Greylock’s Newest GP: “I Know the Difference Between Being a Board Member and Being an Executive”

Frank Slootman wasn’t looking for a job in the venture industry, but he landed a plum one at Silicon Valley venture firm Greylock Partners, where he begins work next month as a partner focused on enterprise investments.

Slootman was invited to join after a thoroughly impressive run at the head of the storage company Data Domain, a startup that “had no customers, 18 employees, and had burned through about half of its initial round of funding” when he joined it in 2003, he says.

It eventually raised $41 million from Greylock, New Enterprise Associates and Sutter Hill, an investment that proved a homerun for everyone who held onto their shares. In  July 2009, two years after it went public, Data Domain was acquired by EMC for $2.4 billion.

In a call with peHUB this morning, Slootman called himself an “immigrant in this country who clawed my way into the opportunities that became available to me” and he was modest about his new appointment at Greylock.  “I’d really never thought about becoming a VC. It’s only relatively recently that I could even do this.” (Before joining Data Domain as president, Slootman worked as the senior vice president of products at Borland Software.)

While Slootman suggests that he has a lot to learn – “as an operating executive, you’re labor, and now I’m becoming capital and it’s very different” – he said he’s also eager to leverage his status as a CEO who presided over some extraordinary growth at the company he ran.

“What I’m hoping to bring to entrepreneurs is knowing what it’s like to be a different growth plateaus — $10 million, $50 million, $500 million [in revenue], and knowing everything changes every time.”

“I know running a startup is a lot like being in a rodeo, where you’re trying to hang on for eight seconds before you get bucked off,” added Slootman. As a result, he said, “I’ll probably be more sensitive to not being too prescriptive. I’ve worked with board members who’ve crossed the line a little, but I know the difference between being a board member and being an executive.”

Slootman doesn’t seem to be having trouble convincing entrepreneurs. Though he still has a couple of weeks to get settled in at Greylock, Slootman says he’s already been meeting with several startups a week as news of his new position has trickled out. Unsurprisingly, he seems to already love it, too.

“As an operative executive, you don’t have the luxury of [observing everything that’s happening in the startup ecosystem]. You have to use every ounce of your bandwidth for the fight at hand. Now, I’ll have that luxury.”