September 30, 2020

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Snowflake CEO: Doubling of stock price after IPO reflects ‘frothy’ market

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Shares of hot business software provider Snowflake more than doubled on their first day of trading Wednesday, but CEO Frank Slootman isn’t concerned about the big money the company theoretically left on the table in the IPO.

Snowflake sold 28 million shares at $120 each on Tuesday night, but they began trading Wednesday at $245, went as high as $319, and eventually closed at $253.93, up 112%. The highest valued software IPO ever, Snowflake raised $3.4 billion from the deal, but in theory it could have collected twice as much.

Slootman, who has taken two previous companies public as CEO, says he decided months ago that Snowflake should aim to attract major institutional investors as shareholders—funds or individuals that could buy billion dollar positions and would likely hold their shares for a long time.

“Sure, we could have pushed higher on price, but then the quality of our investor group would have steadily deteriorated,” Slootman tells Fortune from the company’s California offices on Wednesday. “Our whole game was to develop a shareholder base that we could live with for the next five-to-10 years. We discover where they are in price and we don’t push it to the point where everybody starts to squeal.”

Even as an experienced IPO veteran, Slootman was impressed by the explosive trading in Snowflake’s shares on Wednesday, however. “What you’re seeing is the difference between the frothy, opportunistic retail side of the marketplace and the long-term shareholders,” Slootman says. “You can’t get too distracted by what you’re seeing on CNBC.”

Snowflake, founded in 2012, has been growing its revenue by triple digits for several years since introducing a series of groundbreaking database applications that rely on the computing power and storage of cloud servers. Sales rose 133% in the first half of 2020 to $242 million, while its net loss declined 3% to $171 million from the same period a year ago.

The company’s future success isn’t guaranteed. Even as it relies on cloud hosting from Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, Snowflake also competes with those big three, each of which sell their own database software.

With the IPO, Slootman, who joined in April, 2019, saw his net worth grow by several billion dollars on paper. When he was hired as CEO, he received options for 13.7 million shares that vest over four years. That’s equivalent to $3.5 billion worth of stock at its current price, though he can’t exercise all of the options now and would have to cover the strike price of about $9 per share—and likely pay capital gains taxes.

Having already established a family foundation, Slootman says he plans to give away almost all of his wealth. “Probably 98% of all of our family wealth will flow to our family foundation,” he says. “I don’t believe in making my offspring rich. It can kind of destroy their lives. There’s no greater reward in life than making it on your own. Why would I take that away?”

The CEO says he has backed and will continue to back causes related to animal welfare, wildlife, and environmental conservation.

Alongside the IPO, Snowflake also sold shares privately to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and to top cloud software developer Salesforce.

Snowflake has been seeking closer ties with Salesforce because so many of its customers also keep data there and want to be able to analyze it in Snowflake’s apps more easily. “We wanted to integrate our products in a way that really allows Salesforce data to be synched very frictionlessly,” Slootman says. “The reason is almost all our customers try and do that.”

It’s currently “very painful” for customers to mix the two data sets, “a complete hack,” Slootman says. But with the two companies now working closely, a much easier and smoother integration will be coming by the end of the year, he says.

Slootman pursued Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway as an investor in part to “raise the stature of Snowflake as a brand,” he says. “You could see today that we made a good dent in that. A lot more people know who Snowflake is today.”

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Aaron Pressman


2020-09-16 17:14:06


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