Marc Benioff explains Steve Jobs' spirituality and chides Apple

The Salesforce.com CEO admonishes Apple, as well as the movies and books about Steve Jobs' life, for failing to understand and honor the spiritual aspect of Jobs' personality.

Dan Farber
3 min read
Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff shares his view of Steve Jobs with Crunchfund's Michael Arrington. Dan Farber

SAN FRANCISCO -- Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff has a message for Apple and the tech industry: "Develop yourself, find that greatness, and then be mindful and project the future." That's what Steve Jobs told Benioff over the years as Benioff grew from an intern in 1984 writing assembly code for the Macintosh at Apple to the co-founder and CEO of a pioneering cloud computing company with a market cap of nearly $30 billion.

He admonished Apple, as well as the movies and books about Jobs' life, for failing to understand and honor the spiritual aspect of Jobs' personality. Regarding Apple, Benioff said, "The most important thing for Apple is to realize themselves. They still want to look like Steve and act like Steve. But for them, they need to find themselves and be who they are. They are great guys, I have a lot of respect for Tim Cook and Phil Schiller and the whole team -- they just need to be who they are truly and respect the past, but as Steve would say, 'project the future.' It has to come from them. It's the only path for Apple."

"I love Ashton Kutcher [who played Steve Jobs in the movie "Jobs"] and Walter Isaacson [author of his biography]," Benioff continued, "but these products do not tell the true story of who he was as a true prophet of innovation."

In an interview at TechCrunch Disrupt here, Benioff also shared his admiration for the Apple co-founder and told a few stories that revealed his spiritual kinship with him. "Steve Jobs was a huge mentor to me. There would be no Salesforce without Steve Jobs," he said.

Benioff told his story of attending the memorial service following Jobs' death, where the attendees were handed a small brown box on their way out. "This is going to be good," he thought. "I knew that this was a decision he made, and whatever it was, it was the last thing he wanted us all to think about."

The box contained a copy of Paramahansa Yogananda's book, "Autobiography of a Yogi." It was a spiritual book that inspired Jobs throughout his life. The book, first published in 1946, espouses 'self-realization' and the practice of Kriya Yoga meditation.

Self Realization Fellowship

According to Isaacson's biography, Jobs "first read it as a teenager, then reread it in India and had read it once a year ever since." In 1974, Jobs traveled to India, seeking some spiritual enlightenment. "He had the incredible realization that his intuition was his greatest gift, and he needed to look at the world from the inside out," Benioff said. "Steve was a very spiritual person. In many ways he was a guru."

"We need to all be working on actualizing ourselves," Benioff added. "If you want to understand Steve, it's a good idea to dig into it. He was not afraid to take that key journey."

Benioff sometimes turned to Jobs for help as Salesforce.com was starting its journey. He and his co-founders went to Apple to share their corporate strategy and product with Jobs, and ask what they should do. "He said we have to do three things," Benioff said. "Number one, you better be 10 times larger in 24 months or it's over. Number two, you need to get a huge client on your service. Number three, you need to build an 'application economy.' I asked what's that? Jobs said, 'I don't know, but you better figure it out.' It was like a Zen koan. For a couple of years, I was thinking about this. Then I had this idea. Salesforce needed to be not just an application but a platform...I registered appstore.com and rolled it out in 2005, and called it App Exchange."

When Apple announced its own App Store in 2008, calling it "the most important thing Apple has ever done." Benioff was there, and saw it as " a very spiritual moment."

"We had talked about it internally for years, and here was his revelation," Benioff said. He met with Jobs following the event and said he would give him a gift, the appstore.com URL and the trademark. Jobs enigmatically smiled and said that Apple wasn't going to make much money from its App Store. That prophecy turned out to be wildly untrue.

"He had the ability to see the future and inspire it in others," Benioff concluded. "That impact can continue if we continue to listen to his message and big ideas about how we can have a great industry."