Zander Lurie explains how it felt to be SurveyMonkey's CEO after his best mate Dave Goldberg died

SurveyMonkey CEO Zander Lurie. Photo: Imeh Akpanudosen/ Getty Images for CoachArt.

Dave Goldberg was half of one of Silicon Valley’s most powerful couples.

He was the CEO of the successful tech company SurveyMonkey, and husband of Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook.

Tragicallym he died after an accident on a treadmill nearly a year ago.

His death left its mark on the tech community worldwide. In an industry full of massive egos and cutthroat competitors, Goldberg was widely loved and revered as a genuinely nice guy.

US president Barack Obama even wrote a beautiful Facebook message in memory of the tech executive.

Also left reeling was SurveyMonkey.

After Goldberg’s death, the company brought on an interim CEO, Zander Lurie, who at the time was CEO of GoPro and chairman of SurveryMonkey’s board. He was replaced by industry veteran Bill Veghte the following July. After a “difference of opinion strategy”, Veghte stepped down as CEO, and two months ago, he was replaced by Lurie, who left GoPro to become SurveyMonkey’s permanent boss.

Business Insider caught up with Lurie during a visit to Australia last month, to open the company’s new Asia-Pacific HQ in Sydney.

“We’ve definitely gone through a very tumultuous 10 months. There’s nothing more jolting than having the sudden death of a beloved CEO,” Lurie said.

Lurie wasn’t just a colleague of Goldberg’s. They were best mates.

“Dave was one of my very best friends in the world. I still get super emotional at times,” Lurie said. “It’s a huge honour to help lead his team, and the board and other on the trajectory he put this company in place.”

For Lurie it was about taking what Goldberg had taught him to help steer SurveyMonkey in the direction of continued to be successful. He also recognises that it’s a new time for the company grow and explore more opportunities.

“I feel a lot of responsibility to work really hard and deliver. I’m super committed to making sure that this team and our customer base and shareholders get the very best long term outcome,” he said.

“He was older and wiser that I was, he taught me a lot when we were working together. I learned a lot about leadership and the business, and about strategy.

“But things change too, not just at SurveyMonkey, but in world politics and the economy and the stock market. I learned what I could from Dave and then I have to apply that to all the other stuff I’ve learned and try to make good decisions.

“I’ve been in the job eight weeks, the company is a very special company. There’s a lot of history, people believe they are working for a company that stands for something and they have a lot of trust in their colleagues and leadership team.

“I think any time you have a company, or brand as strong as ours, and a user base as large as ours, and a profitability structure that we have, you have a wealth of opportunities. That can be what products to invest in, what people to invest in, what markets to go after, what marketing messages to go after, and it’s never crystal clear.

“So we had a wealth of opportunities to pursue, we had strategic difference and that led to Bill deciding to move on, and when I joined I had a clear mandate that I believed in, that the board believed in, which was quickly assess where are we in the business right now with this wealth of opportunities and lets get really crisp and clear about what we were going to do to make some decision quickly.

“It was about putting the flag in the ground of: ‘Here’s the business we are going after, here is how we’re going to do it, who is on the team.’

“Now it’s about execution. We have all the opportunity to thrive and succeed but if we’re not super focused, and crisp about how we do it, then competition will take it.”

Open communication at all times

Keeping open lines of communication and transparency in the company, at a time when there was a lot of change and confusion, was the biggest priority for Lurie.

“When you have a business like ours which is based on survey and based on feedback, you can’t have an ivory tower, you have to operate with great transparency,” he said.

“That’s pretty natural to me, I like that environment. We don’t manage our employees, or manage our board. We have a set of operating principals, budget and values and that’s open to all employees and to the board.

“We have a great transparent culture we do a lot of group meetings in town halls. We go and see the people and we have an employee feedback loop – whether it’s Slack channels or employee reviews – I think the culture stands for constantly iterating and constantly giving feedback.”

When ask why he didn’t immediately take the CEO role following Goldberg’s death, he said it just wasn’t the right time.

“I was happy at GoPro, and the interim role was to provide some stability and support for the leadership team. When I committed to the interim role, my commitment to them was that I wouldn’t be a candidate for the job in that period, to create an open environment for the board to interview internal and external candidates,” he said.

When the board asked him again, following Veghte’s departure, Lurie says: “It was the right place for me to be.”

Moving forward

SurveyMonkey’s new Sydney HQ. Picture: Business Insider

Going forward, Lurie said SurveyMonkey is in a good position to execute plans that have been in the works for some time without action.

“We have a team poised to execute a really aggressive business plan so it’s a global game we’re playing, it’s a super competitive one,” he said.

“I think one of the challenges was my coming in eight months into what had been a pretty challenging time for the employee base. There was a strong need to make some decisions and provide some clarity.

“There had been a period where those decisions had been kind of sitting on the table for a while. People want to believe they want to believe that they are working for a team with high competency and integrity and they they’re on an important mission and I think we’re delivering that. It’s still a process but I think we’ve made good strides.

“And our customers time and money is valuable… we always want to be delivering more value than we’re charging – and I think we’re doing a pretty good job at that. But constantly simplifying and focusing that value proposition for the customer is critical.

“So, right now is retain and recruit world-class leaders who can drive that agenda. We’re blessed to have a profitable growing business around the world, and I want to make sure we fully capitalise on that.”

Business Insider ask whether taking the company public was part of the plan moving forward.

“Yeah, I think in the future there’s a likely IPO for this company,” Lurie said.

“We’ve raised over a billion dollars in the private capital market in the last seven years, we have some of the world’s greatest institutional shareholders and shareholders need to get a return on their investment.

“I’m committed to delivering value for our employees. An IPO is just another milestone in the long march, it’s not the finish line.

“I’d say in the next several years. You want to do it when you feel like all your revenue streams are firing at all pistons. And I feel like some our business is still on the early stages of growth before we go public.”

The Sydney office is all part of this plan with Australia considered to be a key growth market. SurveyMonkey has experienced a 116% YOY growth in the region.

“The culture and the demographics in this market are well situated for SurveyMonkey products,” said Lurie.

“It’s an entrepreneurial, SMB kind of market, there’s a large affinity using Saas products, and our brand stands for making great decisions. We all believe in what we do and we empower people to get stuff done.”

Now read: A look inside SurveyMonkey’s new Asia-Pacific HQ in Sydney.

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