Damn ! I just realized that my latest article is almost 1 month old ! This is unacceptable for my trusted readers and as I spend a night in London I decided to share one of my latest read. I did read during the past months but for once, I indulged myself with some great science-fiction books I had in my stack: The forever war from Joe Hadelman (always trust a classic. This is an awesome read !), the Ophiuchi Hotline from John Varley and The Currents of Space from the man himself, Isaac Asimov (I’m a huge fan …).
But I finally took some time 2 days ago to pick up my copy of “Behind the Cloud: The untold story of how salesforce.com went from idea to billion-dollar company and revoluzioned and infustry” from Marc Benioff, Salesforce.com CEO, and I actually couldn’t stop reading it ! I’ve just finished it on the plane to London and I have to say that I had a blast !
I’ve always been interested about Salesforce.com as I was reading a lot of articles about the agile transformation they made some years ago. As my organization is going throught such transformation I always been impressed and inspired by what they did. By picking up this book, I wanted to understand the bigger picture and how Marc Benioff pulled it off 10 years ago. He was the first one to have this vision around Saas and then Paas. With the strong emergence of cloud computing the past few years, I wanted to understand why this guy got it right way ahead of everybody else.
The story is a bit different from the Google and Facebook story. Marc was already a successful executive at Oracle when he built the company. He seeded the company with $6 millions which he had saved from working at Oracle and various successful technology investment he made. That’s pretty impressive if you ask me and it does help implement a great idea in the first place. The actual great idea is actually priceless.
The book is divided into playbooks and gave me some great insights into the whole process. I’m not at this stage into a startup mode (I’m working for Experian Decision Analytics, part of the Experian group, a 15k+ people company. Not what I would call a startup!) but there are some really nice ideas which can be applied to the corporate world. I’m a strong believer that it doesn’t matter if you work for a large company or a very small one. Entrepreneurship spirit can and should be encouraged in either one of them.
The playbooks are the following
The startup playbook: How to turn a simple idea into a high-growth company
This playbook really apply to startup but can also be applied to new products your company is building. I mean, do the following ring a bell whether you work in a startup or in a large company?
- Have a big dream.
- Work only on what is important.
- Listen to your prospective customers.
- Defy convention.
- Hire the best players you know.
- Take risk.
- Think bigger.
From my perspective, these plays are a given in any size company.
The marketing playbook: How to cut through the noise and pitch the bigger picture
The events playbook: How to use events to build buzz and drive business
I combine both playbooks as they go along very well. I’m not, by far, the marketing specialist. But reading about it is really appealing. When you work in software development, you’re proud about what you design and build. But who really care if you’re not able to market it? To go against your competitor? To tell a great story about what you’ve built? To be innovative to separate yourself from the pack? In these 2 playbooks, there are some great advices for any startup to build up their brand. Some can without a doubt be applied to larger company.
The sales playbook: How to energize your customer into a million-member sales team
This was an interesting part of the book, but nothing really new under the sun. I don’t think Benioff really revolutionized the sales process but applied best practices to engage customers, make them Salesforce’s partners and grow the seeds. I’m not a sales expert but from my perspective what I read was sales by the book.
The technology playbook: How to develop products users love
I consider myself as technology driven so you can bet that I was particularly interested by this chapter. But more than technology, this part is all about innovation and users. It reminds us to have the courage to pursue innovation, to set a strong (and simple) foundation (can you spell KISS?), to reuse as much as possible (Can you say open-source?), to transcend technical paradigm, and most important of all in my opinion: Harness customers’ ideas.
The corporate philanthropy playbook: How to make your company about more than just the bottom line
This part is perfectly placed within the book and remind us all than a company is more than revenue and profit but also about what it can give back to the community. I was actually astonished by what Salesforce.com, a fairly young company, is able to bring to the community. This is a great example of corporate citizenship.
The global playbook: How to launch your product and introduce your model to new markets
This is one of the best part I would say. It tells you how Salesforce.com was able to scale globally without overspending, to adapt to different market (either through partnership or by replicating what they did in the US), how they’ve handled some IP dispute (especially in Australia) and how not to use a seagull approach (Swooping in, messing up the place, and flying away) but commit yourself fully to your new reach.
The finance playbook: How to raise capital, create a return, and never sell your soul
There are some great concepts Benioff reminds us in this part:
- Everything takes twice as long and cost twice as much as you’d expect.
- “Revenue is vanity; profit is sanity” only apply to well established company. Not startup (duh !)
- Be innovative and edgy in everything you do. Except when it comes to your finance. This is a very interesting part giving some details around the IPO process and why they chose to go to the NYSE vs the NASDAQ (“We need the credibility and the panache of the NYSE brand; it’s traditional, old-line, well established; it’s the antithesis of salesforce.com“)
The leadership playbook: How to create alignment, the key to organizational success
I was very eager to read about this part as this is maybe my top priority in my current position. I’m always open to new idea s !
I have to say that I’m not disappointed with what Bernioff has to share with us as leadership was a key foundation to his success (how else could it be?)
He shares with us what he’s used to formalized his management process. He’s called it V2MOM which stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures. This is something he had used to guide every discussion at salesforce.com. From 1999 to today ! As an example, here is what V2MOM looked like back in 1999:
Vision (What do you want?)
- Rapidly create a world-class internet company/site for Sales Force Automation
Values (what’s important about it?)
- World-class Organization
- Time to market
- Usability (Amazon quality)
- Value-added partnerships
Methods (how do you get it?)
- Hire the team
- Finalize product specification and technical architecture
- Rapidly develop the product specification to beta and production stages
- Build partnerships with big e-commerce, content, and hosting companies
- build a launch plan
- Develop an exit strategy; IPO/acquisition
Obstacles (what might stand in the way?)
- Developers (I did chuckle with that one )
- Product manager/Business development person
Measures (How will you know when you have it?)
- Prototype is state-of-the-art
- High-quality functional system
- Partnerships are online and integrated
- Salesforce.com is regarded as leader and visionary
- We are all rich
Benioff rewrites and communicate the V2MOM every 6 months.
The rest of the chapter reminds us about some great concepts to implement when building a great leadership team:,
- Build a recruiting culture: Hire a HR manager right away. Hiring is a top priority. That’s true in a startup and in a large company.
- Use aggressive interviews: 360-degree interviews, have your candidate presents so you can check how they perform on the fly, how they handle curve balls.
- Make sure you hire people who fit the culture you’re trying to grow. Typically at Salesforce.com they had trouble hiring people coming from the client-server world.
- Make sure everyone in the company understands the importance of Mahalo: Mahalo is the Hawaiian spirit of gratitude and praise. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of telling someone “Thank You” in any corporation, large or small. I’ve been astonished in my career by some people not understanding the value of such a simple concept. This is particularly important in a tough economy when monetary rewards are a bit more difficult to give.
“Behind the Cloud: The untold story of how salesforce.com went from idea to billion-dollar company and revoluzioned and infustry” from Marc Benioff is a fantastic read I recommend everyone to read ! Whether you work for a small startup or a very large company !