WTF! I’ve been writing, talking and meeting all day. I thought I had the night off when this bombshell went off (it comes directly form Twitter):
“RT @Benioff: Larry just cancelled my keynote tomorrow! Sorry #oow11! Join me @ St. Regis AME Restaurant at 10:30AM! The show must go on! Sorry Larry!”
There are so many things to say on so many levels, this could take all night.
Of all the bush league things that could be done, this is a topper. If you thought the days of animosity and dirty tricks was over in Silicon Valley because we had somehow grown up — or at least aged out of it — tonight is a sobering reminder that they play by bare knuckles rules out here. Let’s try to pull this apart and analyze some of the levels of meaning. ALL OF WHAT FOLLOWS IS AT BEST A HYPOTHESIS, MY HYPOTHESIS.
First off, you don’t cancel a keynote on the speaker less than 24 hours in advance regardless of the reasons short of moral turpitude or an ax murder. We don’t have motives as I write this so it is my assumption that the Benioff keynote scheduled for tomorrow morning had no justifiable reason for termination.
Even if you are Larry and it’s your show, if you made the agreement, most likely a year ago, you keep your word. If you don’t like the idea, you cancel next year’s keynote a year in advance, not the night before. One immediately has to wonder why this ever got started in the first place.
So, what’s going on here?
Marc Benioff knows how to get under your skin if he wants to and that should be no surprise to anyone. For all we know, Cole Porter was imagining Benioff when he wrote the lyrics to “I’ve got you under my skin”. Tom Siebel got a big dose of Benioff when they were competing. I remember one of Benioff’s first attacks on Siebel featured a third grade kid named Dave who had to write one hundred times on the blackboard, “I will not let Siebel take my lunch money.” Ouch! That was effective.
People loved the Dr. Dave campaign in part because it pitted a real David against a goliath and it worked brilliantly. Benioff hounded Siebel relentlessly until time and circumstance made Siebel decide to throw in the towel and allow itself to be bought by Oracle where it remains today.
Today’s dust up can be seen as a reaction by Oracle to several years of Benioff sniping about cloud computing and Oracle’s lack thereof. Let’s review. Benioff started giving a keynote during OpenWorld a few years ago. As one of Oracle’s biggest customers it was a privilege but also something that the vendor — Oracle — could not easily refuse given the circumstances. At that point, Oracle had CRM OnDemand but Benioff had the momentum in cloud computing, CRM and social media.
Things only got better or worse depending on which horse you rode. Salesforce continued to grow and gain market share by offering more products like Chatter and socialized CRM. Oracle made incremental improvements to its core systems and continued to offer several flavors of CRM including CRM On-Demand and Siebel. Oracle is a tough competitor in CRM, not doubt about it.
When Oracle bought Sun and began bringing to market its Exa- series of hardware including storage (Exadata) and compute servers (Exalogic), Marc ridiculed them as cloud in a box and not real cloud computing. This year in the wake of a very successful Dreamforce, Benioff was ready to come out talking about collaboration, the social enterprise and the social customer. I think the dominant concern might have been letting this cannon loose in the OOW chicken coop.
Perhaps Oracle had justifiable concerns. If you went through the OpenWorld show floor today and visited the Salesforce booth (Yes, they have a booth!) you would have seen something very strange for a trade show. People from the Salesforce Foundation staffed the Salesforce booth and they were in the middle of preparing aid packages for charity work. There was nothing in the booth relevant to selling Salesforce’s SaaS service.
The foundation was simply recruiting people from the show to do the packing labor as they walked by. It was as if Benioff was saying to Ellison, “See, we don’t need your X-boxes you can do all this to make money and we have a higher calling.
Maybe that was the last straw, I don’t know. Earlier in the day, I had heard that there was a chance the keynote would be moved to the following day but not much later it all came to an abrupt end. Benioff has found alternate space for the speech and it will be held as planned. But meanwhile, Ellison and company look either like a bunch of fools who got played or the school yard bullies. Either way they’ve been pushed into an action they will regret. If this was football, I’d have to say that Salesforce caused its opponents to fumble or to throw an interception.
What precipitated the action is unclear and likely to remain a personal issue between two people who were once mentor and protégée. Why it happened says much about Oracle. They should have been able to behave better or at least in a more mature way but I guess that isn’t the way things always work out here.