The Salesforce-Vancouver love affair is 12 years in the making
How the San Francisco giant quietly became a local anchor company.
“Some things just make too much sense.” That’s how our affable senior editor led last week’s news that San Francisco-based Salesforce would acquire Burnaby’s Traction on Demand. I think there were at least two reasons he wrote that. First, that Salesforce would want to bring North America’s largest Salesforce consulting and application development firm under its own roof—seems like a rational move. And second, the acquisition was indicative of Salesforce’s growing infatuation with America’s neighbour to the north—and B.C. in particular. Here’s a brief timeline of the (not) bad romance.
First sight: According to this writer’s memory (read: Google searches), the affair was sparked when technologist Phil Calvin sold his startup Sitemasher to Salesforce in 2010. Founded in 2006, Sitemasher was a web platform that enabled organizations to create data-driven, custom websites for their customers. Once in Salesforce’s hands, according to Calvin, it was officially launched at the iconic Salesforce-hosted Dreamforce conference in 2011.
Moving in: Soon after, Salesforce set up shop in Gastown. Since then, it’s worked with countless Vancouver customers including well-known brands like Indochino and Saje Wellness.
Joint bank account: In 2018, ahead of a visit from the prime minister, the CRM giant announced that it would invest USD $2B in its Canadian business over five years. It revealed plans to increase its headcount, real estate footprint and data centre capacity. Who knew a selfie with Justin Trudeau was worth that much.
Investing in each others’ futures: Three months later, Salesforce Ventures, the company’s investment arm, announced the launch of the USD $100-million Canada Trailblazer Fund to back Canadian startups and drive cloud innovation and customer success. “There is incredible innovation happening in Canada today and we want to encourage and empower the next generation of enterprise cloud startups in the region,” said Salesforce Ventures’ John Somorjai at the time.
It was that or Salesforce was betting that the best way to deal with a new, swarming generation of startups would not be to compete, but join them as investment partners. Or, it could’ve been something more benevolent at play, like this: “We’re a values-based company,” explained Keith Block, the firm’s co-CEO at a conference in late 2018. “I think Canada is very much a values-based country. It’s a very open country. Equality is very, very important in Canada. Those are the sorts of things that resonate with us.”
Trophy spouse: In 2019, Salesforce started to show off its new downtown digs. “Everywhere you look around the new Salesforce Vancouver office,” boasts a corporate blog post, “you’re likely to see inspiration from nature, an open flow layout allowing natural light to pour in, one-of-a-kind views of the nearby Grouse Mountain, Mount Fromme and so much more.”
Situated at 333 Seymour Street, across from Waterfront Station, the space is a 10-minute walk from the offices of Tableau, the Seattle-based data and analytics company that Salesforce acquired for USD $15.3 billion in August of 2019. Tableau has had a presence in Vancouver since 2015. Once its acquisition by Salesforce closed, its office, in a way, became another Salesforce outpost.
Family phone plan: A year later, Salesforce snapped up B.C.-based Mobify, a mobile e-commerce startup founded by Igor Faletski and John Boxall, both SFU students, and P.J. McLachlan. Shoutout to Tyler Orton for this story lede: “A Vancouver tech firm best known for its e-commerce platform is up to a little commerce of its own.”
Several people are typing this story: Salesforce’s biggest acquisition of all time is that of Vancouver-founded Slack, the popular work messaging app that trolled Microsoft with a full-page New York Times ad. That deal was announced in December of 2020 and officially closed in July of 2021.
“Will you accept this rose, err, cheque?” More recently, Salesforce Ventures co-led (with Tiger Global) a $79 million Series B round of funding into Klue, a local competitive enablement platform.
Modern love: This brings us to March of 2022, a few days past the Traction on Demand deal for which little detail was released: “We’ll have more exciting news to share when the acquisition closes,” read the press release. “For now, nothing is changing and it’s business as usual.”
Marital success: It’s unclear how many employees in total the firm has in B.C., though quick LinkedIn math suggests the number is close to 1,000. Salesforce alleges more than 1,600 employees across the country on its careers site. However, again unofficial LinkedIn data suggests that there are more than 2,500. Whatever the real number is, I’ll bet that it’s headed up before it ever goes down. Indeed, we can be certain it’ll never be zero again. As American writer Richard Bach has said, “True love stories never have endings.”