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SurveyMonkey CEO On How To Build A Great Company: Raise Money From The Right People, Don’t Sweat Competitors

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At the fifth 500 Startups Accelerator Demo Day in Mountain View today, SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg gave some advice about how to build a great company based on his 20 years of experiences in tech. Along the way, he recounted the differences between now and 20 years ago when he embarked on an entrepreneurial journey with his first startup, CD-Rom magazine company Launch.

Launch was started mostly with funds from friends and family, raised in $10,000 increments for its first $100,000 seed fund. Later on, they raised another $650,000 and eventually went public before being bought by Yahoo. Goldberg said that in a lot of ways, the company was early with a lot of its technology — like music and video streaming at a time when broadband audiences weren’t large enough. Even so, the company at the time built the largest music and video site, with close to $200 million in revenue under Yahoo.

His current company, SurveyMonkey, made some business choices at first that might seem strange to the current startup market. Founded in 1999 by a single entrepreneur in Madison, Wisc., SurveyMonkey grew to be the premier survey company on the web, with a minimal amount of employees. It was just the founder and his brother until years later, and grew to become hugely profitable before Goldberg joined to take it to the next level.

Lessons learned from these two experiences? Build a support structure around you who you can get advice from. Also, hire those who are smarter than you. Goldberg said that in his first experience, he didn’t raise money from the right people, in part because he didn’t know whom to raise from at the start. He also advised entrepreneurs to stay away from being in stealth.

“Ideas are not the secret sauce here,” he said. He advised startups to talk about what they’re building and getting feedback from it.

As for what not to do? For one thing, don’t worry about competitors, especially if you’re opening up a new market. He also advised to build a product and not a feature on someone else’s product. “Companies that wait too long to build revenue models and business models miss something,” he said.