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
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.