Meet Leela Srinivasan, CMO at SurveyMonkey

July 16, 2020

Welcome to In CASEYou Missed It, where I take a brief break from my Weekly Walks to get to know some of the most interesting and innovative personalities behind the greatest startups in the world.

This time I met up with Leela Srinivasan, CMO at SurveyMonkey, to talk about Weird Al, Dr. Who, and the most underrated attribute of a leader.

How do you explain what you do to people who aren’t in the industry?

The amazing thing about working at SurveyMonkey is that unlike other places I’ve worked, and I’d even put LinkedIn in that category, people instantly know SurveyMonkey. So I get a lot of, “Oh, I know SurveyMonkey.”

I explain my job to my kids by saying that we help people in businesses get really important feedback so that people know what to do. And as a marketer, it’s really about helping my customers, whether they’re current customers or future customers. So they like to think that Mummy is helping people.

What’s the best part of your job?

I always do my best work when I really identify with or can relate to the product and the culture, so I feel super lucky to be a leader at a company where the culture speaks so profoundly to me and the product is something I’ve used multiple times over the years.

There’s an incredibly valuable set of products that we go to market with that have only become more valuable in this era. The management playbook’s gone out the window and we’re finding the organizations, now more than ever, understand the need to listen to people that they’re serving in order to do the right thing.

More with Leela: SurveyMonkey’s CMO On Making Marketing More Human

I love the fact that the company values, culture and product all resonate with me. And then I’m seeing that reflected in how the market is really turning to us.

Leela’s favorite advice for overcoming imposter syndrome

If there were a SurveyMonkey movie, or a movie about your life, who would play you?

I have no idea, but I do know it’d definitely be a musical. I love music—and I have a secret fantasy to write a work-related musical. I just haven’t ever got the time to do it.

Do you have a favorite musical?

Hamilton’s hard to beat. I loved La La Land. Singing in the Rain might be my all-time favorite, though—it’s up there with West Side Story.

Who is your favorite superhero?

Wonder Woman. I admire her physical strength and determination, her style, her purity. I think she’s got it all.

If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?

Sticking with the Wonder Woman theme, I’d love to have a lasso of truth. I’d fly to DC and run around lassoing politicians because I’m so tired of all the BS and the corruption and the finger pointing. It is the absolute antithesis of what society needs right now. So I think the lasso would come in quite handy.

Who is your role model?

My parents have been hugely influential. I learned the value of hard work from my dad, and how not to take myself too seriously from my mum. Outside of the home, I’d go with Ruth Bader Ginsberg for everything she’s pioneered and dealt with in her incredible career. If you haven’t seen Notorious RBG, that’s well worth a watch.

What’s the most useful tool you’ve discovered in the last year and how has it changed things for you?

About a month before the pandemic hit, we started using Zoom at SurveyMonkey. It’s been a game-changer for us.

A “tool” that I’ve been using since the pandemic is a framework from Yale called the Mood Meter. It’s basically a four-block framework of how people are feeling.

Back in March and April, when we were all adapting to COVID-19, I used the Mood Meter at the beginning of a bunch of my leadership team meetings because I found it was a really useful tool to open up the discussion. The conversation—the very needed conversation—around how people were actually, literally feeling in the moment. Because we’ve been ping-ponging all over the place in COVID times.

What would you be doing if the internet didn’t exist?

I’d be teaching my own third- and fifth-graders. If Google classroom weren’t here, then they’d need me to kind of lead it. But kids aside, in the absence of lockdown, I would be running in the sunshine and writing music or writing literature.

What’s something that you’ve learned in the past six months that you think everybody should know?

I was always reasonably handy in the kitchen, but I think in the last several months I’ve learned how to cook something from anything.

Some of the best things I’ve made so far: homemade pasta and a ragu-type sauce with Beyond Meat; white chocolate chip bread pudding, which was taken from Ayesha Curry’s cookbook The Seasoned Life; and a freestyle tater-tot casserole that I didn’t use a recipe for.

What was your favorite TV show when you were a kid?

I grew up in Scotland, and I have vivid memories of playing Dr. Who in my backyard. The reason they’re vivid is that whoever was playing the Dalek would have an empty laundry basket on their head. It sort of worked.

What’s the last book you read?

I have a pile of quarter-read books by my bed. The last ones I got through were the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith, a nom de plume for J.K. Rowling. It’s a gritty detective series set in the UK. I’ve been struggling with Rowling’s offensive stance on the trans community—having been a huge Harry Potter fan for many years, I’m trying to separate the literature from the human, but I’ll admit it’s hard.

What song gets you pumped up in the morning?

My kids would tell you it’s A-ha’s “Take on Me.”

Do you have an unusual skill?

I like to write parody lyrics for work-related things. So just envision a more wholesome, corporate Weird Al Yankovic. We did a song to launch our new mission, vision and values at SurveyMonkey, and I also rewrote “Shallow” for our CFO who left last year, then performed it with our President, CTO and General Counsel.

How do you manage your inbox?

This feels like a trick question. I think what I’m supposed to say is that I’m a zero inbox person, because all good leaders are surely zero inbox people, right? The uncomfortable truth is that I manage my inbox very poorly.

I have a handful of rules in place for auto-routing of certain emails. And I definitely hit the junk button fairly frequently on unsolicited stuff that comes in. But otherwise, my inbox is a bit of a morass. I think it’s because I got complacent using Gmail in my last job, and it was eminently searchable so I no longer felt the need to organize or delete anything. But now I have a less searchable email tool, so my strategy has come back to haunt me.

What are the three most important qualities of a leader?

Curiosity, empathy and resilience.

Intellectual curiosity is something I look for in hires. Curiosity is alive and well at SurveyMonkey. We’re big believers in having a growth mindset, and the fact that people continue to learn and grow and develop over time. Curiosity is just a really important attribute for leaders.

Read more interviews with the most interesting humans in SaaS

Partner at OpenView

Casey leads the end-to-end strategy & programming for OpenView’s network of industry experts, advisors & corporate partners. Her role is focused on creating connections between founders & their teams and the partners, advisors, board members & events they need to reach their goals. Additionally, she manages the OpenView portfolio peer networks and hosts the #WeeklyWalk series.