Frank Slootman has been interviewed before, but this one, led by entrepreneur Jason Calacanis is really good.
Ostensively, Frank is promoting his new book on leadership, but the interview touches on a number of management issues facing Slootman when he took over at Snowflake. For instance, he had to quickly asses the strengths and weaknesses of the existing team and made significant changes early (13:45 in) that shook people at the company up. He says that he didn’t always need to evaluate whether a person was “good” or not, but he could tell quickly whether that person’s team was performing. And that within two weeks he knows whether a new hire was right or not.
He also talks about “managing intensity.” (24:30 and then 32:00)) And that making the company so great to work at that he’s able to hire top talent from other companies (with a Highlander movie example!), that accomplishes two strikes at once.
At about 27:00 in, Slootman talks about an intense focus on the customer, including establishing trust. He talks about a large customer giving him grief, and even though it wasn’t his company’s fault, rather than getting into a debate, Slootman said he’d credit the customer money back. He also talks about owning the whole process/outcome, not just Snowflake’s piece. That establishes support and trust.
Slootman also says that when he hears that marketing isn’t doing a good job, his first instinct is actually that the product isn’t right for the market that’s being targeted. Part of leadership’s job is to be “intellectually honest” about the product/service you’re providing.
At 40:38, Slootman talks about not having a military-style chain of command to be followed, and letting what people bring to the table influence what happens.
There’s also a discussion (51:50) about people that “start things,” people that “run things,” and people that “fund things.” Sometimes they overlap, but not always. The real shortage, Slootman says, is for people that can run things. He admits he was a bad board member since his style doesn’t mesh with being so hands off.
At 57:40, Slootman talks about having singular priorities. He hates teams that put up “top 10” priorities. His challenge is "if you can do one thing, what’s the thing you need to do. “If you have ten priorities, you’re already wrong.” People do that because they don’t know what the real priority is and want to cover their bases. This folds into a “Mission Posture” discussion, which needs to be asked again and again. He doesn’t want to incrementally improve, he wants to envision the future then incrementally work towards that future.
At 1:02:50, Slootman talks about how he improved Snowflake’s growth model, and lit a fire under the team. “For some people 30% growth is a great number.” Not for him. “I always lean in hard, but in hindsight I should have leaned in more.”
Slootman is also very pro-America (he came from the Netherlands in the early 1980s), and believes that America’s optimism and “level of buoyancy”) is responsible for America’s success in the world (about 44 min). And that, in meeting with new leaders, he’s very impressed and sees that leaders are not only getting younger, but also more diverse, which are all good things. Gives him hope and optimism for the future. They talk about today you can have 20-something year old CEOs, whereas back in the day the VCs felt the need to bring in Eric Schmidt to run Google for a while. It’s also pointed out that thanks to YouTube and the internet, you can take MIT classes for free - basically learn anything you want. “There’s no layers anymore.”
It’s an hour long, but it has chapter stops so you can skip over sections (including a few short ads). If you’re wondering how Snowflake can continue to be so great, watch this and understand how well the company is run.