The year 1999 was a very different time. What seems trivial now seemed more like a forthcoming onslaught of ‘the’ apocalypse. The end of the world, as some thought the year 2000 would accompany. Y2K wasn’t just judgment day for the world but in the tech space, this time around was looming with the dot com bubble, waiting to burst open.
Around the same time, Marc Benioff, Parker Harris, Frank Dominguez, and Dave Moellenhoff start working in a one-bedroom apartment overlooking the San Francisco Bay. It was a very different time back then but glorious nonetheless. Picture a typical 90s setting - bulky overworked monitors and CPUs resting on wooden desks. A picture of Dalai Lama from the infamous Apple ad back then with the words “Think Different” written on it.
They started a startup culture in which they only worked on things that were necessary - “no fluff” was their mantra. They wore Hawaiian print shirts, brunched at a local diner, brought their dogs to work, and constantly asked their friends to come and check out the earlier prototype for what they were building - Salesforce.
In 1999, Salesforce started with a vision to be “A world-class internet company for Sales Force Automation”. In fact, they developed their visions, values, methods, obstacles, and measures (V2MOM) quite early on as a strategic plan to align employees around common goals. Salesforce still functions around its core V2MOM and plays an integral part in all its decision-making. By the end of 1999, Salesforce expanded to 40 employees, raised 3 rounds of funding for $17.5 million, and moved into their new headquarters which was an 8000-square-foot office space.
Salesforce, despite being a relatively newer company, wasn’t immune to the dot com bubble either. But they endured the challenges and had to lay off 20% of their workforce. A little less than a year after starting, in February 2000, Salesforce officially launches at a San Francisco event themed around “The End of Software”. It was the age of the internet. Salesforce turned this to its advantage and used the same tagline for a viral marketing campaign that led to their first mainstream media coverage by The Wall Street Journal.
The importance of community at Salesforce dates back to early 2000 when they launched the 1-1-1 model in which Salesforce donates 1% of their time, product, and financial resources to organizations that are striving to make a change in this world. The now CRM giant continued to expand, making over $22 million in revenue by the end of 2001. By the end of 2002, the company had 5,740 customers and 70,000 users in 107 countries accessing the service in multiple currencies and 8 languages.
The first-ever community-based dreamforce event happened in 2003 where 1000 registered attendees took part in the event and 52 presentations were made that year. This was also the year when Salesforce began to grow internationally, expanding its offices to Australia, Germany, the UK, France, and more countries. There was no stopping the scale at which Salesforce was growing; 2003 ended with 400 global employees and over $100 million in revenue.
Within 5 years, Salesforce files for going public and successfully completes its initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, raising $110 million at $11 a share. The company left behind no opportunities and ventured into the mobile industry early on when it wasn’t even mainstream by launching a mobile app called AppExchange mobile.
In 2007, Salesforce officially launched its community - Trailblazers (more on that later) and by 2008 it crossed $1 billion in revenue making it the first cloud-computing company to breach the billion-dollar mark and its customer base grew to 55,400. This was also the year when the dreamforce event saw over 10,000 registered applicants show up.
In 2015, Salesforce was named one of the Top 10 best companies to work for and one of the world’s most admired software companies. It also entered the Fortune 500. In 2020, Salesforce was named #1 CRM software by Gartner for the 7th year in a row. It also did a to aid the pandemic with the introduction of Salesforce Care, work.com, and Vaccine cloud. This year the virtual dreamforce conference garnered over 140 million views. Whoa!
Salesforce was one of the first companies to bear the mantle of cloud and pioneer SaaS as we know it today. This was a time when SaaS was only just being conceptualized. There were no other companies doing it. So in a situation like this, the biggest constraint is not even the technological limitations that come with making something entirely new from scratch but the process of gaining people’s trust.
In all true sense of the phrase - this was a leap of faith. And if you want to succeed as a startup, in a market that has never existed before, there has to be a lot more you need to offer than just a product. The team at Salesforce understood and they realized that cultivating trust meant building relationships and that meant fostering a sense of community early on. All the accolades and the momentum at which they’ve scaled can be credited to the efforts they put into building close relationships.
Early pillars like trust, customer success, innovation, equality, and sustainability are core pillars that Salesforce has thrived on.
What started as a way to foster deeper and more meaningful relationships with people, eventually turned into an initiative that now powers hundreds and thousands of folks whose lives have been impacted by Salesforce in some way or another. According to a report, the Salesforce economy will create (and help create) over 9.3 million jobs and $1.6 trillion in new business revenue by 2026. This impact is largely powered by Salesforce’s community of Trailblazers who are learners and innovators who use Salesforce to create successful careers, companies, and communities around the world.
“Trailblazers are truly the heart and soul of Salesforce. And we’ve made it our mission to pave pathways for anyone to unlock career opportunities and provide them with the tools needed to succeed.” - Team Salesforce (source)
It’s a community of over a million Salesforce users you can connect with, network, learn, share, and grow. You can join discussions, learn new skills, and give back to the community whatever you find along the way.
Take part in thousands of discussions over hundreds of topics. Become a part of groups that are relevant to you and ask questions or share answers.
Find and join local groups near you, and collaborate with Trailblazers based on location, interests, and role.
Trailhead is Salesforce’s learning sanctity where you can learn how to use Salesforce for your organization and become a part of the community to spread and educate others. You can learn skills that are in demand, get resume-worth skills and credentials, and join the community to further discuss your learnings and give back what you’ve discovered.
Trailhead aims to prepare you for top-paying jobs around the world and equip you with skills that will never go out of style.
Trailhead academy is an expert-led learning platform where enthusiasts can accelerate learning with access to experts.
You can learn from instructors, build company-wide expertise with academy subscriptions, kickstart your career with virtual bootcamps, get faster certifications with academy events, and more.
Dreamforce is perhaps the largest software conference in the world that brings together the global Salesforce community for learning, fun, community building, and philanthropy. Trailblazers from all over the world gather to share their insights, successes, and learn the latest in industry innovations.
Dreamforce, which is attended by hundreds and thousands of people from around the world, is a living breathing example of how impactful a community-led event can be.
Dreamforce 2023 will be held in September this year.
TrailblazerDX is a grand event led by some of the most influential Trailblazers - approx over 400 experts from Salesforce, Slack, Tableau, and Mulesoft. These Trailblazers include developers, admins, and architects who are making the most of Salesforce and other automation or other platforms.
Salesforce plus is the official streaming platform for Salesforce. You can checkout on-demand events like dreamforce and TrailblazerDX in case you missed it in person. There are also events like world tour which headlines Trailblazers in networking events around the world, Slack frontiers which feature a series of episodes highlighting the best of Slack, and much more.
But Salesforce+ is a lot more than on-demand events. It has its own series that highlight community-led learning. Some of the original series include -
Attend events in your local area and be a part of conferences that are created by the community, for the community.
Community has been a guiding star for Salesforce since the beginning when what mattered the most to them was building relationships. Building a people-first product means having to prioritize people over other things, and that’s exactly what Salesforce did. How the company really scaled its customer success is by building a community of customer success professionals who are advocating for a customer success platform. Trailblazers are the true heart and soul of Salesforce.
From organizing the largest community-led SaaS event every year to supporting community-based learning, local groups, and online events - Salesforce has managed to build one of the largest ecosystems of an independently functioning organization that is powered by community-led growth. That’s quite something to look up to.
In this new era of AI - Salesforce still has skin in the game.
Asana scaled its mission of organizing work through a three-pronged community program and by supporting their community member in every possible way.
A lot of creators would agree that they wouldn't still be doing what they’re doing without Patreon. In a way, Patreon brings creators closer to their supporters and fosters a sense of community.