A game-changing piece of advice from a mentor named Steve Jobs

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Well, when your mentor is Steve Jobs, as it was with Marc Benioff, founder and CEO of Salesforce.com, you might hope for a game-changing piece of advice. But it took Marc quite some years to actually apply what seemed inscrutable to him at the time.

The story in The Wall Street Journal, The Lesson I Learned from Steve Jobs, sub-titled A challenge from technology’s greatest showman led Marc Benioff to a breakthrough insight about how to find true innovation at Salesforce.com written by Marc Benioff, holds several lessons for founders and is charmingly written by Marc – highly recommended reading.

The first lesson is how Marc got a summer internship at Apple working in the Mac group. He had programmed several games while in high school and managed to find a bug in the Mac’s software. Unlike most of us, he directly contacted the Mac group to tell them about the bug and managed to leverage that conversation into a summer internship. Lesson one, bring something of value when you trying to create a new relationship. Marc was a mere summer intern but he managed to steel himself to chat with Steve Jobs not once but many times that summer, managing to forge a relationship out of their shared love for technology and science, as well as a passion for meditation and Eastern philosophy. Lesson number two: find common ground with someone with whom you seek to build a relationship.

Marc kept in touch with Steve Jobs after his internship ended and as he says, “as my career progressed he became a mentor of sorts.” Lesson number three: work to maintain relationships, even if at a distance. I won’t spoil Marc’s story for you except to say that Jobs advised him that though he had a slick web site, he needed a lot more, including a Salesforce “application ecosystem.” (Keep in mind this was many years before the Apple App Store.) Here’s how Marc was finally able to apply his mentor’s advice:

One evening, over dinner in San Francisco, I was struck by an irresistibly simple idea. What if any developer from anywhere in the world could create their own application for the Salesforce platform? And what if we offered to store these apps in an online directory that allowed any Salesforce user to download them? I wouldn’t say this idea felt entirely comfortable. I’d grown up with the old view of innovation as something that should happen within the four walls of our offices. Opening our products to outside tinkering was akin to giving our intellectual property away. Yet, at that moment, I knew in my gut that if Salesforce was to become the new kind of company I wanted it to be, we would need to seek innovation everywhere.

Salesforce’s App Exchange has become a huge driver of the company’s success, attracting thousands of developers and adding tremendous value to the core application. I’ll let Marc give you lesson four in his own words:

Steve helped me understand that no great innovation in business ever happens in a vacuum. They’re all built on the backs of hundreds of smaller breakthroughs and insights—which can come from literally anywhere. AppExchange now has more than 5,000 apps, ranging from sales engagement and project management tools to collaboration aids.

Building an ecosystem is about acknowledging that the next game-changing innovation may come from a brilliant technologist and mentor based in Silicon Valley, or it may come from a novice programmer based halfway around the world. A company seeking to achieve true scale needs to seek innovation beyond its own four walls and tap into the entire universe of knowledge and creativity out there.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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