By: Matt Harrison
From when we at Homeless Link first started working with Salesforce in 2009, people told me that I should attend Dreamforce, that it was an amazing experience, and so much more than a trade show. In November 2013, I finally attended Dreamforce in San Francisco for the first time. With 130,000 registered attendees and 1,400 sessions, it was all a bit overwhelming. But by the time I got my bearings and began attending breakout sessions I realized how much I was gaining from the amazing experience. The sheer energy and enthusiasm of the attendees and spending several days thinking about the way in which the Salesforce technology platform and ecosystem is evolving, left me with a very clear sense of how we were going to build our Salesforce business over the next 12 months.
A year later and Homeless Link is well on the way to becoming a non-profit ISV partner after 5 years of running our application as a managed package without partner status or support. We’ve also been successful in applying for and winning a Salesforce.org Force for Change grant. This grant will enable us to extend and develop our In-Form app in various ways to make it accessible to the full range of homelessness services and to build the evidence base that we will use to help end homelessness in England.
This year, I was invited to attend Dreamforce to present our story to others about how a charity can build a commercial business on the Salesforce platform, achieving our core objectives to help our members deliver better services and learn more about the causes of and solutions to homelessness whilst also generating a modest surplus that helps to fund our campaigning activity. Despite not speaking until the morning on the last day, when I stood on stage to start my talk, there were 70 people in the room and the feedback I got was fantastic. Maybe something I said will have struck a chord with someone there who goes on to change their world in a small way.
And now, after another amazing week, I’m already planning for next year. Dreamforce is a uniquely valuable experience. The keynote presentation awes and inspires, the workshops are stimulating and informative, and the Expo is exciting and engaging. It’s not just the Gala or the parties (although watching the Beach Boys give an impromptu gig on the closed down street outside the convention centre at 5pm was amazing). It’s the way in which the conversations about the possibilities of using Salesforce never stop. It’s the pride with which technical staff demonstrate the amazing new apps they’ve built on the platform. It’s talking to other non-profits about the passion they have to solve the social problems that face the world. It’s listening to inspiring presentations from a diverse line up of speakers, including Will.i.am who discussed how he is investing in the future of high school students in LA.
Above all, it’s the sense that the potential of the technology is limitless. The whoosh in the crowd when new features are shown in amazing demos. It’s the way in which a really big IT company can still feel like a start-up, with accessible executives who listen and answer questions with honesty and candor rather than just a sales pitch. Sure, Dreamforce is tiring, but it’s worth it.
Since Dreamforce, my head is buzzing with plans for how we build our business, using Salesforce to help end homelessness. And next year? Well, next year I want to bring my whole team. If I can gain this much from it, imagine what we could do if everyone was there. We’d cover 6 times more sessions, have 6 times more conversations with amazing people and have 6 times more ideas for the future.
About the Author:
Matt Harrison is the Director of Social Enterprise at Homeless Link, who have been working with Salesforce since 2009, building an app on the Salesforce platform to help homelessness services in the UK record the work they do with homeless people. Matt has a background in IT and frontline homelessness services and has worked on innovative projects to use IT to help end homelessness for the last 25 years.