Drivers, Not Passengers

“Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity”

Frank Slootman is Chairman and CEO of Snowflake. He recently wrote a short book on business management “Amp It Up”, sharing his experience from days at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

In his book, Chapter 6 talks about “hiring drivers, not passengers” and below is some excerpts from the book:

Passengers are people who don’t mind simply being carried along by the company’s momentum, offering little or no input, seemingly not caring much about the direction chosen by management. They are often pleasant, get along with everyone, attend meetings promptly, and generally do not stand out as troublemakers. They are often accepted into the fabric of the organization and stay there for many years.

The problem is that while passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting. They avoid taking strong positions at the risk of being wrong about something. They can take any side of an issue, depending on how the prevailing winds are blowing. In large organizations especially, there are many places to hide without really being noticed. …

Drivers, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from making things happen, not blending in with the furniture. They feel a strong sense of ownership for their projects and teams and demand high standards from both themselves and others. They exude energy, urgency, ambition, even boldness. Faced with a challenge, they usually say, “Why not” rather than “That’s impossible.”

These qualities make drivers massively valuable. Finding, recruiting, rewarding, and retaining them should be among your top priorities. Recognize them privately and publicly, promote them, and elevate them as example of what others should aspire to. That will start waking up those who are merely along for the ride. Celebrate people who own their responsibilities, take and defend clear positions, argue for their preferred strategies, and seek to move the dial.

What I like about this view is that while it’s not analytically refined, it’s intuitively understood. Of course, not everyone will be 100% driver or passenger all the time across all things. But the roles we play, especially in leadership roles, we absolutely need to be drivers.

In the management classic “High Output Management”, Andy Grove defines the following:

📌 A manager's output = The output of his organization + The output of the neighboring organizations under his influence

This does not mean that manager should take credit for all of the organization’s output, but more so highlights the importance and risk of having a right/wrong manager for an organization. An organization’s output is capped (and multiplied) by the capacity of the manager, so having a wrong leader in place will hinder the organization’s effectiveness and create drag for everyone in and around that organization.

So it’s critical to organization’s existence that everyone in the leadership positions be drivers, and not passengers.

Then how do we identify the drivers? What are the qualities and traits of those who are drivers?


  • Deliver outcomes, not activities. They deliver great outputs to completion. They don’t focus on checking off a todo list, sending an email, having a meeting, meeting a prospect, or being busy. They deliver great outcomes = increase customer, hire A+ players, build highly qualified pipeline with real opportunities, close a great deal, completes & launches a project that makes an impact, ship quality code into production, writes a well-written blog post or article and get a lot of people to read it.
  • Raise the bar proactively, continuously, and frequently, not occasionally or sometimes when asked. Without any request or prompts, they come up with new ideas to improve, make things better, help improve others, and be a constructive change agent. They don’t just point out problems, they provide solutions and actually take it to their hand and drives it towards full completion.
  • Motivate and energize others, not wait or request to be motivated or energized. They increase the pace, are fast, and they create motivation for others, not asked to be motivated.
    • One person asked a partner at McKinsey & Co.: “How do you motivate your employees?” The answer? “We don’t motivate our employees. We hire people who are motivated and who can motivate themselves constantly.”
  • Are relentlessly resourceful. They don’t stop. They deliver despite the challenges, roadblocks, and constraints. They know how to problem solve, and not let set backs and failures stop them, ever. They know when and how to get things done, ask for help, pull in resources, and even when it’s not available, figure out ways to best deliver the outcomes.

This phrase summarizes drivers the best:

You’d rather work with someone you need to pull back than someone you have to push forward.

In reality, drivers are rarer than passengers. It can be stressful to be a driver. Imagine the pressure F1 drivers feel compared to the audience who are there to watch the game and cheer. The pressure (and the thrill) of a driver is exponentially greater than that of a passenger or an audience. And that’s why it’s essential that organizations place drivers in leadership positions so that the rest of the organization that leader is responsible for can thrive and win. We owe it to the teams that we have drivers as their leaders and managers, so that the team’s potential is maximized and realized into great outcomes.

So if we aspire to be, or are already in a position of a leadership, we need to ask ourselves “am I a driver? and do others acknowledge that I am indeed a driver in my role?”

Managing Time Horizons

I recently came across the clearest definition of a bubble in an asset class:

“When investors have different goals and time horizons—and they do in every asset class— prices that look ridiculous to one person can make sense to another…

Bubbles form when the momentum of short-term returns attract enough money that the makeup of investors shifts from mostly long term to mostly short term. That process feeds on itself. As traders push up short-term returns, they attract even more traders. Before long, the dominant market price-setters with the most authority are those with shorter time horizons.

Bubbles aren’t so much about valuations rising. That’s just a symptom of something else: time horizons shrinking as more short-term traders enter the playing field.”

The Psychology of Money (by Morgan Housel)

What was particularly impressive about this framework was that it can be applied to any forms of investment — including people. When you have a “different” time horizon when working with someone, your behaviors will change. Those with a short-term views will become more transactional (as there’s no lasting relationship or long-term time horizon to get the “returns”) and “ruthless” vs long-term views will become more relationship driven as one may see the “potential” of someone and with that have more patience to invest/coach the person to become better. Of course, there are other factors to consider such as talent/aptitude, integrity, personal values just as one would look at such in a company when value investing over a long-term time horizon.

As investors with deep pockets and lack of need for immediate liquidity can invest in asset classes that require long-term time commitments (e.g. becoming an LP in a seed fund), people and organizations who have strong teams with high bench strength can harness the time horizon to invest in people over a longer period of time. While high growth startups may not have this luxury, it is deeply rewarding to see people step up and grow phenomenally over a long period of time during their tenure.

Organizations have their natural and default time horizons for their projects and people, so being able to understand your own organization’s time horizons and navigating or altering them as the need and situations change can become a powerful tool for the management team.

SendBird’s First Billboard

We’re in this together

As part of a new initiative to strengthen SendBird‘s brand, market presence, and reach our developer community better, we’ve decided to start a long-term brand campaign, including, yes, a billboard.

While we’ve debated whether this was really a SendBird-way to engage our developer community, given that a lot of our current and future customers are heavily concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area, we decided to move forward with the campaign.

Due to the Covid-19 global pandemic, the billboard campaign may not have the initial scale of impact we had planned for, but we decided to use this time window to address a bigger message for our Bay Area community. Instead of focusing on what we do and our value proposition, we crafted and delivered a message to give hope and empathize with the community.

We’re in this together

SendBird Team

We’ll continue to engage and stay connected with our local community of developers around the world, and this is just the beginning of great things to come!

PS. If you want to check it out in person, it’s on 7th St and Harrison St in San Francisco, CA.

A Guide to Scaling Yourself

How to keep your head above water

I was having lunch with a friend today, and we were discussing how does someone know when a person is scaling or not. Who will scale as the company grow and what stops someone from scaling further?

Some companies have early members scaling beautifully as the organization grows, while some don’t. A lot of smooth scaling happens typically when the company is growing organically and the growth rate is relatively modest (< 50% YoY). When a company is growing > 50% YoY, and in some cases, doubling or more, it becomes incredibly difficult for people to keep up with the scale of the company, as humans grow linearly, yet companies grow exponentially.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself to check if you are scaling with the growth needed and some tips and strategies to continue on the fast growth trajectory.

1. Am I “going horizontal?”

I came across the concept of “Going Horizontal” during 10xCEO program and we discussed extensively on how to make sure the executive team is continuing to scale at the right capacity level for the growth needs of the company.

The team internally might already be “over capacity” if the company’s growth rate is modest and the team is experienced. But if the needs for the leadership capacity emerging from growth out weigh the current capacity, then it will hurt the growth rate and the potential upside of the company as long as the leadership team is not fully built to handle the needs.

Continue reading “A Guide to Scaling Yourself”

VPC Framework in Management

Balancing between Value, Price, and Cost

I first learned the VPC Framework (VPC: Value-Price-Cost) back in 2006 and the simplicity of the framework made an impression on me. I still revisit a few times a year to think about where our company is in the position within the framework and how we are investing our resources.

The concept is quite simple. Let’s start with the definition:

  • Value: This is the value your offering is creating and delivering to customers.
  • Price: This is the price you charge and customers pay for to acquire or use your offering.
  • Cost: This is the cost of creating and delivering your offering to the customer.

The differences between these elements create the benefits:

Continue reading “VPC Framework in Management”

It’s okay to be not liked on demo day.

Y Combinator W16 Demo Day Story

Below is a post I wrote in August 2019 within Y Combinator community (which luckily received 300+ upvotes 🙇‍♂️). Now that I get a pretty steady stream of inquiries about fundraising and accelerator/demo days, I thought it might be helpful to repost here in public format. Hope it brings hope to a few.

Hi S19 founders,

Now that the demo day has officially begun, I just want to share our experience at SendBird (W16), so that perhaps some of you guys can relate.

I’ll admit upfront: We were not the hot company of the demo day. No where near. We didn’t get the overly enthusiastic emails from investors piling up in our inbox.

I thought we were doing okay during the batch, but on the demo day, the ones that got the most amount of ‘likes’ and ‘quickest raises’ were not necessarily the ones we thought did the best during the batch. Some companies raised a lot of money almost on the day of the demo day, while most of us felt like we were punched in our stomach, grasping for air.

Continue reading “It’s okay to be not liked on demo day.”

A Focused Culture

One thing I’ve noticed going through Y Combinator was how consistent were the messages repeated by the partners, the staffs, and the alumni network. As a startup founder, you should do two things: “write code and talk to users.” The more recent version is: “build product, talk to customers, and exercise” – which I think is a natural evolution, since YC funds a lot of non-software-only companies these days and the partners are getting a bit older. 😉

The entire message is around “Growth” and the way to get there is by writing code and talking to users. And stop doing anything else. Sounds simple, right?

Continue reading “A Focused Culture”

Where the Grass is Always Green

When I was eleven, my family moved to the United States, due to my father’s job working for the Korean government. I still remember my first ride from JFK to some urban parts of the New York city. Still a bit jet lagged, I was struck in awe looking at the graffitis on the streets of NYC. I’ve only seen graffitis from the movies and the sheer unfamiliarity of the view somehow got me scared and excited ambivalently.

Taking a bite of freshly baked extra cheese pizza was a pleasant surprise to my taste and grabbing the oval-shaped ‘football’ for the first time got me all confused.

Continue reading “Where the Grass is Always Green”

Product Hunt Launch Experience

Just wrote a short article on how SendBird launched on Product Hunt.


VISAs for International Founders Doing Startups in U.S.

Hello there foreigners and immigrants. Yeah that’s you (and me).

Today, I’m going to save you few bucks from expensive consulting fees with the immigration lawyers. Sadly, below does not cover the details, but will give you an idea of which route you can take.

There are five VISA types for international founders/entrepreneurs entering the U.S.: L1, E2, EB5, H1B, O

Let’s go through each of them briefly below:

1. L1

  1. For whom? Expats(execs, managers, specialists) working at US Entity (with minimum of 1 year employment history at the foreign company)
  2. Duration & Extension 3 yrs + 3 yrs (+ 1 yr for execs/managers) (total 6 ~ 7 yrs max)
  3. Difficulty Depends on the company (must show that it will survive, easier with $1M+ previous funding)
  4. Quota Any time (get the result in 15 days after filing using premium processing)
  5. Family/Spouse can work? Yes
  6. Greencard Yes

Continue reading “VISAs for International Founders Doing Startups in U.S.”

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