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Selling growth that will never end

Ed Zitron, writing about the tendency of Big Tech execs like Salesforce’s Marc Benioff to endlessly promise amazing innovations and the market’s tendency to keep falling for this dangerous nonsense:

Benioff, I note, is no stranger to jumping on a bandwagon. In 2016 Salesforce was the “first comprehensive AI platform with CRM” — a phrase that may seem superficially impressive, but actually doesn’t mean anything when you think about it. In 2021, blockchain briefly became “the future of apps” as part of the Salesforce Nocode Platform, and was as easy to install as Einstein AI, which is confusing, because it seems that in May 2019, Benioff promised that “every salesforce app [could] have full Blockchain…All in clicks not code.”

The reason that none of these products seem to ever have a firm connection to any real use case or product is that these announcements are not for customers. Benioff’s 2019 announcement of “full blockchain” coincided with a brief bull run in cryptocurrency, and his 2021 announcement coincided with Bitcoin’s brief flirtation with a $60,000 valuation. And Benioff’s new push into the nebulous world of adding AI to a CRM for the fourth or fifth time is likely to placate a push by activist investor Elliott Management and to try and stabilize a stock that has dropped from $210 to $167 in the last year.

That’s because Benioff, like many valley executives, is not concerned with the calamitously low morale at his company, or innovating in the sales space, but sending signals to Wall Street that Salesforce will grow eternally. Despite his “ohana” attitude and everybody generally liking him across the valley, Marc Benioff is running the same playbook as Elon Musk - making a vague, exciting statement that makes the company seem in control of every single nascent market opportunity, even if they never actually seem to meaningfully enter into it or do anything related to it.

When I used to work at a large higher ed publishing and technology company, I often lamented the weirdness of the fact that we didn’t design, build, and market our products for the customer who actually used them, but rather for the states and institutions who chose them and then told their staff and students they had to buy them. It threw our incentives and priorities all out of whack.

The same thing is going on here. These companies are setting their direction based on what they think investors want to hear. They will burn anything and everything in their way—including whatever decent, working products and services they might already have, along with the employees who create and deliver them—if they think it will keep the market happy.

That is bad enough on its own, but what makes it even worse is that what will keep the market happy is the fiction that not only will your company continue to grow, but it will grow at an ever-increasing rate. That plan is not sustainable even on the relatively small, localized scale of an individual company. And yet we keep doing it, keep imagining that the ride will never end.

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