Many of us love reading inspirational stories, and few things are as inspiring as reading about how someone like Marc Benioff overcame his failures. Today, we know Benioff as the co-founder and CEO of Salesforce. He’s also a known billionaire. Furthermore, we know he started his first company when he was just 15 years old. Or did he?

His first failure

Benioff actually started his first company at the age of 13 years. Most of us didn’t actually hear about the company until it failed, so the common assumption was that he started it when he was 15 years old. The fact that he failed is hardly a surprise – many billionaires have experienced failure in the course of their careers. However, what’s intriguing is that this is the only failure Marc has experienced throughout his career.

His launched his first tech company to fix CB radios. Unfortunately, it didn’t succeed. He had learned about these radios through Radio Shack in their locality. There are a handful of reasons that contributed to the company’s eventual failure. According to his grandma, his pricing model was the main reason.

Regardless of the reason behind its failure, this company has remained to be his only failure throughout his life as an entrepreneur. He wrote his first piece of software – “How to Juggle” – on a computer from Radio Shack. He managed to sell this software successfully, carving out a space for himself in the tech industry.

His venture into the computer world

While he wanted a computer, Benioff could not afford to buy it. However, that fact alone didn’t make him give up. On the contrary, he went ahead to strike a deal with his grandma. After convincing his grandma to finance half the computer price, Benioff was able to raise the other half of the money on his own.

Today, we know Benioff as a tech guru but he was an entirely self-taught programmer. He wrote the “How to Juggle” program after learning about coding. To this date, juggling is one of his unexpected skills. However, he rarely performs in public.

After creating the “How to Juggle” program, he sold it for $75. Radio Shack bought the program for their digital users. From that moment it was clear that the computer programming business was his calling.

Thereafter, he went on to secure an Atari. He would use his new company (Liberty Software) to write its games. This went on throughout his high school life as well as college years. While in college, instead of pursuing a computer science certificate, he shifted his focus to entrepreneurship.

Despite this shift, he didn’t abandon coding. In fact, he was infatuated with the Macintosh Computer from Apple. Leveraging the assembly language, he decided to create programs for them. Unfortunately, this approach didn’t work out because Macintosh did not support the language fully.

Marc decided to reach out to the company and complain. In their response, he was invited over one summer to help them with this. He was then hired to help Apple fix the issue. Considering that he was an intern, this was a great opportunity and a cool experience.

Transition from coding to selling

After finishing college, his skills in sales and marketing improved immensely. As such, he became the youngest ever Oracle vice president. Thereafter, he unveiled Salesforce. When you look at his CV on LinkedIn, it has only three entries. The entries include Salesforce CEO, Oracle vice president, and Apple intern.

While he is tech-savvy, his days of writing programs are in the past. However, his Atari games still exist to date, and they even get updates.

According to Marc, somebody took over these games, and they’re now making YouTube videos with them. This plucky YouTuber goes beyond that to rate these games. There is even a post suggesting that Benioff never goes to work.

Lessons from Marc Benioff’s failures

1. Give back to the society

Salesforce has recorded over 4 million hours of volunteering. Furthermore, their donations to various causes amount to $150 million. Additionally, they run many NGOs and nonprofit organizations. Benioff states that he established earlier on that the business would be a site for a change. The goal was always to build a business that gives back to society at scale.

That being said, there’s more to Benioff than generating massive profits through his businesses. He uses a 1-1-1 model to give back. The model is also known as 1% movement. In this case, companies pledges to provide 1% employee hours, 1% equity, and 1% value of their products. These all get channeled to struggling communities and causes.

He’s also among the few wealthy people who supported higher taxes for the rich in 2018, especially on their wealth and profits.

He took this course after taking a 6-month leave to visit India and Hawaii. After talking to an Ashram, he came back rejuvenated and decided to build a venture that gives back to society. Beyond helping the society at large, he wanted to save his staff from the same ordeal he was going through. That’s where the idea for the 1-1-1 model was born.

Lessons for startup founders

Sometimes you can achieve all your goals and still feel empty. If you’re in a similar state of despair, contributing time and money to a noble cause always helps. Giving back to society takes away the emptiness and gives you a new purpose. Additionally, it can create inspiration for new ideas.

2. Rules are not meant to be followed all the time

One of Marc’s major contributions to the world is changing the tech sector through the use of software. Through Salesforce, he became the first to allow consumers to develop their own applications by leveraging its cloud capabilities and architecture.

He founded this company with one primary goal – to bring an end to software bugs and errors. With this goal in mind, Marc was open to new ideas and experiments. He would try various business strategies to find the best course for his venture.

He knew that it would be much cheaper for companies to access the software if it was accessible virtually. And that’s what he was aiming to achieve through Salesforce. By avoiding the traditional licensing model and adopting a subscription model, he was able to provide a cheaper alternative for businesses. Meanwhile, he was also able to generate a stream of monthly income on his end. This is not as easy with the licensing model.

Benioff was committed to investing in recent technology. Cloud storage allows users to store or access their files from any location in the world. All you need to enjoy the benefits of cloud storage is a computer.

In 2022, this doesn’t feel like a groundbreaking innovation but back when Benioff launched Salesforce in 1999, it was. At the time, people would use email and CD-ROMs to transport files back and forth. Most of the time, this was incredibly inconvenient.

Benioff derived the subscription model from the journalism sector. To explain his process, he’s said that he likes to identify innovations and figure out how he can replicate them in different contexts. His main goal is to determine whether they’re viable in different situations or not. And if you adopt this approach, it can change the way you do everything, says Benioff.

The next venture at SalesForce is AI products. After releasing these products, Benioff has been heard claiming that they developed their program faster than any other company. As such, they’re not only edging the competition out but also pushing the boundaries of technology

What startup founders can learn

It’s always important to think outside the box if you want to succeed in any sector. Standing out doesn’t always come easy, but, it’s the only way to establish a successful business. If you start reviewing innovations in other sectors, you may discover an untapped business idea for your industry.

3. More risk, more rewards

If you see an opportunity that’s worth the shot, you should go for it. Who knew that the Salesforce model would bring an end to the software era? Salesforce introduced people to something they would have appreciated earlier, but nobody had unveiled these innovations yet. Benioff took a shot at this idea and it was a success.

To put this into perspective, Benioff actually resigned from a well-paying job and successful career at Oracle so that he could build Salesforce.

What startup founders can learn

You should proclaim your visions boldly and pursue them. If you believe the world needs a change, create that change. Remember, to beat your rivals, you need to be the best at what you do.

4. Never stop running your business like a startup

Small companies are very successful for one primary reason – agility. When a client complains, they handle the matter immediately. When there’s a hardware break, an engineer is at your disposal. It’s that sort of approach that makes them successful. Unfortunately, many businesses lost this startup culture when they grow and establish a solid customer base. As a growing startup, you should make it a priority to avoid bureaucracy.

Customer needs should always be a priority in your venture. Before becoming Oracle’s vice president, Marc joined the company as a customer service provider. Thereafter, he moved up the departments. When he was in the product development phase, he was surprised by the lack of communication between the company and its clients.

He was left wondering, “how can you craft a product for somebody you know nothing about?” Even worse, you don’t know what they think about your products after you’ve made them. When customers complain, that’s an opportunity to identify flaws in your product and improve it.

Benioff says his company is successful due to its obsession with customer satisfaction.

Thanks to this approach, Salesforce became the first company to clock 10 billion USD in annual revenue. Salesforce handles about 5 million transactions daily. More than half of this engagement is a source of useful customer intel. By leveraging customer feedback, Salesforce continues to set high standards in the tech industry.

What startup founders can learn

When you identify a successful technique that gives your brand an edge over the competition, never abandon it. It’s important to maintain the momentum even when your business is established and becomes a major brand. Furthermore, customer support is always important in business. The feedback you get from customers a source of vital Intel you can use to perfect your products or services.

5. Maintaining customer trust is key to survival

Never understate the impact of marketing. Benioff understands this well, and we can see this in Salesforce. The company is a powerful marketing tool that’s always on. At the same time, he makes it a point to only make promises that he can keep. Benioff knows that it’s easy to lose customer trust when you don’t deliver on your part. For this reason, he doesn’t waste time generating hype that has no evidence to back it up.

What startup founders can learn

Don’t make promises you can’t keep and don’t try to deceive your customers either. Once they see through your lies, they’re unlikely to trust your brand again.


If you are an entrepreneur who wants to make a mark with an innovative business, Benioff’s life can be a source of great encouragement. When you read about his entire career, you’ll see that fear has never held him back. If anything, he is a risk-taker, and the chances he’s taken have born great success.

You can emulate some of his life strategies in your venture. Learn to take strategic risks. Always maintain customer trust, and quiet your critics by delivering on what you promise.

How Pressfarm can help

As Benioff will tell you, PR is vital for any business. After all, good PR can help you earn trust among the public by presenting a brand image that they’re emotionally invested in. This good PR starts with the content you produce. By collaborating with the experts at Pressfarm, you can consistently produce quality content that tells a positive brand story. This includes press releases, guest posts and media kits that will create interest in your brand and position it as a thought leader.

Beyond creating quality content that can help you stand out, the team at Pressfarm can help you distribute this content widely. By getting your brand featured on respected media outlets and startup directories, they can boost your online visibility. Since they also build a custom media list for you, they can help you connect with reputable journalists in your niche. In turn, these journalists can help you share your brand story with the world.

A PR package from Pressfarm can help you develop a positive brand reputation to go along with your innovative business idea.