Mastering startup leadership: Insights from tech titan Frank Slootman of Snowflake

Zach DeWitt
No items found.
Being a CEO can feel like you’re navigating uncharted territory with no guidebook or rules.Leadership is complex, and often the most transformative work happens backstage, away from the public gaze. It’s a lot like building a product.

Frank Slootman is a formidable figure in the tech world.

As the CEO of Snowflake, Frank took the company public in 2020 in the largest software IPO in history, an incredible achievement that's just the latest in his impressive career.

His leadership repertoire also includes pivotal roles at industry heavyweights ServiceNow and Data Domain, which Frank steered both from infancy to prominence.

Frank grew up in the Netherlands and is the author of three books: Amp it Up, Rise of the Data Cloud and Tape Sucks. These books are not just recommended reading for entrepreneurs — they can immerse you in Slootman's world. His guidance can potentially give you a compass for your own leadership in your organization.

In a recent podcast, Frank opines on a common problem with young startup CEOs:

 “They just think I hire a bunch of people and sit back and wait for greatness. They have no idea that they have to relentlessly drive every second of the day, every interaction, and seek the confrontation. We slow down to a glacial pace unless there are people who are going to drive tempo and pace and intensity and urgency. That’s what leaders need to do. CEOs must constantly push the urgency even though it’s really hard to bring that to every single instance of today.”

 Let’s take a deeper look at Frank’s advice for CEOs, and see how it intersects with how Wing mentors and encourages startup founders.

Leadership behind the scenes

Being a CEO can feel like you’re navigating uncharted territory with no guidebook or rules.

Leadership is complex, and often the most transformative work happens backstage, away from the public gaze. It’s a lot like building a product.

In a nutshell, your most important job as CEO is moving your company forward.

With investors and a board of directors, your role is more than just calling the shots — you have to maintain the financial health of the company and secure the jobs of your employees. The shift from self-serving leadership to driving the growth of your company is significant.

But as CEO, you also wear the hat of chief salesperson and evangelist. You become the face and voice of your brand, and your actions and words become intertwined with your company's identity.

Feeling like you’re juggling too much? This might help. Here are the three main functions of a CEO:

  • Strategy and roadmapping: While you may not be the only one outlining the roadmap, you must help your team make strategic decisions and clear obstacles from their path. To do this, you’ll need a well-articulated vision and the ability to connect the dots between the moving parts of your business.
  • Culture and values: As the CEO, your actions set the tone for the company's culture — and many of your employees care more about the company's culture than your product. Creating a positive, values-based culture can give you a massive competitive advantage.
  • Hiring and team building: If you’re the CEO of an early-stage company, you also need to take on the role of Chief People Officer. Your company's growth is fundamentally people-driven. Learning how to identify, attract and retain talent should be a top priority.

How to balance these three functions? Adapt, learn and always put your company's growth at the forefront.

Taking ownership and understanding accountability

As a CEO, cultivate a mindset of absolute accountability. This can help you drive the kind of urgency and energy Frank Slootman recommends.

Whether or not the direct cause of a setback lies within the company, a leader's willingness to stand up and say, "This was on me. I take the blame," can be transformative.

Extreme ownership like this — especially in situations that directly affect the end-to-end customer experience —  is a powerful signal of responsible leadership. In fact, it might be one of the fundamental characteristics you’ll need to develop if you want to build a lasting, generation-defining company.

Final thoughts on becoming a better leader

This is one of my favorite quotes from Amp It Up:

“Raise your standards, pick up the pace, sharpen your focus and align your people. You don't need to bring in reams of consultants to examine everything that is going on. What you need on day one is to ratchet up expectations, energy, urgency and intensity.”

This mantra has fundamentally shaped my leadership approach, adding an extra jolt of drive to my day-to-day life. All startup CEOs can take lessons from Slootman and learn to navigate the nuanced path of leadership with a better compass.

Interested in more insights like this? Subscribe to my Substack to join the conversation about leadership, entrepreneurship and PLG.

Wing Logo
Thanks for signing up!
Form error, try again.