Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff, with his estimated net worth of $3.9 billion, is known for philanthropy, ginormous star-studded conferences and his customized cloud-print tennis shoes. The image of Benioff greeting Stevie Wonder on stage at the Moscone Center in San Francisco is no doubt cemented in the minds of last fall's Dreamforce conference attendees.

Remember, though, that the Silicon Valley heavyweight entrepreneur and pioneer of cloud software didn't come out of nowhere. Before Salesforce was founded and survived the dot-com bubble and bust, Benioff was a rookie hustling like any other young entrepreneur -- and if it weren't for a few powerful friends, he wouldn't be where he is now.

A Business Insider profile of Benioff published this week describes his rise from San Francisco hometown boy obscurity to Software as a Service (SaaS) royalty. Here are 6 key people mentioned in the story.

  • Russell Benioff. Benioff's father owned a department store in San Francisco. Benioff says he learned his work ethic from dad, according to Business Insider.
  • Steve Jobs. Benioff interned as a programmer at Apple while a student at the University of Southern California. He learned from Jobs that an entrepreneur can "encourage revolutionary ideas."
  • Larry Ellison. The Oracle founder initially served as a mentor for Benioff, encouraging the young entrepreneur to pursue his dreams of building Salesforce. But Ellison later became a rival of Benioff when Oracle started developing a product to compete with Salesforce.
  • Paul Pelosi. The husband of U.S. House of Representatives minority leader Nancy Pelosi invested in Salesforce early on.
  • Colin Powell and Mata Amritanandamayi. The former secretary of state and Hindu spiritual leader encouraged Benioff to make philanthropy a cornerstone of the Salesforce philosophy.

An earlier version of this post misidentified US. House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as an early investor in Salesforce. Her husband, Paul Pelosi, was.