When famous CEOs tell their stories, you are never quite sure if they their goal is self-aggrandizement or an authentic desire to recount something that will be of real interest to others. Marc Benioff has lots of reasons to be very proud of accomplishments, but his book Behind the Cloud: The Untold Story of How Salesforce.com Went from Idea to Billion-Dollar Company-and Revolutionized an Industry will be an inspiration to many.
salesforce (with a lowercase as was the mania at the turn of the century) is, of course, a major industry success, but also the symbol of a timely, intelligent strategy adjustment at a time of crisis and craziness, the dot.com bust. Great ideas and products that are useful to people always manage to weather bad storms. Sure, Marc Benioff, the CEO founder of the company must have freaked out at the 2001 meltdown, but he lost neither his cool nor his faith on his “End of software” motto (a striking way to impose the then novel software as a service — SaaS — model). His obstinacy paid off: The company went public in June 2004. “Yeah,” as the song goes, “there’s a big blue sky waiting just behind the clouds.”
Not all entrepreneurs have Marc’s chutzpah, but his 111 recommendations to entrepreneurs will all be extremely precious to anyone. Sure, you may not dispatch a commando unit on bicycle to circle the Los Angeles Convention Center at a Microsoft launch event and instead settle for less spectacular tactics, but the message is clear: if you are an underdog, you can’t be too subtle either, and you have to find a way to force the big guys into adopting your message. Regardless of who they are. Frankly, when Tom Siebel from Siebel Systems started to talk about software-as-a-service after he acquired Upshot, most of us smiled at the recollection that only two years before, Siebel had been repeating that SaaS was the type of stuff for dot.com kids. “Don’t fear competition: welcome it and leverage it,” Marc concludes – provided, though, that you keep it under tight control.
And you do so by maintaining an all-out high energy level. High energy (sometimes high voltage) is the tone of the book. It has a lot to do with Marc’s personal style. But guess what? Low-energy doesn’t work. So find what your own high-energy level can be, and make sure that your employees and your customers turn into fervent evangelists of the company anywhere in the world. Meanwhile, enjoy dozens of great anecdotes. (Well, Hawaiian shirts aren’t necessarily the hottest tickets in Ireland.)
There is one section of the book I especially like: The Corporate Philanthropy Playbook. This section is a must read for entrepreneurs of for-profit companies, of course, but also for any executive director of any foundation who does not want a foundation to stagnate or simply “survive”: “Innovative nonprofits have historically achieved true sustainability by embracing a revenue-generating business model.”
Great book. Very well worded (no siliconite verbiage), co-authored with an excellent writer, Carlye Adler.