USA TODAY US Edition
Dreamforce gathering in 13th year
Voices: This show is tech’s hot event,
It’s the city’s most richly anticipated tech event.
No, not Apple’s glitzy — and largely panned — iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus introduction last Wednesday. The two-hour-plus show, staged at the fabled Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, was short on dramatics and long on time. Nearly everything announced, from new iPhone to iPad Pro and Apple TV upgrades, had been leaked or rumored. About the only suspense involved the identity of the closing act, which turned out to be OneRepublic.
The show that has the San Francisco Bay Area buzzing is Dreamforce, a creation of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, which begins Tuesday. It’s chock-full of top-billed bands, executive keynote speakers, celebrities and, this year, a celebrity cruise ship. (The Dreamboat’s 1,073 cabins are sold out.)
About 150,000 are likely to attend the four-day conference this week, which contributed $226 million to the city’s economy last year, according to San Francisco Travel.
“If you have to choose one (tech) show a year, it’s this one (Dreamforce),” says Esteban Kolsky, founder of thinkJar, an advisory and research think tank focused on customer strategies. “Over the last four to five years, it’s become the place to be.”
Dreamforce and Apple’s annu- al product unveil in September headline a packed month of activities in Silicon Valley, where companies jockey for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of consumers and businesses. Several notable events, such as the firstever Tech Inclusion conference, also tackle social issues.
The shifting fortunes of the top two September shows illustrate how cloud computing pioneer Salesforce, not Apple, has captured the zeitgeist of the tech masses when it comes to tech happenings. Think of Dreamforce, now in its 13th year, as a mini-Davos meets Woodstock, as my colleague Marco della Cava gracefully put it in his curtain raiser on the event.
A sampling of this year’s schedule shows why: Executives from the defending champions of baseball (San Francisco Giants) and basketball (Golden State Warriors); a fireside chat between Benioff and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick; a keynote speech from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella; and a panel featuring YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and actress Jessica Alba. The 2015 edition of the annu- al Dreamforce concert? The Killers opening for Foo Fighters.
While Dreamforce increasingly resonates with consumers and corporations, Apple seems to be a victim of its own success and the heightened expectations of others. How, for instance, can Apple top the runaway success of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, the world’s most popular smartphone? What is its next big thing — reinventing cars, the Internet of Things, virtual reality?
For now, it seems to be in stasis, riding the iPhone phenomenon for all it’s worth while chasing enterprise sales with a quilt of partnerships with Cisco Systems and IBM and the introduction of the new iPad Pro.
Part of the problem may be perception.
Salesforce is on a revenue roll: Its market cap has tripled to $45 billion since 2010, gaining the attention of several software behemoths, a number of which (Microsoft? Oracle?) might be interested in acquiring the company that Benioff built.
“Dreamforce is no longer about CRM (customer relationship management), but the future of business,” says Kristen Koh Goldstein, CEO of Scalus, maker of a cloud-based workflow and collaboration app. She singles it out as her favorite tech show among the half dozen she attends annually.
Apple faces more competition than ever: Google (twice, counting Alphabet), Facebook, Amazon.com, a resurgent Microsoft, Hulu, Netflix, perhaps Tesla. The list goes on and on.
One could add Salesforce. Though hardly a competitor of Apple on the product side, Benioff and company are stealing the spotlight in a month Apple used to own. Benioff, who cut his teeth in tech at Apple before making a name for himself as Larry Ellison’s protégé at Oracle, has channeled the marketing magic of Steve Jobs, with whom he forged a strong friendship.
As Dreamforce grows in size, sizzle and stature, Apple faces a challenge. It can ill afford another clunker, as Wednesday’s press conference/pep rally was viewed by many — some of whom suggested Apple tone down the hype or host fewer events.
For this month, at least, Dreamforce has put the “dream” into the Bay Area tech show experience.
“If you have to choose one (tech) show a year, it’s this one. Over the last four to five years, it’s become the place to be.”
founder of thinkJar