March 4, 2019
Q&A: Salesforce Ventures’ Rob Keith on the New $50 Million Australia Trailblazer Fund
By Matt Garratt, Managing Partner, Salesforce Ventures
Salesforce Ventures Managing Partner Matt Garratt with Rob Keith.
What do you think makes Salesforce Ventures unique in the VC world?
With an ever-increasing supply of venture capital pouring into the market, it’s imperative to be differentiated. I'm incredibly passionate about the model we're building here at Salesforce Ventures. We have the global reach of a large-scale venture firm that’s backed by the brand reputation of Salesforce.
We also have a unique investing mindset in that we are hyper-focused on partnering with amazing entrepreneurs who are focused on customer success. When we walk into a room to meet with a CEO, we are backed not only by the entire Salesforce ecosystem but also the knowledge gained from doing more than 300 investments. Salesforce pioneered the SaaS and cloud model 20 years ago, and the internal knowledge and resources that we have at our disposal are really unmatched. I'm definitely excited to take all of this to the Australian market.
Salesforce Ventures ‘invests in innovation’ -- what does that mean to you?
I think of innovation as ideas that aim to solve existing problems in a unique way or a creative idea that provides solutions to an emerging problem that will become mainstream in the future. We like to invest in companies that are creating a technology that is 10X times better than an existing solution today, or that are building a technology that is solving a new problem in an emerging market. We always view this from a customer's framework and mindset. What pain points does the customer have today that we can solve, or what are some of the problems that we know they're going to run into 3-5 years from now?
Let's talk about Australia. You're moving to Sydney to lead the investments there. What are you most excited about with that opportunity?
I've always had an entrepreneurial bug inside me. I think the opportunity to move to a new market and help shape the Salesforce Ventures brand is a big one. When I joined Salesforce five years ago, this was one of the things that drew me to the position. I could have joined an already established venture firm, but I really wanted to join a group that was building something special and lasting.
I view the Australian opportunity as similar to when I first started -- a new venture. In Australia and New Zealand, the successes of companies like Atlassian and Xero have helped to spur a tech ecosystem and created a flywheel for further innovation. We've seen the second wave of amazing enterprise companies emerge such as Canva, Deputy, Safety Culture, and Culture Amp. We also believe the Australian market is on the verge of breaking out from a startup and venture capital point of view. There is a combination of talent, capital, great research universities and successful exits that create a great network effect. Australia is beginning to capitalize on that.
In addition to the new Australia Fund, Salesforce has started some similar funds, including the Japan Fund, and the Canada Fund. What are the advantages gained from launching these regional investments?
We gain a lot from planting a flag in the ground in these regions and markets. We want to let venture capitalists and entrepreneurs know that Salesforce is here to help emerging businesses become successful. When we first started building the program in 2014 we had to do a lot of marketing and branding around what Salesforce Ventures was. Now we can truly help those regional entrepreneurs as strategic investors. We think the success we've seen in Canada, Europe, and Japan is driving the need and demand to create more regional-focused funds.
If you picture yourself a year from now--a year from when the fund launches--what do you hope to accomplish?
I hope over the next year, we are able to deliver a similar impact to what we’ve seen in other parts of the world, like the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan, and really help to grow the Australian startup ecosystem. Our hope is that Salesforce Ventures is one of the first venture firms that SaaS entrepreneurs reach out to when they decide to raise capital and bring on partners. We have gained valuable experience in seeing how regional funds can drive success for companies and customers across industries.
I truly think we are in the early innings of the startup ecosystem in Australia, and I’m incredibly excited to be able to participate in and help shape the forefront of the technology ecosystem there.