Sur­veyMon­key's Dave Gold­berg urges work­ing smarter rather than longer

Sur­veyMon­key's Dave Gold­berg on why his com­pany is restor­ing the work-life bal­ance in the Sil­i­con Val­ley

The Australian - The Deal - - News - In­ter­view by: Glenda Kor­po­raal

What’s Sur­veyMon­key and how did you come to join it?

It’s the world’s leading on­line sur­vey plat­form with more than two mil­lion sur­vey re­sponses ev­ery day. We are based in Sil­i­con Val­ley. It was founded in 1999 in Madi­son, Wis­con­sin, by col­lege stu­dent Ryan Fin­ley. A pri­vate eq­uity con­sor­tium took it over in early 2009 and ap­pointed me as chief ex­ec­u­tive in April that year.

What had you done be­fore that?

I did an arts de­gree at Har­vard and then worked for man­age­ment con­sul­tants Bain & Co. I lived in Aus­tralia in the early 1990s, set­ting up the Syd­ney of­fice. I went back to the US and worked for Capi­tol Records in Los Angeles. I founded Launch Me­dia in 1994. It put mu­sic con­tent on­line – legally. I sold it to Ya­hoo in 2001 and I ran Ya­hoo’s mu­sic busi­ness for the next six years.

How big is Sur­veyMon­key?

Glob­ally we get more than 75 mil­lion com­pleted sur­veys ev­ery month. We have more than 800,000 reg­is­tered users in Aus­tralia and more than 20 mil­lion reg­is­tered users world­wide. Most of them are us­ing us for free. We are a pri­vately owned com­pany, but we did re­lease some num­bers when we did a fundrais­ing two years ago. In 2012 we did $US113 mil­lion in rev­enue and $US61m in earn­ings be­fore in­ter­est, de­pre­ci­a­tion, tax and amor­ti­sa­tion. At the time, we had more than 350,000 sub­scribers. The busi­ness has grown sub­stan­tially since then. It’s a nice busi­ness.

If most of your cus­tomers are us­ing Sur­veyMon­key for free, how do you make money?

People come on to our site, sign up and start cre­at­ing sur­veys and send­ing them out. We have a free, ba­sic plan with a max­i­mum of 10 ques­tions per sur­vey and a max­i­mum of 100 re­sponses in to­tal. If people want to do more than that, we have dif­fer­ent pay­ment plans. It’s still very in­ex­pen­sive. For $228 a year you can run as many sur­veys as you want to as many people as you want. There are additional op­tions. If people want to put their logo on the sur­vey, they have to pay ex­tra. There are ad­vanced fea­tures on an­a­lyt­ics people can pay for. Most use us for free but a small num­ber pay us.

Why are you ex­pand­ing into Aus­tralia?

This is one of our big­gest mar­kets out­side of the US. We have more users in Aus­tralia, on a per capita ba­sis, than any­where else in the world, in­clud­ing the US. We get al­most two mil­lion com­pleted sur­veys a month in Aus­tralia alone. Al­most one in 10 Aus­tralian adults is tak­ing a Sur­veyMon­key sur­vey ev­ery month. Our cus­tomers in­clude people work­ing at most of the big com­pa­nies in Aus­tralia in­clud­ing Qan­tas, the Com­mon­wealth Bank, BHP Bil­li­ton, and Fox­tel. We have a 50-50 mix of pri­vate and pub­lic cus­tomers here in­clud­ing people work­ing in govern­ment and uni­ver­si­ties. We have some new prod­ucts that re­quire us to have some lo­cal sales and mar­ket­ing people. We want to set up an Aus­tralian ver­sion of Sur­veyMon­key Au­di­ence. With most of the Sur­vey Mon­key prod­ucts, people are sur­vey­ing people they al­ready know – a cus­tomer, an em­ployee, a par­ent at a school or a politi­cian send­ing it to a con­stituent. The au­di­ence prod­uct al­lows people to get re­sponses from a broader group of people that they don’t have a re­la­tion­ship with. It is more like typ­i­cal mar­ket re­search.

You have lived in Aus­tralia be­fore?

I have lived here twice. I did some study at the Univer­sity of NSW and came back later, in 1991, when I opened the Syd­ney of­fice for Bain Con­sult­ing. Aus­tralia changed my life. I came from Min­nesota where it is very cold in the win­ter. My time in Aus­tralia con­vinced me I should move to Cal­i­for­nia for the bet­ter weather.

Aren’t people get­ting tired of con­tin­u­ally be­ing asked to do “sur­veys” by com­pa­nies?

You can bother people with too much of any­thing. Too many LinkedIn re­quests might drive you crazy too. But Sur­veyMon­key sur­veys are usu­ally sent from some­one you al­ready have a re­la­tion­ship with. In a lot of cases, it is used to get the opin­ions of em­ploy­ees or cus­tomers. I think people feel if you get a good sur­vey and it makes the prod­uct or ser­vice or the work ex­pe­ri­ence bet­ter, they are happy to do it. If people feel they are be­ing asked for their opin­ion, and the people do­ing the sur­vey are ac­tu­ally go­ing to lis­ten to their opin­ions, then they see it as a good thing.

Your wife is Sh­eryl Sand­berg, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Face­book. Her book,

has be­come very fa­mous. Do you ever get called Mr Sand­berg?

Lean In, I don’t call my­self that. And I don’t call my wife Mrs Gold­berg ei­ther.

It was a joke. Her book has done well here. She’s al­most a house­hold name among women in busi­ness in Aus­tralia.

I as­sume it sold well here. I don’t ac­tu­ally know. We all had high hopes for it but it has even sur­passed what we had hoped for. Not just in book sales but the dis­cus­sion my wife wanted to spark, which was about hav­ing people think about how to change things, how do we get more women into se­nior po­si­tions in govern­ment and busi­ness. It has been good. There’s a long way to go but she’s mak­ing some good progress.

In the book Sh­eryl talked about try­ing to be home at 5.30pm to be with your chil­dren.

Do you still get home at 5.30pm?

Well, not when I am trav­el­ling, but gen­er­ally I do. But it’s not like I am done with work for the day when I get home. When the kids go to bed at 8pm, I’m back on my email for a cou­ple of hours. I don’t have a nine-to-five job but I think it’s im­por­tant to man­age your ca­reer with your life. It is part of our cul­ture at Sur­veyMon­key. We want people to have a life and a fam­ily. It may be a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent to other Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies, but it has been a real ad­van­tage for us as we have been able to at­tract some re­ally tal­ented people who want to have a great ca­reer but who also want to have a life and don’t want to work 100 hours a week. When I was in my first start-up, I worked 100 hour weeks con­sis­tently. I didn’t take a day off for two years. I was al­ways the last to leave the of­fice. But I was 26 years old and I didn’t have a fam­ily. We want people to work smarter but not longer. With tech­nol­ogy people can do a lot of their work from any­where.

Many Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies such as Face­book and Twit­ter have listed on the stock ex­change. Do you in­tend to fol­low?

We did a very un­usual trans­ac­tion a year and a half ago. In­stead of go­ing pub­lic we raised $US800m pri­vately – $US450m of eq­uity and $US350m of debt – to buy back shares from our ex­ist­ing in­vestors. It en­abled people to get some liq­uid­ity for their shares with­out hav­ing to take the com­pany pub­lic. We can do it be­cause we are quite prof­itable. We don’t need the cash. There are a lot of neg­a­tives to go­ing pub­lic. Stay­ing pri­vate al­lows us to fo­cus more on the busi­ness.

What’s the mood like in Sil­i­con Val­ley?

It is not as crazy as it was in 1999 and 2000, thank­fully. That was to­tally out of con­trol. It’s go­ing well and there are a lot of things go­ing on. Maybe some val­u­a­tions have got a bit ahead of them­selves but, in gen­eral, there are some re­ally great, in­ter­est­ing businesses be­ing built that scale glob­ally very quickly.

You also have some per­sonal in­vest­ments in Aus­tralia?

I have small in­vest­ments in 99de­signs and Cam­paign Mon­i­tor. They are great global businesses. They not only work in Aus­tralia but they work every­where. These are the kind of com­pa­nies that are go­ing to be more suc­cess­ful.

What’s the fu­ture for Sur­veyMon­key?

It’s build­ing a plat­form that al­lows people to make bet­ter de­ci­sions with data. We have a lot of people us­ing us al­ready, but how do we ex­tend that into all the dif­fer­ent places where people need it? We have launched an app for mo­bile phones and we are in­te­grat­ing with other soft­ware prod­ucts that will al­low people to put other data and in­for­ma­tion they have with data gen­er­ated from our sur­veys. We want to make it a much greater so­lu­tion.

Pho­to­graph by: James Croucher

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