Heroku: Peer pressure is a sales strategy

Byron Sebastian - GM Heroku and, SVP, Platforms at salesforce.com - Structure 2011When it comes to getting major companies to embrace building their applications in the cloud, Salesforce.com (s CRM) and its newly acquired platform-as-a-service (PaaS) company Heroku are relying on a tried-and-true method: Peer pressure.

Heroku CEO Byron Sebastian says his strategy involves making sure all the Fortune 500 companies know that their friends — from Disney and Toyota to Dunkin’ Donuts and Avon — are already doing it.

“We want them to say, ‘my peers are using PaaS, and because these guys are all creating social mobile experiences for their customers, I should as well,” he said. “They aren’t going into risky territory. It’s about getting success examples out,” Sebastian said during a fireside chat with Om Malik and Derrick Harris today during GigaOM’s Structure.

One of the most trailblazing users of PaaS happens to be the Japanese Post — the postal service of Japan. “When you think conservative, I can’t think of anything more conservative than that,” Sebastian says, making the point that transferring major operations to the cloud doesn’t carry the risks some still believe it does.

Heroku, considered the industry’s leading Ruby cloud platform-as-a-service provider, was acquired by Salesforce six months ago. Discussing the run up to the acquisition, Sebastian said that once he and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff quickly bonded over a specific shared enemy.

“We hate servers. We hate server instances. We don’t think customers should have to worry about infrastructure at all. They shouldn’t be in the business of managing servers,” he said. “We both had a vision for a new operation model for applications and a focus on social and mobile.”

Still, Sebastian recognizes that Salesforce and Heroku are different brands with different missions.

Heroku is a developer-focused platform that specializes in fast,flexible and open-source apps. The company is focused on creating a rich developer productivity experience and will remain committed to that, he said.

There are currently 150,000 apps running on top of Heroku. Sebastian said joining the Salesforce fold has opened up the company to new opportunities. Since joining, he’s talked to at least 30 CIO’s and other executives of Fortune 500 companies interested in the cloud.

“The combination has been very synergistic. What I found is customers and CIO’s coming to Salesforce and working with them and ‘where do I start?.” he said. “They want to know how they should be adopting the cloud.

“We have a number of different solutions, applications, the Chatter network — but when it comes to platforms we need a full breadth of offerings,” he said.