Salesforce CEO highlights philanthropy at Dreamforce in San Francisco

ByJonathan Bloom and Amy Hollyfield KGO logo
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
Salesforce CEO highlights philanthropy at Dreamforce
The Dreamforce convention in San Francisco isn't just about app demos and flashy exhibits, but also about building a better community.

SAN FRANCISCO -- The event tents and traffic detours are in place in San Francisco as Salesforce's Dreamforce convention opened Monday in what's grown to become one of the largest software events in the world.

It's not every day you get members of Congress, a former secretary of state, and legendary rock stars all attending a tech conference. But just as importantly for the city, Salesforce estimates another 135,000 other people are signed up to attend; many of them staying in hotels and eating at local restaurants, bringing an estimated $100 million into the city.

That makes Salesforce a pretty good neighbor this week. But at Monday's opening press conference, the head of the company made a pretty big deal about being a good neighbor all year round.

Every tech conference has app demos, flashy exhibits, and people in suits carrying backpacks. But very few have barrels and barrels of canned food at the entrance. And this may be the only one where you'll find people wearing hair nets.

"These are rice packs and they'll be going to Afghanistan," explained one volunteer.

These are among the one million meals Salesforce is asking people attending its Dreamforce conference to donate.

"The day we started Salesforce, we decided not only would we build an incredible new technology model like cloud computing, but we would also give back," said Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

It's that philosophy that has Benioff building hospitals, funding schools, and earning praise from the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

"Thank you, Marc, for all that you have done for the children, for San Francisco, for our veterans, for the country, for the universe," she said.

Benioff kicked off what's now the world's largest software conference alongside motivational speaker Tony Robbins. Each of them plans to match the one million meals if the goal is reached.

"When you live in San Francisco, when you're in the tech business, it's pretty easy to start to think about what challenges are and forget what they really are," Robbins said. "Half the planet lives on $2.50 a day."

Though some of the food is going overseas, a large portion of it is staying local. And the head of the San Francisco Food Bank, Paul Ash, says he wants other companies to take a hard look at Salesforce's example.

"I know there are companies that need to do that," Ash said. "They are so focused on the business and the technology that they've got their blinders on. And you can see by the success that Dreamforce and Salesforce have had, that this can be a powerful component. It's not a drag on the organization. It's a boost."

And so for all the product announcements and hands-on demos, Benioff says the thing he's most proud of is the part of Dreamforce that teaches philanthropy.

"We have classes here on how to take your tech company and easily transform it into a giving machine," he said.

Dreamforce is also having quite an effect on local businesses. Because when the world's largest software conference comes to town, local businesses roll up their sleeves.

"For a couple of days, you know, it almost looks like Manhattan down here, with people walking through the intersections here," said Steve Ring, general manager of The Grove. "It's great. I think it's great for San Francisco, it's great for local businesses."

The Grove restaurant increased its staff by 25 percent this week and expected everyone will work overtime. They don't have enough room to store all the eggs they think they'll need to serve all the visitors from this week's Dreamforce.

"We actually worked with our vendors so that they would deliver to us more often, so we'd have even enough space in our walk in cooler," Ring said.

Salesforce's annual convention has 130,000 registered participants this year, the largest ever, and double the number who attend Oracle World. There's so much money downtown that ridesharing company Lyft has people dressed up as pink bears to try and attract business

"It's gonna be huge," said Lyft ambassador Tex Allen. "I mean, my idea is come out here with the pink bear suit, and if you associate this with Lyft, which I hope you will, get a hold of us. We have a free ride, up to $25. And I want as many drivers out here as possible."

Of course this means gridlock around Moscone Center. Howard St. between Third and Fourth streets is closed.

Benioff responded to complaints with a tweet: "Our fellow citizens of San Francisco: We apologize for next week's awesomeness. Dreamforce+Giants=Believing."

You can still sign up to attend Dreamforce. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is speaking, Bruno Mars is performing.

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