In Memoriam: Dave Goldberg, Entrepreneurial Inspiration and the Nicest Guy I Ever Knew
I recently left SurveyMonkey after more than six wonderful years in a variety of roles, and I am embarking on a new mission to go out on my own as a growth advisor for enterprises looking to grow their organic visibility. My inspiration to take this step forward comes from someone whom I looked up to as one of the most amazing business leaders I ever met: Dave Goldberg, SurveyMonkey’s late CEO who passed away just over four years ago in May of 2015.
During my first couple of years at SurveyMonkey, I came into frequent contact with Dave because Dave believed in staying close to his team. I attended a meeting with Dave at least once or twice a week, and I found him remarkably kind and easygoing. Every question he asked was prefaced with “have you thought of” or “that’s great, but how about…”
He was an absolute savant when it came to numbers and metrics, but he never pounced when people stumbled. The first time I was put on the spot with a number I was astounded when Dave -- the CEO -- helped me think through my numbers, then praised me for coming up with the right logic!
Dave was one of the kindest human beings I have ever met in my career, but I only really learned what a truly special person he was shortly before his untimely passing.
After spending a couple of years in traditional growth and SEO, I got an idea in my head that I should move overseas to Singapore to get more international experience. When I tried to leave the company to follow this dream, Dave wasn’t having any of it.
Within 20 minutes of hearing from my manager that I planned to take a new role in Singapore, I was sitting across a table from Dave in his conference room. He asked me to share why I wanted to move overseas, and then he agreed with me that it was a great idea. He discussed ways that I could achieve my dream of living overseas while also continuing to work at SurveyMonkey. The sticking point was that SurveyMonkey did not have an office in Singapore nor did they want one.
After this meeting, when Dave and I could not come to an agreement on how I could both stay with the company and move to Singapore, I thought this had been decided. I would go with the option that I waiting for me in Singapore. I appreciated Dave's efforts, and I even felt sad that I was unable to continue working with him.
The next day, Dave emailed me that he had found a way to make it happen. He could place me at the office of one of our investors in Singapore and I could write myself a new job description. He even emailed the investor with me on cc, so I would see that I was welcome at their office.
But, Dave didn’t just send me to Singapore to help me to achieve a personal dream -- he insisted that it be on behalf of the company with all the benefits accorded any employee. With only a few weeks before my move date, Dave made sure that I was moving with the full company assistance on a company sponsored visa, foreign health insurance and relocation guidance.
And he did one more thing, that I only learned about when I returned. He was adamant that I remain an employee, so I could continue to vest my stock. He set up a full Asian subsidiary of SurveyMonkey which would allow me to continue to vest any shares that I was granted.
Dave’s personal interest in my dream didn’t end there. Dave made my goals his too. He asked me to present to him every month my learnings from Asia, and one of those meetings was the week of his passing.
Those two years of experience in Singapore has changed my life in so many ways but none of it would have happened if not for Dave. After Dave’s passing I made three personal changes:
- While I was interviewing for SurveyMonkey I had read Dave’s article in what was then called BusinessWeek about how he left work at 5pm to spend time with his family. I remember that when I had read that I scoffed at the idea that any CEO could truly leave the office that early and shut off, but when I got to know him and interacted him, I discovered how true it was. For a time I sat near Dave’s desk and while he didn’t always leave right at 5, he left pretty close to that time. When it comes to work, there is always tomorrow, but there might not always be a tomorrow for family time. During his lifetime, Dave made it clear that his priority was to his family, and I have done my best to internalize this lesson and do the same.
- Dave’s level of respect for other people was immense and it was the characteristic most discussed after he passed. He took a personal interest in the people that asked him for help and I know from other colleagues how much he cared about their lives and careers. I know I will never be like Dave, but I always try to help mentor anyone that asks me for help.
- Even further, the idea of moving to Singapore was motivated from deep within my gut, and no amount of discussion was going to change my mind. In my conversation with Dave about moving, he tried valiantly to change my mind - but then when he realized how deep my desire to move was, he flipped the script and asked how he could help. Dave didn’t just support me in the way he thought I should be supported, he helped to fulfill a dream in the way I wanted it to happen. It takes superhero strength to support someone in doing something you might disagree with, but that was Dave. When I am in a position to help, I think of Dave and try to be helpful for the recipient in the way they want support, not in the way I want to give it.
I can never be the person Dave was, but by using Dave as my compass I will always be striving to be a better human being. If there is anyway I can ever help you, I can be found on Linkedin or on my personal website. And, please don’t thank me -- thank Dave.