The story of why Marc Benioff gifted the AppStore.com domain to Steve Jobs

Ron Miller
UNITED STATES - MARCH 06: Steve Jobs, chief executive officer of Apple Inc., speaks during a news conference in Cupertino, California, U.S., on Thursday, March 6, 2008. Jobs, seeking to sell 10 million iPhones this year, added business features to woo customers from the BlackBerry and will let outside developers create programs for the handset. (Photo by Tony Avelar/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In Marc Benioff's book, Trailblazer, he tells the tale of how Steve Jobs planted the seeds of the idea that would become the first enterprise app store, and how Benioff eventually paid Jobs back with the gift of the AppStore.com domain.

While Salesforce did truly help blaze a trail when it launched as an enterprise cloud service in 1999, it took that a step further in 2006 when it became the first SaaS company to distribute related services in an online store.

In an interview last year around Salesforce's 20th anniversary, company CTO and co-founder Parker Harris told me that the idea for the app store came out of a meeting with Steve Jobs three years before AppExchange would launch. Benioff, Harris and fellow co-founder Dave Moellenhoff took a trip to Cupertino in 2003 to meet with Jobs. At that meeting, the legendary CEO gave the trio some sage advice: to really grow and develop as a company, Salesforce needed to develop a cloud software ecosystem. While that's something that's a given for enterprise SaaS companies today, it was new to Benioff and his team in 2003.

As Benioff tells it in his book, he asked Jobs to elucidate on what he meant by an application ecosystem. Jobs replied that how he implemented the idea was up to him. It took some time for that concept to bake, however. Benioff wrote that the notion of an app store eventually came to him as an epiphany at dinner one night a few years after that meeting. He says that he sketched out that original idea on a napkin while sitting in a restaurant:

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 applications 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?

Whether it happened like that or not, the app store idea would eventually come to fruition, but it wasn't originally called the AppExchange, as it is today. Instead, Benioff says he liked the name AppStore.com so much that he had his lawyers register the domain the next day.

When Benioff talked to customers prior to the launch, while they liked the concept, they didn't like the name he had come up with for his online store. He eventually relented and launched in 2006 with the name AppExchange.com instead. Force.com would follow in 2007, giving programmers a full-fledged development platform to create applications, and then distribute them in AppExchange.

Salesforce AppExchange Revolutionized Software Distribution When It Launched Ten Years Ago Today


Meanwhile, AppStore.com sat dormant until 2008, when Benioff was invited back to Cupertino for a big announcement around iPhone. As Benioff wrote, "At the climactic moment, [Jobs] said [five] words that nearly floored me: 'I give you App Store."

Benioff wrote that he and his executives actually gasped when they heard the name. Somehow, even after all that time had passed since that the original meeting, both companies had settled upon the same name. Except Salesforce had rejected it, leaving an opening for Benioff to give a gift to his mentor. He says that he went backstage after the keynote and signed over the domain to Jobs.

In the end, the idea of the web domain wasn't even all that important to Jobs in the context of an app store concept. After all, he put the App Store on every phone, and it wouldn't require a website to download apps. Perhaps that's why today the domain points to the iTunes store, and launches iTunes (or gives you the option of opening it).

Even the App Store page on Apple.com uses the sub-domain "app-store" today, but it's still a good story of how a conversation between Jobs and Benioff would eventually have a profound impact on how enterprise software was delivered, and how Benioff was able to give something back to Jobs for that advice.

How Salesforce paved the way for the SaaS platform approach