SurveyMonkey looks to take on the world from Dublin

Chief executive Zander Lurie talks about data-driven insights and Dublin as a hub

SurveyMonkey chief executive Zander Lurie: “There are more than three billion knowledge workers globally and they all need to be actively listening and to have more insights that help their organisations work better.”

SurveyMonkey chief executive Zander Lurie: “There are more than three billion knowledge workers globally and they all need to be actively listening and to have more insights that help their organisations work better.”

 

When SurveyMonkey was thrown into crisis following the unexpected death of its beloved chief executive Dave Goldberg (AKA Mr Sheryl Sandberg) just over two years ago, his close friend Zander Lurie stepped up to the mark and took over the running of the company.

The move was meant to be temporary with another of Goldberg’s close friends, the former Hewlett-Packard executive Bill Veghte, coming in as chief executive a short time later with Lurie switching to become chairman. However, when Veghte fell out with investors, Lurie quickly found himself in the hot seat again, this time on a permanent basis.

The tech veteran, who previously headed GoPro’s media division (and still serves on its board), before becoming chief executive of SurveyMonkey in January 2016, admits that following in the footsteps of Goldberg has been no easy feat.

“I’m fully in the seat now but when I took the job it was largely as a commitment to carrying on Dave’s legacy,” says Lurie, who has also had roles with the likes of CBS and CNET.

“I initially stepped up to be leader less than 48 hours after he passed away and it was tough, especially as I myself was in mourning, and was still doing another job. But I’m now 100 per cent focused on capitalising on the growth opportunities that are there for this company. I believe we can extend globally into new products and markets and it still feels like the early innings for what we can achieve as a team,” he adds.

We’re sitting in SurveyMonkey’s swish offices in Dublin 4 and Lurie, who is on a three-day visit to Ireland, is outlining how he has settled into being head honcho at the online polling giant.

‘Incredible resilience’

“Obviously we’ve experienced some turbulence but this is a company whose employee base has demonstrated incredible resilience. You have two choices at times of crisis. You can unravel or rally together and act as a team ahead of anyone individual. We chose the latter,” says Lurie, who has been a board member of the firm since 2009.

Established in 1999 by Ryan and Chris Finley in Palo Alto, California, SurveyMonkey is known and used at some stage by practically everyone online. Chances are if you’ve ever filled in an online survey, then you have used their platform.

However, while it was originally consumer-orientated, the company has increasingly shifted into the enterprise space with a bunch of products aimed at helping businesses uncover data-driven insights.

It was a smart move to make. In 2009, when the firm was acquired by a private equity consortium led by Spectrum Equity and including Bain Capital Ventures, it had revenues of $27 million and 14 employees. Fast forward to now and SurveyMonkey is generating turnover of about $200 million with 700 employees, about 50 of which are based in Ireland.

The company, which is valued at about $2 billion, is widely tipped to go public shortly. Ahead of that, it has embarked on a major rebrand, which also includes the rollout of more business-friendly products.

Customers include 99 per cent of Fortune 500 companies and SurveyMonkey estimates it receives some three million survey responses a day.

This is Lurie’s third visit to Ireland and while it is to be brief given he needs to get back home to his heavily pregnant wife, he’s glad to be in the city.

While the Irish subsidiary currently mainly focuses on areas such as customer services, that is expected to change.

Dublin hub

“Dublin will be an increasingly important part of our business,” he says.

“We are an emerging world-class internet company and all such companies grow to the point where their US business becomes a minority of their revenues. We’re not there yet but we aspire to be and Dublin is the hub of all our international efforts,” Lurie adds.

SurveyMonkey incorporated a company in Ireland in September 2013 and started hiring locally the following year. It followed the path that many other tech firms have here, starting with recruiting for largely back office roles such as customer service. However, increasingly the company is beginning to hire for more specialist jobs such as engineering in Dublin.

“Three years from now I think the office size here will double and hopefully our business will tip over to the point where more than 50 per cent of revenues are international,” says Lurie.

It is nearly there. At present, 49 per cent of users are outside of the US and international accounts are growing at about 60 per cent year-on-year.

“We’re hiring locally and we’re also relocating people over from the US. Obviously most of the tech experts are still at home but we want to make sure they hear from Dublin on how to get things right for other markets,” he added.

SurveyMonkey’s core platform directly supports 16 languages and it can deliver surveys in nearly 60 of them. However, Lurie is alarmingly frank in describing how well the company is supporting some markets.

“We have dozens of languages to support but I’m modest to recognise that we suck in a number of them,” he says.

Survey platform

“We need to get a lot better because there’s nothing worse than interacting with an application and it responds to you in a disjointed manner. You really have to nail it because if you mess it up by as little as 3 per cent you may as well not even try,” Lurie adds.

He says that getting it right is important because what started as a handy tool has evolved into a survey platform that is trusted around the world.

“Millions of people have intersected with SurveyMonkey [and] we’re privileged that the people who send surveys out through the platform are sending them to people they care about,” says Lurie.

“People trust our brand and that is because we don’t abuse their private information. SurveyMonkey is used to collect critical data and we’ve evolved so that we can help them analyse and do something with it in different ways,” he adds.

More than 80 per cent of SurveyMonkey’s paid accounts are used for business purposes. But it wants to convert more of the 50,000-plus organisational domains in its user base into paying customers.

Last month, SurveyMonkey announced a major overhaul of its platform and the introduction of several new specialist products such as CX and Engage, focused on customer experience and HR respectively. In addition, there is Genius, which incorporates machine learning to improve surveys and generate better results.

As Lurie sees it, times have changed and gut reaction is no longer the way to decide business strategy.

Knowledge workers

“If you’re an old white guy who thinks he can manage everything based on his gut then I’ll bet against you. Even Steve Jobs – who had such a famous feel for consumers – wasn’t born that way. His gut was informed by billions of data points collected along the way,” he says.

“There are more than three billion knowledge workers globally and they all need to be actively listening and to have more insights that help their organisations work better. We can help with that,” adds Lurie.

As Lurie looks to build the company’s international business, he faces plenty of challenges, among them General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which comes into force next May.

GDPR is the most comprehensive data protection legislation to be passed in the history of the European Union. Lurie sees it as a big opportunity for SurveyMonkey.

“It is super important for our customers. The EU is a leader in this space and GDPR is something we want to be extra vigilant about conforming with. We think it will benefit customers and us and I feel it will keep US internet companies on the straight and narrow,” he said.

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