It’s been a busy few days - and hasn’t that been great?
It’s been the return of Dreamforce to the streets of San Francisco, a homecoming festival that doesn’t yet mirror the excesses of the pre-COVID years, but has seen the return to some kind of normality that CEO Marc Benioff talked to me about a couple of days ago.
For me, being back in the room has been the big takeaway from this week. Over the pandemic period the shift to online and virtual events kept the connections up and, while I absolutely agree with my colleague Jon Reed that hybrid gatherings are the way ahead, the experience of being able to sit down face-to-face with customers and execs can’t been beaten.
I’m not alone in that. There’s been a big sense here this week of a ‘family reunion’ among the Salesforce Ohana, one that’s been reflected by the now familiar sight of people who clearly haven’t seen one another for the past three years hugging in the corridors of the Moscone Center. That’s made for some boisterous moments, not least among the close-knit Golden Hoodie community, whose whooping and hollering in the keynote on Tuesday was indicative of a pent-up excitement getting its long-awaited release.
Not that everyone was making a return. One of the most notable moments in that keynote was when Benioff asked for a show of hands as to how many people were here for the first time. The resulting number of raised arms was startling. This has been a Dreamforce with a lot of ‘virgins’ having their first exposure to the event. One of them told me that she’d planned to go to the conference before COVID and that she’d kept that in mind throughout lockdown as a ‘to do’ item. Objective achieved!
For those of us who are Dreamforce veterans, there was much in the keynote that was familiar. That’s not a criticism - it’s part and parcel of that ‘return to normality’ that has been so prevalent. So, there was the Hawaiian blessing to kick us off, the appearance of Lenny Kravitz to play us into the main business of the day and yes, Marc, a lot of us have indeed heard the 1/1/1 joke before, but it was good to hear it again in the flesh.
The keynote itself saw the new Salesforce leadership double act of Benioff and Bret Taylor in action, a sort of tech Martin and Lewis as the banter bounced back and forth between the two. To my mind, this is a very strong partnership that’s built on a solid foundation of mutual respect and friendship. Seeing the two men afterwards at close quarters, the badinage on stage may have been partly scripted, but it’s mirrored in their fist-bumping off-stage interaction.
Now, yes, the keynote ended up being too long - Taylor’s “just two hours to go” quip near the end was indicative of an awareness of that - and it was a great shame that the last 20 minutes or so saw a lot of people making an early exit. But hey, as Benioff said to me afterwards with a wry grin, ‘I’ve done longer!’.
The main meat of the keynote was solid and slick, with the marketing team doing a good job on the demos and the product pitches. Genie certainly looks like the big deal it was pushed as being and the sustainability theme that ran through the entire conference led to some compelling sessions.
I could have done with more real world involvement of the customer use cases in the keynote, rather than just the video testimonials. It’s terrific to have the CEO of L’Oreal taking time out to get involved, for example, but when he’s then essentially a cameo appearance of a few lines, it seems like a bit of a wasted opportunity.
That said, the rest of conference saw the usual stellar line-up of speakers - Matthew McConaughey, Bono, Jane Goodall, Al Gore, yada, yada, yada. I didn’t spot Will.i.am this year, but there’s always next time.
On a wider note, it was great to be back in San Francisco, my favorite city in the world. The old girl still looked beautiful in the bright sunshine, although there are clearly a lot of issues downtown that are still there post-pandemic. Glamorous, but knackered, was my thought when wandering around. There’s a lot riding on Dreamforce in terms of regenerating the local economy.
This year’s gathering hasn’t been as large as previous years when the show essentially took over the entire city. But at a time when businesses have been crippled by COVID and when other companies have taken their conferences off to the fleshpots of Las Vegas or to a Mickey Mouse hotel in Florida, Dreamforce has provided a welcome boost. Salesforce has always been wedded to San Francisco and it’s heartening that this remains the case.
So, that was Dreamforce 2022. For our take on the best of the content, check out our dedicated event hub here. As usual, we’ll be adding some more bits and pieces over the next week or so, but for now, dig in to what caught our eyes over the past few days.
Final word goes Benioff, who greeted me on Tuesday with:
Isn’t it just great to be back?
It is indeed, Marc, it is indeed. Here’s to bigger and better next year. Up-and-to-the-right!
This has been Dreamforce - and that’s a wrap!