Interview

Steven Schuurman

Founder Elastic NV


As CEO and founder of Elastic, Steven has experienced his fair share of success. He has founded four different organizations in the past twenty years, each one growing bigger than the last, offering a true testament to his entrepreneurial spirit. “I do think I am more an entrepreneur than a leader,” he states. “But I believe that the best entrepreneurs are both great leaders and great operators.” To Steven, leadership is an irreplaceable skill that an entrepreneur has to have to succeed. “You can be a great leader and a bad operator and still see success. You can always just hire an operations manager. But if you are a bad leader and a good operator, you will struggle. There is no replacement for a good leader.” This statement embodies Steven’s leadership style, charismatic and honest. Despite all his accolades, he believes there is no “blueprint” for success as a leader. It depends on the person and the situation. But he has been around long enough to see some common threads in leadership.


A great leader takes care of their team. As a leader, you are the flag bearer, leading the way to the future.

What are some of your biggest takeaways from being a leader? Needless to say there are so many lessons I have picked up on. But I would say that the biggest is that it is critical to think about your product. Are your customers willing to pay as much as you think they will for your product? Test it and look for signs. What I have learned is that if there is a lot of pushback about certain product features being too expensive, that means the customers really like it, so they will still pay for it. But if they agree with the price, they don’t want it bad enough to pay for it.

What do you think good leadership looks like? Good leaders do what needs to be done. You have to be able to adjust to the context and focus on what truly matters. Always do whatever it takes to succeed, but never use your team, the environment, or your culture as a means to an end. You also need to listen and be attentive to the people around you. A great leader takes care of their team. As a leader, you are the flag bearer, leading the way to the future. You have to live the dot on the horizon. Articulate it and bring clarity around it; what is it, where is it, and how we get there. And ultimately, you have to lead by example and do what needs to get done.

Steven Schuurman

Founder, former CEO and current boardmember of Elastic NV.

Founder Elasticsearch, Inc.

Founder SpringSource Global, Inc.

Chairman of GeoPhy BV.

Board of Supervision of Techleap.nl

Steven Schuurman talks about maintaing growth

How did Elastic grow from 1 to 1000 + eployees, since its start in 2012? How did it grow to be the company it is today, with an estimated market capitalization of USD 7.25 billion?

Topics you have to own as a leader?

This is another one of those questions that has no true right answer, because it really matters who you have around you. But a leader should always own three things: Strategy, finances, and culture. No one else should be in charge of your strategy or battle plan, otherwise you are not the flag bearer. You also have to know where the money is coming from and where it is going. You have to know how to keep the lights on. Culture is where it gets a bit tricky. It will seem as if people follow your example while the organization is still small. But as the organization grows, the culture becomes more active, and at that point you need to start articulating it as well as living it. You should be able to sum up your entire company culture in under one minute. If you find certain people don’t fit in with that description or there are people destroying it, then you need to get rid of them. When the team starts to embrace the culture, you will see them become beacons for your organization. Do you think an organization needs a hierarchical structure? I would love nothing more than to say that they don’t, but yes they do. At some point, things just become too chaotic and the organization benefits too much from it. People naturally want to follow someone, so the best organizations will let it form as naturally as possible. Don’t wait for it to exist, but when you see people start gravitating towards other people, then it's time to implement a structure. There is not one recipe for success. You just need to find the right time when people start to benefit from some coordination.

You should be able to sum up your entire company culture in under one minute.

Tip!

Define 3 things that are critical for future success but are not going very well. Identify people in your organization that can fundamentally tackle these issues. If you do not have those, get them! Hire and fire to get the job done.

Search for the root cause and fix it.

How can a leader successfully navigate hypergrowth in a scaleup?

You absolutely need to focus on what truly matters. Great leaders have the ability to distinguish the difference between signals and noise. This importance of this is even further magnified during hyper growth. Signal’s are things that have the potential to make a huge difference, whereas noise is problematic, but ultimately is not going to determine success and failure of your organization.

Do you have some issues with the website crashing, that's noise. Don’t put all your focus here if you have larger pressing issues. Are your people struggling with their workload or are your customers frustrated with your product? That is signal. People are always signal. A good leader never takes their eyes off the signal’s.

Also be aware of the dangers of hypergrowth. Too often leaders overspend early, loose grip on their culture, and tend to make the wrong decisions.

What are some mistakes you see leaders make during underperformance? Being indecisive can be your downfall as a leader. Sometimes you just need to make a decision, if it turns out to be wrong, that's fine. It's still better than no move at all, because at least now you know what you are doing wrong. Once you figure this out, start working on a fix; root cause the issue. I also hear leaders say that their underperformance is seasonal or it is just a few bad weeks. It's not, so don't be naive. That is exactly how you end up with long term underperformance. Search for the root cause and fix it.

How should a leader go about building their team?

There really is no blueprint for what kind of team you should build. This all depends on your skill set. So start by determining and filling critical roles, then take a look at yourself and find a compliment. One of the greatest qualities a leader can have is the ability to assess their strengths and weaknesses. Should you hire a CEO or a CFO? That all depends on you. And if you are in doubt, then it's better to underestimate rather than overestimate yourself.

Great leaders have the ability to distinguish the difference between signal and noise.

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