The NWC Interview: Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff

The CEO of Salesforce.com talks about software as a service and why Microsoft isn't the fearless competition it used to be.

October 4, 2006

3 Min Read
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Mark BenioffCEO, Salesforce.com

Salesforce.com has been pretty successful as a CRM vendor, but wildly successful as the embodiment of the idea of software as a service. Did you always see Salesforce as being about more than CRM, the way Jeff Bezos always saw Amazon.com as being about more than books?

Amazon is a great example. It was in 1996, when I was at Oracle working with Amazon, that I asked myself a simple question: Why can't all enterprise software be like this? And why at Oracle are we still building our enterprise software as if the Internet itself doesn't exist? That is really why I quit my job and started Salesforce.com.

Do you have plans to get into any other vertical application segments?

We have already entered quite a few, through AppExchange.com. That's a service we introduced in January, where we kind of popped the top off to let others write applications. We now have more than 300 on-demand applications and more than 200 ISVs that have published applications on top of AppExchange. It's a place companies can go to find on-demand applications and with one click, start using them.Salesforce.com has suffered some well-publicized service outages. How is the company addressing the stability and availability of its platform?

On average, we've exceeded 99.9 percent availability, which is higher than almost all of our customers' own internal systems. But no system runs at 100 percent. And when we have a problem, everybody knows about it because a lot of great companies, like Cisco, Merrill Lynch and others, use Salesforce.com. We have a site called Trust.Salesforce.com that publishes our availability statistics in real time.You also have a site called Ideas.Salesforce.com that provides a snapshot of upcoming enhancements to your CRM application. As a guy who grew up at Apple, doesn't such transparency make you squirm?

This is not three decades ago, when Apple or Oracle got started. This is 2006--the age of the Internet. The Internet changes how we communicate, how we educate ourselves. It changes how we conduct commerce. In fact, the only thing the Internet has not changed is Microsoft's architecture for enterprise applications, which basically has remained exactly the same, as if the Internet itself does not exist.

You had succeeded in getting Microsoft's attention before you said that. What's to stop it from trouncing you to become software as a service's biggest evangelist and beneficiary?

We keep waiting for it to come out with its music player, or destroy the iTunes franchise that Apple has built, or to do the same with the BlackBerry, or with Google, or even with us. And the reality is, Microsoft just is not what it used to be. Not as nimble, not as effective. Customers don't look to it for innovation. They barely look to it for when the next upgrade is coming on their desktop, which they can't figure out.

How successful do you think Google will be with its initiative to sell spreadsheets, word processors and other programs as Web services?I use these products every day, not just from Google but from other on-demand providers like Writeboard.com and iRows.com. I don't have to have this kind of crazy software server and upgrade it, and update it, and maintain it, and so forth and so on. I can just use a simple service. That's very cool.

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