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Fireside Chat: Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Parker Harris at TrailheaDX

Small is beautiful. That was a central theme in a fireside chat event at Salesforce’s TrailheaDX developer conference, featuring Chairman and CEO Marc Benioff and Co-Founder and CTO Parker Harris. The discussion was moderated by Business Insider’s Chief Technology Reporter Julie Bort.

With many Trailblazers in the audience, Bort focused some of her questions on how entrepreneurs can build successful organizations. Marc and Parker said they share the belief that small teams are effective, and big teams almost always run into problems.

“I see these small companies that we acquire and they have small teams. Whenever they come to me and say they need 25 or 50 people,” Parker said, “I say that’s not true. They are not thinking about it in the right way.”

Harris cautioned about hiring the right people. “I would rather have a backlog of work than a person who is not right for the team,” Parker said.

“I think something that we did very well from the beginning was we kept a really small team for a long time,” Marc said. “I’ve always recommend keeping teams really small. Small teams are key, and if you so let your team get too big, you’re going to have a problem. Small teams listen to their customers and iterate quickly.” While small teams are key for development the opposite is true in sales, he added. “The only way to win a market share war is with an army.”

Both Marc and Parker emphasized that working with the right people, not just the right number of them, is also a key concept. “If you are starting something like Salesforce it is really important to surround yourself with people who believe you will be successful, because a lot of people will tell you you’re not,” Benioff said. “That’s part of why Salesforce had trouble getting investments from venture capitalists early on. You have to be aware of the people who are around you.”

Among the people that Benioff said made a big difference early on for Salesforce was Dell Technologies Founder and CEO Michael Dell. “He has been not just a friend but a huge mentor and has really helped me at every stage since before Salesforce was founded,” he said. “One thing I learned from him is there is no linear success and that the line goes from here to here and then there are jagged edges along the way. There are a lot of ups and downs.”

“If you look at our history, it looks amazing, but there were hard times,” Harris agreed. On the topic of efficiency, he shared what a sign above his desk says: “It needs to be fast, simple and right the first time…And did I say fast?” He added that you can’t always be right the first time, but when you know it’s going to be wrong don’t do it.

“We knew originally that what we were making for salespeople had to be fast, simple and right the first time,” Harris said, discussing Salesforce’s earliest days.

Benioff and Harris both emphasized that there is much innovation to come. “There are new ideas coming all the time,” Marc said. “There are more ideas than we can possibly execute.” He mentioned developing blockchain and cryptocurrency solutions for customers as a possible new initiative for Dreamforce in September.

Bort raised the topic of trust, and referenced Facebook’s current privacy challenges. “Trust is the highest priority in our industry now,” Marc said. “We have to align behind it and constantly reinforce it. That’s different from where the computer industry has been before, where the best idea wins and everything is about how good your idea is. I’m not saying it’s wrong to focus on an idea but at some point you have to realize you are responsible for something greater than yourself…and lead from that position. We are at a new point in technology and our values need to shift.”

“Our Ohana is being built by this transparency and everyone feels they are part of it and have a role in making change,” Parker said.

Equality is a core Salesforce value. “In our company as the CEO when I think of gender equality, it’s four things: equal advancement and opportunity–no ceilings and we want every great exec to rise; pay equality and preventing sexual harassment. In some areas we have to have a strong line and make it clear,” Marc said. “Values don’t mean anything until they turn into behaviors.”

Meanwhile, innovation and growth took center stage In a morning keynote address at TrailheaDX that included discussion of Salesforce’s latest cloud—Integration Cloud. Salesforce Chief Product Officer and President Bret Taylor emphasized that today’s customer experiences must be more connected and holistic than ever before. “Modern customers expect connected experiences, and they want personalization in every touch point that they have with your brand. This requires taking a 360-degree look at the customer. Integration is the next big step for the Salesforce platform, and it can help you connect every experience.”

Growth is, as always, a core value at Salesforce, where the concept of doing well in business terms is actively tied to doing good. “We’ll be the fastest growing enterprise software company to reach $20 billion in revenues,” Vice Chairman, President and COO Keith Block said in his morning keynote address. “We also believe we are in the business of making the world a better place. We believe that business is the greatest platform for driving change.”


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