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Marc Benioff

Marc Benioff's war on software has forever changed the industry, but this 49 year-old entrepreneur says he is nowhere near finished.

Ranked America’s most innovative company by Forbes for three years in a row, Salesforce.com has been credited with turning the software industry on its head, revamping the way CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software are designed and distributed. The company was the first to provide enterprise applications through a web browser, and has maintained its leadership position in on-demand CRM services through continual innovation.

Leading this tech revolution is the loquacious Marc Benioff; at the age of 49, he’s already authored three best-selling books. True to industry clichés, Benioff founded Salesforce.com in March 1999 out of a modest, rented apartment in the San Francisco area. However, he was anything but your typical Stanford dropout looking to make millions out of his garage.

Already 35 years-old at the time, he had cut his teeth at industry heavyweights such as Oracle and Apple and counted among his close friends and mentors legends such as Apple’s Steve Jobs, former Cisco CEO John Chambers and Larry Ellison of Oracle. At the ripe age of 23, he was named Oracle’s “Rookie of the Year” and, three years later, was promoted to the position of vice president.

His impressive CV contrasted, however, with his unbridled ambition and idealism. With his new venture, the rapacious entrepreneur set an ambitious goal: the end of software. “We don’t want to create a company but a movement for on-demand services,” said Benioff in an early interview with USA Today.

Instead of investing in expensive hardware and updating and maintaining enterprise software, salesforce.com offers clients easy access to its CRM services directly over the internet. As Benioff likes to describe it to incredulous reporters, “instead of buying the power plant, companies just pay for the electricity they use.”

The company’s grandiose goal is a direct attack on established software giants like Microsoft, SAP and Oracle. By selling its product as a subscription to a web-based service, Salesforce.com is able to charge a fraction of its competitors’ prices and provide an offering more tailored to individual users. Customers can even build their own applications on the company’s architecture or in the salesforce.com cloud.

From small family-run outfits to Fortune 500 companies, businesses have quickly embraced the Salesforce model. In 2013, the company posted revenue of over $3 billion and employed just shy of 10,000. More importantly, it can also now boast that it has revolutionized the industry without hyperbole. Today, over a quarter of all business software is delivered via services like Salesforce.com.

More established players in the software industry have struggled to keep up. While Salesforce.com has continually reaffirmed its market leadership, old industry titans have only slowly moved into the cloud-based market through acquisitions of smaller providers. Oracle bought out RightNow in October 2011 and SAP acquired SuccessFactors in December 2011.

What gives the company its edge is its continual, fast-paced innovation. It’s not just a good idea that counts, Benioff thinks, but the ability to implement it. Salesforce.com has acquired almost 30 companies over the years when it saw something it couldn’t afford to wait on. In 2012, the company dished out over $1 billion for Radian6 and Buddy Media, which will make up the company’s new Marketing Cloud division. “Innovation is a continuum,” he says. “You have to think about how the world is evolving and transforming. Are you part of the continuum?”

Benioff is also reputed to be something of a PR genius. “He’s one of the last showmen in tech,” said software analyst Bruce Richardson in a 2007 interview. Bold innovation may be the mainstay of Salesforce.com’s success, but the company’s potent marketing campaigns are responsible for its meteoric rise. Celebrities who have participated in Salesforce.com events over the years include former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and rock legends David Bowie and Ray Davies.

However, success does not come without a fair share of disappointment. “When you ride the edge of marketing like we do, you can easily fall off and, unfortunately, we occasionally do,” Benioff admits. “You can’t win every battle in a long war… you just have to win the war against software.”

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