Dreamforce: toothbrushes, time travel and Ellison in absentia

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan November 19, 2013
Apparently the largest inflatable structure ever commissioned in North America. Huey Lewis and the News filled with The Power of Love at 9am. Sean Penn and the Prime Minister of Haiti. And what can only be assumed to be a very expensive pair of bespoke Louboutin sneakers AKA the cloud walkers.


  • Apparently the largest inflatable structure ever commissioned in North America.
  • Huey Lewis and the News filled with The Power of Love at 9am.
  • Sean Penn and the Prime Minister of Haiti.
  • And what can only be assumed to be a very expensive pair of bespoke Louboutin sneakers AKA the cloud walkers.

It can only be Dreamforce of course - more than just a technology conference, it’s part leadership summit, part music festival and of course part shameless sales pitch.

From its humble origins in the ballroom of a downtown San Francisco hotel way back when, Dreamforce has grown and grown and so have the crowds.

OK, no-one really buys CEO Marc Benioff’s claims for the headcount - carefully worded along the lines of ‘135,000 people registered to attend’ - but there’s easily 60,000 or so here in person.

In some respects this year it’s all about back to basics. After previous Dreamforces dominated by a fixation on Chatter and the unfortunate dalliance with the Social Enterprise branding, this year the self-styled Customer Company is all about the customer again.

CRM is no longer the three letter four letter word that many providers have assumed it had become in recent years. Salesforce.com is out and proud as a CRM solutions provider.

"Remember who I am and the loyalty I deserve!" thunders Benioff in the highly choreographed keynote that goes on for perhaps half an hour too long. (He's playing the role of a customer here. It's not a demand for attention from the crowd.)

But then there’s a lot to get in. Huey Lewis, Sean Penn, various product managers doing the hard sell, co-founder Parker Harris in a comedy wig and HP’s Meg Whitman snuck in at the end in a cameo appearance that I can’t see doing much to further the born-again detente between Salesforce.com and Oracle.

A phenomenal toothbrush

Forget the Internet of Things; it’s all about the Internet of Customers. “Behind every one of those devices is a customer,” booms Benioff, brandishing an electric toothbrush to prove his point.

(For those of us who remember him pulling an iPad out of his ass a few years back, an electric toothbrush seems something of an anti-climax perhaps, but it serves a purpose as we'll find out.)

He used to run Salesforce.com on an iPad. That’s changed as well. He’s doing it all on an iPhone now. “I only use my mobile phone to run Salesforce,” he declares, extolling the virtues of the newly named Salesforce1. “I don’t have to go anywhere else. Honestly, it’s the best engineering we have ever done.”

But back to the toothbrush, fully equipped with Wi-Fi and GPS for data collection. "It's a phenomenal toothbrush," enthuses Benioff.

It's not all about dental hygiene though. “When I go into my dentist’s office, he’s not going to say, ‘Did you brush?’, he’s going to say, ‘What’s the login to your Philips account?’,” says Benioff. (“You have lovely teeth” Philips CIO assures him later.)

Everything is connected, the Salesforce boss reminds the faithful. “The third great wave of computing is upon us,” says Benioff, walking among the audience in what is now his trademark presentational style.

No-one else can get away with it - and actually it might be a good idea for the product managers who follow his lead not to do so as none of them can command the room in the way their CEO can.

But off he goes, talking all the time without recourse to notes and getting his message out there.

Dreamforce 2013
'Doc' Parker

“You need to get to the future ahead of your customers and be ready to greet them when they arrive,” he declares, teeing up a comedy entrance by co-founder Harris in a bad fright wig from Back to the Future, albeit with Benioff’s Tesla car rather than a DeLorean.

Another theme of this year’s show seems to be women as technology and business leaders. Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg are nominally the main representatives of this, but HP’s Whitman came on at the end of the keynote to be treated to a glowing eulogy from Benioff.

An appearance by the HP CEO was perhaps a fitting irony. At one point we had been expecting the appearance of a rather different CEO after Benioff invited Larry Ellison to attend Dreamforce and the Oracle boss immediately agreed.

But since then Salesforce.com has chosen to go with Workday rather then Fusion HCM for its HCM applications and now HP rather then Oracle’s hardware to enable its new SuperPod offering.

So Larry’s no-show is hardly surprising, (but that’s the second keynote he’s missed now in recent months!)

Benioff is diplomatic: "Larry is in Kyoto looking at the maple leaves...I’ll leave it there. I have a whole detente with him which is going really well."

But if Larry couldn't make his diary work, Blondie, Greenday and Deepak Chopra have and are yet to come. Party on.

Dreamforce continues thru Thursday.


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