Seizing the Opportunity: A Trailblazing Day (part 3)… TrailblazerDay itself

Written by Paul Ginsberg

31st May 2019

This is Part 3 of my Indianapolis adventure. Click here to read the prologue or you can skip that and read my first night if you want.

I’ve received an email update; we’re to meet in the hotel lobby at 8am and then we’re off for a “Special experience at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”.

It’s a good thing my body doesn’t know what timezone we’re in. Usually I’m not a morning person!

08:00 The Hotel Lobby

Excited, I head towards the lobby early, partly because I’m up already and partly because I know I won’t be the only one. And I was right. Dozens of people floating around chatting. We were promised breakfast at the racetrack, but I wasn’t the only one tucking in early to be on the safe side (no photos to mark this, clearly we weren’t yet at our best!).

And then on to the coaches. Because Sandi knows that Equality is a core Salesforce value, she kindly stepped at the last moment in as the poster girl for our event, with Holly from the Communities Team marking Sandi’s wheelchair with Astro so we wouldn’t lose her (and there’s Joy and Mary again).

On the coach, I think I first encountered Cameron. He’s a local from Indianapolis and has been running the Developer User Group since January. I point this out to highlight that Salesforce didn’t just invite MVPs and Golden Hoodies but made sure to include locals (and others) too. And the locals (including Michael, Cameron’s co-leader), throughout, with their friendliness, keenness and enthusiasm easily carved out a place in my heart. It’s hard to describe it in words, except to point out it’s like being in a living room with an old friend, where you feel you can entirely relax with, and be yourself.

The Racetrack

So we arrive at the racetrack. For those that like to keep an eye on the time, sorry, I was too busy craning my head, looking around. Research (i.e. gossiping with those on my coach) had shown that there were others who had no prior interest in the Indy 500. Was it a single race? (no) Did people go around the same track over multiple weekends per year? (no) What sort of cars? And other forms of ignorance.

It’s a biiig racetrack. 250,000 attend on the raceday itself (the series then goes on to other locations around the world, but this is where it began).  The drivers do laps and things. That’s kind of where my knowledge still ends, but we had the privilege of meeting JR Hildebrand, the Salesforce’s Indy 500 car driver.

How does Salesforce even have a car at the Indy 500? There are two factors here, Indianapolis is Salesforce’s 2nd biggest city after San Francisco (in terms of employees), originally dating from the Exact Target acquisition and, I suspect that JR Hildebrand, continues to reflect Salesforce’s values, meaning that they continue to be the primary sponsor of the Dreyer and Reinbold, which JR Hildebrand drives for.

So what else did I learn? JR came up to our hospitality suite and gave a 15 minute presentation, before answering questions. Apparently there are dozens of sensors and cameras on the car, all feeding into Einstein Analytics (possibly via Heroku, although don’t quote me on that), to help with decision making, so it’s a genuine partnership and not just a branding exercise. JR knew what Salesforce is about – he has a university Maths background – and he came across as down-to-earth, which was refreshing and life-affirming. You can be at the top of your game and still be a nice person. Obviously the logistics and teamwork to make all this happen are a bit mind-boggling too.

We then got the opportunity to have a nose around the very active car workshop, racetrack from different heights and the pit stop lane, before getting to see one car that didn’t do so well (if you look closely it looks like a Transformer car, mid-change!).

Then there was more standing around and chatting. Just getting to know people better and better. To some people – geeks perhaps (myself included) – such unstructured conversation can sound like hell on Earth, but again here I could ask questions, and find out what other people’s experiences were on all aspects of the Salesforce Ohana and compare notes on everything from what a typical job in a different city looks like, to those with children at college, to how different people interact with Salesforce employees in all different positions, with hugely varying perspectives.

And then back to the hotel for a brief freshen up. Literally about 45 minutes.

Interjection: I now recall some of the conversations. Becky De Loryn said that I don’t have to run articles past her. Becky manages the Community Team marketing. I write, but I’m cautious and occasionally I run ideas and articles past her before they get published. It’s never stopped me publishing but I feel safer doing so first. Here, she told me, that I didn’t need to do this. She has confidence in me, so perhaps I need to have more confidence in myself too.

For others, I spoke to them about how the onboarding process worked for Community Group Leaders. There was a variation in feeling; it was interesting to compare to my own perspective and helps give shape to the improvements that I hope to be suggesting as part of the Community Advisory Council that I have been nominated to for 2019 – I love running the Amsterdam User Group, but it is a chunk of work, and I’m always up for making things easier for myself!

15:00 TrailheaDX

I’ve often heard Salesforce talk about how they road test their keynotes and they adjust the content based on feedback. Confidentiality means I can’t reveal much more about next week’s (as I type this) TrailheaDX keynote. I can probably reveal that there will be cool surprises but please don’t make purchasing decisions based on what I type 🙂

What surprised me was that the feedback session after our preview was just as long as the keynote itself. Everyone had an opportunity to speak, and frank opinions were given – not just on the speech but wider issues that arose too. And my heart continued to be warmed by the last question: “Is there anyone who hasn’t spoken yet, that wants to say something?” #inclusivity

Random secret revealed: Every Salesforce Tower that has an Ohana floor is meant to have a piano. In Indianapolis’ case it just happened to arrive the day before. Almost as if there was a significant guest about to arrive.


The restaurant just around the corner from the hotel. After a few minor wrong turns we got there. You may recognise some of the people in this picture – and if you don’t, it’s not a problem either, experience shows.

Marc (Co-CEO of Salesforce) is due. Canapes and drinks are offered. There’s been some emails telling us what to wear (“business casual or work attire”). Having read the memo, I ignore it entirely and wear what I always wear day in day out (including Golden Hoodie, obviously). Some people dressed up though.

There’s a table and seating plan. I don’t think I’ve been told what exact seat to sit in since I was a kid. I resist the temptation to swap around the name cards. It happens that I have already met on the trip the two people I will be sitting next to (Gorav and Misty); during the evening Misty comments that we’re not the loudest table, but I’m perfectly happy with that. I’m sitting down next to nice people which is all you can wish for. A Salesforce employee is also placed on all the tables – Salesforce know what they’re doing but it’s still impressive. Leandro Perez, Senior Director, Product Marketing at Salesforce has already received some emails of feedback from me, which I wouldn’t have been able to provide, had I not received such an opportunity. Whether he appreciates them or not, is something you will have to ask him!

Then Ivanka Trump arrives, fashionably slightly late, along with Marc Benioff and the state governor of Indianapolis, Eric J. Holcomb. The atmosphere is certainly interesting. Politics across the world, from my perspective, are polarised and America is no different. Clearly not everyone in the room will share the view of a Representative of the White House. Everyone is on best performance though. We have been invited as guests of Marc and it’s important to honour and respect that.

I didn’t record the evening or the conversations but I think Marc did open with how the evening was not about politics and some polite words were spoken by all three.

At some point Marc asks for the microphone to go around the floor. I can’t recall how he phrased it, but people started standing up and explaining how Salesforce had transformed their lives. Tears rolled down my cheek. Salesforce has transformed my life, and Jurn has previously explained his own journey at Amsterdam World Tour this year, but hearing so many stories, e.g. Zac’s factory worker to Salesforce Admin and beyond, set off so many emotions*. I hadn’t had the chance to speak to everyone, so hearing from Scott about how he uses Trailhead to help transform the lives of LGBT+ youngsters with otherwise-limited choices, was heartbreaking (in a good way!), as was hearing from some of the PepUp Tech founders. My friends/the audience/other diners were even shouting out names and encouraging others to stand up and tell their story.

I even brought an iteration of the concept straight back here to Amsterdam. At our most recent User Group we spent ten minutes reflecting on a recent small outage, and then comparing it to the potential that Salesforce unlocks in our organisations and businesses, and how it enables us to do things that would otherwise be impossible, as a way of getting everything into perspective.

*ok, some of these stories might have been from the next day; artistic license as a replacement for a memory!

Surely that’s enough?

Dinner continues and at the end, I turn around and spot someone behind me at the table behind me. “Is that Stephanie Herrera?”, I ask Misty. “Yes, it is”.

This tweet transposes me for Jurn, in that I’m a Salesforce Saturday member and he’s a Salesforce Saturday leader, but that’s nit-picking! 😍

Stephanie is someone I’ve been wanting to speak to for a long time. Salesforce Saturdays are – in my view – an amazing and key part of the Dutch Salesforce Community. Anyone prepared to spend Saturday mornings learning about Salesforce is really keen. In addition, they’re free, so great for those entering the job market for the first time, wanting to change careers or return to work. Stephanie founded Salesforce Saturdays. I had already emailed Stephanie and tried to contact her via LinkedIn, but hadn’t had a response to date. I get it, she’s busy and she doesn’t know who I am. When I saw the invite list, this is the single name that stood out to me and I thought “now’s my chance”. Only I didn’t realise how lucky I would be.

I go over. “Hi, are you Stephanie Herrera?” I ask. She nods. It turns out, she hoarsely whispers, that she’s lost her voice. I say, “I hope you don’t mind, but can I talk at you for 10 minutes and explain who I am and where I’m coming from. After that I’ll disappear if you want me to.” Through exhaustion she nods. I feel sorry for her, but this is my chance. I explain a bit about who I am and my passions, and also about a conference that I’m helping to organise that is taking place 4 weeks later and that she is speaking at, but I had a hunch she didn’t really know much about. I got to explain everything, what I wanted from the conference, who the audience were, and give her suggestions for her to take away with and do what she wants with (that part is definitely up to her!). It was a gold dust opportunity; but that, combined with bumping into her the next day at the airport was a great opportunity to kickstart some exciting Salesforce Saturday plans which might become v2.

And then it was over. A stumble to the hotel. I sat in the lobby for 10 minutes with others – too tired to speak, so I don’t know why I was there – and then I headed to bed, again definitely past midnight.

p.s. Want to hear more about Ivanka Trump? Read Shonnah’s thoughts as she spoke to Ivanka personally. Also, just to add, Salesforce were extremely good about recognising the diversity of opinions on this matter. Senior members of staff made themselves available by “text, email, direct message or phone any time” if we had concerns we wanted to discuss.

Just one more morning to go.

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