When Marc Benioff was launching Salesforce in the late 1990s, he went up and down Sand Hill Road pitching the startup to every venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. The big ones, the small ones, and the famous ones. They all turned him down.
None of them believed in his "No Software" model or the shift to cloud computing that he was predicting. Ironically, Salesforce went on to become the fastest growing enterprise software company of all time. Its software just didn't look like the software of the past.
During his keynote interview at the 2017 Gartner Symposium, Benioff laid out the unorthodox path that Salesforce took to success and the unconventional approach that it still takes today.
One of the parts of the story that was the most popular with the audience was when Benioff talked about one of his most important mentors-Steve Jobs.
"There would be no Salesforce without Steve Jobs," said Benioff.
It's a theme that Benioff has mentioned before. But on Wednesday at Gartner Symposium he also talked about how Jobs pushed him to turn Salesforce from an app into a platform.
The Salesforce CEO said Jobs told him that to be successful with Salesforce he needed to do three things: "You've got to land a big customer like Avon. You've got to be 10 times bigger in 24 months or you're gone, and you've got to build an application economy."
Benioff asked,"What's an application economy?"
Jobs replied, "I don't know, but you'll figure out."
Almost five years later, Benioff was at the iPhone event where Jobs announced that Apple was launching the App Store to bring its own application economy to mobile devices.
After the event, Benioff told Jobs, "I've got a gift for you."
Benioff had taken taken Jobs' advice seriously and had trademarked "App Store" and acquired the URL "appstore.com." He told Jobs that he was going to give both to Apple.
Salesforce had already launched Force.com, as it evolved from being just an app for CRM and salesforce automation to a SaaS platform and marketplace.
As Salesforce transformed itself into an industry giant, Benioff reported that another of his key mentors along the way was former US Secretary of State Colin Powell.
From Powell, Benioff said he learned, "You can do more than make and sell products... You can do more than make your quarter. You can make your company a force for change."
That was a catalyst behind Salesforce becoming an industry leader and innovator in corporate philanthropy with its 1-1-1 Philanthropic Model and Pledge 1%. Essentially, the company has committed 1% of its profits, 1% of its employee time, and 1% of its products to give back to the community. That has resulted in over $168 million in grants, 2.3 million hours of community service, and product donations to over 32,000 non-profits and higher education institutions in the company's 20-year history, according to numbers published on the Salesforce site.
And to keep the company innovative, Benioff highlighted the one thing he does every morning: meditation.
"Be mindful and project the future," Jobs once told Benioff.
So Benioff practices mindfulness at the start of every day. He said he thinks about all the things he's grateful for, and he says "thank you." He thinks about forgiveness and he lets go of disappointment. He lets go of the anxiety he's feeling about horrors in the world. He empties himself of all his thoughts, and he tries to hear the future, he said.
Recently, that's made Benioff think, "We're moving into the age of intelligence. We're moving into the age of the customer, that's why our business is what it is. We're also moving into the age of equality."
Still, Benioff acknowledged, "Equality and inequality are amplified by technology" and so it's up to the people in the industry to actively work for equality of opportunity.
He also stumped for one of the biggest recipients of the 1% philanthropy at Salesforce: K-12 public education. Salesforce has adopted two school districts to donate time and resources. He encouraged other companies to do the same, even if it was just adopting one school.
"The future is so incredible, we're all going to benefit from it," he said. "But, we have to bring our kids along."