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Salesforce announces new tools to boost developer experience on Commerce Cloud

Salesforce announced some new developer tools today, designed to make it easier for programmers to build applications on top of Commerce Cloud in what is known in industry parlance as a “headless” system.

What that means is that developers can separate the content from the design and management of the site, allowing companies to change either component independently.

To help with this goal, Salesforce announced some new and enhanced APIs that enable developers to take advantage of features built into the Commerce Cloud platform without having to build them from scratch. For instance, they could take advantage of Einstein, Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform, to add elements like next-best actions to the site, the kind of intelligent functionality that would typically be out of reach of most developers.

Developers also often need to connect to other enterprise systems from their e-commerce site to share data with these tools. To fill that need, Salesforce is taking advantage of MuleSoft, the company it purchased almost two years ago for $6.5 billion. Using MuleSoft’s integration technology, Salesforce can help connect to other systems like ERP financial systems or product management tools and exchange information between the two systems.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, whose experience with Salesforce goes back to its earliest days, says this about helping give developers the tools they need to create the same kind of integrated shopping experiences consumers have grown to expect from Amazon.

“These tools give developers real-time insights delivered at the ‘moment of truth’ to optimize conversion opportunities, and automate processes to improve ordering and fulfillment efficiencies. This should give developers in the Salesforce ecosystem what they need to deliver Amazon-like experiences while having to compete with them,” he said.

To help get customers comfortable with these tools, the company also announced a new Commerce Cloud Development Center to access a community of developers who can discuss and share solutions with one another, an SDK with code samples and Trailhead education resources.

Salesforce made these announcement as part of the National Retail Foundation (NRF) Conference taking place in New York City this week.

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Sisense nabs $100M at a $1B+ valuation for accessible big data business analytics

Sisense, an enterprise startup that has built a business analytics business out of the premise of making big data as accessible as possible to users — whether it be through graphics on mobile or desktop apps, or spoken through Alexa — is announcing a big round of funding today and a large jump in valuation to underscore its traction. The company has picked up $100 million in a growth round of funding that catapults Sisense’s valuation to over $1 billion, funding that it plans to use to continue building out its tech, as well as for sales, marketing and development efforts.

For context, this is a huge jump: The company was valued at only around $325 million in 2016 when it raised a Series E, according to PitchBook. (It did not disclose valuation in 2018, when it raised a venture round of $80 million.) It now has some 2,000 customers, including Tinder, Philips, Nasdaq and the Salvation Army.

This latest round is being led by the high-profile enterprise investor Insight Venture Partners, with Access Industries, Bessemer Venture Partners, Battery Ventures, DFJ Growth and others also participating. The Access investment was made via Claltech in Israel, and it seems that this led to some details of this getting leaked out as rumors in recent days. Insight is in the news today for another big deal: Wearing its private equity hat, the firm acquired Veeam for $5 billion. (And that speaks to a particular kind of trajectory for enterprise companies that the firm backs: Veeam had already been a part of Insight’s venture portfolio.)

Mature enterprise startups have proven their business cases are going to be an ongoing theme in this year’s fundraising stories, and Sisense is part of that theme, with annual recurring revenues of over $100 million speaking to its stability and current strength. The company has also made some key acquisitions to boost its business, such as the acquisition of Periscope Data last year (coincidentally, also for $100 million, I understand).

Its rise also speaks to a different kind of trend in the market: In the wider world of business intelligence, there is an increasing demand for more digestible data in order to better tap advances in data analytics to use it across organizations. This was also one of the big reasons why Salesforce gobbled up Tableau last year for a slightly higher price: $15.7 billion.

Sisense, bringing in both sleek end user products but also a strong theme of harnessing the latest developments in areas like machine learning and AI to crunch the data and order it in the first place, represents a smaller and more fleet of foot alternative for its customers. “We found a way to make accessing data extremely simple, mashing it together in a logical way and embedding it in every logical place,” explained CEO Amir Orad to us in 2018.

“We have enjoyed watching the Sisense momentum in the past 12 months, the traction from its customers as well as from industry leading analysts for the company’s cloud native platform and new AI capabilities. That coupled with seeing more traction and success with leading companies in our portfolio and outside, led us to want to continue and grow our relationship with the company and lead this funding round,” said Jeff Horing, managing director at Insight Venture Partners, in a statement.

To note, Access Industries is an interesting backer which might also potentially shape up to be strategic, given its ownership of Warner Music Group, Alibaba, Facebook, Square, Spotify, Deezer, Snap and Zalando.

“Given our investments in market leading companies across diverse industries, we realize the value in analytics and machine learning and we could not be more excited about Sisense’s trajectory and traction in the market,” added Claltech’s Daniel Shinar in a statement.

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The story of why Marc Benioff gifted the AppStore.com domain to Steve Jobs

In Marc Benioff’s book, Trailblazer, he tells the tale of how Steve Jobs planted the seeds of the idea that would become the first enterprise app store, and how Benioff eventually paid Jobs back with the gift of the AppStore.com domain.

While Salesforce did truly help blaze a trail when it launched as an enterprise cloud service in 1999, it took that a step further in 2006 when it became the first SaaS company to distribute related services in an online store.

In an interview last year around Salesforce’s 20th anniversary, company CTO and co-founder Parker Harris told me that the idea for the app store came out of a meeting with Steve Jobs three years before AppExchange would launch. Benioff, Harris and fellow co-founder Dave Moellenhoff took a trip to Cupertino in 2003 to meet with Jobs. At that meeting, the legendary CEO gave the trio some sage advice: to really grow and develop as a company, Salesforce needed to develop a cloud software ecosystem. While that’s something that’s a given for enterprise SaaS companies today, it was new to Benioff and his team in 2003.

As Benioff tells it in his book, he asked Jobs to elucidate on what he meant by an application ecosystem. Jobs replied that how he implemented the idea was up to him. It took some time for that concept to bake, however. Benioff wrote that the notion of an app store eventually came to him as an epiphany at dinner one night a few years after that meeting. He says that he sketched out that original idea on a napkin while sitting in a restaurant:

One evening over dinner in San Francisco, I was struck by an irresistibly simple idea. What if any developer from anywhere in the world could create their own applications for the Salesforce platform? And what if we offered to store these apps in an online directory that allowed any Salesforce user to download them?

Whether it happened like that or not, the app store idea would eventually come to fruition, but it wasn’t originally called the AppExchange, as it is today. Instead, Benioff says he liked the name AppStore.com so much that he had his lawyers register the domain the next day.

When Benioff talked to customers prior to the launch, while they liked the concept, they didn’t like the name he had come up with for his online store. He eventually relented and launched in 2006 with the name AppExchange.com instead. Force.com would follow in 2007, giving programmers a full-fledged development platform to create applications, and then distribute them in AppExchange.

Meanwhile, AppStore.com sat dormant until 2008, when Benioff was invited back to Cupertino for a big announcement around iPhone. As Benioff wrote, “At the climactic moment, [Jobs] said [five] words that nearly floored me: ‘I give you App Store.”

Benioff wrote that he and his executives actually gasped when they heard the name. Somehow, even after all that time had passed since that the original meeting, both companies had settled upon the same name. Except Salesforce had rejected it, leaving an opening for Benioff to give a gift to his mentor. He says that he went backstage after the keynote and signed over the domain to Jobs.

In the end, the idea of the web domain wasn’t even all that important to Jobs in the context of an app store concept. After all, he put the App Store on every phone, and it wouldn’t require a website to download apps. Perhaps that’s why today the domain points to the iTunes store, and launches iTunes (or gives you the option of opening it).

Even the App Store page on Apple.com uses the sub-domain “app-store” today, but it’s still a good story of how a conversation between Jobs and Benioff would eventually have a profound impact on how enterprise software was delivered, and how Benioff was able to give something back to Jobs for that advice.

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Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce

Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.

It also promoted Bret Taylor earlier this month, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

All aboard the gravy train

The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:

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Salesforce promotes Bret Taylor to president and COO

Salesforce announced today that it has named Bret Taylor as president and chief operating officer of the company. Prior to today’s promotion, Taylor held the position of president and chief product officer.

In his new position, Taylor will be responsible for a number of activities, including leading Salesforce’s global product vision, engineering, security, marketing and communications. That’s a big job, and as such he will report directly to chairman Marc Benioff.

Taylor has had increasing responsibilities over the last couple of years, taking the lead on many of Salesforce’s biggest announcements at Dreamforce, the company’s massive yearly customer conference. In fact, Benioff said in a statement that Taylor has already been responsible for product vision, development and go-to-market strategy prior to today’s promotion.

“His expanded portfolio of responsibilities will enable us to drive even greater customer success and innovation as we experience rapid growth at scale,” Benioff said in the statement.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, who has been watching the company since its earliest days, says it feels like this could be part of a succession plan down the road. This promotion could be a signal that Taylor is being groomed to take over for Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to move on.

“It’s been feeling like he’s being groomed for the big chair somewhere down the line. He’s a generation behind the current leadership, but his experiences at startups and creating iconic technologies at iconic companies uniquely positioned him for a move like this at a company like Salesforce,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, agrees, saying Taylor is a rising star at Salesforce. “As the guy who invented the Like button at Facebook, Google Maps and other innovations, he’s the Chosen One to take the technologies teams further,” Wang said.

Wang added that Taylor’s strengths are about quickly determining a pragmatic path to market for ideas, but also simplifying the complex. “It’s a good move for Salesforce, and shows the deep bench strength the team has,” he said.

Taylor came to Salesforce when the company purchased Quip in August 2016 for $750 million. He was promoted to president and chief product officer in November 2017. Prior to launching Quip he was chief technology officer at Facebook.