We’ve written before about start-ups, and more recently about Cisco’s Entrepreneurs in Residence programme, which provides a six-month intensive start-up boost. Now Salesforce Ventures, the venture capital arm of Salesforce.com, has announced its own support for innovation and start-ups. It’s a fund of $100 million which will be available to companies building innovative mobile apps and other produces that extend the power of the Salesforce1 platform.
A new approach to the Internet of Things
Salesforce Ventures is tangible evidence of Salesforce.com’s commitment to creating and fostering the world’s most innovative cloud ecosystem. Its latest investment is designed to broaden the use of the Salesforce1 Platform and help companies connect to their customers in entirely new ways.
Salesforce.com has invested in more than 100 cloud start-ups since 2009, and the Salesforce Ventures portfolio now includes Anaplan, Box, Dropbox, Evernote, FinancialForce, GainSight, Kenandy, Layer, MuleSoft and StayClassy. However, the new Salesforce1 Fund investments will focus on the Internet of Things (IoT), the vast network of interconnected devices expected to reach 50 billion connected things and a trillion connected sensors by 2020, according to estimates by Cisco.
But this is a different approach to the IoT. As developers of one of the leading customer relationship management platforms, it’s perhaps not surprising that Salesforce.com is among the first companies to articulate the fact that behind each device is a connected customer. In other words, it’s not really the Internet of Things, but the Internet of Customers, and it offers an unprecedented opportunity to connect with customers.
The new Salesforce1 Fund is focused on providing funds to companies who are trying to revolutionise the way that they and others connect with customers, via the Salesforce1 platform. The first wave of Salesforce1 Fund investments are wide-ranging, including:
- DocuSign, which has a Digital Transaction Management platform that enables mobile Salesforce users and their customers to go 100% digital. From within Salesforce1, anyone can carry out any transaction securely at any time, on any mobile device.
- am+ is a totally different type of organisation: a fashion and technology brand that makes aspirational garments and accessories with functionality and untethered communications.
- com is designed to help sales reps become more productive and make more sales. It integrates useful telephone features like Click-to-Call™ and Lead Management, all powered by a predictive analytics engine, into any Salesforce1 mobile device.
- Skuid allows customers to create great apps for any device without code.
All these are very different companies, but united by use of Salesforce1 as a platform, and a determination to connect with their customers in new and radically different ways.
A new approach to philanthropy
The Saleforce Ventures portfolio companies don’t just get access to funding, although that’s obviously an important part of the package. Like the entrepreneurs on Cisco’s accelerator programme, they also have access to Salesforce.com’s innovators and executives, and the world’s largest cloud ecosystem, making an investment much more of a partnership. But as well as that, there’s also access to the expertise of the Salesforce.com Foundation.
The Salesforce.com Foundation has a straightforward model: leverage 1% of the company’s product, equity and time to improve communities around the world. This philanthropic model is known as 1:1:1, and it’s being built into the Salesforce Ventures portfolio companies from the very beginning, making giving back part of their business model.
We have commented before that start-ups have changed. They are often different not just from other companies, but also from earlier start-ups. They’re much more likely to be small, just two or three people who want to work together. They’re often less about a product, and more about a way of life. And unsurprisingly, that fits very well with a climate of ‘giving back’. Kraig Swenrud, founder and CEO of GetFeedback.com, one of the early portfolio companies, has commented that service, mentoring and giving back are all embedded into the company’s DNA. He’s delighted to be able to use an established model such as the Foundation’s 1:1:1. Other companies which have adopted the model include Appirio, Box, FinancialForce, and NewVoiceMedia.
Changing the world one step at a time
Suzanne DiBianca, the president of the Salesforce.com Foundation hopes ambitiously that this ‘early stage corporate giving’ will change the world. It’s certainly a new approach to philanthropy, which has traditionally been the preserve of well-established companies. But those involved are embracing it with enthusiasm, and not, it seems, just because it’s part of the package that comes with a Salesforce Ventures investment. Instead, it’s genuinely right for them. Salesforce.com may yet change the world.