It’s possible that Marc Benioff is the craziest celebrity CEO in the tech industry.The 6-foot-5, 290-pound co-founder of Salesforce.com has “the mind of a fox and the body of a bear,” writes David A. Kaplan in Forbes.
That fox-like mind is famous for coming up with stunts that journalists can’t resist writing about.
Benioff spoke in San Francisco today as part of a multi-city roadshow the company calls Cloudforce. He is hyping up Salesforce.com’s new “social enterprise” image.
Yet Benioff is infamous for turning others’ events into stunts that brings the spotlight back on him and his company. There’s a term for it: guerrilla marketing.
He’s so good at it that even when others (like Microsoft) tried the same tactics on Salesforce, he still lands on top.
Here’s a look back at some of his all-time greatest stunts…
Shortly after Salesforce.com was launched, Benioff hired actors to pretend to be 'protesters' at a giant conference for his biggest rival at the time Siebel Systems. (Oracle bought Siebel in 2005.)
The mock protesters picketed the Moscone centre with signs chanting, 'The Internet is really neat … Software is obsolete!' Benioff even went so far as to hire a fake TV crew to cover the 'protest.'
He had also considered hiring an armoured tank to enter the scene, driven by someone dressed like General Patton but then decided that 'such a stunt might be too outlandish,' he says in the book Behind the Cloud.
Siebel called the police and a big news story was born.
From this stunt the Ghostbusters-inspired 'No software' logo was born.
At another Siebel event held in Cannes, France, Benioff took a different tactic: capture the audience -- in a cab.
Most attendees of the conference flew into Nice and took a cab to Cannes. So Salesforce.com rented all the airport taxis and then used the 45-minute drive to pitch Salesforce.com.
Siebel executives, ticked off that no other rides were available, again called the police, Benioff recounts in the book Behind the Cloud.
It's hard to imagine how Marc Benioff landed a keynote speech at arch rival's Oracle's Openworld conference in 2011 to begin with. The two companies have been rivals for years.
But he did.
And then Oracle tried to move his keynote to later in the week.
So Benioff issued a press release saying Oracle had cancelled his speech and he would instead talk at a nearby restaurant. 'Sorry Larry, the cloud can't be stopped,
One afternoon in 2006, Benioff was granting an interview to a reporter from InformationWeek when he launched 'into a lampoon' of SAP executive Peter Graf complete with hand gestures and a German accent.
'Vell! At SAP, let me tell you, softVARE as service is just one way to deliver softVARE!' Benioff blustered. 'It's just a del-i-ver-y met-o-do-lo-gy! Customers vant hosted--and zen zay moove!'
SAP, and apparently many Germans, were not amused at the time but the tale remains an Internet favourite.
Not every stunt worked out for Benioff and Salesforce. In 2003 the company wound up mailing out hundreds of apology letters over a stunt that featured the Dali Lama without his consent.
The company had sent out a poster inviting 500 guests to attend an upcoming speech by the Dalai Lama, reported SF Gate. It featured the Buddhist leader meditating under the slogan 'There is no software on the path to enlightenment.'
The Himalayan Foundation, who was sponsoring the speech, was offended. So Benioff ate crow. 'We had no right to suggest that either the American Himalayan Foundation or His Holiness support us. We made a mistake,' he said in the apology letter.
In the end, Salesforce.com did not attend the event and instead made a $100,000 donation to The Himalayan Foundation.
Oh well. Maybe Benioff will get the Dali Lama as a spokesperson in the next life.