Coming from Salesforce.com: A Dropbox for the enterprise

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, at Net:Work 2010

Enterprise software’s scrappy startups make headlines for challenging legacy software companies, but some of their elders still have some tricks up their sleeves.  Case in point:  Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff who pre-announced his company’s planned Dropbox for the enterprise which was to be formally announced at the company’s Dreamforce conference next week.

Dropbox is the hugely popular consumer cloud storage service that has been dragged inside companies by people who want to use it at work. That trend spooks IT people who cite security issues about users accessing corporate files with their own devices. And that concern, in turn,  spawned reams of self-proclaimed enterprise-class cloud storage and file sharing offerings from Box, VMware, Citrix and others.

Benioff will not be left out of that fray. At TechCrunch Disrupt on Tuesday, he followed a panel full of startups — including Asana, Okta and Box, with news that Salesforce will take them all on.

“Next week at Dreamforce we have our Okta competitor coming out which is Salesforce Identity, we have our Box competitor coming out which is called Chatterbox, and we have our Asana competitor Do.com,” Benioff said. “So it’s competition. It’s good.”

Benioff explained that by providing these products, from single sign-in with Salesforce Identity or file-sharing with Chatterbox, the company meets customer demand for those products without requiring them to leave the Salesforce environment. But Benioff noted that Salesforce, which invested in Box.net just last year, isn’t necessarily out to kill the smaller startups, and is open to collaboration when it makes sense:

“We’ve invested in a couple of them, we compete with a couple of them, we partner with a couple of htem, and that’s kind of the nature of the industry,” he said. “Our industry is not about the Hunger Games. I don’t look at our industry as a zero sum game.”

There’s no question that a major push from Salesforce, whose products are used by companies like Facebook, to integrate changes into existing software could challenge the startups making tracks in enterprise. But before Benioff spoke, Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie spoke passionately on the startup advantage in a world dominated by older, larger players:

“They want the thing that’s going to take them into the future faster, and they’re not biased toward one vendor or another,” Levie said of the modern enterprise customer. “And that gives startups an unfair advantage that the legacy players don’t have.”

And even after Benioff’s announcement, Levie remained characteristically optimistic:

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