Three years ago I joined Salesforce after more than a decade as an entrepreneur and “startup guy.” I found a home here for many reasons, but one of them is the ability I have to continue being an entrepreneur.
Salesforce put the systems in place that allow it to scale and become one of the world’s largest software companies. Yet it hasn’t stifled the freedom, creativity and ability for employees to take the same kind of initiative that made it a phenomenally successful startup.
Last year I had the pleasure of launching Custom Metadata Types, an App Cloud innovation that enables unprecedented levels of customization on Force.com. That was a milestone in a journey that its inventor, App Cloud Principal Engineer Avrom Roy-Faderman, started five years earlier to create a “Platform on the Platform” capability on Force.com.
Through Salesforce’s programs to set aside time for employees to work on their own innovations, Avrom started creating proofs-of-concept and developing his invention outside his regular responsibilities as an engineer on the team that brought you custom objects and custom fields.
Once Avrom had developed his idea enough to convince himself of its feasibility and its value, he began shopping the project around. And like so many entrepreneurs with critical innovations, Avrom faced significant resistance bringing this product to market. “Platform on the Platform” is a non-obvious innovation, and one that was difficult for many people to understand and appreciate. And like any software company, Salesforce had a long list of important initiatives and customer-requested features that required investments.
I joined Salesforce determined to make Force.com a more open and general platform and expand what could be built on it. When I got wind of and understood Avrom’s “Platform on the Platform” concept I was ecstatic! This would allow developers to not just build on our platform, but to extend the platform itself. We put together a pitch, presented it to senior executives, and rallied enough support to get it funded.
But that was hardly the end. Like all entrepreneurs under threat of running out of money, the funding of our project was constantly in question and at risk of having its resources allocated elsewhere.
Fortunately, we succeeded in keeping it alive long enough to get to market. And now that the world has seen what Avrom first dreamed up half a decade prior, a growing number of visionary and influential people inside and outside the company recognize “Platform on the Platform” for what it is: a game changer.
The task was no easier as “intrapreneurs” at Salesforce than it would have been as entrepreneurs outside. It is not meant to be easy. If it were it would lead to mediocre products that would flop in the market. The constant testing and refining by fire turns great ideas into great products.
What matters is not that it was hard, but that it was possible. There are few large companies that provide the systems and environment where inventor-entrepreneurs like Avrom can succeed.
So what has become of “Platform on the Platform”? The launch announcement of its first feature, Custom Metadata Types, was received with wild enthusiasm. It became the most widely tweeted post on the Salesforce Developers Blog, even beating the announcement of the million-dollar hackathon! It was called “One of the biggest platform features ever” and “The holy freaking grail.”
Within a few months of the launch Custom Metadata Types were serving 10 million queries a day. A year later we have several thousand customers pushing that number toward 100 million daily queries. And with the recent launch of its next major feature -- Metadata Relationships -- we look forward to even more impressive growth.
I’m thrilled at what we have accomplished. And it hasn't been my only such journey at Salesforce. In my three years here I have proposed and secured funding for three new teams building entirely different products. I find that astounding.
I am grateful to have found my home in a corporate juggernaut that also remains a hotbed of innovation. And I can’t wait to see what the next year brings.
About the Author
Before joining Salesforce Aaron ran product management at Joyent. Prior to that he started a desktop virtualization company and led it to acquisition by Citrix. He also helped launch the global operations of KickStart, an African microenterprise nonprofit organization.