Interview with Zander Lurie, CEO of Survey Monkey, at the WebSummit
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Zander after his talk The power of asking ‘why’ at the Web Summit this year. He’s a very real and approachable guy.
— Patrick van der Valk (@pvalk) November 7, 2017
Zander, thanks for taking the time to talk to Irish Tech News. What was the ‘why’ behind starting the People Powered Data mantra for the company?
For 15 years we grew up with individuals who brought SurveyMonkey into the enterprise and organizations big and small. People from different parts of the company brought in SurveyMonkey because they had important questions to ask their customers, their employees, etc. As we’ve grown as we have scaled there’s so much mission-critical data on our platform so that we needed to elevate our relationship with the enterprises. When we think about big companies, there are thousands of people using SurveyMonkey at these companies and we and these companies want to have a real relationship so if people powered data platform leverages all of our skills and enables us to do things to do things in those products that advantage the user, advantage the company and creates a strong relationship. So we have a customer powered data offering, the SurveyMonkey CX solution. We have an employee data powered solution, SurveyMonkey Engage, which is really about measuring employee engagement, and we have an audience product that will help you assess the future customers in the market you’re going to. So was a natural evolution.
Does your software only allow people to access and question people they know? Or does your software allow clients to engage with people they did not know before?
Both. So for people that you know, for example you have their email from your blog or other places, you can put a SurveyMonkey there and collect all the data, analyze the data and do what you please. If you want to reach another population. For example, you want to reach women in London between the ages of 25 and 39, with a college education and children. You can come to us and we can help you create that panel for you. You can say this is exactly where want to reach and I want to reach 1500 of them and I need to reach them by next Friday for a piece I am working on. And we will charge you to reach that audience. That is our audience product. We’re only able to do that because 3 million people take surveys on our platform each day. So as more more people tell us about themselves, their ZIP Code, their age, there gender, education we can reach back to them and say Patrick wants to ask you questions about X, Y, and Z and if they’re willing to take it we donate $0.50 to charity on their behalf.
SurveyMonkey has been around for a long time and has a very descriptive name. Now you’re moving into people powered data. That is very different. It’s a much larger goal then SurveyMonkey. How do you see your brand evolving? A brand is what other people tell you when you’re not in the room. How do you change the perceived focus of a household brand?
SurveyMonkey for many people is associated with a product. What we want to elevate it to is a family of products. As our brand has scaled and our audience is ubiquitous and everybody has familiarity as the market is moving and more more of these Q&A products are mobile we have such a unique opportunity to expand and have a deeper relationship with our customers and the enterprises, so it is incumbent upon us to show you the value of these new products and our hope and belief is that our existing customers will likely be the ones that introduce us to new customers and their companies, or the procurement officer or CIO or CMO. Because everybody had sort of a natural familiarity and trust with the brand, as long as we deliver some really compelling value we believe we have some great entrée to selling this new product. So hopefully in 2 years from now when we sit down you will associate SurveyMonkey to platform of a family of products a holding company for all these compelling solutions and not just “oh yeah, I took a SurveyMonkey”.
During your talk you talked about failure. What was your biggest failure that had a positive impact on you, why do you think that happened, and what did you learn from it?
I don’t know how much time you have to go through my failures. There many. The one at the top of my mind is when I left investment banking. That was my first job and I went in-house at CNET networks to lead the M&A. I think my first bias was to assess which companies we could buy. So I spent a lot of time networking, negotiating, and really working on our M&A pipeline and I didn’t spend as much time internally really getting to know the people and the players inside the company to assess where our strengths were. So I found when I came back with a big set of ideas that were informed by the market but not in informed by our internal capabilities, that set me back a few months in terms of my growth inside that company. It just taught me the importance of really asking questions, growing, learning the business before you go out and try to take a big swing.
As I mentioned today, if you’re not willing to acknowledge failure and celebrate what happened and what you learned from it internally, then the people you’re asking to take risks and bring ideas are going to be hesitant to that. If they only acknowledged when there’s a big win, and who people fail are punished or not given the next opportunity, then they are not to take risks. Risk is the only way to move forward.
You mentioned that company should cultivate a culture of curiosity. What are some of the hands-on examples that you have within Survey Monkey to do that?
It is an ongoing journey for us to live that mission and I think we do a few things. First, management is very accessible. We do a group town hall every week and I get on stage with the leadership team and we highlight some key wins or losses or hires from the week, and then open it up to Q&A and people are encouraged to ask raw questions, and we are not scripted. We have authentic conversations. So I hope people recognize there is accessibility and if they have questions and concerns they should raise them and they get real answers. Even if we don’t have a good answer. The 2nd thing is that we have a reward system called Bonusly where people can award bonusly points the someone for living one of our values. So we have 5 corporate values, so if you do some thing that embodies ‘trust the team’ then people can send a bonusly reward to you and everybody internally can see it. And you can send me one for ‘powering the curious’ or to Irena for ‘you are accountable’. She is 6 months pregnant and planned perfect trip over here and she’s living the value of ‘you are accountable’. So people see the value system being honored. We also have a very diverse culture. Almost half of our board of directors are women. We have strong female leadership and diversity in the leadership team. Part of the reason we do it is so that all voices and opinions can be represented. And thirdly, it partially comes out of the hiring process. It’s not always the loudest person, or the person that raised their hand and grabbed the microphone. Curiosity can manifest itself in various ways. The best kind of curiosity is born out of your expertise. You know something about your industry. If you’re in our legal group, or in sales, or in our billing engineering group, and you noodling on something and you mobilize others and bring those views together and you come with a thesis or hypothesis. So that doesn’t have to be “I have a question where is the microphone?”. It really can be ‘I have a plan. I have an idea. I want to do a growth hacking or try out a new business. What have we changed our marketing plan to go XYZ?”. I don’t have to do a lot to make people curious. People at SurveyMonkey are innately curious and we try to hire really smart and empathetic people from the start. Some poeple you are not that curious and therefore not all that interesting to work with.
Let’s assume that you can get everybody on the planet to answer one question on SurveyMonkey. What is the question that you want to know the why to?
What can your organization do to foster a culture of curiosity at your company? So if I were management, boy would I really care. I would love to see it by men and women, youth and elder, Lisbon versus New York City, people that worked with me less than 2 years or more than 2 years. All the different ways you can cut that data which can do on SurveyMonkey will give you incredible insights and let you reprogram how you create your culture. What would you change? Would you change compensation? Would you change hiring methods? Would you change what kind of holiday parties you have? Or how we get employee feedback? What kind of software tools we use? The best ideas come from your team, not the CEO.
In 5 to 10 years from now where you see SurveyMonkey being?
I love the industry where we are competing in. We are at the center of helping people and organizations build better insights based on the data they collect and then the ability to benchmark and contextualize that to the industry there in. So I see is being used by billions of knowledge worker inside their companies with a much deeper relationship to our platform and getting significantly more insights so they can do better in their business, in their nonprofit, at their university. When I hear all the different ways people allocate resources that is not informed by data it kinda bums me out. We are duty-bound to serve our employees, our customers, are shareholders. Ask them. They want to give you feedback. They care that you care. So provide that feedback and what you get that feedback then better act on it. Otherwise you’re say that their opinion is not that valuable. There is so much growth opportunity for us globally to do more to help our customers deliver better insights.
— Simon Cocking (@SimonCocking) November 13, 2017