Marc Russell Benioff was born in San Francisco on September 25th, 1964, the son of Joelle and Russell Benioff. Benioff is something of an anomaly among Silicon Valley CEOs — he was actually born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area.
His father, Russell Benioff, owned a local department store in San Francisco. “I learned my work ethic from him,” Benioff once said.
While in high school, Benioff sold his first app — software called “How To Juggle” for the TRS-80 Model 1 computer — to a computer magazine for $75.
At age 15, Benioff founded Liberty Software, his one-man company making games for the Atari 800 computer. Titles included “King Arthur’s Heir,” “The Nightmare,” “Escape from Vulcan’s Isle,” and “Crypt of the Undead.”
By age 16, Benioff was pulling in $1,500 a month — enough that after he graduated high school in 1982, he was able to pay for his own tuition at the University of Southern California.
While at USC, Benioff took a summer internship with Apple, working as a programmer in the Macintosh division under cofounder Steve Jobs. “That summer, I discovered it was possible for an entrepreneur to encourage revolutionary ideas,” Benioff would later write.
Benioff planned to stay in programming for the rest of his career, but a USC professor suggested he might have a mind for business. And so, he took a customer support role at high-flying database company Oracle right out of college.
Young Benioff rapidly made it up the ranks. At age 23, Benioff was named Oracle’s “Rookie of the Year.” By age 26, he was named a Vice President — the youngest person to attain the role in the company’s history. And it came with a $300,000 salary.
While at Oracle, Benioff caught the attention of its billionaire playboy founder Larry Ellison. The two became very close, with Ellison mentoring the younger Benioff.
After 13 years with Oracle, Benioff started itching for something new. With a few other Oracle veterans, he started working on a new company called Salesforce.
The big idea behind Salesforce was that where most companies — including Oracle — sold enterprise software that companies had to install on their own servers, they would let people access business apps from the web browser. For the late nineties, this was revolutionary.
At first, Ellison was supportive of Benioff, letting him take a 6-month sabbatical while he split his time between Oracle and Salesforce. Ellison even gave Salesforce $2 million in funding from his own pocket to get it started, and sat on its board of directors.
But things turned sour between the two. Benioff found out that Oracle was working on a direct competitor to Salesforce. Benioff tried to force his mentor to quit the company’s board. Instead, Ellison forced Benioff to fire him — meaning Ellison kept his shares in Salesforce.
Salesforce survived the dot-com bust of the early 2000s and just kept growing, becoming one of the earliest and biggest companies in the modern cloud computing market.
And in June 2004, Salesforce held its IPO, raising $110 million at $11 per share. Today, it trades for around $72.77.
Benioff is a big believer in corporate philanthropy: Under his leadership, Salesforce invented the “1-1-1” model, where the company gives 1% of employee time as volunteer hours, 1% of its profits, and 1% of its resources to charitable causes.
Mark Benioff earned a reputation as one of Silicon Valley’s most boisterous CEOs. He rarely appears in public without his custom cloud sneakers.
All the while, Salesforce has grown to a $40 billion company, while its annual Dreamforce conference has ballooned to take over much of San Francisco every autumn.
Salesforce will be the fastest enterprise software company in history to reach $16 billion in revenue