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Founder Spotlight: How Marc Benioff Did it

Posted by Celene Robert

February 25, 2021

Marc Benioff is the founder, chairman, and CEO of customer relationship management (CRM) software giant and multibillion-dollar cloud computing company Salesforce. Here we’ve discussed how Marc Benioff built Salesforce into what it is today, his ideation path, what obstacles he hit along the way, and some milestones achieved by him. 

How Marc Benioff Built Salesforce

In 1999, Benioff founded Salesforce in a small rented apartment in San Francisco, and now it is a Fortune 500 company with 50,000 employees. He built the company around four core values — trust, customer success, innovation, and equality. 

Under Benioff's leadership, Salesforce became the topmost provider of CRM software globally. Over the past two decades, Salesforce has acquired dozens of companies to extend its core products. Here are some milestones achieved by the company during its success journey.

In 2001

Salesforce announced its expansion into the worldwide marketplace with headquarters in Dublin and Tokyo. By the year-end, the company had 5,740 customers, 70,000 users in 107 countries accessing the service in multiple currencies and eight languages. 

In 2004,

after five years of steady growth that led to the 8,700 customer mark , Salesforce launched its IPO and reached almost $100 million in revenue.

In 2005,

Salesforce introduced its AppExchange service that allows third-party developers to build applications on the Salesforce platform and open them up to all customers. By the end of the year, Salesforce's customer base reached 20,500 worldwide, with nearly 400,000 unique users.

In 2009,

Salesforce reached the $1 billion revenue mark with over 55,000 customers across the globe. Also, Forbes named Salesforce among the fastest-growing technology companies in the world. Salesforce launched Service Cloud in the same year, bringing customer service and support automation features to the market and making it easier for customers to build and install apps on its architecture. 

In 2011,

Salesforce reached 100,000 customers and extended its social enterprise capabilities by acquiring social media monitoring company, Radian6. Also, Forbes named Salesforce the world’s most innovative company. 

In 2012,

Salesforce had 9,800 employees in 22 offices around the world. The company also unveiled the marketing cloud this year, and Gartner ranks Salesforce best CRM provider.

In 2013

, Salesforce acquired the popular email service provider ExactTarget which later became The Marketing Cloud, one of its core offerings. Pardot that ExactTarget acquired became the B2B marketing automation system of Salesforce that empowers customers to run their business from their phones. Also, AppExchange hosted more than 2,000 apps and records over 2 million installs in 2013.

In 2014,

Salesforce announced its first large-scale push into six new global industries, including healthcare and life sciences. This enables payers, providers and life science companies to connect with patients and providers wherever they are to improve their experience, outcomes and cost. Thus, company reached 1.5 million registered developers, more than 150,000 customers, and the $5 billion annual revenue. 

In 2016,

Salesforce leverage a comprehensive ecosystem of partners, systems integrators and independent software vendors to extend and implement the Health Cloud. The company acquired the ecommerce platform Demandware to provide its customer success platform to the retail industry and introduce Commerce Cloud.

In 2017,

Salesforce launched Einstein, the first comprehensive artificial intelligence (AI) technology for CRM that empowers all users to talk to Salesforce. It delivers advanced AI capabilities to sales, service and marketing.

In 2018,

Salesforce introduced Customer 360, a new platform service that seamlessly manages customer data across clouds. The company also acquired MuleSoft to enables companies to connect backend legacy systems to the cloud.

In 2019

, Salesforce acquired Tableau, a data visualization and business intelligence company. Thus, it brings the world’s best CRM and analytics platform together to support customers’ digital transformations.

In 2020,

Salesforce launched, a bundle of technologies and services designed to help businesses reopen quickly and safely. It helps companies meet new workplace challenges ranging from contact tracing and emergency response management to employee wellness assessment and shift management for accelerating private and public sector response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, Salesforce acquired Slack which will become the new interface for Customer 360.

Path of Ideation

Benioff believes that the success of a business is directly related to its customers' success. So he designed Salesforce to enable customers to build their applications on its architecture or through the cloud. The objective was to revamp the way software programs are developed, designed and distributed. He provides businesses a universal Salesforce ID to access sales, service and marketing data across multiple systems and cloud applications. He tried to help customers simplify or automate all of the small, tedious business functions that consume most of their time. 

Benioff implemented the 1-1-1 model of philanthropy, which leverages the technology, people, and resources of Salesforce (1 percent of profit, 1 percent of equity, and 1 percent of employee hours) to improve communities globally. Many companies, including Google, have adopted this model worldwide. 

Benioff created a V2MOM strategic plan to build Salesforce. The strategy aims to provide employees with a clear vision and align the organization around common goals. The V2MOM framework briefs:

  • Vision - what do you want?
  • Values - what’s important to you?
  • Methods - how do you get it?
  • Obstacles - what is preventing you from being successful?
  • Measures - how do you know you have it?

Benioff believes if entrepreneurs can answer these questions about their business, they can have the roadmap to succeed and run their business. 

Obstacles He Overcame Along the Way

Salesforce enables companies of every size and industry to take advantage of its technologies — cloud, applications, blockchain, voice, and artificial intelligence — to connect to their customers in a whole new way. Benioff overcomes the following persistent issues during his successful entrepreneurial journey.

  • Gender and Racial Equality

    - Benioff implemented constant vigilance and new structures, and programs to ensure that equality is maintained as the company continues to grow. He also conducted equal pay assessments and created equality groups around race, gender or religion to allow employees raise their concerns.
  • Maintaining Employees’ Trust

    - Benioff launches various mentorship programs, workshops and development programs to build the trust necessary to make employees feel comfortable pitch new ideas and their issues. He annually conducts employee surveys to understand how to improve the company's corporate culture.
  • Building Customers’ Trust

    - When Salesforce first launched the platform, most business owners didn't trust any third party for holding their valuable contact data. Therefore, the company had to convince buyers that customer and other data was secure from loss and intrusion. Benioff delivered software as a service to eliminate the up-front costs, shorten the period for implementation and complexities of maintenance and upgrades. 


Celene Robert
Celene Robert

Celene heads up the marketing at Escalon. Passionate about helping companies grow their business, she spends her days finding new ways to bring essential business services to startups, SMBs, and growth-minded companies. Based in the PNW, she’s the proud owner of 8 pairs of Birkenstocks and a sassy, cuddly cat.

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