the last several years, we’ve heard companies talking about selling services and SLAs (service/uptime agreements) instead of a one-time sale of an item, but not that long ago it wasn’t something a lot of companies were thinking about.

“They pioneered how companies can think about monetization,” Wang said. “So large companies like a GE could go from selling a wind turbine one time to selling a subscription to deliver a certain number of Kw/hr of green energy at peak hours from 1 to 5 pm with 98 percent uptime.” There wasn’t any way to do this before Zuora came along.

Jason Lemkin, founder at SaaStr, a firm that invests in SaaS startups, says Tzuo was a genuine visionary and helped create the underlying system for SaaS subscriptions to work. “The most interesting part of Zuora is that it is a “second” order SaaS play. It could only thrive once SaaS became mainstream, and could only scale on top of other recurring revenue businesses. Zuora started off as a niche player helping SaaS companies do billing, and it dramatically expanded and thrived as SaaS became … Software.”

Market catches up with idea

When he launched the company in 2007, perhaps he saw that extension of his idea out on the distant horizon. He certainly saw companies like Salesforce needing a service like the one he had decided to create. The early investors must have recognized that his vision was early and it would take a slow, steady climb on the way to exiting. It took 11 years and $242 million in venture capital before they saw the payoff. The revenue after 11 years was a reported $167 million. There is plenty of room to grow.

But yesterday the company had its initial public offering, and it was by any measure a huge success. According TechCrunch’s Katie Roof, “After pricing its IPO at $14 and raising $154 million, the company closed at $20, valuing the company around $2 billion.” Today it was up a bit more as of this writing.

When you consider the Tzuo’s former company has become a $10 billion company, that companies like Box, Zendesk, Workday and Dropbox have all gone public, and others like DocuSign and Smartsheets are not far behind, it’s pretty clear that we are in a golden age of SaaS — and chances are it’s only going to get better.

Apr
09
2018
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Benioff: Every VC in Silicon Valley turned us down

In an interview last month with Julie Bort from Business Insider, Parker Harris and Marc Benioff told the story of how when they first launched the company, they were trying to raise money and nobody would give them a dime. Benioff said he went to every venture capital in Silicon Valley — and was turned down every single time.

This could be a lesson for every startup out there with a vision, who is not able to find conventional financing for your idea. Salesforce found the money, but it took one on one fundraising, rather than the traditional VC route.

The company famously launched in an apartment that Benioff rented, and he put up some of his own money to buy the company’s first computers. Then it was time to go downtown and ask the VCs for money and it did not go well.

“I had to go hat in hand, like I was a high tech beggar, down to Silicon Valley to raise some money…And as I go from venture capitalist to venture capitalist to venture capitalist — and a lot of them are my friends, people I’ve gone to lunch with — and each and every one of them said no,” Benioff said. “Salesforce was never able to raise a single dollar from a venture capitalist,” he added.

He suggested there were a lot of reasons for that including competitors who would call after his meetings and deliberately sabotage him or people who simply didn’t believe in the cloud as a vision of the future of software.

Whatever the reasons, Salesforce was eventually able to raise over $60 million from private individual investors, before going public in 2004. In the context of today’s venture capital environment, it is pretty tough to imagine a guy like Benioff not finding one taker, especially when you consider that he was not exactly an unknown quantity. And still no one would write him a check.

But this wasn’t now. It was in the late 1990s when nobody was thinking about cloud computing and the notion of software on the internet was a distant idea. Benioff was imagining something completely different and not one firm had the vision to see what was coming. Today, Salesforce is a $10 billion company and those folks that turned him down have to be wondering what they were thinking.

“When you start something like Salesforce, you want to surround yourself with people who do believe in you, who do believe you’re going to be successful because you’re going to have a whole bunch of people who are going to tell you that you’re not, Benioff said.

That’s something every entrepreneur should remember.

Apr
08
2018
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Salesforce is working on a blockchain product

Salesforce has always been a company that is looking ahead to the next big technology, whether that was mobile, social, internet of things or artificial intelligence. In an interview with Business Insider’s Julie Bort at the end of March, Salesforce co-founders Marc Benioff and Parker Harris talked about a range of subjects including how the company came to be working on one of the next hot technologies, a blockchain product.

Benioff told a story of being at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland where a bit of serendipity led him to start thinking about blockchain and how it could be used as part of the Salesforce family of products.

As it turned out, there was a crypto conference going on at the same time as the WEF and the two worlds collided at a Salesforce event at the Intercontinental Hotel. While there, one of the crypto conference attendees engaged Benioff in a conversation and it was the start of something.

“I had been thinking a lot about what is Salesforce’s strategy around blockchain, and what is Salesforce’s strategies around cryptocurrencies and how will we relate to all of these things,” Benioff said. He is actually a big believer in the power of serendipity, and he said just by having that conversation, it started him down the road to thinking more seriously about Salesforce’s role in this developing technology.

He said the more he thought about it, the more he believed that Salesforce could make use of Blockchain. Then suddenly something clicked for him and he saw a way to put blockchain and cryptocurrencies to work in Salesforce. “That’s kind of how it works and I hope by Dreamforce we will have a blockchain and cryptocurrency solution.”

Benioff is clearly a visionary and says a lot of that comes from simply paying attention as he did when he talked to this person in Davos, and recognizing an opportunity to expand Salesforce in a meaningful way. “A lot [these ideas] comes from paying attention, listening. There’s new ideas coming all the time,” he said. He recognizes that there are more ideas out there than they can possibly execute, but part of his job is understanding which ones are the most important for Salesforce customers.

Blockchain is the electronic ledger used to track Bitcoin or other digital currencies, but it also has a more general business role. As an irrefutable and immutable record, it can track just about anything of value.

Dreamforce is Salesforce’s enormous annual customer conference. It will be held this year from September 25-28 in San Francisco, and if it all works as planned, they could be announcing a blockchain product this year.

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Check out the whole interview between Salesforce founders Parker Harris and Marc Benioff and Julie Bort from Business Insider:

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