Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is often credited with inventing cloud computing or at least the form of it known as software-as-a-service (SaaS), where an app is delivered over the Internet.
Other people say that Oracle CEO Larry Ellison invented SaaS cloud computing, as he was the inspiration and the financial backer for both Salesforce.com and NetSuite. Benioff was working at Oracle, in a meeting with Larry Ellison, when he thought of Salesforce.com, the story goes.
But on Tuesday at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, Benioff talked about his other mentor: Steve Jobs and his role in shaping Salesforce.com.
Jobs was Ellison's best friend, but that's not how Benioff knew him. Benioff, a child prodigy programmer, worked for Steve Jobs at Apple's Macintosh division at age 19 before landing at Oracle with Ellison.
Benioff idolized Jobs.
"Steve Jobs was a huge mentor. There would be no Salesforce.com without Steve Jobs," Benioff said on Tuesday.
Benioff had to build up the nerve the first time he called Jobs for advice, he said. "I'm having trouble at Salesforce.com and I want to come see you," Benioff told him on the phone.
Jobs agreed and Benioff told Jobs everything about his plans for his startup. "I rolled out the whole corporate strategy" he said.
Jobs told Benioff that he needed to do three things to be successful:
"Number one, be 10 times larger in 24 months or it's over," Benioff recounted. "Number two, you need to get a huge client on the service right away like Avon. The CEO of Avon was on [Apple's] board. Number three, you need to build an 'application economy.'"
Benioff asked him, "What's an application economy, Steve?" and Jobs told him, "I don't know but you need to figure it out."
It took Benioff months to puzzle it out. Eventually, he realized that he needed to turn Salesforce.com into a platform and build an app store for it.
Benioff planned to call it "App Store." He bought "appstore.com" and registered the trademark. Then he changed his mind and in 2006 launched it as "App Exchange."
Two years later, Benioff was in the audience at the Apple event where Steve Jobs said he was launching the "most important thing Apple ever done." This was something called the App Store, which is where iPhone users could buy third-party apps for their device.
Benioff said it felt like "a spiritual moment" where he was validated that he had the vision right. He had almost chosen the same name for his platform. So Benioff gave his mentor the App Store URL and the trademark as a gift, he said.
Today, Benioff is in the midst of his first billion-dollar quarter at Salesforce.com and on track to do $4 billion in revenue.
But for years the naysayers said that his model of selling software couldn't be done. Especially when nearly all of the first crop of companies that tried it failed.
And Benioff credits Jobs for helping him.
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