Trailblazer – Marc Benioff

Last week, we attended Dreamforce, Salesforce conference in San Francisco, CA. Trailblazer, a book written by Marc Benioff, Founder & Co-CEO of Salesforce and co-authored by Monica Langley was presented to each of the registered attendees. Post the conference, I was on a 14 hour plane ride and the timing was great to read the book.The book has a total of eleven chapters and here are some of my learnings.

Beginnings : The origin of Salesforce is described well. Marc’s father ran an apparel business and he watched first hand the challenges his dad faced with respect to technology. Salesforce started as a small business software company on the cloud. There were many great lessons for Marc from his dad including pristine accounting processes. His maternal grandfather Marvin Lewis was a very generous man and also the driving force behind Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). Marc also learnt a lot of lessons from his mother. 

Values: Values create values and also reflecting on President Obama’s conversation with Marc Benioff at Dreamforce, it is important to communicate your values. This will help attract talent towards you. Marc also talks about the origins of Trailblazers and how he did not like the name initially. It is ironic that the book is also titled Trailblazers now.

Trust: Trust and radical accountability are primary drivers to the business. Salesforce publishes the downtown of its applications at .This idea could be copied by a lot of technology companies to build trust with their customers. The story of partnership with Toyoda Sen of Toyota was very interesting. Their meetings in Hawaii and how it also blossomed to a great friendship. 

Customer Success: The origins of the customer success team was good learning. Albert Einstein’s quote in this chapter caught my attention. ‘If I had an hour to solve a problem, I would spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and. Five minutes thinking about solutions.’. The first dreamforce was held in 2003 when the company had fewer than 400 employees and 8000 paying customers. More than one thousand people showed up for the first conference. The story of Home Depot where Salesforce helped in their digital transformation and worked towards transitioning Home Depot’s associates to a community was informative. Marc also stresses the need for being on-site at the customer location. As one of his colleagues taught him ‘ The most dangerous place to make decisions is the office. You need to make decisions where the customer is’.

Innovation: Successful companies continue to innovate. On his meeting with Steve Jobs , Steve recommended to have an App Marketplace for Salesforce (or Marc would need an ecosystem). Marc also highlights the need for innovation not just from Salesforce employees, however innovation can and should be from the community / ecosystem. By 2019, Salesforce had 5000+ apps.

Equality: Women are a crucial part of building a business. President Obama on his conversation with Marc Benioff on stage at Dreamforce said, Diversity is not charity and this is so true. Teams with more women do well and Marc also discusses the course correction in terms of compensation they did as a company to their underpaid female employees. 

Ohana: Marc talks extensively about culture and the need for the same to be continuously nurtured. He spends a great amount of time here.  Salesforce organizes about 5000 official events per year. No wonder they are one of the top enterprise companies.

Giving back means looking forward: Marc articulates that giving back is one of the key reasons why employees want to join Salesforce. The salesforce foundation was formed in the year June 2000. They had a well integrated 1-1-1 philanthropic model right from the start. One percent of employee’s time was spent on charity. 

Beginner’s Mind:  Having a  beginner’s mind-set is very useful. Marc is still very much involved in Product reviews and this was an interesting insight.

Stakeholders: The stakeholders are not just the employees. The entire community becomes the stakeholder and doing good is critical. On June 23, 2004 Salesforce went IPO (Initial Public Offering). 

The Activist CEO: Homelessness is a big problem not just in the city of San Francisco, however across the nation.It has gotten worse in the last few years.  Every person on the street means one fewer person getting an education and contributing to the economy. It is also important to empower employees so they can provide better integrated experiences to their customers. Marc is also calling the fellow partners and everyone to join him in fighting the social issues plaguing the city/country and he does not mind people calling him The Activist CEO.

Overall it was a great read and we are Thankful to Marc Benioff for writing this book. It offers great insights for running a business. Thank you for reading this blog post. 

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