Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Inc., speaks during the DreamForce Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. Salesforce isn't wasting any time putting its new acquisitions to use in a bid to strengthen its business software against larger rivals such as Microsoft Corp. New products unveiled Tuesday will blend the company's services with Quip, the document company Salesforce purchased in August for about $600 million. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has always liked to think of itself as an industry irritant, the company that was bucking the status quo and making the established players feel uncomfortable. But this year as the cloud mainstreamed and Salesforce took off on a $10 billion run rate, you couldn’t help but feel that after 17 years in business, that Salesforce’s time had finally come.

The company went on a historic acquisition shopping spree, hitting some targets and missing others — and at one point seeing its target wish list leaked to the public in the Wall Street Journal. It also stayed firmly on the technology cutting edge by joining the parade of companies building artificial intelligence into their products.

While it went on quite a run this year, it still stayed true to its community service roots. After threatening to pull out of Indiana in 2015 over anti-LGBTQ legislation, it did the same in Georgia and North Carolina in 2016. CEO Marc Benioff remained a passionate spokesperson for responsible capitalism and hired Tony Prophet at as the company’s first Chief Equality Officer.

While not everything went its way, all in all, not a bad 12 months. Let’s take a closer look.

Show me the money

It all starts with being a focused company, and few could argue that Salesforce doesn’t execute. In November, the company delivered a strong Q3 2017, after showing some signs of weakness in Q2. What’s more, revenue continued to trend up. CEO Marc Benioff predicted the company would reach its $10 billion run rate goal some time in 2018, and went so far as to forecast the company would reach $20 billion “faster than any other company,” (although he didn’t give a timeline for that goal).

According to data from the PwC Global 100 Software report (pdf), which ranked the world’s software companies based on fiscal 2014 revenue numbers, Salesforce was was one of the top 10 software companies, coming in at number 9. As their lofty revenue goals suggest, they have no intention of stopping any time soon. The thing is, Salesforce is bursting through these revenue milestones as a SaaS vendor, proving that SaaS vendors can be highly successful organizations.

On a buying binge

Salesforce opened up its wallet this year, buying 10 companies, spending at least $5 billion, based on the deals with release prices. That’s up from five deals last year, after just one in 2014. It’s worth noting that two of those 2015 acquisitions came in December, perhaps foretelling the buying binge that was to come.

All good acquisitions bring some combination of engineering talent, filling a functionality gap and driving revenue (obviously a big goal for any company, but especially Salesforce). As Salesforce president, vice chairman and COO, Keith Block explained in September they look at a number of factors when they buy a company:

“We look at culture. Will it be a good cultural fit? Is it good product fit? Is there talent? Is there financial value? What are the risks of assimilating the company into our company,” Block explained.

In April, it made an important purchase related to artificial intelligence when it bought MetaMind for a relatively modest $32.8 million. With it, they acquired the talents and expertise of CEO Richard Socher, who immediately became Salesforce’s Chief Scientist, contributing his deep learning and natural language processing knowledge. While we didn’t know it, the company had been working on building an artificial intelligence platform, which it announced in September (more on that later).

The biggest fish by far was Demandware, for which Salesforce paid $2.8 billion in June, the highest amount it ever paid for a company. Salesforce turned that acquisition into Commerce Cloud in late September, filling in a big hole in its platform.

Perhaps the most unusual of its 10 acquisitions was word processing platform, Quip, for which it laid out $750 million smackeroos last July. The purchase went against the company’s philosophy of going hard for verticals, but as Block explained in September, it saw potential. “Quip is very compelling. Some people think it’s an unorthodox acquisition, but it’s in the context of driving productivity for customers,” he said.”

Citizen Benioff

From the very beginning, when the company was launched, it has been committed to being a good corporate citizen, hard coding community action into its corporate charter — whether that meant giving money or software or encouraging its employees to commit time and money in the community where they live and work.

Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Inc., left, speaks with Tony Prophet, vice president of Windows marketing at Microsoft Corp., during the DreamForce Conference in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Inc. is entering a new business, data analytics and business intelligence, seeking to maintain growth and persuade customers to pour more of their information into its data centers. Photographer: Noah Berger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Inc., left, speaks with Tony Prophet, now Chief Equality Officer at Salesforce  Photo: Noah Berger/Bloomberg via Getty Images


Benioff, speaking at a CEO panel in September at his company’s Dreamforce conference, an event that attracted more than 100,000 people, explained that he sees the world at a pivotal time in history with lots of issues related to the environment, inequality and education, and he believes it’s imperative that execs put their skills to bear on some of these social issues.

“You can isolate yourselves and say I’m going to put those skills to use in a box at work, or you can say I’m going to have an integrated life. The way I look at the world, I’m going to put those skills to work to make the world a better place.”

And for Benioff, these aren’t just empty words. He walks the walk when it comes to social issues. In 2016, Benioff used his position and the economic clout of his company to attempt to prevent anti-LGBTQ legislation from being passed in Georgia and North Carolina, threatening to move business or cancel events in those states if they passed discriminatory legislation.

This year, he also hired Tony Prophet to be the company’s Chief Equality Officer, an unprecedented step in tech industry, an industry that has been highly criticized for its lack of diversity. In statement announcing the hiring, Salesforce called Prophet, “a champion for human rights and social justice.”