Marc Benioff is the CEO of Salesforce, a cloud enterprise software company worth about $US50 billion.
But it took many years for Benioff to get to where he is now. When Salesforce first launched in 1999, he and his three cofounders worked out of a small apartment in San Francisco.
So people always ask him for advice on starting a new business. And whenever they do, Benioff likes to share his own founding story — like he did on Friday, during the closing Q&A of Dreamforce, when he was asked for advice by a small business owner in the crowd.
Back in 1999, before starting Salesforce, Benioff was a star executive at Oracle. But he was growing tired of the big company culture. He wanted to get out.
“I remember working for a big company for a long time, thinking I got to get out of here,” Benioff said.
But when he talked to people around him, they told him to stay at Oracle. They’d say he wasn’t ready to leave yet, and frankly, he didn’t fully trust himself either.
“Through a lot of deep contemplation, you have to go inside for that answer. You can’t get that answer outside. Only you know what is right for you: Your purpose, your ideas, your time frames, how all those things line up, that’s what’s in you,” he said.
“And then all of a sudden, I’m like, ‘This is it. That’s the trust.’ I learned to trust myself, because now I have the message, it’s time to go, it’s time to actually make that leap.”
Benioff had the idea and vision for Salesforce, and was able to find three people he wanted to work with to launch the company. But they weren’t immediately impressed by his idea.
“Then what happens is, you invite them to your apartment, show the idea, and then the guy says, ‘You’re an idiot. That’s the stupidest thing. This is never going to work,'” Benioff said, recalling what one of his cofounders, Dave Moellenhoff told him in their first meeting.
Eventually, Benioff was able to convince the three guys who went on to become cofounders of Salesforce. But there was another problem — he couldn’t find any investors.
“We couldn’t get a dollar from VCs. We were thrown out multiple times. Luckily I have a lot of rich friends, and so we were able to raise money,” he said.
Some of those rich friends include Oracle cofounder Larry Ellison, Dropbox’s early investor Bobby Yazdani, and CNET founder Halsey Minor. With their money, Benioff was able to launch Salesforce, one of the first enterprise cloud software services in the world, and the rest is history.
Benioff stressed that the first step to founding a company is to look inside yourself and get a clear conviction that it’s the right timing. He also shared the five questions every aspiring business owner should to ask themselves before starting a business:
- What is it that you really want?
- What’s really important to you?
- How are you going to get it?
- What is preventing me from having it?
- How will you know that you have it?
If you’ve read Benioff’s book, “Behind the Cloud,” these questions will be familiar. They in fact come from something called “V2MOM,” a list of management guidelines at Salesforce that stand for vision, values, methods, obstacles, and measures. Benioff wrote that Salesforce uses V2MOM before making any important business decision.
“I think the biggest issue for a small business, or for any business, is they’re not asking those core questions,” Benioff said. “And if you can ask those five questions, and we do this constantly, this is our process, then you can break out. But you can’t break out unless you do all of that.”
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