The history of Salesforce from 1999 until now

Imagine a world where managing customer relationships and sales processes was a tedious and disorganized task. Contacts were scattered across spreadsheets, follow-up calls were missed, and deals fell through the cracks.

  • Published 09 May 2024
  • 12 mins read
The history of Salesforce from 1999 until now
Table of contents
Article Highlights
  • Salesforce introduced Einstein GPT, an AI solution for CRM that automates content generation within the Salesforce platform, enhancing efficiency and productivity.
  • Salesforceโ€™s DevOps Center promotes Git-based development, offering a unified configuration and codebase for better collaboration between low-code and pro-code teams.
  • Trailhead Coach is a new initiative by Salesforce to provide guided learning paths, free certification exams, and job interview opportunities, addressing the need for upskilling in the Salesforce ecosystem.
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This was the reality for many businesses until a trailblazing company named Salesforce came along and revolutionized the industry. Founded in 1999, Salesforce has become a household name and a leader in cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software.

From humble beginnings in a San Francisco apartment to a multi-billion dollar global enterprise, the story of Salesforce is a testament to the power of innovation and the importance of putting customers first.

Join the journey through Salesforce's history and how it has transformed the way people do business.

The beginning: 1999

It's March 1999, and from a cozy one-bedroom apartment nestled atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, a handful of pioneers embark on a mission to change the business software industry.

Among them are:

  • Marc Benioff
  • Parker Harris
  • Frank Dominguez
  • Dave Moellenhoff.

Their goal? To create business software applications in a way never done before. They envisioned a world where software could be delivered through the cloud, eliminating the need for:

  • Exorbitant upfront costs
  • Lengthy implementations
  • The never-ending hassle of maintenance and upgrades.
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Within a month of development, the prototype was up and running โ€“ a bare-bones model with tabs across the top, reminiscent of Amazon's user-friendly interface. Indeed, Amazon inspired Marc's vision of a website that could deliver business applications with the same ease and accessibility as Amazon.com.

Fast-forward to July 1999, when Marc Benioff took the plunge and went full throttle into Salesforce.com. His first goal was to find an office that could keep pace with the scalability of his groundbreaking software.

After much searching and deliberation, Marc set his sights on an impressive space at the Rincon Center โ€“ a sprawling 8K square feet of potential.

As time passed, the office soon became a hub of frenzied activity. By November of that year, desks had spilled into the hallways, and conference rooms were being commandeered as makeshift workspaces.

Despite the chaos, the team soldiered on and continued to innovate. But, as with all things, it was time to level up again. By November 2000, the team had outgrown its quarters and was ready for a new home at One Market Street, a place synonymous with Salesforce's growth and success.

Say hello to Salesforce.com: 2000

As the new millennium dawned, Salesforce was ready to take the tech world by storm. They had a top-notch product, a formidable team, and a brand-new office at One Market Street. But how would Salesforce stand out in a sea of industry giants?

Enter the product launch.

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Salesforce knew it had to make a splash, and it did just that by hosting a launch event at the Regency Theatre. Guests were in for a wild ride as they descended into the Regency's lower level. It had been transformed into a dark, dystopian world of enterprise software โ€“ or, as they aptly called it, "Hell." 

Caged actors portrayed screaming salespeople, and attendees were invited to play a game of whack-a-mole with the moles representing other software companies.

But it wasn't all doom and gloom. As guests went through the fiery depths, they eventually emerged to find Salesforce.com โ€“ a beacon of hope and innovation in a sea of chaos.

Salesforce launched a bold advertising campaign featuring a fighter jet shooting down a biplane. The fighter jet symbolized Salesforce, a force to be reckoned with. The biplane represented the outdated, ineffective software industry that Salesforce was improving.

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With a launch event as daring and edgy as the company itself, Salesforce announced its arrival to the world in style.

Dreamforce was born: 2003

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In 2003, the Salesforce ecosystem welcomed a new addition that would forever change the landscape. Before this, Salesforce had been hosting "City Tours" nationwide. These brief events gave customers a taste of the latest features and roadmap while providing a platform for networking and sharing tips and tricks.

Salesforce was ready to take it to the next level with an event like no other. They called it Dreamforce. It was a few days of non-stop innovation, networking, and excitement.

The inaugural Dreamforce was held at the iconic Westin St. Francis Hotel in downtown San Francisco. It boasted over 1K registered attendees, all eager to soak up the knowledge and insights of the 52 presentations on offer.

Salesforce introduced its product, Sforce 2.0. This on-demand application service was the first of its kind in the industry, paving the way for a new era of cloud-based technology. With Salesforce leading the charge, it was already clear then that innovation was the name of the game.

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Dreamforce quickly became a staple of the Salesforce community and a must-attend event for anyone in the tech world. Over the years, it has grown into a behemoth, drawing tens of thousands of attendees from all around the globe and featuring some of the biggest names in tech and entertainment. 

But it all started with a simple idea โ€“ to unite people and showcase the latest innovations in the Salesforce ecosystem.

Aloha Salesforce Ohana: 2004

Salesforce Ohana may be a relatively new term to you, but its roots go back to the very beginning of Salesforce. From the outset, the company's culture has been centered around a sense of community and inclusivity that extends far beyond its employees.

In fact, the Ohana spirit was embodied in Salesforce's very fabric from day one. It all started with a simple idea: wearing Hawaiian shirts to work to foster a sense of camaraderie and shared purpose.

This quirky tradition quickly caught on, and soon, the Salesforce team was sporting floral patterns and bright colors every day of the week.

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But it wasn't just a fashion statement. The Hawaiian theme extended to Salesforce's launch party for their IPO in June 2004, complete with leis, hula dancers, and a tropical vibe that embodied the company's commitment to creating a welcoming, supportive community.

It's no surprise, then, that the culture of Hawaii inspired Marc to purchase the company's first office at the Rincon Centre. From the vibrant colors to the sense of family and community, the Aloha spirit was infused into Salesforce's DNA.

And today, the Salesforce Ohana has evolved into a global community that spans continents and cultures, united by a shared commitment to making the world a better place.

Whether you're an employee, a customer, or simply a member of the larger Salesforce family, the Ohana spirit is alive and well โ€“ a testament to the enduring values that have shaped Salesforce from the beginning.

Welcome AppExchange: 2005

In 2005, Salesforce ushered in a new era of business software with a service that left the competition in the dust.

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What set AppExchange apart was its focus on community and collaboration. By providing partners with a platform to develop and showcase their applications, AppExchange opened up a world of possibilities for Salesforce customers.

This allowed businesses to tap into a vast ecosystem of tools and services to help them achieve their unique goals and visions.

For Salesforce, AppExchange was the ultimate opportunity to expand its capabilities and services while staying true to its core values of community-building. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, AppExchange is a thriving marketplace with apps and solutions available to help businesses of all sizes achieve success.

The arrival of new tools: 2006

Back in the glory days 2006, a whopping 5K Salesforce enthusiasts flocked to Dreamforce, eagerly anticipating the hottest industry breakthroughs from the one and only industry maven.

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Little did they know that what they were about to witness would change the face of development forever.

It all began with Apex, Salesforce's on-demand programming language. For the first time, third-party developers could write and run code on Salesforce.com's multi-tenant, shared architecture.

This breakthrough empowered customers, partners, and developers with the same language and platform that had made Salesforce a force to be reckoned with in the industry.

But Salesforce was just getting started. Enter Parker Harris and his game-changing technology, Visualforce. This powerful tool allowed users to create any user interface they desired.

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With this one-of-a-kind innovation, Salesforce opened the door to Platform-as-a-Service, the next level of its already incredible SaaS platform.

And in 2008, the world was introduced to Force.com โ€“ a platform that opened up a whole new realm of possibilities for Salesforce customers. With Force.com, users could build custom applications that leveraged the robust and scalable CRM solution they had come to love.

With some of Salesforce's biggest customers โ€“ like Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, Thomson Reuters, and Japan Post โ€“ jumping on board right away, it was clear that the draw of Force.com was undeniable.

What made it so appealing? For one, it was four times faster than conventional programming methods. This made it an ideal solution for businesses that needed to move quickly and efficiently.

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And with the power of Apex and Visualforce behind it, Force.com was poised to change the game in ways no one could have anticipated.

Reaching for the stars with Marketing Cloud: 2012

With Sales, Service, and PaaS firmly established as part of the Salesforce suite of products, the company set its sights on a new market.

In the lead-up to Dreamforce 2012, Salesforce was on a buying spree, snapping up companies in a particular space.

  • First up was Radian6, a social listening tool that Salesforce acquired for $326 million
  • Next came Buddy Media, which specialized in publishing and analyzing social media content โ€“ a savvy acquisition that cost Salesforce a whopping $745 million
  • Finally, ExactTarget, a range of media marketing tools, was acquired for a staggering $2.5 billion.
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Salesforce Marketing Cloud was created through the acquisition of these three separate purchases, which totaled $3.6 billion.

And at Dreamforce 2012, with a raucous crowd cheering them on, Salesforce unveiled its latest innovation. Marketing Cloud offers businesses an all-in-one solution for managing their marketing campaigns and social media presence.

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With Salesforce's track record of innovation and success, it was clear that Marketing Cloud was positioned for big thingsโ€”just like the company that created it.

Introducing mobile Salesforce: 2013

As smartphones began to rise in popularity in 2013 โ€“ with over 55% of the planet's population owning one โ€“ Salesforce realized it was high time to turn their attention to mobile.

Until then, they had a mobile app called Salesforce Mobile, which provided limited access to users' data from their phones.

But with the mobile revolution in full swing, it was clear that something bigger and better was needed to keep up with the times.

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Enter Salesforce1, the platform that changed everything. With a mission to make all of a user's data, apps, and customers accessible on mobile, Salesforce1 represented a giant leap forward in mobile technology.

Salesforce1 changed and eventually adopted the appearance of the Salesforce platform, leading to its current name, Lightning.

Trailhead hit the scene: 2014

With Trailhead, anyone can create an account and start learning, regardless of location or previous experience.

Since its launch at Dreamforce 2014, Trailhead has attracted a huge following thanks to its cutting-edge features and engaging content.

The introduction of Superbadges, certification maintenance exams, and a constant stream of new modules across a wide range of topics have all helped to cement Trailhead's status as the go-to platform for learning Salesforce.

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With the introduction of myTrailhead, organizations can now create gamified training programs, making it easier than ever to upskill their workforce. Plus, with the launch of Trailhead GO for iOS in 2019, learning on the go has never been easier.

The Lightning experience: 2015

For 16 years, Salesforce's look and feel remained relatively unchanged โ€“ with its signature Amazon-style tabs. But a few years ago, everything changed. In a move designed to keep customers happy and promote the componentized way of developing what Salesforce is known for, the company set out to create a new look for its flagship product.

Enter the Lightning Experience โ€“ a bright, vibrant, and responsive app that forever changed how Salesforce looked through a browser.

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The Lightning Experience was gradually introduced to the community in 2015 and was officially announced at Dreamforce a few months later.

It was more than just a new look, though โ€“ it aimed to unify the look and feel of Salesforce across all devices, making it easier to navigate and use the platform.

AI for everyone: 2016

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In 2016, Salesforce announced the launch of its newest product, Einstein. Utilizing advanced AI capabilities, Einstein provides customers with the latest insights into their platform and customers across all Salesforce products.

With Einstein, businesses could tap into cutting-edge AI technology to supercharge their sales, service, and marketing efforts. The possibilities were endless for developers, including the ability to build apps using the powerful Einstein engine.

Partnering with MuleSoft and Tableau: 2018 โ€“ 2019

In 2018, Salesforce made a bold move that sent shockwaves through the tech industry โ€“ they acquired MuleSoft for a whopping $6.5 billion.

But why did Salesforce make such a significant investment in MuleSoft? The answer is the platform's ability to connect backend legacy systems to the cloud. MuleSoft enables businesses to undergo a digital transformation like never before.

In 2019, Salesforce did it again. They made waves with their jaw-dropping $15.7 billion acquisition of Tableau, a world-renowned leader in data visualization and business intelligence.

Automating innovations: 2021 โ€“ 2022

In 2021, Salesforce bid a fond farewell to two of its long-standing automation tools, Workflow Rules and Process Builder, in favor of a new and improved solution โ€“ Flow.

Why the switch? Workflow Rules and Process Builder had not received significant updates in years and were starting to show their age.

At TrailblazerDX 2022, Flow and Apex, Salesforce's premier automation tools, would be fully integrated into Slack, opening up a world of possibilities for businesses looking to integrate the platform into their everyday workflows and processes.

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But that wasn't all. Salesforce also had some exciting news about their long-awaited Salesforce DevOps Centre. A tool that would replace change sets and bring DevOps best practices to the forefront of the Salesforce ecosystem.

Salesforce will continue to make history

Salesforce.com's remarkable accomplishments are undoubtedly impressive. But their influence on the world and the community they aspire to shape stands out.

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By embracing their โ€˜1-1-1 model,โ€™ they have contributed countless volunteer hours and donated millions of dollars, along with generous offerings of their products, to charitable organizations spanning the globe.

The possibilities for what lies ahead for Salesforce and their cultivated community are endless.

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Last updated: 11 Jul 2024