It's taken a long time for Salesforce.com to get hold of the Force.com domain name that the company unveils today. CEO Marc Benioff told Dan Farber that negotiations took a tough four years. But it wasn't because the previous owners had a significant revenue stream coming from it. Their attachment was much more sentimental — it was the family name.
Gordon Force, Snr, of San Jose registered the domain in the mid-1990s to host the website of Force Technology, a tech consulting and design services company he founded in 1981. The Internet Archive reveals that the website was used largely to promote an accessory that helped stop people dropping their Palm Pilots. For the past couple of years, the domain has been parked — while behind the scenes, the Force family bided their time.
Whatever Salesforce.com has paid for the Force.com domain, I'm sure the San Jose patriarch has been amply repaid for the wait. Domain names have soared in valuation over the past two years. Two months ago, the business.com domain changed hands for $345 million. Although Force.com won't generate revenue for Salesforce.com in the way that Business.com will for its new owner RH Donnelly (a projected $50 million this year from keyword advertising), its value in branding terms is immeasurable.
Salesforce.com's marketing has been handicapped over the past couple of years as it iterated through a confusing and inelegant succession of names for its technology platform. It's gone from sforce via MultiForce to AppForce, then AppExchange, and a year ago it became Apex. Looking back over this unhappy catalog, you can almost imagine the ebb and flow of the behind-the-scenes negotiations for the force.com domain. At times, the company must have wondered if it could get by without owning the force.com domain? For a while there, did Benioff and his executive team feel that perhaps Apex would do the job?
The company's decision seems to have crystallized this year. It understood that its ability to expand beyond the CRM niche depends on becoming a neutral application platform and thus the company cannot be centered any more on sales force automation and CRM. Therefore it must move on from its current name — and its CRM stock ticker, for that matter. There is no name it can move to without losing continuity other than force.com. That is how much this domain name is worth to Marc Benioff's company.
I'm listening at this moment (via live webcast) to Marc Benioff on stage now at Dreamforce, unveiling the force.com platform and the new VisualForce development tool that delivers "user interface as a service." What it also delivers, of course, is the complete unbundling of the Salesforce.com application from the underlying platform. A monthly Force.com user license costs $25, compared to $65 for what used to be called 'Apex Platform Edition' and up to $195 for Salesforce.com Unlimited Edition.
The flipside of Salesforce.com's platform play is that it is having to cannibalize its flagship application. By making the platform available at such a low monthly price it can reach a mass market across every seat in an enterprise and achieve penetration that wouldn't have been possible at earlier price points. Japan Post, the company's first significant platform deal with 45,000 seats, shows the kind of potential that opens up. In time, the majority of the company's customers will be platform adopters rather than CRM application buyers, and the company will be able to complete what it has started today and rename itself from salesforce.com to force.com.