Salesforce Creates $100 Million Venture Fund to Invest in Mobile Apps

Cloud CRM giant Salesforce.com has created a $100 million venture capital fund that will invest in companies building apps for its Salesforce1 Platform.

Billed as "The Customer Platform for everyone," Salesforce1, which was launched late last year, aims to help companies connect with their customers across social, mobile and connected devices.

As detailed in a company press release, "The Salesforce1 Fund is the first dedicated fund from Salesforce Ventures, and will provide funding and support to entrepreneurs who extend the power of the Salesforce1 Platform to build next-generation mobile apps and connected products."

The fund's first investments include digital transaction management platform DocuSign; i.am+, a fashion brand created by musician Will.i.am; sales platform InsideSales.com; and Skuid, which makes a user interface toolkit for companies building Salesforce1 apps.

John Somorjai, Salesforce's executive VP of corporate development and strategy, told TechCrunch that the Salesforce1 Fund will generally make a single investment in a company. While he did not reveal how much or how little each investment will be, he did indicate that he expects the $100 million fund to last several years.

For companies taking investment from Salesforce's new fund, however, money is not necessarily the most attractive benefit. According to DocuSign CEO Keith Krach, "Salesforce Ventures gives us more than just funding — we've got an inside track to the Salesforce ecosystem." That ecosystem, of course, is for many B2B firms an entrée into a lucrative pool of potential customers ranging from small and medium-sized businesses to Fortune 500 enterprises.

Internet of Things, or Internet of Customers?

A big driver for the creation of the Salesforce1 Fund is the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT). "According to Cisco, there will be 50 billion connected things and a trillion connected sensors on the Internet of Things," the company noted in its press release.

What does that have to do with CRM? Perhaps everything. As Salesforce observes, "What matters most is that behind every device, every app, and every product is a customer. This is really the Internet of Customers, and the opportunity for companies to revolutionize how they connect with their customers has never been greater."

The IoT opportunity is huge, but so too is the competition. By using investment dollars to encourage companies to align themselves with its platform, Salesforce is clearly looking to ensure that it has a good seat at the table.

No Guarantees

The Salesforce1 Fund might be the company's first dedicated fund, but Salesforce is not an amateur investor. As TechCrunch's Jonathan Shieber pointed out, the company has already invested more than $200 million in private companies, including notable names like Box, Dropbox and Evernote.

But dedicated funds designed to support platform ecosystems have seen mixed results. Take, for instance, the AppCampus fund launched in 2012 by Microsoft and Nokia to support the Windows Phone ecosystem. Despite rave reviews for some Windows Phone devices, like the Lumia 900, including from the likes of Steve Wozniak, Microsoft still has well under 5% of the smartphone market.

The good news for Salesforce is that the enterprise market is quite different from the consumer market, and its platform is already an enterprise fixture. With that in mind, the success of the Salesforce1 Fund may depend on how successful Salesforce is in convincing developers that the Internet of Things is really the Internet of Customers.

Patricio Robles Follow me on Google+

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