Salesforce cofounder explains where big old tech companies like Microsoft often go wrong

Salesforce cofounder Parker HarrisBloombergSalesforce cofounder Parker Harris

Salesforce is expected to surpass $US6 billion in revenue this year, making it the fastest enterprise software company to ever do so. Now it’s worth over $US45 billion.

It took almost 16 years for Salesforce to get to this point, but its cofounder Parker Harris believes there’s one key reason to its massive growth in a relatively short period of time: focus.

Unlike some of its bigger rivals like Oracle and SAP, who are virtually in every area of enterprise software, Salesforce has kept its business focused on the customer relationship management (CRM) space, largely comprised of sales, marketing, and service automation.

That focus, Harris believes, is the most important thing for any type of software company trying to reach the scale of $US50 billion.

“Many people have said we just need to add more products. Look at Oracle, look at SAP. Add ERP and inventory or compensation. Add all this stuff,” Harris told IDG. “What we realised is we’re the customer company. We’re the front office solution and our customers would be really upset if we just added a whole bunch of stuff and lost focus.”

That way of thinking applies to Salesforce’s new product releases as well. Its latest big product is an analytics platform called Wave, where companies can build data analytic applications on top of it. But Harris believes Wave is something optimised for CRM data, not the entire analytics industry, yet.

“We’re not saying it’s analytics for everything, we’re saying it’s analytics for understanding your CRM, analytics for understanding your relationships with your customers. That’s where we’re strong, that’s where our customers are,” he said.

Steve ballmer tabletREUTERS/Lucas JacksonSteve Ballmer and a Windows 8 tablet.

Harris added that a “do-it-all” mentality that a lot of big companies like to have could ultimately be detrimental, as it makes you more egotistic and forceful on partners.

To illustrate his point, Harris shared a story about ex-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Apparently, Ballmer had a meeting with Salesforce where he tried to force Harris’ team to use Microsoft’s new tablet.

“He was saying: ‘You should write from my new tablet. It’s great.’ But it wasn’t really a two-way street,” Harris said.

“I still believe heavily that we have to be careful about having this ego and hubris as a successful corporation that we should do it all. Because then I think we start to fail our customers and we’re too focused on taking over the world,” he said.

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