Salesforce.com's Benioff: Leader of the (Cloud) Pack?
By Tony Kontzer
During the first day of the company's Dreamforce 2010 conference in San Francisco on December 7, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff brought to mind a famous Mae West quote, albeit in quite a modern context: "Is that an iPad in your pants, or are you just glad to see me?"
Yes, Benioff pulled an iPad from his pants during his keynote, while making a point about all the devices many of us now carry, and how that is fueling the growth of the mobile Internet, and of cloud computing. It serves as an apt analogy for Benioff's tendency to pull rabbits from hats, figuratively speaking. How else to explain Salesforce.com's meteoric growth? The company has succeeded amid terrible economic conditions, lawsuits , and a gauntlet of established IT vendors determined to continue casting Benioff as an upstart.
Whether you like Benioff's constant efforts to advance the cloud computing discussion, or dismiss them as blustery salesmanship, there's no arguing that Benioff has become a huge force in the IT world. In just a decade, he has steered his company from disruptive startup to veritable Goliath, and is on the verge of replacing the likes of Microsoft and Oracle in the minds of many an IT buyer.
In fact, Salesforce.com is now positioned to become much more of a threat to both of those giants. Its biggest move in that regard came Tuesday, when it announced what Benioff called the first true cloud database for enterprises, Database.com, set for release early next year. The idea--a logical extension of his persistent message that there's no good reason for companies to invest gobs of time and money in managing complex business applications and the data centers that serve them up--represents one of Benioff's greatest rabbits-from-a-hat in that it resurrects an idea he pursued in the 1990s with a company called (yes) Database.com, which failed in 2000. (I admit, I would have been totally unaware of this if Benioff himself had not brought it up at the conference.)
Meanwhile, the launch last year of Salesforce.com's Facebook-like Chatter app has yielded more than a social media tool; it's giving collaboration applications like Microsoft SharePoint a run for their money.
Benioff is also outmaneuvering his bigger rivals in another key area: customer service. Salesforce.com, which insists it develops its products with the success of its customers in mind, has built a reputation for being very responsive. This was indicated by a comment about Database.com made by Walt Oswald, CIO of Motorola, during a lunch Q&A session at Dreamforce: "It's great when you can say to a company, 'Hey, can you take this to the next level?' and they've done it."
Let's face it, 30,000 people didn't show up at Dreamforce because they think Salesforce.com is a nice little company. They showed up because Benioff & Co. are changing their businesses. They showed up because they believe in cloud computing and all it offers. They showed up because Dreamforce has become a can't-miss conference for a large faction of the IT world, a fact that speaks volumes.
Okay, so maybe they also came to see Stevie Wonder perform or hear Bill Clinton speak--I know those were huge draws for me. Come to think of it, drawing those two heavy hitters to Dreamforce is yet another rabbit pulled from Benioff's hat.