Elevate 2024 Highlights
perspectives / Events

Elevate 2024 Highlights

What we learned at our annual CEO summit.

Salesforce Ventures
May 7, 2024

Last month in San Diego, Salesforce Ventures had the honor of hosting 100+ portfolio company founders and CEOs, enterprise executives, and Salesforce leaders for two days of knowledge sharing, connection, celebration, and giving back. 

Our second annual CEO summit featured keynote speeches from former U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice and champion swimmer Diana Nyad, panel conversations with leaders and innovators across AI and enterprise SaaS, and workshops on topics that are top of mind for founders in 2024: implementing generative AI, selling to enterprises, cultivating a high performance work culture, and navigating the evolving exit environment.

Elevate also featured curated networking sessions, group outings, and a volunteer opportunity with an organization that promotes surf therapy to aid injured or disabled U.S. military veterans and active-duty service members. 

We left Elevate feeling inspired by our community and invigorated about the future. But before we turn the page, we wanted to highlight a handful of our favorite takeaways from this year’s event.

Editorial note: Quotes have been edited for clarity.

Be the Change You Want to See in the World

Ambassador Susan Rice on stage with David Schmaier.

On the first night of Elevate, Salesforce President and Chief Product Officer David Schmaier hosted a fireside chat with Ambassador Susan Rice focused on her career in public service, the current state of geopolitics, AI regulation, national security, and much more. In her closing remarks, Ambassador Rice spoke to attendees about the changes she believes we need to overcome to foster a more functional politics:

“In the short term, we need to reward at the ballot box politicians who don’t make it their mission to exacerbate our divisions,” Ambassador Rice said. “In the medium term, there are steps we can and should take to make our system less vulnerable to polarization. Dealing with partisan gerrymandering and implementing policies like rank choice voting which rewards less extreme outcomes are the kind of reforms that can make a difference, along with taking the influence of dark money out of politics, bringing people back together at the local level, and funding local news.” 

Ambassador Rice said it’s incumbent on all of us to be the change we want to see in our world:

“We live in zip codes with people who agree with us, and we rarely have the opportunity to understand people who come from vastly different places,” Ambassador Rice said. “And I believe it’s quite hard to hate somebody when you actually know them. You find out that what they want for themselves and their families are the same things you want: security, enough food on the table, a job that brings you dignity, and to educate your children and worship or not worship as you please. These are just fundamentals, and we’ve lost sight of that because there’s so many things that reinforce our segregation and polarization. I think we can overcome it, but we’ve got to want to do it, and have citizens and leaders who are committed to it.”

Lead With Your Values

Paul Drews hosts a panel with Denise Dresser, Oscar Munoz, and Marissa Mayer.

In our first panel of Day 2, Salesforce Ventures’ Managing Partner Paul Drews talked to Slack CEO Denise Dresser, former United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz, and Sunshine CEO Marissa Mayer about their experiences as leaders of large enterprises, how to lead amidst digital transformation, good corporate governance, and inspiring a productive workforce. In one notable exchange, Oscar encouraged all founders to lean on their personal values when forced to make tough decisions.

“I rely on who I am and the values of my grandmother, who would never try and blame anyone else for her problems,” Oscar said. 

Marissa added that she strives to be a positive and transparent leader to help motivate her employees.

“When I got to Yahoo!, I also acknowledged that we faced a hard problem. I told the team ‘if this was an easy problem, someone would have figured it out a long time ago. We’re going to need our best thinking here.’ Getting people enrolled in that mindset was important,” Marissa said.

Enterprise Sales Requires Intent

Nowi Kallen hosts a panel with Adam Aarons, Lipsa Goswamy, and Keith Weiss.

Salesforce Ventures’ Managing Director Nowi Kallen discussed the state of enterprise sales in 2024 with Drata Chief Revenue Officer Adam Aarons, Wells Fargo CIO for Consumer Payments & Banking, Lipsa Goswamy, and Morgan Stanley Managing Director Keith Weiss. The panel discussed how enterprises evaluate vendors, IT budgets across regions, enterprise procurement, how enterprises are investing in AI, how enterprise sales have changed since COVID, pricing models, and much more. Among the highlights were Adam and Lipsa’s perspectives on how startups can break into enterprise sales: 

“What it took was intent. We started by talking to prospects in the enterprise and asking them how their business problems related to the solutions we could help provide. And as we did that, we put a team together and staffed it accordingly,” explained Adam. “A true enterprise motion isn’t something you dip your toe in. It’s something you put weight behind. They’re great opportunities, but it’s challenging. You have to leave it all out on the field.”

Lipsa shared how Wells Fargo evaluates startup vendors:

“I think it really boils down to the capabilities we’re looking for, and who can provide those capabilities. Equally important is we have standards around scale, risk, compliance, privacy, and governance, so our vendors must meet those expectations,” Lipsa said. “We spend a lot of cycles trying to determine if a product is a good fit. It has to be a differentiator to the core we’re already building and providing.”

It Takes a Team to Achieve Greatness

Diana Nyad on stage with Leah McGowen-Hare.

In our second fireside chat, Salesforce SVP of the Trailblazer Community Leah McGowen-Hare talked to world champion open-water swimmer Diana Nyad about her famous swim from Cuba to Florida (dramatized in the recent Netflix film ‘Nyad‘), and the teamwork, discipline, and resilience that contributed to her success. Although Diana had the vision and desire to complete the 110-mile swim, she stressed that it takes a high-performing team to accomplish any great feat—be it in athletics or business.

“Those 40 people on my team, I cared about their dreams and who they wanted to be in life. But right now we’re all committed to this one dream,” Diana explained. “So I bowed to them and said, let’s make our commitment together. I can’t do what you do. I don’t have those skills. If you bring all your skills and talents, we’re gonna cross this ocean together. We were sky high on everybody being equally committed and equally valuable.”

Diana also spoke on the importance of grit and determination:

“To be highly successful you need talent. You need a team around you that you can trust. You need some luck and good timing. But more than anything, you need persistence,” Diana said. “We all get knocked down. It’s part of the human condition. You suffer heartache or tragedy. But you get back up. So that startup that failed last year isn’t going to fail this year because you’re coming at it with new intel and a fresh perspective.”

AI is Coming for Tasks, Not Jobs

Rob Keith hosts a panel with Cristobal Valenzuela, Vipul Ved Prakash, and Richard Socher.

Salesforce Ventures Partner Rob Keith closed out Elevate by chatting with Runway CEO Cristobal Valenzuela, Together AI CEO Vipul Ved Prakash, and You.com CEO Richard Socher. They discussed the generative AI revolution, production use cases for gen AI, how enterprises are leveraging AI, quantifying AI ROI, open source vs. closed-source AI, how startups can challenge established incumbents, and more. Among the many interesting insights from the conversation was Cristobal’s perspective on how AI can plug into the creative process:

“Don’t think about jobs that are going to be changed or replaced by AI, think about tasks—tasks people are currently doing like film editing, pre-production, and post-production that are expensive, time consuming, and really boring,” Cristobal explained. “There are hundreds of tasks like these that are inefficient because they’re based on how media worked 25 years ago. Now we can come to a video editor or art director and tell them they can do the same thing they did in two weeks in two minutes. So they can focus on other stuff. That’s a nice hook when you want to focus on adoption within companies.”

Richard also commented on where he foresees AI value accruing in the future:

“There’s a great phrase from Jeff Bezos, where he said everything is changing, and everyone keeps asking what’s next. And he said what maybe people should think about instead is what’s not going to change. What’s going to be the same in 10 years,” Richard said. “In our case, people are going to want to receive accurate and amazing answers all the time. So that’s what we focus on.”

We’ll See You Next Year!

Elevate was an amazing opportunity for us to huddle with our portfolio and provide them with the resources and support they need to be successful today and in the future. We left feeling fortunate to be part of such a great community of builders, innovators, and optimists. We hope everyone who attended felt similarly, and we look forward to expanding and improving upon Elevate in the coming years. 

Interested in becoming part of the Salesforce Ventures’ community? Visit our website to learn more about us and get in touch. 

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