The walk up to the Moscone Center on Day 1 of Dreamforce had a sentimental air, with winding registration lines of techies in Allbirds or t-shirts advertising their favorite enterprise software under Patagonia vests.
The city itself seemed ready for the show. Smiling crossing guards directed traffic overflow in SoMa as orange-jacketed Welcome Ambassadors guided the wandering crowds to their destination.
The 20th iteration of Dreamforce tried to create a feeling of a return, underscored by the keynote presentation theme of “The Great Reunion” delivered by Salesforce co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor. As usual, Benioff played a starring role in the day’s events and used the stage to tout his commitments to the city and its recovery.
“This needs to go well so we attract more business back to San Francisco. This will be a key way of reopening downtown, reopening these areas and giving everybody a big boost,” Benioff said in an interview. “We invested a lot in Moscone, and this is the first time Moscone’s really being used. Everything is open for the first time so let’s see if this can be a great convention city.”
Dreamforce’s roughly 40,000 in-person attendees this year is just a fraction of the 170,000 people Dreamforce attracted in 2019, but it is still San Francisco’s and Moscone Center’s largest business conference in three years.
The absence of big business conferences is one reason for San Francisco’s sluggish downtown recovery, with office vacancies stubbornly high and few downtown commuters compared to peer cities. Local policymakers are only beginning to grapple with the long-term implications of the city’s office-centric downtown core.
Benioff said that as he traveled the country and observed the economic recovery in major business centers, San Francisco’s downtown stood out for its overwhelming reliance on office space.
“If you go to a city like Philadelphia it looks like it’s a lot more open. Why is that? Because you have office, residential, university, arts, all these things mixed in the downtown,” Benioff said, calling for “a lot more housing” in San Francisco’s downtown. “You have to rebalance, restructure, refill your downtown if you want it to feel alive.”
Just before Benioff and Taylor took the stage for a keynote address on Monday, the spotlight flicked onto Grammy-award winner Lenny Kravitz armed with an acoustic guitar and playing a rendition of his hit “Fly Away.”
Ever the showman, Benioff trawled the stage and the audience offering sarcastic quips and eventually donning a pair of bunny ears.
“This is the most important Dreamforce ever because we are coming back together, we're showing we're getting this back together. We're all one family. Doesn't this feel like an incredible family reunion?” he said on stage.
Benioff also easily slipped back into his role as San Francisco cheerleader, lauding the city’s unique sights including the recently opened Tunnel Tops park, which he helped to fund.
Benioff—who has been somewhat quiet on local politics during Covid—also trumpeted his and the company’s support for the county’s public schools, including a recently announced $25 million education grant that included $6.5 million each to the San Francisco and Oakland school districts. He also announced another $7 million grant for local public hospitals that he said will be detailed on Wednesday.
In a show of Salesforce's—and Dreamforce’s—connection to its hometown, both Mayor London Breed and District Attorney Brooke Jenkins were seated in the front row of the audience of the keynote.
“I’m just so happy we’re all back together, doesn’t it feel so good to be back?” Benioff said during his keynote.
Kevin Truong can be reached at email@example.com