David Goldberg

David Goldberg is chief executive of SurveyMonkey, a Palo Alto-based online survey company. (Jeanne dePolo / SurveyMonkey)

There isn’t much David Goldberg, 44, hasn’t already done.

At 26 he sold his first start-up, Launch Media, for $12 million to Yahoo. Goldberg then served as general manager of Yahoo Music, and later left to work at Benchmark Capital as entrepreneur in residence. In 1999 he acquired a fledgling online survey company called SurveyMonkey and grew it into a billion-dollar business.

He also happens to be married to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, whom Forbes declared to be one of the most powerful women in the world.

The two met in 1996 when they both were working in Los Angeles, said Goldberg, who recently sat down with The Times before he spoke to an audience at "Start-ups: Uncensored" seminar at the Shutters on the Beach hotel in Santa Monica.

"We went out to dinner and a movie and hit it off. She fell asleep on my shoulder, which I thought was great," Goldberg said. "Turns out, I learned much later, she sleeps through every movie, on any shoulder that is available, but it worked on me at that moment of time."

Although Sandberg was dating someone else at the time and later moved to Washington, D.C., they remained good friends and started dating six years later.

“On the day–to-day stuff we both ask each other for advice. But it is great having one of the smartest people in business as your partner. I don’t have to make an appointment to ask what you think about this or whatever, it’s good with my team. I always say, 'Well Sheryl said.' "

In a competitive work environment in which many judge work ethic by the number of hours spent in the office, Goldberg encourages a work-life balance. He says he tries to remain rooted to his family and strives to lead by example. Despite the demands of their jobs, both Goldberg and Sandberg leave work at 5:30 p.m.

"We made the decision on this particular thing, that we are going to be home with our kids. I am at home with my kids from 6 to 8. If I have a work dinner, I’ll schedule to have dinner after 8. But we’re working at night. You’ll get plenty of emails from me post-8 p.m. when my kids go to bed."

While most CEOs stress success, Goldberg said he is big on failure.

"You want to hire great people and give them the opportunity to fail. You need to let them figure things out as they go along," he said. "If they fail repeatedly, then you probably have to find a different person, but if you don’t let people have that opportunity to fail, they don’t get to learn and grow and try things."

Although meetings are necessary and an important way to communicate and share information, Goldberg keeps them to a maximum of three regularly scheduled meetings a week.

"I just find that people can waste a lot of time in meetings, so I try to restrict meetings to the minimum that they need to be," he said. "But I have lots of time in my day where I am available to have informal conversations, where I grab someone to talk, and people can just walk up to my desk and talk to me."

He added: "We have a lot to do. But it is not whether or not we get it done tomorrow or the next day that is going to matter. So we get it done over a long period of time. For me going home at 5:30 is as much about my own choices, but also giving my team those choices too."

Want to work for Goldberg? SurveyMonkey employes both business school grads without much work experience alongside veterans with years under their belts. According to Goldberg, hiring people who are strong where he is weak is cheaper and more practical than becoming stronger in the weak places.

Goldberg’s main hiring criteria: "People who have worked in a small environment and a big environment."

"We are a big business, but we try to pretend we are small. I want people to understand the pluses of both. If you have just been in a start-up, you don’t really understand how to scale things. If you hire people from big companies, they think their job is to go to meetings all day — that doesn’t work either," he said.

"So it has to be people who understand both. You need to look for places within the organization where you can say, 'This is a place where I can hire a really smart, talented person who knows nothing about what we’re doing, but in a year or two in that job they are going to learn, and then they can do a lot more and will have a lot of raw skills.' "

Goldberg recently raised $800 million for SurveyMonkey through a combination of debt and equity. Of that money, $444 million came from new investors buying equity in the company. The rest was debt. The deal helped the company avoid having to seek funding through an initial public stock offering.

“We did this very large and unusual debt and equity recapitalization in January to give us the opportunity to build the business without having to go public," he said. "So we’re not saying we’re never going public, we’re just saying we don’t need to right now."

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