What the Hell Is Salesforce, Anyway?

Slack is about to have a new owner — but no one actually knows what the $200 billion company does

Rob Walker
Published in
4 min readDec 2, 2020


Salesforce logo with question marks surrounding it

When Salesforce formally announced its intention to purchase Slack for $27.7 billion yesterday, there was a notable elephant in the room: While Slack has become widely known as a workplace messaging tool, Salesforce is known as a company that, well, lots of people find generally puzzling. Radiotopia co-founder and 99% Invisible host Roman Mars seemed to speak for many when he tweeted in response to the Slack news: “I can finally understand at least one thing Salesforce does.”

Tech writer Justin Pot tweeted almost the same thing. Many others chimed in with similar head-scratching jokey explanations, unflattering comments about the company’s 1,000-foot San Francisco office tower, and at least one assertion that Salesforce confusion reveals “the vaporization of production under late capital.”

To the stock market, Salesforce is no mystery: It’s a $200 billion company with 2019 revenue of more than $17 billion and earnings of around $1.74 billion last quarter. It’s been around for more than two decades, was founded by Marc Benioff, and has made more than 60 previous acquisitions.

Yes, yes, but what is it? What does it do? Even reports on the Slack acquisition seem to be dodging the question. In the New York Times story about the deal, it’s not until the 18th paragraph, after a thorough discussion of deal particulars and of Slack’s business, that we are told the acquirer is a company that “provides marketing and sales software, among other products.” Others labeled the firm a maker of “technology that helps companies sell products” or simply a “software giant.”