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Brent Chudoba.
Brent Chudoba.

Brent Chudoba must like monkeys, or something.

After spending the past seven years helping grow SurveyMonkey from a 15-person team to a global tech giant, Chudoba is moving his family up north to Seattle where he’ll take on the chief operating officer role at photo-editing startup PicMonkey.

Monkey jokes aside, Chudoba told GeekWire this week that he sees huge potential for both PicMonkey and Seattle as a startup city.

When he joined SurveyMonkey back in 2009 — Chudoba was the first hire of the late Dave Goldberg — the Bay Area company had just taken a majority investment from Spectrum Equity after building up a solid revenue stream since launching a decade prior.

Chudoba eventually became chief revenue officer and helped grow SurveyMonkey into the dominant online survey platform with more than 700 employees.

But he did a bit of reflection during a tough 2015, particularly after the tragic death of Goldberg, the former SurveyMonkey CEO and a mentor of Chudoba’s who passed away about one year ago while on vacation in Mexico.

WebChudoba stayed with the company through the end of last year, helping it rebound and go through a CEO change. But he knew it was time for something else.

“It just kind of felt like it was time to step back and figure out how I could leverage these seven great years of seeing a Silicon Valley-based company go from a very good business to a great global business,” Chudoba said.

Chudoba learned more about PicMonkey after Spectrum Equity — the same firm that invested in SurveyMonkey seven years ago — paid $41 million this past July to invest in the Seattle startup.

As he took a closer look at PicMonkey, Chudoba realized that the company was in a similar position as SurveyMonkey in 2009 — a profitable and sustainable business, with plenty of room to grow.

“I’ve seen what happens when companies scale from 20 or 30 people up to several hundred, and the challenges that come with that,” said Chudoba, who actually worked at Spectrum as an associate before arriving at SurveyMonkey. “We did a lot of things right at SurveyMonkey, but I would also do a lot of things differently given the experience I’ve had for the past seven years. The chance to do that and pass along those learnings really excites me.”

Chudoba is also excited to move his family — which includes a wife and a new-born son — from the Bay Area to Seattle. He said the Emerald City shares quite a few similarities with San Francisco, given its livable environment and the bevy of technical talent available. But he did note the less-expensive housing climate and a more relaxed/under-the-radar tech culture in Seattle, which was another attractive aspect about moving up the West Coast.

“This is going to be a new trend we see of experienced folks uprooting and settling down in Seattle to do the same things that have happened throughout the Bay Area,” Chudoba said.

PicMonkeyChudoba, who traveled to Seattle numerous times while working at SurveyMonkey, said he’s somewhat surprised there aren’t more startups coming out of Seattle. He looks forward to helping recruit folks to PicMonkey — particularly people who might be ready for a change from a large tech incumbent like Amazon or Microsoft.

“I feel very excited to be toward the front edge of a hot spot like Seattle,” he said.

PicMonkey, an online tool that allows users to edit photos, create collages, and design graphics, is building out an impressive leadership team following the Spectrum investment. It recently brought on former Lynda.com and PopCap Games CTO Frits Habermann and hired former Microsoft finance director Celeste Sipherd.

Chudoba said he sees another similarity between how SurveyMonkey built its team and what PicMonkey is doing now.

“One thing I learned from Dave [Goldberg], was to take smart people with a lot of upside from multiple disciplines and give them a shot to do things when you don’t really know how a certain business will grow or where there isn’t a playbook on how to run your startup,” he said. “It was fun learning how great leaders surround themselves with amazing people.”

SurveyMonkey employees help prep a meal and play music at a charity event for a local veterans associate. Photo via Brent Chudoba.
SurveyMonkey employees help prep a meal and play music at a charity event for a local veterans associate. Photo via Brent Chudoba.

Since 2012, nearly two billion images have been created and edited in PicMonkey. But Chudoba said that “most people haven’t heard of PicMonkey,” noting yet another similarity to SurveyMonkey back in 2009.

“This is sort of a hidden gem of a business,” Chudoba said.

Beyond helping PicMonkey attract more customers and make more money, Chudoba said he wants to take what he learned about culture and work-life balance from Goldberg and SurveyMonkey, and apply that to the team at PicMonkey as the company grows. He explained how Goldberg was adamant about not only creating a performance-driven culture, but one that was also family-oriented and supported a work/life balance.

“People think of it as a place not just where they work, but as their second family,” he said. “That’s something I’ll always value, and I don’t think I could work in a culture where we didn’t support that. When people know they have your support in good and bad times, it will lead to a more loyal group of people that aren’t just about a paycheck but rather doing something special with people you enjoy spending time with, in or out of the office. We just built something bigger than a job, and that’s something I want to take with me to PicMonkey.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire Chairman Jonathan Sposato is CEO of PicMonkey. 

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