Salesforce wants to give startups, and society, a leg-up
By Benjamin Cher May 4, 2016
- Never stopped engaging with startups, but now there’s a formal avenue
- ‘We are trying to help companies be customer- AND community-focused’
THE South-East Asian startup ecosystem is so dominated by services startups, that it’s hard to credit the fact that most of today’s tech giants – which some entrepreneurs like think of as dowdy, old, and slumbering – started out as startups themselves.
San Francisco-based cloud computing pioneer Salesforce.com launched 17 years ago as a startup serving other startups, before it grew to become the corporate giant it is today.
But it has never lost sight of its startup roots or connection, according to Ludovic Ulrich, head of startup relations at the company.
Two years ago, it launched its Salesforce for Startups programme, which is now available in Asia, with over 5,000 members from 120 countries.
But even this programme is merely a formalisation of its ongoing engagement with startups, says Ulrich.
“We started by selling to startups – it’s not like we stopped and started again,” he says, speaking to Digital News Asia (DNA) in Singapore recently.
“But we wanted to acknowledge that our product offering has evolved, and [the Salesforce for Startups programme] is a way to share our experience.
“If you’re inspired by the success of [founder and chief executive officer] Marc Benioff or Salesforce, it’s about – how can we be instrumental in perhaps building the next SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) success story from Asia Pacific?” he adds.
The Salesforce difference
Many large corporations are already engaging with startups. Indeed, a joint study by Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups and the INSEAD business school found that 68% of the top 100 companies from the Forbes Global 500 are already engaging with startups.
In fact, the top 100 companies are working with startup two times more intensely than the last 100 companies on the list, according to the study.
But Ulrich (pic above) believes that Salesforce brings something different to this particular table, leveraging off its own experience to help with issues like penetrating new markets, creating innovation, or looking into mergers and acquisitions.
His team’s job is to make sure people understand Salesforce’s platform, products and playbook, and to also make sure startups understand the need to be customer-centric.
“It’s almost like we want startups to wear a t-shirt that says, ‘I’m a customer-focused company’,” says Ulrich.
“It sounds obvious, but if you look at the reality, not many people think about it every morning or do due diligence before shipping a new feature,” he says, adding that customer-centricity needs to be in every startup’s genes, and that customer experience is the responsibility of everyone at the company.
Salesforce for Startups is also about creating a global community of like-minded people, according to Ulrich.
And the company is also aware of its responsibilities now as a corporate ‘big brother’ – in the benign sense – to startups.
“When they join the programme, we try to help them get started with our platform and technology – and help them navigate the sales service market,” he says.
But he is quick to add that startups in the programme have no obligation to use any of Salesforce’s technologies or platforms.
“Whether or not they are interested in building with us, that’s fine – but it is about how you can engage with your customers.
“Startups fail because they lack customers, not because they lack technology,” he adds.
Salesforce is serious about corporate social responsibility, and CEO Benioff (pic above) has pledged that 1% of the company’s technology, resources and time would be devoted to philanthropy.
Ulrich hopes that the Salesforce for Startups programme would help instil the same values in its startups as well.
“It is the idea of encouraging startups to pledge 1% of their time, product or potential equity, to do great things,” he says. “If we can play a role in teaching that, that would be great.”
Such philanthropy also plays well with millennials, and can help startups attract such talents, so there is also pragmatism behind that altruism.
“To recruit millennials now, you need to have some sort of inspiration, and it cannot be distinct from the business,” says Ulrich.
“We are trying to help companies be customer- and community-focused,” he adds.
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