I’m writing this on my way home from my first Dreamforce. In case you haven’t heard of this event, it’s a massive conference in San Francisco put on by my employer, Salesforce.com, for our clients, partners, employers, and more. And by massive, I mean about 170,000 people. There’s a focus on the company’s roadmap and products, building skills, making connections, doing business, and echoing the company’s culture of family – Ohana, openness, and charity. I had some goals for the week going into the four days I spent there and tried to balance those with sleep and walking from one place to another.
My first goal was learning. I’ve been at the company for three months and doubt I’ll ever know everything I possibly could about our products and all their possible uses. I did spend time watching the keynote presentations which showcased development strategies and alliances with companies such as Google. There were plenty of customer stories as we saw successful clients talk about how they were using the solutions to transform their businesses. One very prominent brand was Adidas who uses us for their website, marketing, mobile apps, and more. They’d set up a mini store in a convention hall and were walking people through what they’re doing. A lovely side benefit was using this to justify wearing sneakers all week. Kidding aside (sort of), hearing how our current clients overcame obstacles to their businesses including how they performed with other solutions was incredibly valuable.
Next on my list was forging new bonds and strengthening others. I’d met several people on my team since I joined and set out to spend time with more. I got face time over drinks and meals with co-workers who I’d only seen on screens while we talked about work. Walking around and discussing our histories and outlooks really helped me know my colleagues better. Five of us stayed in an Airbnb instead of a hotel and got to hang out in a much more casual setting. I also bumped into or sought out friends I used to work with and hadn’t seen in a long time. Many of these were entirely random as 170,000 people migrated around the city. Salesforce.com has built a massive ecosystem which complementary companies share and I know many people who work at those companies as well as Salesforce itself. Some are partners to continue doing business with and several are simply friends I love catching up with. Either way, working with people you know well and enjoy spending time with is a huge part of why people like going to work each day.
I’m not going to say much about the business side of the trip. Suffice to say that having so many people in the same place at the same time means we can make connections, showcase presentations which took months to build, and discuss next steps between executives working towards deals. Prospects talk to customers, newer customers talk to more experienced ones. One lady I met with who is instrumental in a potential deal told me that she wants to be on the Dreamforce stage next year talking about her success. That’s what the job is in the end – helping to inspire our clients and find ways to make them successful together.
Lastly, the entire event had a separate path around the company’s culture. It was set up like a national park with mascots walking around, climbing walls, building columns made to look like trees, the main stage set up as a campsite, and more. It was surreal and so different from any large conference I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere put everyone at ease and helped them value being a part of a unique situation. It’s hard to explain, but it worked. When you add our CEO talking about equal pay for women, charity, equality, and partnership, it creates an atmosphere of trust which is our primary value. One morning I saw him interview Michelle Obama in a fireside chat (literally the setting, note that national park theme) attended by thousands of people and the next day I sat in the same room with just as many people watching our executives and customers showcase our product advancements in an amazing presentation. The whole effect was to transform their picture of how they can grow by working with us and envision a different kind of future. Remember what I said above about my conversation with a customer – it really works.
That wraps up my story. If it sounds like I went to a vacation at an amusement park crossed with a business conference then you’ve got the picture. Somehow this was all work which I get paid to do. Each piece I described here helps paint a picture of a pretty special job which I both worked hard to get and feel privileged to hold. Each time we reflect on what we do for a living, we should be working towards new goals which keep us learning and evolving. I can’t think of a better atmosphere to do that in than Dreamforce. If only there were a few more hours in the day to rest up for everything the next day brings.