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SAN FRANCISCO — You might know Salesforce.com as an enterprise-software company. But now it’s introducing a program to get startups familiar with its software and development platform.

The new program, dubbed Salesforce for Startups, could help startups more naturally start using software to find and work closely with customers. And if things work out right, the program could make Salesforce’s cloud, service, and marketing software a more immediately obvious choice for startups, scratching off a bit of the enterprise-only image.

It helps that Salesforce has a person obsessed with startups leading the effort.

“Startups fail because they lack customers, not because they lack funding,” Ludovic Ulrich, director of startup relations at Salesforce, told VentureBeat in an interview. “That’s the big thing I want to go after. I think Salesforce has all the ingredients to help them go through that journey from the beginning to get customers.”


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Other tech companies have startup initiatives, including Amazon and Google with their free cloud credits, and Microsoft with BizSpark. But Salesforce is the original cloud service for working with customers, so the fact that it never had a dedicated startup scheme until now is indeed striking.

Several months ago, Adam Seligman, Salesforce’s vice president of developer relations, got in touch with Ulrich, who had previously been global program manager for BizSpark at Microsoft, and asked him to come up with a vision. Ulrich went about discovering all the ins and outs of Salesforce and crafting a proposal. Now, five months after Ulrich joined Salesforce, that proposal has taken shape.

Cash-strapped startups typically like free services, and Salesforce for Startups certainly comes with some of them.

Salesforce will provide free access to the Salesforce1 mobile platform as well as a year’s worth of free customer-tracking and service-desk software from the company.

But startups could use more than free stuff, at least from Ulrich’s perspective. These days, he said, it’s not very hard for a startup to find seed funding.

“Their biggest problem is trying to get them access to customers, trying to get product-market fit,” Ulrich said. “… Startups fail because they lack customers, not because they lack funding.”

So startups in the program will get assistance pushing their applications into the Salesforce App Exchange if they target businesses. And Salesforce will bring out entrepreneurs and some of its own business-savvy employees — former chief executives and the like — to share lessons with participants.

The company will also help budding startups implement its 1-1-1 model for contributing equity, product, and time to philanthropy.

All of these services could make the company’s technology more immediately accessible for startups that can’t take time out for several long conversations with Salesforce sales reps.

“I want to make sure it’s an easy destination, an easy community where you go,” Ulrich said.

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