Thursday, April 2, 2015

Behind The Cloud

Salesforce.com is a market darling, having taken the CRM industry by storm. Last year, the company had sales of over $5 billion, which is more than 30% above the year before, which in turn was more than 30% above the year before that. In Behind The Cloud, founder and CEO Marc Benioff discusses what he thinks are the key success factors that propelled his business to what it is today.

The format of the book is a bit different from the norm. Rather than a chronologically-ordered narrative divided into just a few chapters, the ever unconventional Benioff provides one hundred and eleven "plays" through which he reveals lessons he learned through anecdote as he grew Salesforce.com.

A lot of the tips are likely quite helpful to current entrepreneurs. But anytime someone gives you 111 tips, you will surely disagree with at least a few. For me, it had to do with how he recommends starting a company, with a big bang: expensive launch parties, the hiring of musicians, the lack of emphasis on profit etc. Salesforce.com was started in the late-1990s when anyone with a website could get funding. Furthermore, Benioff wasn't just anyone; he was already a rich executive at Oracle, and in fact counted Oracle CEO Larry Ellison as one of Salesforce.com's first investors. At that place and at that time, the way Benioff launched the company probably makes a lot of sense; I'm not sure it applies to most entrepreneurs, however, who wouldn't get the funding and second and third chances that Benioff received.

I also have some quibbles with Benioff's take on profits; he sees them as just not that relevant as compared to revenue growth. One look at Salesforce.com's financials shows you he isn't kidding. He has often stated that he has modeled his company after Amazon.com, and he has done so with respect to Salesforce.com's financials as well.

Nevertheless, the book is likely still very useful to anyone looking to follow in the footsteps of the author, who successfully disrupted/created a multi-billion dollar industry.

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