Here are some of the descriptions you’ll be hearing in coming days about Dave Goldberg, who died suddenly Friday at 47: friend, dad, husband, brother, Midwesterner, entrepreneur, poker player, mensch, investor, mentor.
It is with no hyperbole to say Goldberg was one of the most beloved among the truly successful people in Silicon Valley. He was a bright kid from Minnesota who graduated from Harvard and landed in Los Angeles working in the music industry. He made his bones selling a music startup to Yahoo, where he stayed on for a time as an executive in the Terry Semel era.
He was already a big deal when he met a big-deal executive at Google, Sheryl Sandberg. He eventually moved north when they became a couple. Goldberg went on to lead the investment group that bought SurveyMonkey, the cash-generating online company that pioneered the “freemium” business model so popular today with next-generation software companies like Evernote, Dropbox, and Eventbrite.
(I wrote about SurveyMonkey in Fortune when Goldberg raised debt in 2013 as a way of delaying an IPO and again just recently when he debuted a new benchmarking service. Dave is the first person who explained to me that “freemium” was going to be a big deal. He also was a natural manager, and he spoke about talent in 2013 at Brainstorm Tech in Aspen. Check out the now poignant Q&A he did right before the conference. )
Let’s cut straight to the chase about what everyone said about Dave Goldberg: Had he not been married to one of the most famous personalities in Silicon Valley, he would have been known first as one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the Valley. I’ve known Goldberg for years, and being known as Sheryl Sandberg’s husband never bothered him in the least. He knew exactly who he was. A handful of years ago we had lunch because someone had suggested to him that he might hire me to work at SurveyMonkey. It took me about a minute to politely explain why I was fantastically happy doing what I was doing, which he understood immediately because he felt the same way about what he was doing. We spent the next part of lunch comparing notes about how blessed we were to be busy, fulfilled people who managed to spend plenty of time being dads and husbands too.
Goldberg had an encyclopedic knowledge of the history and nuanced relationships in the music industry and Silicon Valley. He had a talent for explaining the relevant fact in business transactions that were more complex than they needed to be. He was a quiet “angel” investor in multiple Silicon Valley deals, both individually and through VC funds that wanted access to his smarts and his contacts. He tended always to know what was going on, and if he didn’t he was the kind of guy who said he didn’t know.
Goldberg was humble about his success, and he also was a gracious and generous connector. Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas he and brother Rob, a Los Angeles entrepreneur, hosted a dinner for their many, many friends in the technology and entertainment industries. I think Dave took great pride in knowing that the guest list was a combination of A-list industry players and his close personal friends. Often they were the same person. (No true recollection of Goldberg could fail to mention that he loved to play poker, often late into the night. He possessed a keen mathematical mind, and I’m told by reliable sources he usually won.)
I reached out by email to Goldberg for help on a story three days ago. He called an hour later, but I missed his call. He tried me again Thursday morning, and we spoke as he and Sandberg were on their way to the airport for a weekend getaway. As a journalist and a friend, it was a classic and amusing moment for me. I could hear Sandberg next to him doing business on the phone in her direct, businesslike manner. Goldberg did exactly what I asked him to: He made a helpful connection to a friend of his who might be helpful to me. That’s the kind of guy he was.
You just don’t meet many people who are talented, successful, bright, kind, humble, and universally admired and liked.
Words can’t begin to describe how much Dave Goldberg will be missed.
Fortune editor Alan Murray interviewed Goldberg at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Here's a clip of the interview: