USA TODAY US Edition
DREAMFORCE HELPS POWER SALESFORCE’S MARKET RISE Every year, Salesforce invites its clients and developers to an annual gathering called Dreamforce.
Helping power Salesforce’s market rise,
The short film hits scores of chest-thumping high points, befitting a company whose market cap has tripled in five years to $45 billion, leading to loud acquisition rumors involving names such as Microsoft and Oracle.
As the video touting the benefits of using the company’s cloudbased sales software ends, the execs turn to their Hawaiianshirt-and-jeans-clad leader and today’s host, Salesforce CEO and founder Marc Benioff. He isn’t thrilled. “This focuses a lot on the tech revolution we’re in, but the story we want to tell is about a customer revolution,” says Benioff, who invited USA TODAY to observe the planning meeting. “There’s also a myopia there, it’s too much about us and not enough about our customers. Let’s hit the reset button.”
If you’re wondering why a CEO is steeped in the minutia of a four-day conference with more than a thousand sessions, you don’t know Benioff or Dreamforce. The former is an outsized, hands-on corporate leader who made waves last spring by leading a group of tech CEOs in taking a stand against religious freedom laws and whose deep philanthropic bent informs his company’s giving practices.
And Dreamforce, 13 years old now, has grown from a small group filling a ballroom to an invading army of 150,000 customers and developers that threatens to outgrow its 800,000-resident Bay Area home.
It so challenges the city’s infrastructure that Salesforce urges its conference attendees to leverage the crucial assistance of two tech world upstarts: Uber for transportation and Airbnb for lodging. If you are on the hunt for a hotel, prepare to pay $900 and up at many central properties, if they still have rooms.
In a novel move, the company has opted to bring in a Celebrity Cruises ship for added lodging. The Infinity has been dubbed the Dreamboat, and all of its 1,073 cabins are sold out. Excessive? Not for Benioff, who asks his staff, “Can we get two next year?”
He may also need more real estate, especially since the Oz-like Safesforce Tower, destined to be the city’s tallest at 61 stories, won’t be completed until at least 2017. This year, some 19 venues around the city’s Moscone Center will be taken over by Salesforce events, and an entire city block will be shut down to form a pedestrian mall compete with Airstream trailers for more rustic-minded event campers.
“There’s been pressure for me to move this to Las Vegas and really blow it out,” Benioff says. “I don’t want to do that. I’d rather use the sharing economy more to keep it here, because if we leave we lose far more than we gain.”
Last year, Dreamforce contributed $226 million to city coffers, San Francisco Travel says.
“The economic impact of Dreamforce supports our local small businesses, our arts and cultural institutions, and helps us fund needed social services for residents,” says Mayor Ed Lee, a reference in part to the millions of meals provided to the homeless last year (this year’s focus is on books) and the hundreds of millions raised for the University of California- San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospital (from both Dreamfest concert benefits as well as Benioff ’s checkbook).
Many large corporations stage conferences to tout products to its consumer base. Microsoft has Build, Apple has its Worldwide Developers Conference. That said, few confabs seem to boast the almost dizzying scope of Dreamforce.
While many sessions indeed will be dedicated to optimizing the 16-year-old company’s salesfocused software, there also will be lectures on mindfulness with actress Goldie Hawn, talks on women’s issues with YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Oprah pal Gayle King, and a blowout rock concert on a pier for 35,000 people with The Killers, Gary Clark Jr., and the Foo Fighters.
“It’s TED Talks meets Davos (World Economic Forum) meets Woodstock,” says Elizabeth Pinkham, who has helmed every Dreamforce to date. She and her team also attend Hollywood events such as the Grammy Awards to inject what Benioff calls “a sense of being at a cultural movement” into Dreamforce.
One new attendee is Satya Nadella, the first Microsoft CEO to make a prominent appearance. He spearheaded a 2014 partnership between the companies, and recent visits with Benioff launched numerous reports Microsoft was offering $55 billion for Salesforce, which Benioff rejected. Nadella says he will focus his Sept. 16 keynote address on changing nature of work due to growing collaborations between big software companies, as well as the transformative power of today’s big-data feedback loops.
“Marc is a larger-than-life character who thinks broadly, and that’s admirable in the multiconstituent world we now live in,” Nadella says. “I’ve learned from him, and I look forward to seeing how Dreamforce reflects his progressive mission.”
The event plays a vital role not only as a customer retention and recruitment tool but also as a fiscal thermometer for Wall Street.
“Dreamforce is the only time the Street gets to interact with vendors and partners and get insights, positive or negative, into spending trends and product absorption,” says Daniel Ives, an analyst with FBR Capital Markets. “There’s lots of pomp, but that’s what’s needed to bring people together. Cloud computing is white hot, and this is a 360-degree view of how customers view this vendor for the coming year.”
Annual Benioffdriven conference draws 150,000 to Bay Area — along with a cruise ship that serves as a floating hotel Dreamforce is a “critical part of Salesforce, because the energy that’s created at an event like this serves as an accelerant for the company.”
CEO and founder