When considering what inspires Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, you may not immediately think of old-school rappers in parachute pants. And yet here comes MC Hammer starring in one of over a hundred wisdom nuggets in Behind the Cloud by Marc Benioff (and Carlye Adler). The Bay Area musician & PR genius you can’t touch gave Benioff the notion to employ a Street Team for the launch of Salesforce, the gritty late 90’s upstart that was willing to pull out all the stops and publicity stunts to get its customer relationship management offering on corporate radar screens, including holding ludicrous mock protests at conventional software events. It’s fun stuff yet also important for anyone flirting with finally pulling the trigger on that start-up fantasy. The book is chunked into nine sections covering sales, marketing, finance, leadership, philanthropy, and more, so the choosy reader can bounce around and not even finish (although if you’re serious about your own launch, like The Hammer aren’t you 2 legit 2 quit?).
What’s noteworthy about Salesforce’s first ten years is that the goal wasn’t to just start a business; it was to create an industry, in this case cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) in an era infamous for the installation of capital intensive enterprise systems. Benioff and his cohorts knew that a special effort would be required to stand out among the Goliaths and that they did. In one gem of a story, we learn of the team renting every available airport taxi near a Siebel Systems user conference in France, creating the opportunity to provide “free” rides during which sales reps could deliver 45-minute pitches to unsuspecting captive executives. But in a welcome twist, these sorts of clever pranks weren’t done to dissuade competitors rather to goad them into taking the same SaaS route, thus creating a market. Having one competitor was seen as good. Two or three? Even better because then a concept had truly been proven, even when our heroes were only capturing a small piece of the pie. “The reality was that we were still the gnat on the back of an elephant,” says Benioff. “But our unusual tactics were making that elephant dance.”
They’ve had help all along and have offered plenty back as well. Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison invested $2M in the early days of Salesforce along with allowing his mentee Benioff to pilfer “only” three key execs. One of those was Nancy Connery who was pegged to head up recruiting & HR because hiring great people “was something we desperately needed.” Connery is credited with attracting hundreds of employees, some back when world headquarters was the author’s rented apartment, and such focus helped engender a culture known for always building bench strength even – or especially – when there was neither an opening to be filled nor a role yet created. Part of the mission was to identify those with a charitable core as philanthropy has been part of the company’s fabric since Day 1. This thread makes the book that much more inspiring to read. No time to do so? Understood. You might instead: set an exciting goal today, identify a future hire tomorrow, and serve soup to the homeless this weekend. Same diff.