Nick Mehta is the CEO of Gainsight, the leading customer success management company.
In case you were asleep and missed it, Salesforce.com’s annual tech conference/religious revival, Dreamforce, took place in the Moscone Center in San Francisco this past week. Well, that’s not entirely correct. Dreamforce fits in the Moscone Center like Chris Christie fits in skinny jeans. But you get the idea.
Dreamforce, in my opinion, is by far the best event of the year in enterprise technology. By attending, you can learn about new technologies coming out from Salesforce.com, innovations from the partner ecosystem, and the location of every Moscone outlet to charge your dying iPhone.
“The most awesome stage”
Last year, Facebook's VP of Design thought the TNW Conference main stage was the best she'd ever been on.
But beyond product announcements, Dreamforce is renown for its amazing line-up of popular and formerly popular entertainers. This year, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff featured current and former Top 40 performers including Huey Lewis and the News (I’m assuming “The News” was there too, but you might fact check me on that), Green Day, Blondie and many others.
No doubt Vanilla Ice is on the agenda for 2014. “Stop, collaborate and listen” couldn’t describe Dreamforce better.
As I was waiting an hour in the rain on Tuesday night at Dreamforce for a 225 percent surge pricing Uber, I realized that it all fits together. This year’s musical lineup reinforced everything I learned from Dreamforce about running a company.
1. “It’s Hip to Be Square”
I think everyone has the same experience at their first Dreamforce. You start by saying “Am I really watching Huey Lewis perform to 100,000 tech people at 9 a.m.?” And then you’re into it.
You’re kind of amused when the Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris drives on stage in his best “Back to the Future” Doc costume and uses the shtick to announce the new Salesforce1 mobile platform. You’re singing along to Green Day in the rain. You might even be saving your pass so you can keep track of the number of Dreamforces you’ve been to.
Dreamforce’s lovable and good-hearted silliness makes it all the more endearing. Everyone likes the friendly neighbor who’ll lend you sugar. No one likes an pompous jerk. Be the kind of company that your customers can’t help but adore. Salesforce spent a ton of dough on its production, but being personable doesn’t cost anything.
2. [Have a] “Heart of Glass”
Just when you think Dreamforce is all fun and games, you see Benioff on stage with former supermodel Petra Nemcova as she talks about losing her fiancé in the 2004 Asian Tsunami and dedicating her life to helping others. Then you see a video of sick children from the $100 MM project at UCSF Hospital that Benioff funded.
Salesforce currently has a 1/1/1 concept that donates 1 percent of company equity, 1 percent of employee time, and 1 percent of Salesforce.com product to charity. Benioff encouraged every other company to adopt a similarly charitable system.
It was at this point you realize this is much more than a tech conference with Benioff’s reminder for entrepreneurs to give back to their community. Founders should never forget where they came from, and how to contribute back when they make it big. Sure, splitting your profits isn’t the most fun math to do, but a little bit goes a long way in places that truly need them.
3. [Don’t mess with Salesforce] “When I Come Around”
Every year, the media will try to pigeonhole companies as being limited to certain types of consumers. Uber is for rich snobs. Salesforce’s just for SMBs. It’s important to constantly innovate and try different things to keep your business fresh. Just because your product solves a problem today, doesn’t mean it will be relevant tomorrow.
Case in point is the Salesforce.com “platform.” A few years ago, people believed you couldn’t build real businesses on it. Now, Veeva Systems recently went public, having been built on Force.com, and several late stage private companies like Apttus, ServiceMax and FinancialForce are following in their footsteps.
Similarly, Salesforce1 represents a legitimate attempt at a true mobile-first enterprise platform. Write off Salesforce.com at your own peril. Just focus on how to make your company the go-to solution for today, and the years to come.
4. “Power Of Love”
If you read Benioff’s statements, they easily come off as Public Relations-fed, Investor Relations-approved lines from any other large company CEO. But when you see the Salesforce.com CEO in action, you can feel his earnestness. He’s not perfect, but no one can deny his passion. And that’s a quality all entrepreneurs should have.
5. “Wake Me Up When [other conferences] End”
While Dreamforce is exhausting, it’s still the event you circle on your calendar every year… especially if we’re chanting along to “Ice Ice Baby” next year. If anything, the team should start thinking about how to keep the authentic and intimate feeling as it scales.
What I’m getting at is that you must make it a point to be memorable. Whether it’s a product feature, your company personality, a logo or startup name, do your best to make a mark on your consumer base. You don’t necessarily have to be the best, but do something and get people talking about your business, event, and goals.
Don’t be the kind of company that people tweet about in a few years saying, “Remember them?” – and certainly don’t lose your branding as your company grows.