If you live or work in San Francisco, it’s no news to you that Dreamforce – Salesforce’s mega-massive yearly conference – came and went, leaving us in awe as we ask ourselves, “What the heck just happened?”
Dreamforce took the city by hostage, occupied all available hotel and AirBnB rooms in town, and even chartered a cruise ship to dock in the San Francisco Bay in order to accommodate the overflow of conference goers. Attending this conference promises increased ROI, sales productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee productivity via hands-on training and exposure to new innovations. For all tech-forward salespeople, entrepreneurs, and developers, Dreamforce has become part college-homecoming week, part science fair, and part 24hr PG-13 rave. Complete with lights, games, music, food, and of course the opportunity to network and obtain info on cutting-edge sales tools and technologies, this annual, week-long event has become Disneyland for highly-productive adults.
This year, BLI collaborated with Cibo, a San Francisco ad agency, to create a Wave Analytics App Quiz and a Lightning App Builder Demo. The quiz, based on the Wave Analytics app, took form as an iPad quiz that was mirrored to a giant mockup iPhone. Brand ambassadors also hosted a live quiz once every hour, allowing a lucky few to go home with brand new iWatches.
We also produced an interactive, large-scale Lightning App Builder demo. The Lightning App Builder was a touch-screen experience where you can go through the motions of building an app in this digital environment. You can pick, drag and drop components, and you can then publish your app to another large iPhone mockup within the installation for the public to see. You can then take the file via email so you can post for all your friends to see (you do that sort of stuff right?). As tech support, we were on site to manage and maintain our interactive-experience exhibits. We also took a few opportunities to explore what Dreamforce 2015 had to offer the common participant.
From what I had read when preparing for my first Dreamforce experience, everyone online highly suggested going to as many breakout sessions as possible. These are definitely the meat-and-potatoes of the weeklong event. But at the risk of sounding basic to all the Type-A’s who meticulously planned out every minute of the conference, the thought of sifting through about 1,500 breakout descriptions seemed like too daunting of a task. That’s when I decided to explore this amusement park without a colorful map and to just go with the flow and see where I end up.
I ended-up in the lobby. After staring at countless conference attendees register then B line to their desired event or booth, I decided if I was to attend only one session during this conference, it would have to be the Keynote. I was interested to hear what Mr. Benioff had to say about the state of his company, and was hoping he would also talk about his charitable work. So I made my way to the Keynote, grabbed a seat, and prepared myself for what I thought would be a routine, run-of-the-mill Keynote. Then, like out of an R&B fever dream, Stevie Wonder came out as the session’s surprise musical guest. Wait, WHAT? I remember going to conferences back in the day where the best entertainment around was a heart-felt performance of Hotel California by the local Eagles’ cover band. This, my friends, could not have be more different. In that moment I realized that one of Dreamforce’s ambitions, among many others, is to create optimum synergy, making the dividing line between business and entertainment blurrier than ever.
Mr. Wonder gave a beautiful performance. His set culminated with a rendition of his classic, “You are the Sunshine of My Life.” During this tune, he pandered to the crowd by singing “Forever you will stay here, Dreamforce, in my heart.” The crowd loved it and the event soon became a sing-along with Stevie shouting “Dreamforce,” and the crowd responding in kind.
After that completely mind-blowing beginning to my conference experience, I decided to roam the gargantuan Moscone Center facilities. I was impressed with the quality exhibits, the emphasis on aesthetics and design, the extremely efficient attention to logistics, and the sheer scope of the event. Salesforce, and other tech conglomerates like Oracle, to mention one, have completely changed the business of doing business, and now they are changing the way industries conduct conferences. These types of productions go way beyond a meet-up of like-minded industry leaders. Gone are the days of a small booth, a plastic banner, and a bowl full of branded key chains.
Companies at Dreamforce know their target market is becoming increasingly sophisticated and are always looking for the newest trends to give them a competitive edge. So they’ve upped their ante and have set-up elaborate games and contests in efforts to lure in visitors. Disguising work for play seems to be the tactic of our times, making every moment an experience and every backdrop some form of entertainment. From slot machines to a giant Plinko game to a 360 degree photo booth with an all-angle take-home video file you can share with everyone, Salesforce is not only in the business of cloud computing, they are in the business of keeping their clients very, very happy.
Of course, la pièce de résistance was the culminating party/concert, Dreamfest 2015. This event – held at the newly renovated, large-capacity venue, Pier 70 – basically broke the streets of San Francisco for at least a few hours. Over 100,000 people left the Moscone Center within the same hour and headed south towards the Dog Patch area, halting all traffic along the Embarcadero, through SOMA, and along 3rd St. Because Uber had partnered with Salesforce for their weeklong event, we knew that everyone would be calling an Uber to get to the show. We took our chances, called an Uber, and were shocked to get one within 10 mins. The best part is, as SF residents, we knew to travel around the traffic, head even further south and U-turn back to the event. The driver shared with us that he had suggested this same detour to his previous fair, but, being from out-of-town and not wanting to get gouged, they opted for the most direct route. Unfortunately, so did everyone else, turning a 20 minute trip into an hour-and-a-half ordeal.
I was curious to see what the city had done with Pier 70 and I wasn’t disappointed. This large complex along the Bayside waterfront of San Francisco used to be a fully-functioning shipyard, which in it’s heyday employed over 18,000 people. Emblematic of the millennial start-up culture, the city has “upcycled” this abandoned area and has created a venue for large-scale shows, as well as artist havens and space for other cultural events and operations. To those who say that the current tech boom is driving out SF’s native culture, people and artistry to a certain extent, it looks like the city and large tech companies are responding to residents’ concerns by creating more of these renovated community areas (e.g. the proposed Mission Rock development, on the San Francisco City ballot this Fall). Currently, Pier 70 is available only for events, but the end goal is to create a small community with green spaces, businesses, jobs, and affordable housing.
In addition to breathing life into the renovated Pier 70 area, Dreamfest raised 10 million dollars for UCSF Children’s hospitals. This made it a lot easier for me to enjoy all the decadent food and wine Dreamfest had to offer without all the guilt. You can tell that Salesforce had “Customer Satisfaction” at the top of their priorities list when planning Dreamfest. First of all, security was tight, I mean really tight. I had been asked to show my badge at least 20 times, which at first was slightly annoying until I realized how incredibly safe I felt. Upon walking down the long road leading down to the concert floor, I heard the Killers open with Mr. Brightside, and I realize that Dreamfest had officially become a party. We sang, we danced, we drank free beer and wine, and ate savory finger foods like fish n chips and tasty dessert num-nums like It’s Its’ ice cream sandwiches, a Bay Area tradition.
The Killers, well, killed it. Then came the Foo Fighters. There was Dave Grohl, sitting on his throne with his broken leg, looking at times like a rock god, and at others, like your beer-drinking uncle at the family BBQ. Either way, I couldn’t believe how surreal the sight was. Once they started playing their first song, a strange thought came over me. Never, as a 13 yr old kid did I ever imagine I would see Nirvana’s stringy-hair drummer play at a corporate event. But, times have changed and the relationship between business and entertainment has developed a deeply complex nature. Even Dave Grohl, as he calmly strummed the chords to “Big Me” (A.K.A. the “Mentos” song), confessed to the crowd that he at first had no clue what to make of it:
“I gotta be honest, I had no f*cking clue what was going on tonight. I just imagined we’d be stuck in some f*cking convention center downtown, drinking rail liquor and eating f*cking sushi from Whole Foods, I don’t know. I had no idea that tonight was going to turn into a f*cking rock-n-roll masterpiece. I didn’t know, I didn’t know! It’s not what I expected. I’ve been to an office party before, it’s when I worked at Shakey’s pizza when I was fifteen years old. We didn’t have Gary Clark Jr. or the Killers at that f*cking party. It had balloon animals and my soccer coach, maybe an ice cream float from Carol’s, I don’t remember. What I am trying to say to you right now is I am pleasantly f*cking surprised that this turned into a f*cking rock concert!”
Times have DEFINITELY changed.
Dreamforce has become “prom for the productive”, offering opportunities to learn new exciting technologies which businesses can adopt to keep up with an ever more demanding market. But above all that, Dreamforce gets it right in effectively balancing work and play with the three-ring-circus feel currently invading big tech conferences. Never before had I seen cloud computing, sales analytics, customer satisfaction techniques, and other modern business related terms presented in such a fun and inviting way. I have no idea how Salesforce will top themselves next year, but I am sure they are already hard at work, ready for the challenge.