The top 25: John Somorjai, executive vice-president of corporate development, Salesforce Ventures

Salesforce Ventures, the corporate venture capital (CVC) arm of US-based enterprise software producer Salesforce, is among the most active CVC units, according to GCV Analytics data.

The unit has the $50m Consultant Trailblazer Fund, which focuses on cloud consulting companies, the $50m Salesforce Impact Fund that targets equality, sustainability and other areas covering the social sector, and the artificial intelligence (AI)-oriented $50m Salesforce AI Innovation Fund.

Salesforce Ventures also has active regional funds: $125m Europe Trailblazer Fund, $50m Australia Trailblazer Fund, $100m Japan Trailblazer Fund and $100m Canada Trailblazer Fund.

John Somorjai, Salesforce’s executive vice-president of corporate development and Salesforce Ventures, has been adding to his commitments in other areas since 2005, when he started leading the evaluation, deal execution and integration of M&A and investments at Salesforce.

He told Calcalist in an interview held in November 2019 that Salesforce had been concentrating on voice technology and conversational intelligence, a central topic for its investment and expansion strategy.

Salesforce bought Israel-based artificial intelligence-equipped conversational technology producer Bonobo in mid-2019 because Somorjai and his team had seen the potential of its products for employees to become more adept during telephone conversations.

Somorjai was quoted as saying by Calcalist: “Their technology was built really well. We bought the company because we knew that we could integrate the technology really fast and that we could have a product out to market quickly.

“We knew that conversational AI was going to be important for our customers, and when we saw Bonobo for the first time all the lightbulbs clicked. It was one of those things: you know that this technology is important, you know that this is the way of the future, and then you find the perfect company, and with a wonderful culture that really fits in with Salesforce.”

Salesforce’s largest acquisition disclosed was however of data visualisation technology developer Tableau in August 2019 for $15.7bn. In March 2018, the company also had acquired Mulesoft, a publicly-listed application development software producer that was also one of its portfolio companies, at an enterprise value of $6.5bn.

One of Salesforce Ventures’ most recent exists was WhiteSky Labs, a consultancy focused on integration software producer MuleSoft, which was bought by digital consulting firm Capgemini in March 2020.

Somorjai was initially tasked in 2014, when he was promoted to executive vice-president from senior vice-president, with deploying its $100m Salesforce1 Fund. He then brought in Matt Garratt, a GCV Rising Star 2016, to run what became Salesforce Ventures in October that year and it quickly grew.

Salesforce then unveiled a partner program to facilitate the development of intelligent apps that can then be sold on its AppExchange marketplace, as well as a $100m fund to invest in startups “building an ecosystem of partners around us”, according to Somorjai. This Salesforce Platform Fund follows the $50m Lightning Fund, formed by the company in June 2016 and now fully deployed, as well as the $100m Salesforce1 Fund in 2014 and another $50m Impact Fund in October 2017.

The largest of these initiatives is the $125m Europe Trailblazer Fund the unit launched in May 2019, which followed 2015’s $100m EMEA fund that was fully deployed and had backed over 50 Europe-based startups.

Previously, Salesforce conducted minority equity deals through its corporate development function since 2009. It now has more than 200 investments, and Salesforce Ventures has investment offices in the US, UK and Japan. Its Europe division, run by Alex Kayyal, has a commitment of $100m over the next few years, while Shinji Asada, head of Salesforce Ventures for Japan, is probably the most active CVC at a foreign-headquartered parent in the country.

Most impressively, Salesforce Ventures has also exited about 80 of its portfolio, with recent initial public offerings including internet-of-things technology developer Uhuru and Sansan, a business card management platform, both based in Japan.

Somorjai previously worked for pay-per-call company Ingenio, which was acquired by AT&T, as its vice-president, business development, responsible for partnership, sales and strategic corporate activities. He has also worked for Oracle Corporation as a senior director of corporate development working on strategic transactions. Somorjai was originally Oracle’s corporate counsel in the corporate legal department.

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF