Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff is an egomaniacal buffoon who laughs at the plight of underpaid Walmart workers and flies the prime minister of Haiti up to San Francisco so he can thank Benioff in person, in front of 15,000 people, for being such an amazing human being. And like all buffoons, Benioff has no idea how much of a buffoon he truly is.
He is, in short, the Ron Burgundy of tech.
This week Benioff/Burgundy played host at his company's annual conference, Dreamforce, which has drawn 135,000 people to San Francisco. Presumably these people did not realize that they were paying good money to come see a bloviating faux-Buddhist billionaire deliver a three-day tribute to himself. But that's what Dreamforce is.
It's also a symbol of everything sick and wrong with this industry: the self-love, the profligate spending, the phony philanthropy, the fake progressive politics, the lip service to women in the workplace, the bullshit about saving the world, the pretense that the work we're doing has meaning with a capital M.
I had the bad luck to be sent here by my employer—but at least they paid for my pass, which would've cost between $800 and $1,200, otherwise. Supposedly I would be "inspired" by the "thought leadership." I had steeled myself for the typical insipid Tony Robbins marketing bullshit; but Dreamforce was way, way worse than that.
The Tuesday morning keynote lasted three and a half hours — a duration normally reserved for North Korean dictators.
The first half of the show had nothing to do with Salesforce.com, or even software. It was about Benioff, and what an amazing, generous, heroic, world-changing figure he is. Try to imagine a six-foot-five-inch, three-hundred-pound, very white version of Gandhi, and you've got an idea of how Burgundy/Benioff sees himself.
The show opened with Huey Lewis and the News, rocking out at nine in the morning, because why not?
Then came Benioff and his tribute to himself. Benioff wore a blue suit and a pair of ridiculous multi-toned shoes made for him by Christian Louboutin.
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) November 19, 2013
Casting himself in the role of master of ceremonies, Benioff did a bad imitation of a televangelist preacher while awkwardly strolling through the crowd. He was under-rehearsed and kept fumbling his lines and missing his cues. He talked about his "one-one-one" model which involves donating 1% of his company's equity, 1% of profits, and 1% of employee hours to charity work, and how he's trying to get all these other guys in Silicon Valley to do the same. (Left unsaid was that Salesforce doesn't have any profits, so there's no 1% to worry about there.)
Then Benioff talked about the UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital, which used to be called UCSF Children's Hospital until Benioff donated $100 million and got them to rename the place after him. Now look, that's a lot of money, and even if you're worth $2.6 billion and the $100 million is a rounding error and a tax dodge — whatever, giving is good. But why not do it quietly? Why have your name put on the hospital? Moreover, why make a big deal of this at a conference that's supposed to be about your software company and its products?
But this was only the beginning of Benioff/Burgundy's orgy of public self-love. We were treated to a movie about Haiti and earthquake victims, and the work that the Salesforce.com Foundation has done to help people there.
Again, it's nice to help people. But why brag about it? Why give yourself a big pat on the back in front of 15,000 people?
But even that wasn't enough for Benioff and his boundless ego. When the movie ended he introduced the Prime Minister of Haiti, Laurent Lamothe, along with supermodel-slash-philanthropist Petra Nemcova, and actor-slash-asshole Sean Penn.
The idea was that Benioff would "interview" them, but the "interview" basically consisted of Lamothe saying how grateful he is to Benioff. It was awful. I cringed. Here was the prime minister of an impoverished country, flown into a tech conference by an egomaniacal billionaire, in those shoes, who wanted to have his ring kissed in public.
The crowd ate it up.
Benioff seems to have no idea how much this makes him look like an asshole. Maybe he does know and simply doesn't care. The impression he created — at least to any decent, intelligent person, which admittedly rules out most of the stupid sales fucks in the audience — was that this whole show had been organized so that Marc Benioff could put thousands of people in a room and have them adore him.
This impression was reinforced by the rest of the show, where all the big guests — Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, HP CEO Meg Whitman, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg — didn't just get up by themselves and give speeches, but instead had to appear onstage with Benioff, because God forbid anyone else should be the center of attention, ever.
The theme of this year's show, Benioff declared, was "powerful women." P.T. Benioff figured he could get some mileage out of this. So he talked a lot of shit about how women make great leaders and wow isn't it great that I'm a man but I'm also so supportive of women.
Now, look at this page, which shows you the management team and board of directors at Salesforce.com.
The management team has 22 members, but only four are women. The board of directors has 10 members, and only one is a woman. The other nine are white men. But yes: tell us all about your commitment to women in leadership roles, Mr. Burgundy.
Then came the entertainment. Benioff hired Blondie and Green Day to do a concert on Tuesday, and Tony Bennett and Jerry Seinfeld to do a show on Wednesday.
Alec Baldwin was here too, because I guess one big huge arrogant egomaniacal obnoxious buffoon was not enough? Baldwin supposedly was going to talk about business — wait, what? — but he ended up just trying to convince people that he's not a homophobic asshole, which he did by making a joke about wanting to make love to a man. Smart! He also talked about all the millions of dollars he's given to charity. Sound familiar?
Because too much is never enough, at the Tuesday keynote we had a big fake thunderous explosion, then dry ice fog machines, and then Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris drove onstage in a white Tesla and jumped out dressed as Emmett Brown from "Back to the Future," which tied back to the Huey Lewis song, which is totally clever, right? Harris and Benioff engaged in a painfully terrible skit about how Harris had traveled to the year 2019 and found some software and brought it back and that's what Salesforce.com was announcing today.
Except in reality what Salesforce.com announced this week is just its same old software that's now been half-cobbled together with the software from a bunch of companies it has acquired. In real life none of this incompatible code has been knitted together yet. But Marc Benioff would like you to believe that he has waved a magic wand and turned all these separate programs into a single big platform that actually works. Even though it doesn't.
This, I think, was the real point of the show. The reason for all the bluster and bullshit about hospitals and Haitians, all the celebrities, all the bread and circus is that in fact Salesforce does not have its shit together. But they figured that if they put on a big show and flashed a bunch of strobe lights and pumped out a lot of fake smoke, nobody would notice.
After the "Back to the Future" skit we were bludgeoned with a barrage of jargon and bullshit about "the internet of customers," where people "make decisions at superhuman speeds," and companies need to operate at the "speed of now," or also "at the speed of sales," because customers are "racing into the future," which means you need to "become a customer company," and "get to the future first, ahead of your customers, and be ready to greet them when they arrive," and make sure you're "not just aware of what's next, but you're way out in front, ahead of next." Because "the paradigm has changed," and "opportunities are everywhere," and now "you can create anything you can dream up."
Oh, and today's featured speaker was Deepak Chopra, the world-class charlatan and quack whose main gift is the ability to turn bullshit and junk science into money.
In other words: Perfect.
The above was written by an attendee of this week's Dreamforce 2013 conference.