Amp It Up: Snowflake boss pens hands-on CEO toolkit

Frank Slootman has written another book about how to run a business based on his time at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

Our first thought was “not again” – he co-wrote Rise of The Data Cloud last year.

But this was quickly set aside because Frank appears to walk the walk. He’s had stints at Data Domain, bought by EMC for $2.4 billion in 2009; ServiceNow, which ran a $210 million IPO in 2012; and his current Snowflake gig following its IPO last year, which raised $3.36 billion at a valuation of $33.6 billion. If you’re a VC, CxO, EVP, SVP or VP-level exec at a startup that’s failing to reach its full potential, Slootman might be someone you look up to.

He writes in a way that grabs your attention, with chapter titles like “My Journey from Teenage Toilet Cleaner to Serial CEO” and clearly written anecdotes to illustrate his points.

The book is organised in five sections: Raise your standards; Align your people and culture; Sharpen your focus; Pick up the pace; and Transform your strategy.

In each, Frank makes it all seem simple. Diagnose and define the problem, then fix it with celerity. He’s like a corporate plumber. Blocked pipes? HR recruiting flatlining sales people instead of gunslingers? Leaking faucets? Finance starving sales of investment? Inadequate header tank? Too many passengers and not enough drivers in the organisation? Diagnose and fix.

Hitting targets

Throughout the book Frank lobs hand grenades at his business bêtes noire – such as consultants who borrow your watch, charge you money for telling the time, and then keep your watch. Ah, the old ones are the best ones.

Newer objects of his ire are fun to read too, such as customer success departments which he found at both ServiceNow and Snowflake: “They were happy to follow the trend set by other companies like ours. But not me. I pulled the plug on these customer success departments in both companies, reassigning the staff back to the departments where their expertise fit best.”

VPs of strategy are another target: “In many large companies, it’s common to see dedicated strategy roles, often at the VP level. These people are basically in-house consultants because they have no operational responsibility.” For Frank, “operators in charge of each business unit must also be the strategists for their business, and the chief executive officer must also act as the chief strategy officer.”

Notable quotes

“But the simple reality is that not all businesses are destined to succeed … Slow-growing companies become the walking dead.”

“Silicon Valley is littered with companies lingering in the proverbial chasm for years and years.” (Shades of extreme inbetweeners here?)

“When it costs much more than a dollar to generate a dollar, you don’t really have a business.”

Data Domain: “The sale to EMC was a great outcome by any economic standard, but a CEO can’t help thinking he or she aborted the mission when a company gets sold.”

ServiceNow: “This was a platform, not a tool. A tool is a one-trick pony, but a platform is broadly capable of many different uses.”

Snowflake: “Snowflake was massively over-resourced. … My introduction of a much more serious and disciplined approach was like pushing the staff into a cold shower to wake them up.”

Slootman is a hands-on guy and this book is a highly readable and enjoyable tour through his hands-on CEO toolkit. It’s a pity that Wiley didn’t amp up its production quality, though – a humdrum cover makes a second-rate impression.

The book was written with the help of Will Weisser and is on sale at major retail and online book stores.