Salesforce CEO gets candid about Google, Facebook and Yammer

Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff talks philanthropy, Google enterprise products, and Dreamforce '12 hints at TechCrunch Disrupt.
Written by Rachel King, Contributor

SAN FRANCISCO -- Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff sat down for a candid fireside chat with TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington on Tuesday morning, revealing his thoughts on everything from Microsoft purchasing Yammer to the Facebook IPO.

Speaking at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2012, Arrington probed Benioff about some of the CRM provider's partners and competition. Benioff tried to keep things diplomatic, but he didn't shy away from answering any questions either.

On Yammer:

Benioff said he's a "huge fan of [Yammer CEO] David Sacks," and that he thinks the product and the apps are good, but he disagreed with the sale to Microsoft.

"Why sell if things are going great?" Benioff asked, continuing on to argue that "because at the end of the day you have the opportunity to do so much more when independent."

"That's not the decision I would have made, but I respect the decision they made," Benioff relented.

On Google:

"We're a good partner with Google, and they're a very good customer of Salesforce," Benioff said, adding that Google just subscribed to Do.com for internal product development.

When asked by Arrington about Benioff's previous comments that "Google squandered its enterprise opportunity," he responded that Google's enterprise products are very good, but that Google has "a bit of a price prioritization on enterprise products.

"I don't think they've been able to execute distribution as well as they could have," Benioff lamented.

On Facebook:

"I'm always conflicted about talking about Facebook," Benioff admitted. He noted that Salesforce runs Facebook's sales operations, while the social network uses Salesforce-owned Work.com for human resources. Facebook will even be featured as a key customer during the Dreamforce keynote next week.

But Benioff acknowledged that it's "obviously tough for the brand" since the IPO earlier this year.

"They should not have gone with the NASDAQ" Benioff argued. "That first day of trading would have been better on New York Stock Exchange."

Specifying that Facebook should have gone public at least two years ago, Benioff posited that there has been "too much of a light on them at the wrong time" and "this might not have been a problem" if it went public sooner.

"They are a great company, [Zuckerberg] is a great CEO, they have a great user base," Benioff added. "They need to double down on their revenue growth."

Benioff concluded that "few companies have had the opportunity to be the next Google," and while Facebook has that opportunity, he asserted that the revenue needs to grow first by at least 30 percent.

Advice to entrepreneurs? Don't forget to help others

Interestingly, if there was one piece of advice that Benioff wanted to convey to startup entrepreneurs in the audience, it was the importance of philanthropy when building a company.

In describing his number one recommendation to startups, Benioff explained, "Yes, we're going to change technology, but don't forget about helping other people because it's so easy."

Adding that "the greatest assets you have are the people working with you," Benioff cited a program in which Salesforce employees are given six days off each year with pay for volunteer work.

"It's very exciting, and I'm telling you, it's the great, great feeling you get that money's never going to give you," Benioff exclaimed. "It's the feeling you've actually done something worthwhile."

Trying to frame Salesforce as a large enterprise that still tries to keep spending in check, Benioff admitted that "flying private is great," but that he's "not into owning a plane."

"The best thing about being able to rent a plane is that if we're all going together to New York or Japan, we can work on the plane," Benioff said.

For reference, Arrington cited that Salesforce.com is now worth $21 billion. Benioff added that Salesforce, which is the fifth most valuable software company in the world and fastest growing of the top 20, is projecting to exceed $3 billion in revenue this quarter.

Benioff forecasted that Salesforce is going to have 10,000 employees by the end of the year.

Looking forward to Dreamforce '12

These are themes that Benioff will likely continue to talk about at Dreamforce '12, which kicks off in San Francisco next week. Benioff asserted that this year's expo will be the largest vendor-led technology event ever.

Benioff did offer a few more hints about what we can expect to be unveiled at the cloud conference, including the next version of Salesforce's sales cloud (which includes Data.com for cleaning up sales records) as well as a marketing cloud built from solutions from Salesforce's acquisitions, Radian6 and Buddy Media.

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