On this week’s podcast, Paul and Rich offer up some quick hits—and sample, in Rich’s words, “a buffet of technology news.” First, rhetoric: Specifically, the rhetorical pretzels of Nick Clegg, President for Global Affairs at Meta Platforms, who Paul and Rich saw speak at the EmTech Digital Conference. Next, cringe: Canva’s corporate rap that went viral recently, drawing (uncomplimentary) comparisons to HBO’s Silicon Valley or Succession’s “L to the OG.” And finally, stock disasters: On Salesforce’s steep downturn after posting weak profits, and whether that says anything about the market’s broader opinions on AI.

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Rhetoric, Cringe, and Stock Disasters

Paul Ford: Hi, I am Paul Ford, co-founder of Aboard.

Rich Ziade: And I’m Rich Ziade, the other co-founder of Aboard. Good to see you, Paul.

Paul: Good to see you, too, Rich. We’ve spent a lot of time together recently, even more than normal. We should tell the people, very quickly: Aboard is a data tool. It is something you can go to on the web. You can take all your messy spreadsheets and turn them into dynamic software that your team can use to accomplish wonderful things.

Rich: That’s right.

Paul: And so you should check it out at aboard.com. We’re the co-founders, which means that we get to take a lot of credit for the wonderful work that the team does. But…

Rich: Correct.

Paul: Boy, is this thing coming along. It’s getting real good.

Rich: It’s exciting.

Paul: Check out CSV export!!

Rich: Calm yourself.

Paul: [laughing] Okay. All right, all right. Anyway,  this is the Aboard Podcast. Let’s play the theme song.

[intro music]

Paul: I want to talk about three things today.

Rich: Oooh!

Paul: Three things. Let’s—

Rich: Five minute timer on each.

Paul: Let’s do it. Beep! One is you and I went up to Boston, and we—

Rich: Mmm hmm.

Paul: In Cambridge, Massachusetts, and we checked out the MIT Technology Review EmTech Digital Conference. And I want to complain about Facebook in that context. The second is that Canva, the design tool, got into hip hop, and we want to talk about that very quickly. And the third is that Salesforce had some very exciting news, and we want to talk about that, too.

Rich: Wow, a buffet of technology news.

Paul: So you and I, because we don’t spend enough time together, we traveled up to Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Rich: We did.

Paul: It’s the Brooklyn Heights of Massachusetts. It never ends. And it’s a delightful place. There’s some colleges there. People went there. Occasionally they’ll talk about it.

Rich: I mean, some of the best universities in the world are there.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Yes. And MIT, our friends at MIT put on an AI-themed conference—and they’ve been on this beat for 2000 years.

Rich: I was gonna say, I mean, they should take some credit.

Paul: Yes. And they did a great job. And sort of one of the main events was an interview,  an executive editor interviewed Nick Clegg, who is the head of comms for Facebook. How would you describe that conversation? What did you notice about it? Well, what did he talk about, first of all?

Rich: Well, I mean, I think, you know, Nick Clegg is a former UK politician. I think he got to Deputy Prime Minister. So he got really high up.

Paul: Really high up.

Rich: He came close to the sun there, right?

Paul: Yep.

Rich: And by the sun, I mean a shitty little apartment in London where you get to run the British Empire.

Paul: [laughing] Number 17 1/2 Downing Street.

Rich: Something like that.

Paul: You get, like a three-legged cat. Yeah.

Rich: And look, I think this guy’s been there for five years.

Paul: For a while.

Rich: Yeah. And look, they hired him because they needed to retake the conversation around Facebook and disinformation and the damage Facebook does to the world and blah blah blah. So they hired a master rhetorical debater—

Paul: A world-class British politician.

Rich: First off, when something comes out in British?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: You could be…

Paul: With that accent?

Rich: Yeah, you’re like, wow, that makes a lot of sense.

Paul: They had a lot of practice during colonialism.

Rich: [overlapping] That makes a— [laughing]

Paul: Like, they got really good at it. They’re like, “Aw, you know—”

Rich: Also, everything sounds, like, everything has the sort of intonation of a question. It’s very apologetic in tone—

Paul: Oh!

Rich: —but very assertive.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: Very, very, it’s a, it’s almost, like, hypnotic in a way.

Paul: No. Like, they can sit there and be like, we just had to murder all those baby tigers. You know? And you’re just like, well, I guess that’s what had to happen.

Rich: Yeah. And then let’s, yeah, let’s have afternoon tea, etc.

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: So this guy’s job is essentially to not only rehabilitate, but this guy’s a bulldog. He’ll go on the offensive and defend Facebook. And look, Facebook right now, it’s on a bit of an upswing. Like, Zuckerberg looks more relaxed. He’s letting his hair grow out a little. He wears kind of hip clothes. And the Face—conversation has drifted away from disinformation. This is a big election year, not just in the U.S., but in Europe as well.

Paul: Mmm hmm.

Rich: Everybody’s sort of like, Facebook, are you gonna behave yourselves? And then you have this guy.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Not only is he explaining that Facebook is gonna behave itself, but he’s actually going on the offensive. He’s a very savvy—

Paul: In a very subtle way, like you say, bulldog, but you wouldn’t think that, it almost comes across as lapdog and it just starts biting your eyeballs.

Rich: Exactly.

Paul: The executive editor for MIT Tech Review who was interviewing him, she did a very good job. She had a list of, like, genuinely hard, well-researched questions, and this guy is just so good at batting them away. And I kept thinking—I was seething. I just sat there and got frustrated. Here’s the thing. I get that Facebook gets to defend itself, but it should actually articulate some vision. It should articulate some goal. And all this was was this endless rhetorical swirl, where it’d be like, hey, what about this? And he’d go, well, you know, we did all the research and we have five papers and we commissioned a whole group of people and blah—and he would just sort of like, it was always like, oh, we saw you coming a while ago and we already dealt with it. And so there’s actually no forward plan. There’s just, it is this very sort of like—

Rich: He said two things that I thought were interesting. One was there isn’t a problem.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: So there’s two parts to what you ask of Facebook. Do you acknowledge there’s a problem? And the second part is, what are you gonna do about it going forward?

Paul: Right.

Rich: So he has a battle plan. You ever see, like, movies where, like, the generals are standing over the map?

Paul: Yes.

Rich: And there’s like, little men?

Paul: Yes.

Rich: And they move them around with that tool, that, like, sweeping tool. [laughing]

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: That’s—this guy has it all planned out. And so the first thing he lays out is that all these prestigious universities have done studies, and there’s no problem.

Paul: There’s no problem—

Rich: [overlapping] That was, like, the first ten minutes.

Paul: The problem being, like, AI misinformation.

Rich: Just generally, Facebook—

Paul: Generally, no problem.

Rich: —being responsible, like, there are so many, like, Facebook is a global actor, like, in a very meaningful way. It affects how children grow up, it affect—through Instagram. It affects how people think about their politicians and their civic leaders. It’s a, you can’t look away from that. And his whole argument is, “Uh…everyone’s making a bigger deal out of it than they actually are because seems like everybody has this opinion.” That was one of his power moves, which is, like, “You know what, the left and the right are both saying we’re wrong. How about nobody’s wrong and everybody’s just crazy?”

Paul: Here’s what was, like, what we—

Rich: You were kind of seething.

Paul: I was seething. But I will say, here’s what was good to learn. The Facebook policy is that of a centrist, absolutely no responsibility entity going forward. You’re gonna have Zuckerberg talk about AI, and he’s gonna have cooler hair than he had before, and you’re gonna have this guy come out and say, “We’re totally neutral. We’re absolute—”

Rich: It’s a non-stance, right?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: 40 minutes in, what was most frustrating, I think—nothing had been said.

Paul: You know what I hate? I hate that the technology industry refuses to claim its power. It’s always wanted that power. It gets it. It gets all the money, and then it’s like, “Noooo. No, no, no, no. We’re just a, we’re like a road that the cars drive down.”

Rich: And there’s a bit of a, “Well, people are gonna be people.”

Paul: Yeah! Sometimes they’ll murder a lot of other people. So that was, that was Cambridge. We came back. We, you know, we had a, there was a cookie there. A good gingersnap cookie that they had. I enjoyed that.

Rich: That’s what you came away with. Interesting.

Paul: [laughing] That was my experience.

Rich: Very interesting.

Paul: We talked to some AI companies in the room. It was great. So then we came back, and then, immediately as we’re getting back, we’re, news gets out that ZCanva, the company that lets you make posters for your…

Rich: They make you let you make anything graphics-related. If you need to make a video for your Instagram, or an image, it is a sprawling graphic-design platform.

Paul: You know who loves Canva is schools.

Rich: I mean, it just does everything—

Paul: Schools, you know, posters.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Canva leadership stood up and just sort of did a big rap about Canva and where it’s at right now.

Rich: Like w-r-a-p. You mean a summary?

Paul: No, like, like back backup dancers and just like—

Rich: Oh, like a hip hop…

Paul: A series of verses

Rich: …performance.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Okay, how’d that go?

Paul: Not well. Not well. It was actually, here’s the problem, and I was thinking about this. I just want to throw this idea at you, which is marketing has to be really sincere when you’re giving the news about the product. But when you decide to entertain through marketing, it can’t be sincere. Microsoft were masters of this. For 20 years, all of their entertainment was incredibly cheesy. Like Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates, well, they would do, like, dumb dances like these two goofy dudes would do, and it made it very approachable and it never tried to be actual—

Rich: Yeah, you don’t have to be cool, because we’re not cool.

Paul: If you try to make an actually good aesthetic experience while you are spitting verses about Canva, an online rectangle-drawing tool?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Then, like, 20 newspapers will write about how cringe and embarrassing you are.

Rich: Yes. But guess what, man?

Paul: What?

Rich: 20 newspapers wrote about Canva.

Paul: Well, that’s what they’re saying at Canva right now. That’s what they’re—

Rich: I have to imagine, and this happened with Google, like, three weeks ago.

Paul: Yeah, Google had, like, a—

Rich: That DJ Kooky guy…

Paul: Singing about Google.

Rich: My read is they know exactly what’s going on here.

Paul: You think?

Rich: I think so. Because the only way you can get, like, the Des Moines Inquirer to write about you as a modern graphics-design tool is if you have something funny or ridiculous to share. Or even local news. It was probably on local TV news. You ever see local TV news?

Paul: Oh, many times.

Rich: Like, in Missouri.

Paul: [newscaster voice] I’m standing in front of the house of horrors.

Rich: Yeah, exactly. So, they will give it, you know, like that trailing segment in the last five minutes.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: [news anchor voice] Now we’re gonna go over to a fancy tech conference that happened, and it went off the rails.

Paul: [overlapping] Yeah, that’s right—and it’s, yeah, it’s true. Like, Mike turns to Cindy, and he’s like, “What do you think of that?”

Rich: [laughing] Exactly.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Is Canva that savvy? It’s shocking to, what you’re describing, these are two different worlds. One world is you have no clue and no taste.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: The other world is you are extremely media savvy. I’m gonna go with extremely media savvy, I think? I don’t know for sure.

Paul: Well, we’re gonna find out—

Rich: Google, I think for sure, knew that guy was a goofball.

Paul: They also were like, go get the crowd warmed up. And he was like, “Sure, give me $20,000.”

Rich: Right? Like, it’s just this. I don’t know. It’s one of those great mysteries, right? Like, did they think that they were cool? [laughing] I can’t tell.

Paul: You know, part of me, too, is like, it’s a five-minute fiasco that you’re just sitting in the audience enjoying.

Rich: Yeah. I mean, this isn’t new, right? Look, go down the list. Right?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Blink-182 or whoever’s performed for Adobe.

Paul: Yeah, yeah.

Rich: Metallica’s performed for Salesforce.

Paul: Foo Fighters—yeah, exactly.

Rich: This is, there is this world of, like, if your last hit album was five years ago or longer, you could do the corporate circuit. [laughing]

Paul: The one. The one that was brutal was. And I can’t remember which two banks it was, but they merged, and these two guys with acoustic guitars performed U2’s “One.” But it’s, “We’re one bank.”

Rich: [overlapping] Oh it’s incredible. We need to share that.

Paul: You can’t. It’s—

Rich: When Bank of America and I think Capital One merged or something?

Paul: [singing earnestly] We’re one bank…

Rich: It’s one of the most difficult things to watch.

Paul: And it’s been a race for the Internet. I went to look for it.

Rich: There are ways to find it, I’m sure.

Paul: I’m sure there are, but, like, no. Like, an army of lawyers—

Rich: Has it really been erased?

Paul: You cannot find it.

Rich: No kidding.

Paul: It was so brutal. It was just guys in, like, polo shirts. All right, so—

Rich: Last thought, you know what was a killer move? Zoho’s conference hired Dexys Midnight Runners, which was really something else. [laughter]

[interstitial music]

Paul: All right, Richard, third subject. This one is a little meatier, but I think we’ll get through it just as fast as the others. Salesforce had a very bad week. Its shares plunged a whole bunch. It was one of those ones where, like, if you were driving, the car would go off a cliff.

Rich: Oh! Oh boy.

Paul: Kind of, yeah. Yeah. And it’s, now look, quarterly revenue gained 11%, you know, slightly below estimates. But here’s what they’re saying.

Rich: That’s a lot of revenue.

Paul: It’s a lot of revenue.

Rich: I mean, it’s a lot of growth. I should say.

Paul: It is, right? So revenue will rise as much as 8% to $9.25 billion in the period ending in July. So things are going great at Salesforce, by my view.

Rich: $9 billion a quarter.

Paul: But the machine is slowing down.

Rich: Inevitable.

Paul: And the market doesn’t love that. Market’s like, well, I guess your stock isn’t worth—

Rich: Growth, growth, growth, growth, growth!

Paul: Yes.

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: What people are saying is like, hey, you said you had a whole AI strategy, and we don’t really see it.

Rich: Is that the crux of the suspicion and sort of pulling back?

Paul: Yeah, I would question, so, an analyst, “I would question if a lot of the focus by CIO’s on AI is coming at the expense of expansions at Salesforce.” Right? So like, and Benioff the CEO is saying that, like, artificial intelligence is going to be really positive and we’re going to help companies realize the promise of AI over the next decade. So the idea was that—this is again in Bloomberg. It’s an article from May 29th.

Rich: Mmm hmm.

Paul: And it’s written by Brody Ford! Maybe I’m related. Hi Brody.

Rich: Okay, so, but, so I understand. Did they miss their numbers? Is that why?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Okay, so that opened up another conversation which is like you don’t seem to have a plan. Why aren’t you growing? While AI…

Paul: Well, it’s opening up a very specific conversation. So the AI winners are like Nvidia, right?

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: Like the hardware, the infrastructure.

Rich: You need it to do it.

Paul: And then there’s all these products like OpenAI, which are kind of like, “We’ll get it right in your hands. Your little greasy hands will have access to pictures, and—”

Rich: Very consumery, yeah.

Paul: And then there’s this whole layer in the middle. We live there, too. Which is this platform is going to deliver AI into the enterprise in a very controlled way. All this productivity and all the wonderful things that AI does for you, people are going to be able to get them through the miracle of Salesforce. Salesforce will get AI into Joe’s Carpet Emporium—

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: 25 stores in Minnesota—

Rich: Yeah.

Paul: And they’ll be able to get access to AI technologies through Salesforce, which they already know and love. And we’re going to sell more Salesforce licenses and get more stuff as a result. And that strategy, the market just said, I don’t believe it anymore. That to me feels like an inflection point. And I’m curious what you think.

Rich: Yeah, I mean, I have a lot of thoughts here. I will share, look, we talk to a lot of people.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: And we hear the same three words a lot.

Paul: What are they?

Rich: I hate Salesforce.

Paul: Boy, do they.

Rich: We hear it a lot. Like, and we hear it a lot not because Salesforce is bad. It’s just because Salesforce is mold that you just can’t mitigate anymore. It’s just all over the house.

Paul: It’s true. It’s—

Rich: It’s everywhere. And it’s expensive.

Paul: It’s “I hate Salesforce” and “let’s go Rangers.” Those are like, as we walk around New York City, those seem to be…

Rich: Let’s go Rangers, by the way, I don’t know what will happen when you hear this podcast. Hopefully we’ll advance to the Stanley Cup before then. Just a side thing—

Paul: Just, just say, those are the three words that matter. Never I love you, never that.

Rich: And I’m not implying that Salesforce is bad. What I’m implying is Salesforce has reached critical mass. Like it is everywhere. It is kind of everywhere. And—

Paul: And everybody hates Windows.

Rich: Everybody hates windows.

Paul: But we’re just, we’re used to it. You can’t get divorced.

Rich: Here’s the difference. Salesforce, I think this is a, I’m going to say something very high-level strategy about how Salesforce thinks about innovation.

Paul: Okay.

Rich: Salesforce cakes on innovation.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: Microsoft’s second wind, when Nadella came on, he abandoned so many fundamental ideas at Microsoft. The idea of Microsoft Office on Apple devices. The idea that you can dump the Internet Explorer code base and adopt Chromium as a core. He actually gutted—

Paul: They’d already said goodbye to phones, but like that, no attempt to resurrect that. Like the fact that like Microsoft was going to be at a code level, the code was going to get disposable. Open source became big.

Rich: Yeah. And what you have is when an organization gets to a certain scale, like Salesforce did and what Microsoft did, you have literally armies of advocates who want to defend boxed Office software and Microsoft Windows and their relationship with Dell. And then you had a guy come in and say, it’s over. You can still have that and it’s going to be a smaller line item. But the world is all about cloud computing and hosted services and we have the best relationships in the world, and Amazon sells flip flops.

Paul: Yes.

Rich: And we’re gonna eat their lunch. And in ten years, he did.

Paul: Yep.

Rich: For an organization like Microsoft, that has immense pride—

Paul: Well, to be clear, Amazon’s okay. They just got in there and eat some of their lunch.

Rich: They ate some of their lunch.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: But to essentially shed your success in a lot of ways shed your past and be something different. It’s very hard to do. You need a leader to do it. Benioff has been running this thing forever. And Salesforce, historically, when they ever they acquired anything, it just, it became a Katamari Damacy, like, monstrosity, right? What they’re taking on—

Paul: [overlapping] No, in this article, they’re like, they’re like, we’re not done with inorganic growth, which I just love, is, like, buying companies? It’s just inorganic.

Rich: Exactly. Exactly. Now can they do it? Benioff’s a brilliant guy, and he could do it today. What you see is it’s an add-on. There’s a lot, the upsell—Salesforce is the king of upsell.

Paul: Right.

Rich: You go in, you thought you just bought the base options and then it all gets layered on, right? And that’s their business and they run a lot of the world. AI shows up, he pounces, like, “New avenue.”

Paul: Well, and customers are going to lean in and buy more Salesforce. They’re going to be able to close more engagements.

Rich: We could have a separate podcast about how organizations view AI. AI has been a consumer conversation up till now. Organizations always come later.

Paul: Well, it’s also the media doesn’t understand enterprise because it’s horrible and boring.

Rich: It’s incredibly boring.

Paul: And over here you have Sam Altman getting fired and robots that tell you that, you know, that lie to you. It’s great. It’s interesting.

Rich: It’s good media.

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: Yeah, exactly, exactly. And that’s still playing out. I wouldn’t write them off just yet.

Paul: Oh, they’re gonna be fine.

Rich: Well, no, no, no. I think, I think what the market is essentially saying is like, you had your day and you’re going to still make billions, but you are not the next frontier. That’s what they’re saying.

Paul: Well, I think what they’re saying is I got OpenAI over here, and Google and Microsoft heavily invested in OpenAI. And over here I have Nvidia, I have Jensen Huang in a leather jacket building infrastructure and data centers and things like that. You said that you could sort of be a bridge, and I’m not buying it just yet.

Rich: Well, it’s, there’s too much there, still that, you have to shed stuff. You have to shed stuff to really reintroduce yourself as something new.

Paul: I think they spackled it on as a sales tool. I’m sure it delivers value. I’m sure there’s like some little animated guy who will help you close more business.

Rich: Paul?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: There is a team of 70 that is working on Project Jupiter inside of Salesforce that is a complete reimagining?

Paul: Yeah.

Rich: That may get murdered in the next twelve months. Right?

Paul: [laughing] No one will ever see their work.

Rich: Never see their—it’s the Apple car.

Paul: And then Project Neptune gets started. Yeah. God bless you, my friends.

Rich: Yeah, this is a fascinating topic because we care about it. Like Salesforce. We—

Paul: We live in—

Rich: They are a gold standard in terms of sales.

Paul: Let’s be clear, the kind of company we are, we live in its shadow.

Rich: Yeah, we do.

Paul: We’re a little tiny mammal. And that’s the, that’s the brontosaurus. Okay, so, Richard, we explained the entire tech industry in three short episodes.

Rich: Amazing.

Paul: Yeah. Good for us. Look at us. Aren’t we good boys? We now have to go to a meeting and talk about engagement numbers, so we better get the hell out of here.

Rich: All right, everyone, give us five stars, if you are using a podcast product that allows you to put stars in. And hit us up. Hello@aboard.com. We love to get feedback.

Paul: Yep, check out the product. Actually, we’ve received a bunch of feedback lately, and I’ll tell you what, it has changed the feature roadmap. We are doing lots of things just so that users can be happy.

Rich: Yes.

Paul: Because that’s what makes us happy.

[outro music]

Rich: Check out the tool. aboard.com.

Paul: All right, we’ll talk to you soon.

Rich: Have a lovely week.

Paul: Byeeee.

Rich: Bye bye.

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