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Startups ‘are staying private way too long’ says Salesforce founder Marc Benioff

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Marc Benioff, chairman and co-CEO at Salesforce, speaking on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt with TechCrunch Editor Matthew Panzarino in 2019.
Image Credits: TechCrunch

“What public markets do is indeed the great reckoning. But it cleanses [a] company of all of the bad stuff that they have.”

That’s Salesforce founder and chief executive officer Marc Benioff talking about the benefits of public markets.

It’s something that private companies seem to be ignoring in the go-go days of the current venture capital boom cycle and something that’s led to a lot of the erosion in investor value, says Benioff.

“I think in a lot of private companies these days, we’re seeing governance issues all over the place,” says Benioff.

The multi-billionaire founder of one of the most successful enterprise software companies of the past 20 years pointed to both WeWork and Uber as companies that could have benefited from the oversight that public investors provide sooner in their life cycle.

“I can’t believe this is the way they were running internally in all of these cases,” says Benioff. “They are staying private way too long.”

Benioff pointed to Salesforce as an example. “We went public, were $100 million in revenue [and] that was about the right time. We were small enough that we could make those changes and adjustments,” Benioff said. “And there’s a lot of those that have to continually happen, and that includes the people on your team… who are really keeping you on the straight and narrow.”

Benioff’s advocacy for public markets was just one facet of a wide-ranging interview onstage at our Disrupt SF event.

In addition to his old refrain that “Facebook should be regulated like cigarettes,” Benioff called for the creation of a national privacy policy to ensure that companies and consumers can be on the same page.

“We need a  national privacy law,” he said. “Otherwise you’re going to get a patchwork of privacy laws. We have to get our privacy and data locked down so we know where we’re  going. [Regulators] need to be stepping in now and they should be working hard to make those changes.”

Benioff also pointed to the need for a reinvention of modern capitalism and a rethinking of how executives build their startups if they want to be successful in the new business landscape of the early 21st century.

“I really strongly believe that capitalism as we know it is dead… that we’re going to see a new kind of capitalism and that new kind of capitalism that’s going to emerge is not the Milton Friedman capitalism that’s just about making money,” said Benioff. “And if your orientation is just about making money, I don’t think you’re going to hang out very long as a CEO or a founder of a company.”

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