Seven Questions for Salesforce.com's Parker Harris
Last week I took advantage of the fact that I was in San Francisco for Hewlett-Packard’s big summit meeting, and stopped by the offices of Salesforce.com. There I met up with Parker Harris, executive vice president for technology, and one of the company’s four founders.
There’s so much going on at Salesforce it’s hard to keep track of it all. We talked a bit about Chatter.com and the result of the company’s efforts to promote it during the Super Bowl, and also about the state of mobile devices and where its priorities are. But I started with a question about Japan.
NewEnterprise: Everyone is talking about what’s been happening in Japan. You have a data center under construction there. Has there been any effect on your plans?
Harris: No. The data center is in Tokyo so it’s outside of the area directly impacted by the earthquake. We chose the location not only for the earthquake-proof nature of the building, but also for access to diesel generators, which have proven pretty important given the power situation. There’s been no interruption at all in what we’re doing.
So what are your pain points, what are you dealing with this year? Judging by your growth I’m guessing the list is long.
The big one is around trust, reliability, availability and scalability as we grow. I would say it’s not the biggest pain point that we have because we’ve been focused on it for so long. We did have a period several years ago when we had a lot of issues. I think a lot of major services go through that: eBay, Google and Twitter are all examples. I think that’s because none of them are the same. They all grow organically as the customers and technology grow. Chatter is a big focus now.
Speaking of Chatter, how did the Super Bowl ad for Chatter.com work out?
The Super Bowl was an interesting challenge because we had to make sure we could handle the load of Super Bowl traffic. We have an interesting relationship with Will.I.Am. He’s a friend of Marc’s. They started in this odd place where he wants to get into technology and wants to expand his brand. And Marc started talking to him about collaboration. And it was kind of a crazy idea. It was kind of a consumer play with the Super Bowl. Chatter.com is kind of a pro-sumer product where we want individuals to use it. We didn’t really think people sitting on the couch drinking beer would use it right away. But we knew it would attract some attention, but the after effect of discussion around the ad, the YouTube video of the making of the ad, and all the talk around it had a good effect. It got me ready to make sure I had a Web site that could handle a lot of traffic. We partnered with Akamai to cache a lot of the static content. We did a lot of testing of the sign-up process during spikes and peak loads.
Did you the see the spike you hoped for?
We saw a huge spike in traffic to the Web site and traffic to the sign-up page through the following week. A lot of it was from phones, from people sitting on the couch. This is part of our transformation to what we call Cloud 2.0 that we’ve been talking about so much. Historically our Web sites didn’t work on mobile devices that well. Our app didn’t work that well. Chatter.com was a case where we did the mobile version first.
What are you working on right now?
With Chatter it’s about adoption, and how do we get people outside your company collaborating with you. We kind of do that now, but there’s stuff we need to do in the product to make it more usable. That would be a big next step for Chatter. In the Service Cloud we want to reinvent the low end. We’re taking Chatter as an influence, and we look at cool little companies like Zendesk, which does a nice job at the low end of the market. We want to reinvent the portal experience with a Chatter influence on the Service Cloud. On the Sales Cloud we want to focus a lot on the sales rep’s experience, and I think mobile is a big factor there. Phones are a big deal, but tablets are an even bigger deal. So we’re doing a lot of design work and experimentation around the tablet experience. And how much do we re-think our experience on the tablet.
I’ve heard some people say that if you want to invest in the future of the iPad and think Apple stock is too expensive, then Salesforce is a good bet because you’re doing so much on that device. Do you think that’s fair?
We’re paying a lot of attention to the iPad. But we’re expanding that to a tablet focus. We definitely think Google’s Android will get a lot of adoption. It’s a fragmented market still but they’ll get there. I think the iPad is still winning in the enterprise. We don’t want to underestimate Android.
What do you think of HP’s WebOS? Léo Apotheker had a lot to say about that yesterday. Do you have any interest there?
We’re not keeping an eye on that right now. We’re looking at Research In Motion’s Playbook and seeing where that goes mainly because we have a ton of people who use the Blackberry in our customer base. It’s still the best email device. I gave mine up for an iPhone, but for cranking through email it’s still better. And because of our close relationship with RIM we’re going to see if there is something we can do with the Playbook. The mobile space is a hard place to make bets. So we’re working hard on our HTML5 strategy so that we can have something that will work that’s cloud based with other devices.