The way the story goes is that Marc Benioff was floating in the sea just off Big Island in his beloved Hawaii during a sabbatical when he thought: why can't buying software be as a simple as Amazon is for consumer goods?
This line of thinking eventually led to Benioff and a team of developers pioneering the software-as-a-service (SaaS) model by delivering its customer relationship management (CRM) software over the internet on a per seat, per month payment plan, instead of deployed on-premise servers under a hefty licensing agreement.
As outlined in Benioff's 2009 book Behind The Cloud: "I started Salesforce.com in a rented apartment in 1999 with the goal of making enterprise software as easy to use as a website like Amazon.com."
Here's a brief timeline of how Salesforce came to exist, and where it is today.
How Salesforce.com was founded
Benioff proved himself to be something of wunderkind during his time at enterprise technology giant Oracle, where he was promoted to vice president at the age of just 23.
Benioff went on to found Salesforce in March 1999, alongside three software developers from Left Coast Consulting: Parker Harris, Dave Moellenhoff, and Frank Dominguez.
As outlined in Behind The Cloud, the idea was to "make software easier to purchase, simpler to use, and more democratic without the complexities of installation, maintenance and constant upgrades". Salesforce customers now get new features delivered to them via the web three times a year.
The company soon went public in June 2004 under the stock symbol CRM and raised $110 million. Oracle founder Larry Ellison was an early investor, and something of a mentor to Benioff.
Building the platform
Salesforce went on to launch a number of products aside from its core CRM software, which is branded for different verticals - Sales Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Community Cloud, Service Cloud and Commerce Cloud - all billed on a subscription basis.
The company soon expanded into platform-as-a-service (PaaS) for developers to create apps on Salesforce - App Cloud - before tying them all together under the 'Customer Success Platform' in October 2014.
Salesforce soon started adding new capabilities to its platform, primarily through acquisitions, starting with the 2010 acquisition of PaaS company Heroku.
Then came the somewhat surprising 2016 acquisition of Quip, which placed Salesforce into the workplace collaboration market. Then the purchase of MetaMind, the same year, eventually led to the release of Salesforce Einstein, a broad range of AI features baked into the Salesforce platform.
Most recently Salesforce acquired MuleSoft in 2018, and launched Integration Cloud as a result.
The hire of Keith Block to become COO, after his firing from Oracle in 2013, has proved to be somewhat pivotal to Salesforce's ongoing growth.
Benioff hailed the executive at the time as "the best sales executive" in enterprise software history. Block has driven more vertical-specific solutions, made in-roads into lucrative enterprise customers and has helped push the company towards its long-term goal of a $10 billion run rate, which it hit in 2017.
Salesforce announced in its Q2 2018 financial results that it had bypassed the $10 billion run rate figure, with Benioff saying at the time: "We had a phenomenal quarter of growth, reaching a huge milestone for the company, becoming the first enterprise cloud software company to break the $10 billion revenue run rate."
Benioff quickly moved on though, telling CNBC that he was already eyeing a $20 billion run rate. During an interview on CNBC's Money Matters Benioff said: "We are on the fast track to $20 billion, and that is all that is on my mind right now, how fast we can get to 20. I have never been more excited about getting to 20, because 10 is behind me, and you always need to be looking to the future."
As its balance sheet has grown Salesforce has also grown a sizeable, and well-branded, global real estate footprint.
The crown jewel for the company is the recently opened Salesforce Tower in Downtown San Francisco, which is the second tallest skyscraper in America west of the Mississippi. Benioff wrote in Behind The Cloud that Salesforce would always be based in his native San Francisco.
Salesforce also has naming rights for a skyscraper in London at 110 Bishopsgate.
The company has more than 50 global offices to date.
Benioff has always been a big exponent of events as a marketing channel. Salesforce ran its first conference - Dreamforce - in San Francisco back in 2003, with just over 1,000 attendees.
It upgraded to the Moscone Centre in 2005 and today it takes over downtown San Francisco, with 171,000 registered attendees.
The Dreamforce concert, Dreamfest, has also become legendary, with bands like The Killers and The Foo Fighters closing the event, and even Bono playing to a packed Cow Palace and going off on a trademark rant back in 2016.