Salesforce.com’s vision of the Internet of Customers is getting clearer, and it has a decidedly mobile orientation.
The company on Monday announced the launched the Salesforce1 Fund — a dedicated fund in its newly renamed investment unit, now called “Salesforce Ventures” — that will pour US$100 million into companies building mobile apps and connected products based on the Salesforce1 Platform.
Companies benefiting from the first round of investments include DocuSign, i.am+, InsideSales.com and Skuid.
The Internet of Customers — Salesforce’s twist on the more expansive Internet of Things — always had a strong mobile orientation, but this fund strengthens it. The concept is a world in which connected objects are as much a part of the CRM universe as actual customers.
The example Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff gave last year, when he introduced the Internet of Customers, was of a connected toothbrush that gathered usage data and reported back to the owner’s dentist.
A huge mountain of data will be funneled into marketing, sales and service communications — from a reminder that it is time to make a new dentist appointment, to a coupon for a certain brand of mouthwash, to — possibly — an early warning that a cavity might be forming.
Dovetailing With Salesforce Wear
That Salesforce is hustling to own or at least dominate a significant part of this space is no secret.
The company this summer introduced Salesforce Wear, an initiative that provides developers with tools to build apps for wearables across a wide range of devices offered by ARM, Fitbit, Pebble, Philips, Samsung and others.
The range of apps that can be built through Salesforce Wear is limited only by developers’ imaginations.
Salesforce described a scenario in which a casino might give its most-valued guests wristbands so they can be treated like royalty no matter where they are in a hotel or complex.
Another scenario could be providing remote service technicians, such as oil rig workers or medical device reps, with access to live data and the ability to review plans for the equipment they’re tasked with repairing.
VCs and the IoT
Salesforce is hardly alone in seeing the promise of wearables and the Internet of Things.
Over the last five years, US$1.4 billion has been invested in emerging private wearable startups, according to CB Insights. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a 135 percent jump in deals.
Funding already has reached an all-time high of $502 million in investments, the firm noted — a 38 percent year-over-year increase from 2013.
So what does Salesforce’s contribution to this market mean? Compared to $1.4 billion, $100 million seems rather puny.
Then again, Salesforce is not a venture capitalist — it is a software company. Even its own investments in privately held companies do not exceed more than $215 million. Like other tech companies, it is branching into venture capital not necessarily with the primary goal of boosting the bottom line, but to expand its ecosystem and platform.
For the mobile CRM space, then, this is an important development, as it signifies Salesforce is going all out on a mobile version of the Internet of Customers.
Salesforce being Salesforce, this is an initiative geared for success. Add this consideration to the mix: Wear is unique in that it allows developers to build applications for any device, unlike say Android Wear which focuses only on Android.
That open-door policy, coupled with Salesforce’s existing footprint in the CRM space, and now $100 million to spread around, means that if you haven’t yet begun, then it’s time to start getting ready for the Internet of Customers, mobile style.