How plans to stay high in the clouds co-founder Parker Harris discusses key product growth areas for the company, the challenges of innovating, and the future of development

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It's important to be aligned but also not overly, super organized, everything's perfect. We try to create some chaos. We have Service Cloud. Service Cloud is awesome. We looked at Zendesk and Zendesk is doing a great job. It's a great company.

How can we learn from that? We study them, we talk to them. We ended up buying a company called Assistly and that's now called, branded a little bit in direct competition against Zendesk. You might ask why we are doing that because we already have Service Cloud and now we have this other thing. We accept that. We like to have a little bit of conflict and disruption, controlled chaos, which helps us continue to innovate. I don't think I'm answering your question exactly though.

Do you expect there to be fewer cloud suppliers or more?

Harris: I think that there will be more and more at the low end. Some of them will break out. I think that's been true forever in the industry and I don't think that will ever stop. That's why we're looking at how we continue to learn from those companies. I think that there will be more partnerships at the high end and there certainly will be acquisitions in any activity. We're always looking at opportunities. That's also part of that dissonance that we try to create.

We're always saying take a beginner's mind and explore if there's something else we should get into. We look at the whole landscape of IT and the market in general and look at where we play and where our customers want us to play, where our competitors are and what acquisitions we could do.

I still believe heavily that we have to be careful about having this ego and hubris as a successful corporation that we should do it all. Because then I think we start to fail our customers and we're too focused on taking over the world. That's not really our focus, world domination. Our focus is, let's continue doing what we started with, which is CRM and changing the way our customers are connecting with their customers.

The Microsoft example is a great one. When Steve Ballmer was the CEO we didn't have as good a relationship. He came down and was pitching us and it wasn't the most collaborative meeting. He was saying: 'You should write from my new tablet. It's great.' But it wasn't really a two-way street. With Satya Nadella, it's a much better relationship so we'll continue to partner with Microsoft. With Workday and other companies that don't partner with us today, maybe they'll open up over time. Maybe some of those partnerships move into wanting to do more and build joint products. Maybe we'll acquire companies. I can't predict how we'll consolidate.

I don't think there's going to be a complete consolidation because I think the dynamic of any market, especially in cloud, is it's so easy to build new stuff. I think that disruptive force from the low end will keep coming in and it's not going to allow some dominant player like us, for example, just to sit there and grab the pieces and say we're going to solve everyone's problems. These little companies will have a better way to do it. They're going to be nimble and that's why I constantly try to figure out how I keep innovating as we get larger.

Will any of the big packaged software companies that are trying to make the transition to the cloud become dominant players in the cloud?

Harris: I don't know. It's a hard cultural change to make. It's a hard revenue model to change, to move from perpetual licenses to subscription revenue. You need bold leadership that will make those changes. Some companies are making that shift. I still believe it's very hard to keep your feet in both places and that's where a lot of these vendors are trapped because of their existing base.

How do they make that shift? I'm frankly amazed that in 16 years we don't we have a real competitor of scale that's doing pure-play cloud against us. It's just not there. Part of it is because the hegemony of the past. This new model of cloud computing has really disrupted, just like we've seen in the past. When client-server came in it disrupted a lot of those mainframe companies. Cloud is doing the same thing.

If I'm a CIO or CEO and I'm listening to the Oracles, the SAPS, the IBMs and others talk about their transition and their status as cloud companies, what kinds of questions should they be asking? How do they get at the heart of whether you're really a cloud company?

Harris: How are you going to make me successful? I think those companies are trying to have a good conversation about technology and you get buried in a conversation of whether it is multitenant or not, is it on premise, is it hybrid cloud? You're just talking about technology and that's fine and I love doing that.

But why does it matter? How are you going to give me new upgrades of your technology? We do upgrades three times a year transparently through our customers and yet we honor all of the customizations and configurations and programming that they've done. That's a really hard problem to solve and a huge amount of value that the customers get. The word 'upgrade' is a bad word in enterprise computing. You've got to do an upgrade. Ooh, you don't want to do an upgrade. For us it's actually a good thing and we brand it. If you've seen our releases, we let our customers choose the logo. It's branded by season. Summer is coming.

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