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Why Didn’t I Start Salesforce.com?

"Our job is to sell chemicals, not software"

Between 1991 and 1994 I worked for the French company Rhône-Poulenc in its U.S. headquarters in Cranbury, New Jersey. Rhône-Poulenc is the biggest French company in the world and is owned by the French government.

During those three years I designed, coded and delivered a state-of-the-art salesforce automation system for the company, with a support team of five. We spent roughly $2 million on hardware but the company saved an estimated $11 million in outside consulting fees. The best bid for the job would take roughly five years to complete and would have been inferior to what we developed. And it probably would never have made it out in five years anyway. With a five-year project, requirements change, and if the requirements remain the same then the people change. So a consulting company awarded such a contract gets paid but doesn't necessarily need to deliver the goods. The basic rule of a consulting business is to get the contract, you think about delivery later on. If you don't get the contract, you don't have a project to think about. My view of consultants is that most of them are like castrated bulls, all they can do is advice.

Our salesforce automation system was so popular with Rhône-Poulenc's U.S. sales teams that word spread to other countries, and to headquarters in Paris. One day Rhône-Poulenc's U.S. president John Wistrich stopped by my office and told me that a half-dozen French IT folks had just showed up unannounced and were waiting in the conference room for me to demo my salesforce automation system for a possible worldwide roll-out.

SFAS, as we called it, came with an integrated e-mail system, live written orders, inventory, delivery and accounting information at the users' fingertips on their Compaq laptops. They loved it. Don't forget, in 1991 there was no Internet or web the way we know it. E-mail was mostly unheard of among corporate users.

I worked long hours. I was in the office every Saturday and Sunday, and often worked until midnight on weekdays. One Saturday morning right after our mass U.S. roll-out I ran into Bernie Kranz, our IT director. I said, "Bernie where is everybody? Where is my team? We have a lot of work to do."

Bernie and I had a long chat by the water cooler. He said, "Fuat you don't belong here, or in the corporate world. You're an entrepreneur. You created such a mess for John and me, every country wants your salesforce automation system. All day long Wistrich is getting phone calls from one country or another that wants the system. Our job is to sell chemicals, not software. Look around here, people here are happy that they have a job and are waiting to retire. You should look into starting your own business. I'm sure you will be very successful. Good luck to you."

So I went home and thought about Bernie's advice.

By the next weekend I had announced PowerBuilder Developer's Journal, the hottest thing in IT, the ultimate client/server platform of ‘90s, hotter than Java, Linux, the biggest hype de jour ever. I had started our SYS-CON journey. My part-time moonlighting company SYS-CON Systems Consultants became SYS-CON Publications. Why didn't I start Saleforce.com? The domain name and a huge business opportunity were certainly there. Actually there were no domain names, or the World Wide Web. I went with my passion and I'm glad I did.

More Stories By Fuat Kircaali

Fuat Kircaali is the founder and chairman of SYS-CON Media, Cloud Expo, Inc. and Ulitzer, Inc.

Kircaali came to the United States from Zurich University, Switzerland in 1984 while studying for his PhD, to design computer systems for SH-2G submarine hunter helicopters for the U.S. Navy. He later worked at IBM's IS&CG Headquarters as a market research analyst under Mike Armstrong's leadership, an IBM executive who later ran IBM Europe and AT&T; and Fuat was the Director of Information Systems for UWCC, reporting to CEO Steve Silk (later Hebrew National CEO), one of the top marketing geniuses of the past two decades.

Kircaali founded SYS-CON Media in 1994, a privately held tech media company with sales exceeding $100 million. SYS-CON Media was listed twice by Inc 500 and Deloitte and Touche as one of the fastest-growing companies in North America. Kircaali launched Ulitzer, Inc., a revolutionary "new media" start-up in mid 2009.

Fuat completed Bogazici University Business Administration program in 1982 with a Bachelor's Degree. He was one of 50 students accepted to the program out of over 1 million high school graduates that year.

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