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Ep. 125 – Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO of Toluna

Today, my guest is Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO and Founder of Toluna. Toluna connects businesses with consumers to deliver real-time insights.

Under his leadership, Toluna has had a successful and storied legacy playing a key role in the market research space.

FIND FREDERIC ONLINE:

Twitter: @TolunaGroup

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/frederic-charles-petit-6ab967/

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LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch/


[00:00:00]

Here’s what you can look forward to in today’s episode.

[00:00:03]

You know I think that we have to recognize that companies have cycles and so if I look at the current cycle, I think that where we are right now is [INAUDIBLE] a decision that we made four or five years ago. And the decisions were very – I mean, looking back, very simple but you know at the time they were quit bold.

[00:00:30]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted, our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources, now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast, today my guest is Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO and founder of Toluna, Toluna connects businesses with consumers to deliver real time insights. Under his leadership Toluna has had a successful and stories legacy, playing a key role in the market research space. Frederic, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:01:21]

Thank you for inviting me, I’m thrilled.

[00:01:23]

So what did you parents do and how did that affect your career?

[00:01:27]

Yes, I think that’s a very good question, actually because my father which is a role model for me, was an entrepreneur, and across his career he had to change business, move countries, and I think I always looked at him as a very hard working person, always working hard and trying to show the example but also very low profile in terms of his talent or his authority or his interaction with people and I think that influenced me into wanting to build a business, and I think that’s the role model, clearly, and I saw the same with my mother, she was not working, but she was a very hard working person as well and she still is actually.

[00:02:28]

The subject of humility is interesting especially from contrasting the earlier generations to modern generation, there’s a lot of self promotion going on in social media now, myself included, I guess, how do you think the tension, or where is the tension between humility and at the same time talking about your whatever it is that you’re doing in order to promote your brand, your products and ultimately yourself, so that you can have a successful, modern career?

[00:03:02]

It’s a good question, I think that you can still be humble, the low profile for me is being humble, and you know having this mentality of a challenger, by that, I mean that the minute you believe that you are a leader and therefore you should have the status of a leader which I don’t know anyone who would think like that. I think you’ve already lost the envy, the traction, the appetite for growing and for change and I think being humble and passionate, I think these are tools that can follow you during all your career and you can still be humble and be proud of what you’ve achieved but I think that there is a fine line and clearly times have changed, but you can still be – try to accommodate the two.

[00:03:58]

Tell us about your transition from your early career in law to a start up of Toluna?

[00:04:06]

So yes, I wanted to be a lawyer and I became a lawyer, I did Corporate Law MA, I studied in France and at NYU, in the US, and I saw – I was in the US from 1995 to 1997 which doesn’t make me younger when I say that and I saw a lot of the startup and what we used to call the New Economy, and I came back to France, I started law and after – very quickly I understood that it was not a path for me, for the reason that we’re linked to my role model, my father, because I thought that law could be entrepreneurial as well, that I could create my own law firm and build a practice but with my expertise which was Corporate Law MA and the fact that I wanted to play with the large law firms, it was impossible. So I was very excited about the internet and the ability to start a business at that moment in time which I felt was unique, 1999-2000, there was uniqueness in that moment and I decided to move on and create that company.

[00:05:32]

It was a really interesting time in the US at that point in time for dot com based companies, in the middle of the Silicon Valley, it was just crazy, crazy, crazy everywhere you went, what was it like in Europe?

[00:05:46]

In Europe, I think things have changed a lot but I was leaving France by then, and in New York there was excitement and a feeling of being intrigued by the internet and startup culture, but it was much harder and especially in France at the time, it was harder to start a company, just starting a company even if you were not raising any funds was very hard, even if you had the funds, opening a bank account as a corporation, and all that, so there was a lot of excitement, people were a bit dubious about the reality of this business model, because a lot of the business model was how much cash do you burn, or how much hit on your homepage, and people weren’t seeing that much revenue, and it was not much so it was a dual feeling in terms of – but clearly things have changed, in France especially, it’s a much more entrepreneurial culture than it was back then.

[00:07:07]

Does it feel like the startup culture now is similar to what it was in 2000?

[00:07:13]

Do you mean in general, or – I think it has changed in a way, it’s much more sophisticated I think, I feel that although we were not the first one because I founded the company in 2000, so I was quite late if you compare to the US but I was in the first wave, I think that back then you could come with an idea and a business plan and start a company and raise the money, and that’s what exactly happened to me, I had an idea, we drafted a business plan and we went with that business plan along the back of that, not even having created a company, we raised the money, I think that with the dot come boom and then the dot com burst, and the sophistication of the investor and things have changed and there is a much more organized process from when you start to when you raise your seed and your series A and series B and so on and so forth, so it has changed. I think it’s not easier today than it was back then.

[00:08:36]

How did you navigate Toluna to survive the 2001 dot com bust?

[00:08:42]

That’s a good one, I think all my friends were in law firm, they all said I think it’s great, what you’ve tried, why don’t you come back, and so it’s what we call B to C, back to consulting, and B to L, back to law, and I was very stubborn and I did believe that consumer opinion and the opinion of the consumer would change the interaction between brands and consumer and ecommerce and so I felt as well, which is very important, I felt a sense of responsibility in terms of commitment to the investor, that they had trusted me with that fundraising and my role was to fight very hard to survive during that period, which was really the – it was the winter of the internet economy in Europe, it was really awful, I have to say, because everywhere we were going was in the research industry at the time, and we were trying to explain that online, online was going to change the industry, just based on the data collection basis, everyone was very – most of the people I would say, not everyone, most of the people that we met at the time were very – I don’t know how to say that in English, they didn’t believe in it, they said we should come back ten years from now. And so it was very tough and so the way you survive in those moments is that you regroup, you stay focused on a very few items, you have to change your business plan, you have to change your ambition, sometimes it’s a day of reckoning, what you wanted to achieve versus what you can achieve within the period, and I was fortunate to meet a couple of people who were very, very nice with me, because I had to do my fundraising, at the time 2001, and one has become a friend so I was going to launch for us in France a massive ad campaign, for people to join the community, the Toluna community, and so I went to a number of agencies, big ones, a very big one, a small one, medium one, maybe had enough time, and agencies to get feedback and one agency, the one agency I chose came back after three weeks and we had the contract to sign and they said we have the recommendation for you, I said give me the recommendation, and he said it’s one word, don’t do anything right now, and I was very fortunate because I met these guys who basically helped me save the money to go through that very tough period.

[00:11:57]

I love the attitude and the mindset of conservative growth especially set in the backdrop of such a crazy economic period for startups, I’ve got this mantra, run to revenue, race to profit, it really tries to get to you need to build your core product and then get customers but as soon as that core product is in place you absolutely need to stop that burn ratio, and move the business to sustainability.

[00:12:29]

But it’s tough, it was tough, so a lot of good people, I have to say that I met during these years and it’s tough you have to make those choices and sometimes choices are imposed upon you.

[00:12:45]

In 2014, you acquired Harris Interactive, what was that acquisition thesis, the biggest challenges, and the outcome that you were most proud of?

[00:12:56]

So first of all, I’m the CEO of a company called ITWP, which mean In Touch With People, actually, and ITWP owns two companies, it owns Toluna and Harris Interactive, so in 2014 we acquired Harris Interactive Europe, France, UK and Germany from Nissan, and that was quite a transformational acquisition, the acquisition was on the basis that we believed that there was a thesis as you said for digitalizing an online research agency and by that I mean that you can be online, but you’re not digital, by digital I mean using technology to produce and deliver insight almost in real time or in real time, and so we felt at the time that Toluna had a lot of this end to end technology, DIY consumer data, communities and that we could use all this Toluna technology to help Harris Interactive digitalize itself because Harris culture was already online interactive and it was easier and it was really a business case, we said we’re going to take this agency in the market which is flat, or flattish, or even declining, for traditional research, custom, by using – by leveraging the expertise, by leveraging their relationship and leveraging the technology of Toluna, they are going to go ahead of the market. And that’s basically what we’ve done and that was very challenging so what I said initially to the team, I said this is the first year, I want you to keep 100% of the staff, and I want you to keep 100% of the clients and I’m not here to disrupt, I’m here to help on that digital joining, and basically we did it, we grew the second year, ahead of the market and since then we’ve – I believe we’ve bid under the market share after a year, and Harris Interactive has been, I believe the example of a digital research agency, building the agency of the 21st Century which is the combination of end to end technology, access to seamless, access in real time to either people’s opinion or behavior and consulting expertise, but not repeating tasks that you can replace by automation and technology, reinventing the wheel, project after project, because the market has changed dramatically and what I believe brands, the brand manager or the marketer wants, they want almost real time access to people’s opinion and behavior, and I think that means that you absolutely need the digitalization to deliver on that, so I think that it was a bold move but I think the move was right when looking back.

[00:16:52]

In every acquisition there is this one plus one equals three and you’ve got to figure out where that value is, more often than not what I see in the thesis is reductions in staff, at a minimum redundancies are removed, how did you handle that differently?

[00:17:11]

It was not a cost driven acquisition, it was really a gross [INAUDIBLE] acquisition, and the fact is that we needed the expertise of the researcher in order to basically go back to gross but we needed the staff, the members of the staff to do higher value engagement with clients and not the repetitive one that you can replace by the technology, so that’s really what was driving the rationale for keeping – the headline was 100% of the staff, 100% of the client, and I understand if you’re doing an acquisition of companies that are – where there is overlap, then obviously you need to act differently.

[00:18:07]

What steps would you take if you were trying to get hired in the market research industry today?

[00:18:12]

I’m sorry, if I’m going to reverse the question if I may, I think that – and please that’s my perception of the market right now, if I’m a recruiter within a research agency the question I would ask myself day in and day out would be what steps my organization should take to hire the talent out there that may decide to go somewhere else in research or in a research company, because there is so much choice for people who are data driven and so much choice for people who understand – who have to purchase and can use a variety of segment or vertical other or industry other than within the context of a market research industry, where they can go to consulting, where they can go to media, they could go to ecommerce, they could go to even brick and mortar, and do that, so I think that the challenge for the industry right now is to attract those talents and to culturally understand that the world has changed, that the code what a research company should be and what type of staff a research company should hire has changed and that we need an influx of fresh energy from the less traditional staff that the research companies have recruited, so I think that if I am – if I was a graduate and I had choices, cards in my hand, and I wanted to go to a research company, I would show my difference versus the traditional researcher, and by that I mean we need what I call traditional researcher, people who understand the formality, the rules of research, and the foundation of research but we also need these people who have, who are crunching data, people we call data scientists, engineers, people coming from different backgrounds, and who certainly have across the board the ability to do it themselves and have learned that and I think that’s – really I think that that is the larger challenge for the research industry to attract that talent, so I would – how can we make ourselves more attractive.

[00:21:05]

One of the themes that I’ve seen emerge over the last five years, even more than that, is this responsibility it seems for the entire organization to conduct research, not just the market researchers, and so it’s created an empowerment which is great for everybody from the intern to the CEO to be able to conduct research, but this democratization of access to insights is creating some level of confusion, and a good example is of an international, I have a relationship with an international tech company, they’ve got five full time market researchers and they have 40 full time UX researches, that are partnered with the product team, and those 40 people are fitting outside what is traditional market research however they actually are doing customer satisfaction segmentation, a lot of the same type of work, this is causing confusion across the organization because you’ll have sometimes conflicting results, customer satisfaction being one of the more obvious opportunities for conflict, so how are you seeing this materialize in the industry?

[00:22:24]

Yes, it’s very interesting what you are saying because you know we are founding members of the Insight on Demand Consortium, we have right now close to 150 companies who have joined the consortium, a lot of consumer brands and one of the streams of discussion in the consortium is how do we cope with the silos between consumer insights and CX and how do we make sure that maybe we create more link within, and it’s possible, within the organization between those two parties or those two departments because in a lot of instances they operate in silos and I think that’s an issue moving forward because you need a lot of the crossover or the joining those dots, I think that’s quite important.

[00:23:29]

What are the three characteristics of an all star employee at Toluna?

[00:23:33]

I think that we have a series of values and those values, we basically, it’s not just to put them on the wall, I do believe that the values of the company are you know what unite the staff and when the staff need to regroup when things are tough and the values make the staff and the company excel when things aren’t going in the right direction. So I think that the first thing is that if you’re working at Toluna, and I’ve learned that over the years, you need to show the values of the company and the values – a couple of the values are meritocracy which means that wherever you are, wherever you come from, you have a chance of building your career within the group and growing within the group, regardless of which region you are, which department you are, and that’s very important, rewarding talent. One other value is that we like bold moves, that’s what we like, we like making a move like the move that we make over the time, and those – and standing by the bold move, we like to act as one team that succeeds, not just being one team, but one team that succeeds, and these values come back to the early days of the company when we were like 15, 20, 50, so I think that’s the first thing and I’ve learned very – sometimes it was tough, I’ve learned that if you recruit someone that does not share the value of the organization of the company, it’s problematic, I think that you need to have obviously the expertise, but that’s – I would say that’s a given, if you recruit someone for the wrong role, it’s a mistake for both parties, so that’s a problem and you have to be passionate about your work, because I think passion is a tool that you can use to go faster, to win, and I think that there needs to be a sense of loyalty between the company and the individual back and forth and I think that sharing those values, having the right skill set and ensuring that we help people get to the position where they can excel, and also having loyalty back and forth, and so I think that a company has multiple constituencies and actually that was my thesis when I was a law student was the constituencies of a company and the constituencies are obviously the shareholder, we need to give back to the shareholder, the clients, the staff and the community in which you operate, so I think that we need to look at those things when we recruit someone and sometimes we make mistakes, we have to recon the mistake. I have, there were times when I was doing a lot of the recruitment, I made some mistake, I recruited people who were excellent in their job, fantastic, but didn’t share at all the value of the company, and so that was a problem and we have to recon that and it’s not reconning just for the company, for the benefit of the company, it’s for the benefit of the two parties, the individual and the company, and there are stars within Toluna, a lot of them that have gone very fast within the company because we trust people, we trust people are doing – want to do better, want to do their job better, and the trust that we’re giving them is I think critical to take bold moves to act as one team to not just satisfy clients but to delight them, to be the company and that’s all – I said that yesterday to the team, one of the first things I said when I founded this company was I said we want to be the company, it’s very simple, that answers the phone at 6pm on a Friday to a client that needs us because we’ll be the company that that client will call at 9am on a Monday. And that was very simple values, it was delight the customer, but at the time I didn’t need to put that on the board because we were only 25 people.

[00:28:26]

One of the benefits about being old is, for me, is I can look back over my career and see how different choices I’ve made have impacted where I am today and one specific example of this is working with Braden Johnstone, and a client on Christmas Eve in order to solve a particularly difficult project that was in field at that point, we worked Christmas Eve, we worked a little bit on Christmas Day, project wound up going great, and that particular client was Edwin Wong which was my very first brand interview that I did at Happy Market Research, so you’ve got to remember this is right, the early days of Decipher, in fact Holland Partners where he was working at the time was only five people, so this is super early in everybody’s careers, you fast forward and now he’s the head of Insights for a major brand, the decisions and the way that we act in those early days massively – there’s a big lever there that impacts our personal brand and how we’re viewed later on in our career and I believe that it’s a core tenet if you treat people well through your process then they’ll be there for you in the end.

[00:29:40]

Exactly, it’s – I remember once I had – we had to do an acquisition, we had someone there, a very nice person, and a client calls and it’s a true story, I sit in the office, it’s a Friday and the client called and the phone is ringing, and the guy doesn’t move, and I said are you answering the phone, yes but we need to educate the client that they can’t call us after an hour, and we just acquired that company, it was one of the – it was not one of the senior managers, it was one of the business managers of the company, a very nice guy actually, and I said no, wait a minute, I’m not teaching the client any lesson, that’s not the role, I try to work with clients, but we are here to serve the client so if they are calling at six or seven pm on a Friday it must be very important so that’s where I confronted myself a very long time ago to the fact that culture is key, you have to share the same culture. And you can be different, you can operate differently, but the fundamental set of values needs to be the same for success. Otherwise, because when things aren’t growing, when the overall market is growing, no one cares but that’s when the market gets tougher and if you don’t share a set of shared values, then it’s – I think that the overall organization is, the English would say, in sticky wicket.

[00:31:29]

What is one of the secrets that drives growth, profitability, or success for Toluna?

[00:31:36]

I think that we have to recognize that companies have cycles and so if I look at the current cycle, I think that where we are right now is [INAUDIBLE], the decision that we made four or five years ago, and the decision where very – looking back very simple, but at the time they were quite bold, we always invested in technology, we always had an understanding internally, more internally than externally, that Toluna was a technology company and that we believed very early on and it’s easy for me to say that now but that’s true, very early on we believed that technology would be the key driver of change within the research industry because there is such industry, it’s a fantastic service industry but if you want to scale it for the digital world you need more than having offices everywhere, you need a strong scalable technology that automates a lot of the tasks and makes data or insights in real time, and we really believed in that, and so we invested ahead of the market the same way I think we invested ahead of the market in 2000 for the transition from offline to online so the gross trajectory that we have right now in this market is really linked to the decisions we made and we stick to the decision so we believed in the decision, we checked for the signal that this was the right decision and we stick to this decision and we [INAUDIBLE] the overall company. We motivated all the staff around the technology investment, and in order to digitalize research and I think that’s – yesterday I was talking to the staff and I said our gross trajectory is linked to three words, digital, digital, digital, and that’s really what’s driving our gross right now, it’s delivering insight in real time to brands across the globe and automating research in order to make sure that our clients can get the results faster, make their decisions faster and be able to make research and deliver research at the speed of business decision. And that’s really – it’s not about three weeks, it’s not about two weeks, it’s not about three days, sometimes it’s a matter of hours, and we have to understand that, these are the ways decisions are made, within our organization, right now.

[00:34:36]

You were very early in the mobile space, in fact, I think you had the very first mobile app for panelists, can you talk to us about what that – how that decision was made?

[00:34:49]

Yes, I think we came back so that there was two steps, step one, before the app, in 2006-2007 we looked at what we were doing and we said we need to reinvent the way we interact with our members, the members of our community and we were really a consumer opinion platform, a platform where people would give their opinion about product and services, and so on and so forth, and so we regrouped and going back to talent and we had a lot of sessions brainstorming, discussing, and so we came back with the concept of social voting, social voting meaning the ability for the consumer to create and exchange opinion through votes, so the ability for the consumer to almost build their own research. And so that’s when we decided to create, change the new Toluna and become a social voting community and then clearly we decided and in part of that we decided to create a DIY suite, we were already doing software as a service, convenience and things like that, but we decided to go very high speed into investing in DIY, so because we said the same way consumers will create their own vote and then currently exchanging votes online, at the time it was online the brands and the companies would do it themselves, some of them at least, and we need to give them that ability, and naturally we decided to build the app, but when we launched really the Toluna Quick Survey platform, more than the app actually, because the app was for consumers, so it was not so visible to the market, it was for the millions of members of our community, but when we launched Toluna Quick Survey there was enough which was a DIY, which is a DIY real time platform to generate consumer insight, a lot of the players in the market didn’t really consider that research, and so in a way we were very fortunate but we were also a bit questioning, why is it that we’re not the only one but we’re a few to understand that it’s going to be – it’s going to have to be delivered in real time and for that you need a community of consumers who can exchange votes on a real time basis and in the course of exchanging those votes and voting on subjects can basically be placed in front of the subject of the brand or the companies or the research companies or the consulting or media agencies and all that in real time. So I think that there was no difficultly in the decision because we tend not to, if we have a strong belief about a development for the company then we listen to the constituencies, the clients, the board members, but we tend not to listen to the rest of the ecosystem will usually, like us sometimes, will do the same thing for every day, for years, and may not see what’s happening next, so we try to keep that external view of where the market is heading and it’s hard because we’ve been in this market for 18 years.

[00:38:35]

What is Toluna doing right now that is getting a lot of traction?

[00:38:40]

I think that what we have is an end to end technology platform which really empowers user to be more agile, to adopt new research approaches, be able to do what I call do it yourself or assisted do it yourself research for the enterprise market, and that’s very important, so it’s not DIY, and by that I’m absolutely not negative, it’s not DIY for moms and pops, it’s DIY for the enterprise market. And so by [INAUDIBLE] the user to interact with the platform, interact with millions of consumers in real time, we give them the ability to make better and faster decisions, day in a day out. And so I think what’s why, that’s really what we’re bringing to our clients and there are a lot of stories like that of brands who are – have shifted from doing things that were taking weeks to doing things that now are taking hours. And I could give a lot of examples, there are so many examples, where we are seeing brands using our technology in real time to inform – be it their advertising campaign, their new concept, giving them the ability to iterate and the word iteration is absolutely important when it comes to launching new products or new ideas in the market or adopting new formats, and so that’s really where the company excels in terms of the digitization of research and it’s driving the gross of the company, and I think it’s very synchronized with that moment in time where we are.

[00:40:41]

My guest today has been Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO of Toluna, Frederic, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[00:40:49]

Thank you very much for having me today.

[00:40:52]

And thank you to everyone who has liked us or followed us on SoundCloud, Apple Podcast, or Google Play, we really appreciate that feedback, keep it coming, have a great day.

Ep. 219 – Our Official 100th Episode: Life Lessons and Market Research Trends

Welcome to the 100th episode of the Happy Market Research Podcast! In this episode, Merrill Dubrow, CEO of M/A/R/C Research, interviews Jamin Brazil, Founder and CEO of Happy Market Research. The two take a look at the benefits of producing a podcast, market research trends, and life lessons.

Find Jamin Online:

LinkedIn

Twitter

Find Merrill Online:

LinkedIn

Website: M/A/R/C Research 

Find Us Online:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn

This Episode’s Sponsor: 

This episode is brought to you by G3 Translate. The G3 Translate team offers unparalleled expertise in foreign language translations for market researchers and insight professionals across the globe. Not only do they speak hundreds of languages, they are fluent in market research. For more information, please visit them at G3Translate.com.


[00:00]

Good afternoon, everybody.  My name is Merrill Dubrow. For those of you who are tuning in to see Jamin Brazil be the host of the Happy Market Research Podcast, we’re going to change it up a little bit on today’s show, which is the 100th Podcast of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  My name is Merrill Dubrow, and I’m President and CEO of M/A/R/C Research, and I actually am going to put the host on the hot seat.  And we’re going to interview Jamin Brazil.

[00:27]    

Super excited about this.  

[00:29]

Great.  Thanks, Jamin.  As I am and everybody else.  But before we get into even a little bit of Q&A and put Jamin on the hot seat, I just want to tell everybody that this could not be made possible without G3 Translate.

[00:42]

This episode is brought to you by G3 Translate.  The G3 Translate team offers unparalleled expertise in foreign language translations for market researchers and insight professionals across the world.  Not only do they speak hundreds of languages, they are fluent in market research. For more information, please visit Nancy at G3Translate.com.

[01:10]

Jamin, how are you today, sir?  This is a big highlight for me.   

[01:14]

For me, it’s a huge highlight.  I’m super excited and honored that…  We should also level-set: Merrill has been on the show two times.  He was my very first podcast, which was published as Number 105, and then we had him on earlier this year as an update, kind of post-transaction as he acquired M/A/R/C Research.  And now, he and I have been long-standing friends in the market research industry. He said, “Hey, has anybody ever interviewed you on the show? And I’m like, “That’s never happened.  That’s crazy.” And at the same time, we’re coming up on our 100th show; in fact, this is the 100th show for the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[01:50]

Well, let me tell you something.  The pleasure is all mine. I listen to your podcast when I work out, when I drive home.  And I want to thank you for allowing the opportunity to be on, I guess, in some way for a third time.  So, let’s just get right into it. The 100th episode – Wow! – of the podcast.  Just talk a little bit about the motivation behind starting the podcast.

[02:12]   

The motivation is different than where I ended up, where I am right now, and then where I’m going with the podcast.  The challenge that I had exiting FocusVision is there’s a fair amount of restriction around what you can and can’t do in the industry.  That’s just very normal part and parcel whenever there’s a transaction; you’re partaking in that transaction selling a company. So I was fairly limited for about a year and a half after exiting the CEO role of FocusVision.  When I thought about what can I do to be able to maintain engagement and brand inside of the space, video, vlogs (really popular) that takes a lot of effort and learning. Podcasts seemed to me to be the thing that would be the fastest and easiest way for me to be able to engage with my peers and insights leaders across the space.  So, that was really where I started my journey back in… It was June of 2018.

[03:08]

Wow, that’s interesting.

[03:10]      

Yeah, the next part, though.. This is the thing that I think is really remarkable about podcasting.  My background… I love, I’ve been consuming podcasts really for about ten years now, and they occupy a space for me when I’m commuting.  I spend a ton of time in the car. And there’s a lot of data that’s being substantiated, talking about the relationship that is built between the host and the consumer, the listener.  It’s almost like a… It’s a little different that it is even in a radio context, and I don’t understand all the psychology and the reasons why, except that the content is chosen specifically by that particular listener.  There’s a lot more personalization, I guess I would say, around what it is that you’re consuming and that plus the fact that you’re occupying somebody in an entertaining way, and they’re, hopefully, learning something. So there’s a much greater level of engagement that you’re creating with that audience.  So there’s this like brand impact.

The third thing that I want to mention about the power of podcasting and why I’m such an advocate of every single market research company out there starting one or being on one and that is SEO.  Organic SEO is gold in this day and age. When you think about how do I, as a market research company, engage the new researcher, the 22- to 28-year old, who probably has between one and five million dollars worth of annual budgetary spend.  How do I make sure that I’m top of mind in that demographic? And I can tell SEO is really an important element to that. You’ve got to be discoverable. And so, what podcasts do is, if you transcribe those podcasts and build them out inside of your website and then, of course., do linking on Linkedin, then it creates this great kind of lifting of your overall SEO and will help other companies that are looking for businesses or solutions that you provide to benefit from and find you quickly.      

[05:20]

Wow, that’s interesting, and that’s pretty impressive.  So, I remember when I started a blog, and I wrote a blog for ten years three times a week – posted on Monday, Wednesday, Friday.  And I had a lot of metrics and numbers and best practices. So, we would send out an email blast on Tuesday at 11 o’clock. I would keep the post to about a little less… 282 words.  I was going to say a little less than 300, but actually 282 was kind of our average. And I would track how many comments and how many hits. Let’s talk about some best practices around the podcast and even some surprises that you’ve had over the last ten months that you didn’t think of.  But really if somebody wanted to start a podcast as well, Jamin… I remember all the mistakes that I made on my blog. Can you just share some of those best practices and some pitfalls to definitely stay away from?

[06:13]

Well, first of all, I remember when you first told me and this goes back maybe four years about the blog that you were posting and your Linkedin activity.  I actually applied the principles that you had there, which is consistency of delivery, to my podcast. So when I launched Happy Market Research, the intent was to release two episodes a month.  We actually have done a lot better than that. But it was all about the consistency of making sure the interview pipeline is full and making sure the production cycles are on point, and then making sure that the social media posting that’s around each podcast is effective and being followed like a religion, right?  I mean that’s the core of it. So the first thing I would say that you’ve got to do is maintain rigor around just being consistent with the delivery. Consistency is more important that quality; it’s more important than, quite literally, any other KPI because as soon as you miss a week or two or three, then all of a sudden you can start falling out of people’s attention, and then you lose that listener.  So you want to maintain that engagement, get something out there even if it’s only for a few minutes

The second thing that I learned actually the big learning for me – and this is a great hack that I hope the listeners will pay attention to.  If you go to a conference, it’s a great opportunity to do on-site interviews with even other exhibitors. If you do that and you don’t have to be part of the conference or you don’t have to have their permission to do this, you can just walk around and do it.  There’s a couple of companies that have actually been doing this for a few years. Some use video, and some use audio. Then what you do is write a blog post as soon as that event is over, and you reference each one of the people that you interviewed, whether it’s just a snippet, quote or whatever.  And I should also say it doesn’t have to be video or audio: it could also be just long-form blog or short-form blog. And then reach out DM, reach out to that person or people that you interviewed and say, “Hey, listen. I wrote this post or did this podcast or did this blog. Feel free to push it on your channel.”  And now what you’ve done is you’ve really created this like massive growth opportunity to your personal network and brand that is really, really hard to do in an inorganic or different approach.

As soon as you start doing that, you’re going to start knocking on other doors that you otherwise you wouldn’t have access to.  I can give you one example. I haven’t actually done the interview yet, but the CMO of MasterCard has been responsive to me on Twitter.  And those are really, really difficult people to be able to get in contact with, but if you are consistent with the delivery and you start incorporating other people in the conversation, (in other words, it’s not about me; it’s about them.) all of a sudden, you’re adding value to the equation, and people want to have those conversations with you, and you’ll be easier and easier to move up-channel to perspective buyers.  I don’t have anything to sell them, by the way, either; it’s literally just adding value to the audience that I’m having ‘cause he has a lot of information that probably all of us would care about.

[09:34]

Alright, bud, let’s level-set for a second on one of the things you just said.  And this, I think, is an important aspect of it ‘cause you know I really am a networker to the nth degree.  You may not have something to sell him today, but that could change in a week, a month, or in a year. And the mere fact that you have that connection, there’s no reason to draw upon it in next two years, three years, or whatever it is.  And I think that’s important.

[10:01]

That’s such a great point.  I think that value’s delivered really two ways by successful companies.  One is it’s got to be people first, and you know this as a CEO and owner of a business.  You’ve got to invest in your people because the better they are, the bigger the lever of your organization to create impact in our world (market research or consumer insights), right?  So that’s really important, but the other part of it is this notion of karma or whatever you want to call it. The more that we add value to relationships, then the better our personal network is and the more, at some point, that comes back to you, whether it’s through referral that they might make once you do have something to sell or there is a potential transaction in play or whatever.  So I’m always looking for ways that I can add value as opposed to ways that I can extract value. Extraction happens but if you think about like from a sales… and I’m a sales person, born and bred. From a sales lens, if I go out with an “ask” and I don’t have the value part of the equation, I’m probably not going to actually, ultimately, have a transaction, and I might even hurt myself. But if I can really love the pain that person is experiencing and that’s where my focus is on, that pain, then it becomes really easy to understand, “Do I have a product or service that maps to their pain point?”  If the answer is “Yes,” let’s talk about that. If the answer is “No,” who in my network does and let’s facilitate that conversation. And I don’t even get like a piece of the transaction in those, right? It’s just like, “Let’s facilitate the transaction” and then both parties start loving me. So, I think that there’s definitely a self-serving element to this intent, but as long as it’s operating from a place of, and this is hilarious but, selflessness, (So you have this like tension, right?) then the better off you’re going to be.

[11:56]

Now, I think it’s an important point.  Alright, but we’re going to go way back in the day before you were the man at FocusVision, before you were the founder of Decipher, ‘cause obviously anybody who meets you knows very, very quickly knows that you have entrepreneurial spirit to the nth degree, right?  If that was an Olympic sport, you’d get the gold in a heartbeat. But here’s my question: Where did that come from? Was that your grandfather, your great grandfather? What that your parents, your siblings? Did you have a paper route when you were a kid? Did you mow lawns?  Where did you get that amazing entrepreneurial spirit? ‘Cause my belief is I don’t think you can… I’m not so sure you can teach that. I don’t think you could just plug somebody out randomly and say, “OK, you’re going to have entrepreneurial spirit.” So, where did you get that?

[12:46]  

That’s a great point.  I actually have thought a lot and done a fair amount of research on this subject:  Is entrepreneurship DNA or is it a function of your environment? I think it’s both.  My grandparents were entrepreneurs on my mom’s side. My parents both entrepreneurs. You know my dad had a full-time job, which provided benefits and a consistent income, but he always had a – whether it was a small family farm or some sort of side thing going on.  So I definitely think it’s a learned behavior. You know we didn’t grow up with very much money, my sister and I. And so, if we wanted things, we were required to figure out how we were going to make enough money to do that, right? And so, I was the kid that walked around the neighborhood once a week in the summertime, asking if I could mow your lawn.  That was literally part of my narrative. I saved enough money so I could buy a car by the time I was 15 years old and then wound up driving it, of course, maybe a little bit earlier than I should have. But it definitely had some perks in that way. I’ve been traditionally self-reliant, and I put “self” in quotation marks ‘cause I actually don’t think anybody is self-reliant.  We’re all… I’m very thankful I live in a country that allows me to have the freedom to able to do the things that I do and have a support structure, whether it’s family or friends and co-workers, etc. We are a product of our environments, absolutely.

I really knew that I had the gene when I was in seventh grade.  So, my parents… I grew up in a real small rural community, predominantly Hispanic, about 75% Hispanic, and most of those people were migrant workers because of the nature of agriculture in the Central Valley of California, I should say, is exactly that.  And so, seventh grade I was first on the bus and last off; it was about an hour commute each way. During that time, you get to know the 48 souls or whatever the number was that day on that bus, right, and including the bus rider. So you got kind of bored, whatever.  This was before cell phones, Merrill, if you can believe that. Once a month, my parents would take my sister and I into a bigger town, Fresno. There was a mall. I would buy product at a surf shop, and I would then take that product back on the bus, and I would wind up selling it at about a 3 to 1 ratio.  And I literally would build out on paper, I built out my sheet of inventory: costs, number of things, what was selling?, what wasn’t?, where’s the maximum margin? I was really funny for a seventh grader to be able to do all that with literally zero training in any of that. What gross margin was or customer acquisition costs or anything like that.  So, it was really interesting… It just made sense to me that there was a way to be able to make money and add value to products earlier on and I just have carried that with me my entire life in the form of a side hustle. And that was actually, as the CEO of FocusVision, one of my challenges was having that discipline of not being able to do any sorts of investments inside of our space or side hustles or anything along those lines.  Obviously, as initial founder and owner in Decipher, that was treated in that same mentality of entrepreneurship. So, yeah, it definitely started early for me, and it was some combination of like DNA and family, I would say.

[16:32]  

That’s great.  It’s amazing to me.  You know when I look back on my career, Jamin, I had a number of people who helped me along the way, guided me, mentored me – people like Marianne Schafer and John Bonney and Sanford Schwartz and Jim Frederickson, who really probably gave me an opportunity to sort of reach for a position and really gave me the opportunity to probably maximize my potential.  Who were some of the people in your career who really helped you along the way, who taught you, who you trusted, who gave you the advice and pointed discussions frankly, when Jamin, as a 26-year-old kid, didn’t want to hear. Anybody jump out at you?

[17:26]

Yeah, there’s two people:  One was a guy name Dick McCullough, who was the founder and CEO or President of MACRO Consulting, which is the company that hired Jayme Plunkett and myself, Jayme Plunkett, of course, being one of the other co-founders along with Erwin Andreasen, of Decipher.  And so, in ’94 I started a business; it was a website consulting company where I’d just create website for companies in the Bay area. I hated the sole proprietorship journey; I didn’t have the expertise to actually pull it off. So, one of my customers was this gentleman named Dick McCullough.  They actually hired me to set up a website and do some other e-commerce things for them. And I told them, “This is going to be the last thing that I do, and I’m going to go get a job.” And he was kind enough to extend an analyst position to me. I thought it was interesting, took the job, and within literally three days, I knew that market research was for me even though three days before that, I didn’t exactly know what in the heck market research was.  (I thought it was marketing with an extra word.) I owe a lot; I owe everything to him really for being willing to take a chance on a math geek and programmer like myself.

The other person that for me comes to mind is one of my very first clients at Decipher, and that’s a gentleman named Mark Sass of Summation Research out of Cincinnati.  He was a huge supporter of me earlier on. So, when you start a business, you really don’t have anything, right? I mean you don’t have any credibility; you don’t have any software; you don’t really have any infrastructure.  It’s all just risk. For somebody to say, “Yeah, OK, I’ll spend with you.” And he was willing to step out and trust me that I was going to be able to build the software in the timeframe that I needed to in order to deliver to his customer, which is, as you know, a really, really risky proposition.  I over delivered on that relationship, by the way. And he still, he still… I just had dinner with him when I was in Cincinnati for MRMW couple weeks ago. So, we’ll be livelong friends.

The other person is Steve Carr, who was formerly on Intuit, makers of Quicken and QuickBooks.  He was my No. 2 customer. Having a big brand like that coming along side you when you start a business and then an agency relationship coming along side you, it just makes all the difference in the world in your overall confidence.  And I was very fortunate that both of those individuals were willing to take a chance on me and then let me get through my… You know ‘cause when we started Decipher, it was all bootstrapped. There were zero dollars from outside capital invested in it.  So it was a lot of just terror, going through that process. Yeah, I think that those two people really stood out to me. And, of course, my business partners: Erwin, who I’d mentioned; Jayme; Kristin Luck, later in that journey; and then all the fantastic customers and relationships that I’ve had.  And even more recently, Rogier Verhulst was the first… Well, him and Edwin Wong were the first people to be material insight professionals inside of major brands, Buzzfeed and LinkedIn, to be on the Happy Market Research Podcast. And having their names there created a tremendous amount weight for and credibility in our space as, “Oh, wow, maybe I should tune in.”  I saw big leaps there as soon as their… becoming easier and easier to get other brands on the podcast.

[21:11]

That’s great.  Oh, that’s exciting.  Let’s talk about that for half a second.  Let’s go the podcast by the numbers if you don’t mind.  We know how many podcasts you’ve had. How many downloads?  How many hits do you have, would you say? Do you know?

[21:27]

Yeah, so we’re 30,000 total downloads across episodes.  The number have been trending up, thankfully. Every week is a little bit better.  There’s never been (and this has surprised me actually) there’s never been this like waterfall moment where, all of a sudden, thousands of people like jump on an episode.  It’s quite literally a grind of incremental improvement. Right now, episodes are around plus or minus 500 per (you know downloads per episode) and that happens usually within three or four weeks, but what’s really interesting is we’re seeing stuff that was recorded awhile ago like picking on Edwin Wong for a minute with BuzzFeed.  So, with that particular episode, once a new listener finds the podcast and they actually see the volume of content available, they’ll go back in time and listen to those other episodes.

So the shelf-life on podcasts is really remarkable; they’re this great evergreen content that you and your marketing team could leverage to pull people into your whatever it is, your thesis, or about the company, or personal brand or what products or what have you, right?  It’s a really interesting… It plays a lot differently than webinars, which I’ve done hundreds of webinars as well at Decipher and FocusVision. In that framework, webinars tend to be very time-sensitive. And so, as soon as you’re done with the promotion, it’s kind of like off the… loses the visibility in the marketplace, functions a little bit more like a long-form blog, I guess, in that way.  But podcasts are weird: seems like they just continue to grow over time based on the interests of the listeners.

[23:19]

Ah, that’s great.  So, I pride myself on being up to speed in terms of the insights research community and talk to a lot of people from a networking standpoint, but I think you’ve got me beat.  You seem to really have a pulse on the industry, the people within it, the strategies, the direction that a lot of these companies are going. Is there a company or person, Jamin, that really impresses you today, that may have nailed it with their strategy, with their company direction, that your ears perk up a little bit more when somebody from that company says something or that entrepreneur from that company says something?  Anybody jump out at you? Or a company or a name?

[24:08]

I’ve been really interested in what’s happening at Kantar this year.  They have gone through a real (and pardon my language) shitshow with all the issues at the top, thinking about like WPP.  So, there’s been a lot of tension, I would say, there, and maybe even mismanagement – certainly distractions. And I feel like the rebrand of Kantar has been really well-done. Kind of like the consolidation of Millward Brown, etc., into this unified front.  I personally, when they announced their doing their own research automation solution, I think that is really smart for a company like that to execute on. They’re well positioned in the marketplace to be able to take advantage of it. So, anyway, I think that’s actually really interesting.  The other company that I’m looking at right now is Ipsos, which, I know, is completely counterintuitive. You think about these smaller kinds of startups.

But Ipsos has been around for a long time, a really long time.  They’ve gone through a lot of pressure with the move of companies going from traditional trackers to more of these like pulse-based products.  And they’ve recently hired a head of global insights: George is his name. You can find him on LinkedIn. He’s from outside of the industry. I had the opportunity to meet him.  He’s not going to be on the podcast, but he’s been kind enough to introduce me other people only because he’s a little bit, I think, shy. But I have a lot of respect for the leadership in Kantar to recognize that they need to be able to invest in innovation and strategy and that’s exactly what George is responsible for.  I’m really bullish on the big guys right now. They’ve just gone through so much transition; they’ve weathered the storms. I think in a lot of ways they have or are doing a good job of right-sizing the businesses so that it’s matching what the new customers’ needs are.  And I think there’s a lot of humility that’s now been injected into the big boys’ businesses. Looking at it from the other direction, companies that are doing it well, I’ve got to say I’m really impressed with what Dave’s done at Voxpopme. His business… I don’t know how big it is but I would say guessing it’s between five and ten million dollars of reoccurring revenue, which is a meaningful business, a software business at his state.  That’s really… And they’re going through big growth. It’s hard taking a new… taking video on as a legitimate business because it’s completely different price points, I think, than certainly I had. At Decipher, it’s a lot lower. Completely different play. How does it fit in corporate budget? These are really big questions.

And then Andrew at Remesh, what he and Gary have built inside of that company is also very exciting.  I think they’ve done a hell of a good job of positioning themselves as different. I think the next phase for both of those businesses is going to be…  If you’re inside of a brand and you have an insight, you still think about, “OK, qualitative and quantitative,” meaning survey or focus group or IDI, right?  So then the question becomes, “If I’m going to do one of these other methodologies like a Remesh session, where’s that dollar coming from? Do I have to do a survey still?  Do I have to do an IDI still?” And if the answer is “No,” then I’m competing with that existing dollar. If the answer is “Yes,” it’s a new dollar; now, I’ve got to increase my overall budget and that’s where the juice is really worth the squeeze.  So I think as those types of companies and technology, in general, does a better job of addressing the budgetary dollar and positioning themselves against existing spend, you’re going to see a big opportunity for increased land grab.

[27:58]

Now, that’s great.  And those companies are all impressive and doing some really, really good things.  I will admit that mentioning two of the larger research companies that’s kind of on your short list is interesting, and I’ll have to pay more attention to them.  But let’s talk about this for a second. Obviously, there’s so much content in the insights research world right now. It’s unbelievable. I pride myself, Jamin, on being a resource.  So let’s build five or six resources for people that… You know, what do you read on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Whether it’s online, the old-fashioned magazine, whether it’s a blog, whether it’s a podcast, what are the six or seven things, whatever the number is, that you are doing to keep informed on this industry that really is moving at lightspeed right now?

[28:54]

You’re right about it moving at lightspeed.  It’s crazy. You and I were both at IIeX in Austin last week, and there were 75 businesses that I counted on the show floor exhibiting.  There might have been more or less, well, certainly not less. I know I at least counted at least that many. There was more exhibition there than I’ve seen before, and just a lot of companies I had not heard of.  So, it’s real interesting seeing how many new people are entering into the space. And that kind of takes me to what I’m seeing as a macrotrend. You know the Qualtrics acquisition is just elevated the overall visibility of market research, really for the first time in my career inside of the money, whether it’s VC or private equity.  So, I anticipate that we’re really at the beginning of a J-curve from a valuation perspective, which, hey, congratulations maybe to you and your acquisition of M/A/R/C. I think that that timing is, was probably worked out to be perfect.

But, in terms of where I go, what I read, every day I read – I’m religious about it – MR Web.  I’m sure you know Nick over there. That’s a really nice fast… He usually highlights four stories, something interesting.  Here’s another hack for the audience. Get on Twitter or LinkedIn (either one’s fine.) And as soon as he posts the people that have been recently promoted or hired for new roles, you can just DM them and say, “Hey, congratulations!”  It takes like two to three minutes to kind of change your headspace, craft the notification so that it’s like two sentences. I tell you what: if you do that, you’ll start expanding your network. If it worked for you, Merrill, as a sales guy, I would never not do that; that would be something I would do all the time.  

It’s such a great way to connect ‘cause again it’s one-sided; I’m not selling you anything; I’m just saying, “Congratulations”; and I’m paying attention.  The other place that I gather all my information really from is conversations. I try to go out of my way to ask a lot of questions; I feel like a do a pretty good job of asking questions and being inquisitive.  And I feel like a do a good job of just shutting up and listening, which has actually been a learned skill for me through podcasting. It’s a lot of MR Web and then, obviously, I’m fortunate to have a deep network, and I’m regularly, daily interacting with insights professionals.                

But the majority of reading that I do (and I read quite literally a book every two weeks, so about two to three a month) is centric around outside of the industry and, usually, something about business.  So like I just finished re-reading Predictably Irrational.  I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read that or not.  For me, it’s a top book, talks about our decision-making processes as human beings.  Dan Ariely, I think, I can’t remember his last name but, anyway, it’s a fantastic book.  I consume at a regular pace – and, again, a little off topic – science fiction. So, people want to know what I’m reading, I’m happy to…  feel free to let me know. I did just finish a really big, big book on that subject called Battlefield Earth.  It’s a crazy long…  I think it’s the science fiction book ever written actually.  My wife couldn’t believe it. It’s like a freakin’ tome. You know kind of the normal B-school stuff, I usually refresh on that, whether it’s Innovator’s Dilemma or Crossing the Chasm.  I’ll read those, gosh, once every year probably; I’ll skim through them again, just kind of refresh where my head is.  I’m a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk. Although I don’t listen to his podcast, but I do read his material and try to tune into his vlog occasionally as a can.  That’s another go-to resource for me.

[33:05]

OK, that’s great.  No, that’s important.  So, let’s take a stop down memory lane for half a second.  If you had to pinpoint one, and only one, mover decision that you made that really defined your career, that it took off, that it was just Wow!  Is there anything that jumps out that you can share with the listeners today?

[33:33]

I mean without a doubt for me, it was when we acquired Kristin Luck’s company in 2007.  So, she had left OTX, and her and Shelley Zalis had started that business and sold it. Patrick Comer was part of that as well, part of the OTX mafia, now the founder and CEO of a small company called Lucid.  So, when Kristin left, she started a business Forefront Consulting, had about half-a-dozen or dozen actually employees that she brought on, built some interesting technology, but at the end of the day, Jayme and I both knew that we were strong introverts, and we needed marketing expertise.  

[Kristin, we thought, completed the visibility in the market; so, we did that acquisition and then it just like immediately benefited the overall business from a growth and a vision perspective plus, in the middle of that whole process, about four years later, she wound up starting a business called Women In Research or WIRe, which is now a part-and-parcel with the industry, right?  You can’t go to an event without connecting with Women In Research. She has actually done a lot for elevating the conversation of equality and accessibility and diversity inside of market research – all in the context of better business outcomes and a better world. I think, without a doubt, when we cemented that acquisition and then wound up rolling it out, which took about three months, that was just like a game-changer for myself in terms of headspace changed, trajectory changed, just overall visibility changed.  It was a big win for us.

[35:23]

Wow, that’s exciting.  One of things that I read a couple, three times a week, is something called The Players’ Tribune.  It comes out daily. It’s written by athletes about athletes. And there’ll be some interesting articles that’ll come out this week on the NFL draft of people who were in the Green Room and didn’t get drafted and what are they feeling, what are the sensing, the emotions they went through.  Let me ask you a weird question. What would an older Jamin say to a young Jamin? Today, what would you have said to your inner self 20 years ago, Jamin?

[36:03]

That’s a real interesting question.  I think I’d tell myself, “Be fearless and action trumps everything.”  I really believe that us as human beings are limited only by our capacity to imagine.  So, you see this with these stand-out stories and personalities like Oprah Winfrey, for example, who came from inside of the system, abused, quite literally nothing to a global icon.  The same thing with Obama and these other fantastic personalities and people I have tremendous respect for. I think that what we really struggle with as human beings is limiting our overall capacity and I think a part of that if just a fear of, as soon as you say that, then it means that you can do it, right?  So, now it’s about action. So, yeah, I think for me it would be those things.

If I could rewrite – we all have regrets; I have regrets – if I could rewrite my history, the thing that I would have done differently at Decipher would have been have had a much bigger vision for what that platform could have been.  In hindsight, being 20/20, I can see all the steps as to, if that vision would have been there, then we could have attained something much greater. I’m not trying to belittle the platform; it’s a freakin’ amazing platform, etc. etc. Really the one constraint that we had wasn’t competition; it wasn’t access to the market; it wasn’t total addressable market.  It really was just the size of the vision. And you know what’s interesting about that, Merrill, is it’s hard to build a billion-dollar company; it’s hard to build a million-dollar company. They’re both 12-hour days; they’re both seven days a week. So why not just decide, “I’m going to build a billion-dollar company”? And so, that’s the framework; that’s the thing I think I would have told myself.

[37:59]

That’s interesting.  So, in the past few months, I go to Florida a lot to visit my mom and, unfortunately, my dad was sick.  So I was going a lot more regularly than normal. And while I’d been done there, I’ve taken up a game called Pickle Ball.  I know and it’s a real game. It’s kind of a racket game that they play in a miniature tennis court, but I’ve been playing…  They’ve built some courts here in the Texas area, and I’ve been playing a little bit. So I played with a buddy of mine, and he came over and said, “Hey, do you want to play?”  And I played with like 16 guys and just didn’t want to embarrass him. I tend to be a pretty decent racket-sport guy. And I played, and we did pretty well. And we were talking afterwards and he said, “You know you really, really played well.”  And I said, “You know if I really want to get better I think I have to do three things.” He goes, “OK, what are those three things?” And I said, “Well, I got to serve a little bit better. I got to have patience, a lot more patience than I do because it’s a tiny court, and if you drill the ball, it’s going out.  I may only go an inch over the net but it’s still going out if you hit it really hard. And the other thing is it’s a finesse game. So, it’s a doubles game, but it’s a finesse-angles game.” And the reason I tell you that boring story is my question. In my opinion, having self-awareness is the most important thing that you could ever have in your life.  If somebody said, “OK, what’s the one skill you need to be successful?” I think it’s self-awareness. And you kind of touched upon it when you said, “You know if I had to do it all over again, I would have done this, this, this.” But here’s my question: I would say that a lot of people struggle with self-awareness, Jamin. But I know just in our discussions and listening to you today and a lot of the in-depth discussions that we’ve had over the years, I know you have a self-awareness.  You have this perception, and you know who you are. You’re comfortable in your skin where everybody’s not. What advice do you have or how do you get that self-awareness? Because not everybody has that, and it is so critical.

[40:14]

I think like the hack there for me ‘cause I certainly didn’t have that most of my life.  It’s been something that I intentionally cultivate. And someone told me once, “It’s OK to get your way and not be right.”  (I think it was my wife.) The hack there is you don’t have to be like, “It’s my idea.” You see this a lot in conversations, especially in the context of like a professional, in a boardroom, or meeting with your executive team, or what have you.  As these conversations start, specifically around strategic direction or whatever, as the adage goes, “Every dog got to pee on the tree.” You wind up having this whose idea was it or whatever. And, as soon as I started peeling that back and saying, “It doesn’t have to be ‘my’ idea; I just have to make sure it’s the ‘right’ idea that is going to be the bet that we then place to win.”  And so, the core of that stems from humility. If you can be open-minded to other people’s points of view as opposed to just having to talk and wait until the other person’s done talking so that you can then talk again, then I think it really can go a long way to understand… You know the other part of it too… Someone once told me… Most people don’t know that I have a theology degree under my undergrad.  I thought it was an important question so I wanted to do some deep digging there. And, as I went through that process, I wound up spending time… I lived in the Philippines and also Hong Kong.

Well, in the Philippines, there was a group of us that lived together for months.  (I think it was like six months.) There was this guy, and I won’t tell you his name.  There’s no way it could get traced back; that’s how old I am. But just in case. So, there was this guy, and he bugged the hell out of me; I just couldn’t stand him; he just bothered me to death.  Like we’re in the poorest of the poor: you’ve got like street urchin kids. And this guy is worrying about his Vanilla Ice or whatever rapper he was trying to persona. And so, anyways, I met with the director of the unit and said, “He’s really bothering me.  What do I do?” He said, “Jamin, you want to make sure you learn from him whatever it is that you need to learn from him; otherwise, you will have to meet him again, and you won’t ever be able to move past this person or that lesson that you need to live.” And I’ve recognized that in myself where I’ll have these like…  You know I’ll go through something and I don’t learn my lesson. And then, sure enough, it might be a year; it might be a month; it might be ten years. But you go through that same exact thing, swap out the nouns, and you have the opportunity to learn. And so, I think it’s really about trying to like the players in our lives, whether they’re good or bad.  It isn’t about judging that. It’s more about learning from them as much as you can and, if you can become that sponge – even if it’s something to say like, “I don’t want that” or “This is a bad behavior; I need to make sure it’s not in my life.” That’s an OK outcome, but you need to be damn sure that you’ve learned everything you can so that you can then move past that stage and on to the next learning.                   

[43:39]

Yeah, there’s a valuable lesson there.  And I was talking to my son over the summer, and he was a lifeguard.  It was the first job he had. And he came home one day, and he said, “I hate this job, and I hate the boss.”  I’m like, “Well, tell me why.” And his reasons were very thin. And I said, “What you don’t understand is there’s learning there.  I promise you you will not like every one of your bosses that you have in the next 30 years, OK.” When I ask people what percentage they’ve had are really good bosses, solid bosses that they learned a tremendous amount of positive from, the answer is proverbial less than 30% and, typically, in the teens.  So that means, put that in perspective, 7 out of 8 bosses are not that good. But there’s tremendous learning within that, assuming you allow yourself to learn, and you absorb. And, like you said, be a sponge and look when you’re a boss you don’t want to do this, this, this. And I think there’s just tremendous learning.  I really do.

[44:48]

I love that and I will kick the horse a little bit more.  That point you’re making is so perfect, and the way that you said it is perfect because, if your son can grasp that now as opposed to complain, that’s the up side.

[44:59]

By the way, he can’t.   Just so you know. The beauty of that word is “if he can.”  And the answer is I can interrupt you and say not even with a smile on my face – with a disappointing look – he can’t.  He just can’t. He can’t grasp it.

[45:15]

So, this is the part where like you can’t…  That’s why I went back to like the hack of… You can’t be like, “OK, I’m going to cultivate self-awareness.”  You have to figure out what you actually do in order to make that happen. And so, the converse is complaining. So if you find yourself and you’re complaining a lot about your circumstances, the people in your life, whether it’s your boss or whatever, then you know you really need to take stock in yourself because, at the end of the day, everybody’s got the same life like for the most part.  Everybody’s got the same band of life. And so, you don’t get to blame anybody for where you are or what you have or how you feel, except yourself. And, as soon as you start there, as soon as you can get to that spot… It’s not about the market; it’s not about the customers; it’s not about the product; it’s not about my peers, my team. As soon as you can own that, 100% own that, and move away from excuses and complaining, then I think that’s like the spot that’s perfect because from that you can build anything.  

[46:19]

Well said, well said.  Jamin, this has been an honor and a privilege to be the host today and to actually interview, I guess, the host of the Happy Market Research Podcast.  I cannot thank you enough.

Again for all the listeners, this episode is brought to you by G3 Translate.  The G3 Translate team offers unparalleled expertise in foreign language translations for market researchers and insight professionals across the globe.  Not only do they speak hundreds of languages, they are fluent in market research. For more information, please contact Nancy at G3Translate.com.

[46:59]

Jamin, again, thank you so much.  I’ve gotten a ton out of this. Without question, all of your listeners will get a tremendous amount out of this.  Here is success and happiness for the next 100 episodes in 2019 and beyond, and thank you for allowing me to do this today.  

[47:15]

Absolute pleasure, Merrill.  Thank you so much. So, what an honor.

Ep. 215 – IIeX NA 2019 Conference Series – Adriana Rocha – eCGlobal Research Solutions

Welcome to the 2019 IIEX North America Conference Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Adriana Rocha, Founder and CEO of eCGlobal Research Solutions.

Contact Adriana Online:

LinkedIn

eCGlobal Research Solutions


[00:00]

My guest is Adriana Rocha, eCGlobal Solutions.  Adriana has been a mainstay inside of the market research industry, focusing on a couple of big companies:  GMI, Rob Monster, back in the early days. Those of you who are old enough know he has turned into GMI at Lightspeed and now, I think, just Lightspeed.  Those of you that are in Latin America know who she is. Her company is growing rapidly. She really breaks down their core value prop and how they’re bringing value to their customers consistently by creating innovation through HBO GO panels, leveraging trending shows, and using non-traditional incentives like badges to certify community members as experts.  This is a great episode. Understanding entrepreneurship also through the lens of a woman in context of being a software engineer, entrepreneur, and CEO. I hope you find a lot of value and fun in it. And as always, please take the time to share this episode. Have a great day.

[00:59]  

My guest today on the Happy Market Research Podcast is Adriana with eCGlobal.  Thanks for being on the show.

[01:07]  

Thanks, actually, I’m really happy to be here today.  My pleasure.

[01:14]  

Thank you.  So, we are live at IIEX.  There’s a lot of activity going on everywhere; it’s a little bit chaotic.   What do you think about the show so far?

[01:23]  

IIEX for me is always a great show to meet new people, find out about new players in the industry, see what’s going on, and also catchup on some great presentations as well. So yeah, thus far, I think it’s really good, great conference so far.  

[01:39]

So, we are doing a unique interview.  Normally, I do like these bit-sized snippets, but I’ve been really excited about eCGlobal as an organization, which, by the way, in all full disclosure is not a sponsor of the show or anything like that.  I mean I’ve just been watching what you guys have doing in Latin America, and I feel like it’s really germane and relevant to a need I’ve been seeing surface inside of market research in general. So, I’ve wanted to do a long-form interview with you, which is what we’re going to do today.  So it’s going to be slightly different than the other ones that I’ve done connected to IIEX or any other trade show for that matter. So we’re going to go ahead and get started with our trademark question. Tell me a little bit about your parents. What did they do and how did that impact your career in market research?  

[02:25]

Yeah, so my father, he’s a doctor, and he’s an entrepreneur.  He founded one of the first children’s hospital in the city that we live almost 50 years ago.  And that hospital has become a reference in terms of pediatrician medical sciences there in Brazil.  And it’s very inspiring for me not just because of his success as entrepreneur but also because of his patience for what he does and also about the mission:  having a greater purpose of being an entrepreneur; helping and saving lives and kids. So it definitely has influenced who I am and what I do. That’s why I was an entrepreneur.            

[03:17]   

What about your mom?

[03:18]

Well, my mom, she is also an entrepreneur.  She also had some retailer, you know, some stores, clothing and fashion stores.  So in my family we have a…

[03:38]  

The bug of entrepreneurship.

[03:40]

Correct, yes, yes.      

[03:40]

So, how in the world did you wind up in market research?          

[03:44]

Well, that’s a good question.  So, I am a computer engineer. And before I worked with market research, I used to work with ad agencies, building technology platforms for helping major companies using data to improve their media planning.  So, I’ve always been in the intersection of technology and data and how to use data to generate intelligence and knowledge and help for better business decisions. I ended up in market research because by 2000, GMI, one of the first technology startups by that time, building survey platforms…   

[04:24]

Founder and CEO, Rob Monster.

[04:26]

…with Rob Monster.  Actually, they invited me to open their business in Brazil.  Imagine that by that time, internet penetration in Latin America was almost nothing.  It was kind of a challenge. To tell the truth, I left a very high-level position: by that time, I was technology director in a large company in Brazil just because of the challenge, so the challenge of starting a new business in this new space and traveling around the world because I had to travel to Budapest, where GMI used to develop the software there.  And starting having this more international experience was really my biggest motivation to join GMI and come to the market research industry. As I started working there, with my technology background and social development skills, I started helping them to build a global panel management system and helping to also improve the survey platform. So that’s how I started working for market research.  And then after a few years working for GMI, I decided to start my own company. It was by 2003 when we started with eCMetrics. It was a small boutique with a strong technology background wanting to develop some proprietary technologies for managing communities, collecting data in a different way, using mobile devices. We have been always ahead of, I would say, the curve, the adoption curve of new technology in market.  So by 2005 we built what would be probably one of the first social networks. We were integrating gamification, online communities, forums, ways of people to collaborate and asking questions between them. So, we believed that the better way to understand consumers would be empowering them: giving them the platform and the environment where they could exchange experience, where they could talk with each other. We would be listening and generating insights, and asking questions just when needed.  That was by 2005.

[06:41]  

Yeah, I mean super early.  It’s interesting how you’ll see people…  Like Rob Monster actually… You and I know who Rob Monster is and maybe six other people that listen to the podcast.  But he actually had a really interesting vision, which is funny 20 years later, it’s actually coming about where you have a – I hear it referred to as a data ecosystem.  I know I’m not necessarily telling you anything that you don’t know, but.. And the idea was you’d be able to follow a piece of data, an answer, like through the whole process and ultimately tie back even at the respondent record existing data known on them and this sort of thing.  He was very successful in selling that into companies like Microsoft and other large firms. One of the challenges that company experienced was rapid growth through M&A and international expansion. That’s funny because I really think that that was probably the one thing that undid GMI from a leader position is they just didn’t focus enough on owning a specific market and then just tried to bite off too much too fast.      

[07:50]

Yeah, I agree with you.  The vision was there almost 20 years ago.  And working for GMI for six years was the best school that I could have.  And I worked with Rob on a daily basis. So it was a really great inspiration.  

[08:07]

I have a ton of respect for him, honestly.  As a visionary leader, there’s probably only a handful in our industry that ever fit that mold.  He was very much the Steve Jobs of the space. The problem, of course, is it’s hard to scale that type of business unless you have a ton of capital.  And, in those days, market research was still not in this heavily capitalized space. So it was really hard to do. And Toluna experienced the same thing.  Frederic Petit at Toluna had a very similar experience. It was really hard for him to be able to raise capital in those post-2001-dot.com-bus days. Anyway, it was neat to see you kind of having that long…  So, you’ve seen all the transition that has happened in the market research space over almost two decades now. Now you look forward. Where are you seeing it going? What are we headed towards?

[09:02]

Well, I think that market research is nowadays part of a greater industry; we can call the dating sites or business intelligence or big data.  So I think that we can see our industry evolving as a data industry, but at the same time as we see more and more technology being adopted, automation, artificial intelligence because all industries regardless of being market research or any other will be adopting automation and artificial intelligence.  But I still see the industry really positioning itself as the people who can really understand people because at the end of the day, the data that we collect is about understanding people, and sometimes we don’t find the answers just with pure data or what a machine can understand using algorithms. The inspiration, the feeling, the skills that human beings have to see the big picture, connecting the dots, and also using some gut feeling as well to inspire clients, I think that’s where… I think that market research should have because data and technology will be a commodity.  So everybody will have access to that.   

[10:25]

We only have (I really believe this) we only have one (and I say this all the time) one piece of IP or something that protects us and that is the relationship with the customer.  And the only way that persists is if you consistently add value. And that value is just not in the framework of technology; it’s about helping them contextualize the insights and then activate those insights inside of their organization.

[10:48]

Exactly.  The clients love brilliant minds.  They love to work with people that can inspire them.  And I think that, nowadays, working with some large clients, some of the biggest brands in the world, I think that’s one of the biggest values that we add is really inspiring them.       

[11:06]

So, last night was the WIRe event, which is the Women in Research event.  Are you part of that organization at all?

[11:13]      

Actually, yes.  I participated in one of the first WIRe events maybe three or four years ago.  So, I really appreciate and I think it’s a great initiative to put together this community of women that’s part of this greater industry.  So, yes, I’m part of the community and I’m lucky, I think, to be part of that.

[11:37]

Have you tried any of the mentorship plan that they have?  

[11:40]

Actually, not yet.

[11:42]

No.  That’s a really interesting…  So, the reason I bring it up is you’re, obviously, a woman and you’ve been involved in leadership positions inside of the industry for a while, at least 19 years.  And that has a unique set of challenges that, in and of itself… My go-to example is something that actually happened to me at this conference on Monday night. I went to dinner.  It was three guys and a girl, a woman. Oh, and I was like “Oh, you just felt normal.” It’d be like you and me and Steve August and somebody else, four of us, going for a dinner. It was just like totally normal.   And then I started reflecting on the fact that I used to go to the WIRe events right when they first started, and I actually stopped going because I felt so uncomfortable being the only or one of the only men in the room.   Then, all of a sudden, it’s funny how it just flipped on me and I like, “Gosh, Julie, she’s sitting at the table right now (She’s with a company called CMB). I’m thinking to myself, “She’s the only woman right now sitting at this table.”  Just like no problem at all.

[12:44]

Yeah, yeah.  So, that’s something that is funny because, since I am a computer engineer…  I’m not saying my age, but I am probably one of the first engineers almost 30 years ago.

[13:01]

So, you’re 33.  You started really young.

[13:03]

So, as I started working with computer engineers as I finished college, I quickly started working with, leading a teams, you know technology teams and engineers.  Oh, man, I was the technology manager and then technology director. All men, maybe 90% of men all the time. And sometimes I was the youngest one. I never had that issue, but, I think, that’s something very unique for my profile maybe.      

[13:39]  

So, eCGlobal, you’ve done a lot of projects.  Tell me about one that you’ve done that you’re really proud of and memorable.  

[13:44]  

Well, I think that… There are a couple of projects that I’m really proud being a part of.  I can mention two quickly. What I love about these projects is that we have created an impact and real results for our clients, and at the same time, these clients have helped eCGlobal to grow.  So, we’ve been improving our technology, our platform in growing with these clients and, at the same time, helping them achieve real results. So, one example is HBO. So, HBO has been a customer for more than five years.  And they had a problem, an issue some years ago because they had a panel, research panel with very low response rates, and the panel was almost dying. And they came to us with a challenge: How can we grow this panel? How can we improve engagement? How can we create a similar brand experience that HBO fans and HBO customers have with the brand in other platforms? How can we create a new and engaging experience for people when participating in research promoted by HBO, they have the same brand experience?  So, it was a perfect fit for us because we were looking for clients that would value having a social experience, creating engagement, and enabling the users to talk to them at any time. We’ve helped HBO to grow their custom panel from 2,000 members to almost 50,000 members nowadays in all Latin America. Nowadays, this platform has become an important ongoing tool for generating daily insights, inspiration for their programming teams, for their marketing team. So HBO is definitely a case study that I’m really proud of being part of.

And I’d like to mention Itau Bank in Brazil, largest Brazilian bank.  We’ve helped Itau to build custom communities and that is helping the bank to apply agile market research and quickly innovate, develop new products.  They have reduced from five weeks to one to five days all life cycle of market research projects. And we have helped them to implement agile research process.  So that’s another great project that we’ve been helping the customer with real business results.

[16:10]  

Let’s just focus in on HBO.  First of all, are you a fan of Game of Thrones?  

[16:16]

Yes, yes, for sure.  Working for so long with HBO.  Actually, every time that we have a new season of Game of Thrones, the community blows up.  Sometimes we develop some cool social media stuff to invite people to receive, for example, a badge to become a Game of Thrones expert, for example.  

[16:35]

Oh, nice.

[16:37]   

And we receive like thousands of new members in one weekend because they want to receive the badge.

[16:41]

Oh, that’s so clever.  I love that.

[16:44]  

So, it’s a great experience just to…  Actually, just launched HBO GO community as well.  

[16:52]

Oh, that awesome.

[16:53]

Yeah.  It’s integrated with their own CRM platform.  So, it’s by invitation. So, HBO GO users participate in their community, and we’ve developed some mobile technology as well to integrate with them.  So it’s growing. Actually, it’s a customer that we’ve been working with for more than five years; and the relationship is still growing. There’s still a lot of things to do.  

[17:17]

Beautiful!  You keep finding value in this space, and you will always reap the benefit of it.  It’s just so unique. It’s about the relationships. And if you can prove the ROI and empower that researcher, they can’t wait to spend money with you.  It’s really true.

[17:31]

That’s right.

[17:32]

So, tell me a little bit about the biggest market research challenge that you guys have.

[17:38]  

As I mentioned in the beginning of our talk, I think that one of the biggest challenges for the industry is really how we can turn data into knowledge, into insights and inspiration.  How can we make sense of all of the data streams that we have nowadays because I think one of the main challenges is what we do with all of this information because once technology is easy to access, once we can access even the consumers.  Years ago, the market research companies who could control the data collection process. That was the main differentiation, right? Nowadays the data collection process is just easy to anyone. So, how can we continue to add value? It’s about how we can turn data into knowledge, insights, and inspiring clients.  I think that’s the biggest challenge. How can we scale that? How can we do that in a scalable way? It’s a combination of technology; we say artificial intelligence with human intelligence. That, I think, is the main challenge.

[18:47]

So, you’ve got a lot of employees.  They’ve been growing over the years.  As you think about that like two decades of leadership, one of things that’s evolved is the importance of focusing on the team and building a good team.  We treat our employees a lot different than we were treated, right, before. I mean it’s just a very different world right now, and it should be, by the way.  I know you believe that, and I certainly do. In this new paradigm, what are three characteristics of an All-Star Employee?   

[19:20]

I’d say that the first characteristic would employees who really fit with the culture of the company and embrace it.  So, once they embrace the culture and they fit with it, I would say that the next would be the ones that really act as the owners.  They are effortless; they are committed to results; they embrace the mission of the company. So, I think it’s really important that we have these two characteristics.  And the other one, I think, is to be openminded and collaborate in an achieving environment. I think if we have this combination of skills and characteristics, I think that would define what would be our best team employees and people that really that are really motivated and engaged with our business.    

[20:14]

You know “collaborative” is an interesting core value because it really speaks to the importance of team.  You got to have a team, right? It’s a team mentality; it’s not about me; it’s about us.

[20:25]

It’s all about teamwork.  So this collaborative mentality and working to accomplish results, not just on individual levels but as a team and as a group.  So it’s a winning formula.

[20:45]

So, Insights Nation, if you’re paying attention still, this is a really important part of the conversation.  You’ve got to embrace the culture. When you show up, you’ve got to make sure that you have an owner mentality and you’re bought into the mission of the organization, and that you’re openminded and willing to collaborate as opposed to more of the lone-wolf mentality that I see persist occasionally, especially among high performing people that can sometimes decide to alienate themselves, and it’ll wind up being their loss long-term.  It’s not just for the people that are starting their career but it’s also for the executives that are setting the tone for the organization. But it’s really important there’s clarity so that people, in terms of what you care about and what’s important for the organization, so that people at the beginning can decide, “Yeah, this is a good fit for me or it’s not a good fit.” And if it’s not a good fit, they feel that friction on Day 1 so that they can exit the organization in a healthy, positive way for both parties.    

[21:37]

And it also be a learning curve for us on how to do the recruitment phase.  How we can attract the talent that fits with our culture. And that has all of these characteristics.  So, yeah, it’s really important.

[21:49]

So, what is your personal motto?

[21:51]

I would say, “Live the life of your dreams” and just “Seize the day.”  Live each day doing your best and just believe in your dreams and go for it.  That’s my motto for sure.

[22:10]

“Seize the day.”  So, Merrill Dubrow was on the show.  Did you hear his episode with me?

[22:17]

Oh, no.

[22:18]

You ought to absolutely listen to it on the flight home.  It was probably one of my favorite episodes. He dropped like knowledge bomb after knowledge bomb.  And he had this point. He goes, “Jamin, every day at work is one-half of a percent of your total productivity for the year.”  You figure there’s 200 days in a year: Monday, half of a percent of your productivity; Tuesday, you’ve just hit one percent of your productivity; Wednesday, 1.5%.  We all see what’s happening. 2.5% of your productivity is gone in five days. So you really need to be purposeful about where you’re placing your bets and put your time, focus in that specific spot; otherwise, you run the risk of being ineffective and losing velocity in your everyday life to move towards your goals.       

[23:08]

Correct, yes, definitely.  Nowadays, with all the distractions that are over there, it’s really very important, terrifying, yeah.

[23:16]

Absolutely terrifying.  My guest today has been Adriana with eCGlobal.  If someone wants to get in contact with you, how would they do that?

[23:22]

Well, you can find me on Twitter, LinkedIn, email (Adriana_Rocha@eCGlobal.com).  So, I think that’s the best three ways to quickly reach me.

[23:37]

Now, have you been participating in our MRX chats?  So, MRX chat; it’s on my website (Happymr.com); check it out.  It’s a live Twitter event I do in conjunction with Jake Pryszlak, the research geek on Twitter, super popular.  He’s the number 1 guy on Twitter for MRX. Turkey. I’m number 6; I’m going to beat him, though. Just kidding. I do everything I can to support him.  So, he and I put on a live event for one hour once a month, and it’s a great way to connect with a lot of buyers and agencies in the market research space, talking about like thought-leadership and change and trends in the market research space, and things like that.  Again, it’s on the website (Happymr.com/MRX/chat). Just check it out. Click the link, whatever.

[24:23]  

I’ll definitely check it out.  

[24:24]  

It’s a great way to connect with a ton of other market researchers.

[24:28]  

OK, great.

[24:29]

Adriana, thanks for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[24:31]

Thank you.  Thank you for the time and for the opportunity.  Lovely to be here.

[24:36]   

Oh, it’s great having you.  All of you who have been tuning in, please take the time.  Screen capture this episode; post it on social media; as always, subscribe.  Your ratings to this show on the platform of choice means that other people like you can find it more easily.  I greatly appreciate you taking that two minutes out of your day to just acknowledge the value of our guests that they have brought to the show and to you personally.  It would be tremendously appreciated by me. Thank you so much. Have a great day.

Ep. 145 – Bob Lederer – RFL Communications – 3 Tips and Tricks For Using Social Media In Market Research

Today, my guest is Bob Lederer, owner of RFL Communications. RFL Communications is dedicated to being a thought leader in the market research industry through distributing video content.

Prior to starting RFL Communications, Bob has worked in the market research industry both on the brand and agency side. He founded his own firm in 1997 and has been providing valuable perspectives on the industry ever since.

FIND BOB ONLINE:

Linkedin

Youtube

Twitter

RFL Communications

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

LinkedIn


[00:36]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major

market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Bob Lederer, owner of RFL Communications. RFL Communications is dedicated to being a thought leader in the market research industry. Prior to starting RFL Communications, Bob has worked in the market research industry both on the brand and agency side. He founded his own firm in 1997, and has been providing valuable perspectives on the industry ever since. Bob, thank you very much being on the Happy Market Research Podcast!

So one of our core questions, and it has been drawn really by the audience interest is how did your parents wind up impacting who you are today and ultimately the success that you have had?

[1:49]

My parents are both European. My mother is a survivor of the holocaust of Auschwitz. And she survived the end of the war. They had her come out of a concentration camp and put her on a death march, which she survived. She weighed 57 pounds when she was freed by the Russians. I think it was somewhere in Poland. She spent some time in Sweden, a year recovering from what had happened to her, and then she had the option of going anywhere in the world and she came to the United States, met my father in 1946. They were married in 1948. And I was born in 1952. And they both had a very, very profound impact on me. You do not really think about it at the time. My father had his own business from the late 1950’s until the early 1980’s when he finally sold it and retired. My mom was always a housewife, very European in that way, but they both affected me because they both stressed to me ethics: doing the right thing personally and professionally. And one of the things that my dad stressed to me was to be an independent thinker, and to not follow the crowd or what everybody else was insisting that should be done. His phrase that I will always recall is: “Don’t become part of the rabble. Don’t just do what everybody else is doing. Think, and critically think, and look at what is really happening. You can make a decision about stuff.” And that has helped me both professionally and personally in my life.

[3:40]

It is really interesting to have the holocaust in your story.  And then connecting that to the importance of critical thinking from your father. Of course, that makes perfect sense.

[3:52]

It also makes sense because my mother always said to me: “It can happen here”, which was her way of saying “Yes, Jews can be singled out in the United States just like they have been or were in Germany”. My father had come from Austria after he had left after Germany took over Austria. So he was lucky enough to escape and not have to go through the camps. But my parents emphasized to me the importance of being aware of what is going on around you at all times so that you can protect yourself and your family. And without getting political, in times like this I am indebted to them -they both passed away – for helping me understand to pay attention to all sorts of things going on sociologically and politically and all the ways.

[4:53]

It sounds like in a lot of ways you had to become a student of humankind in order to identify those patterns, perhaps even ahead of time. I am thinking of your father who had… fortunate enough to escape that. I don’t have a point of reference but did that have an impact on you choosing research?

[5:23]

Good question. I don’t think so but I was always inquisitive about why things happened. And that came from my father too. He said: “Think about what is going on and why it is going on.” For simple as everyday tasks, such as things that you do in your career. And he tried to trick me into becoming an actuary, and I was pretty good in math but not quite good enough for that. And I was very good at writing, I always had a skill. Every course in college where I could write papers instead of take tests, so that always came naturally for me. You know, I wanted to be a sports caster when I was a teenager. And I remember in college that I came home in the middle of my junior year, and we all went out to dinner, and I said: “Dad, I know what I want to do.” And he said: “And what do you want to do?” And I said: “I want to be a sports caster.” And he said: “No, seriously, what do you want to with your life?” He then said to me famously, it is a put down, but he said: “You know, you have a face for radio.” Ha! So I have told that to people over the years. But when I started Business Daily Report in 2012, and he died in 2012, I think in some way psychologically it was my way to show my dad that I could be successful in front of the camera and not just in front of a microphone, and I truly enjoy doing that whenever I can.

One of the things that I am looking forward to is come out with my new book: “Beyond Broadway Joe” and have the opportunity of both on radio and television to talk about it with people.

[7:27]

It is funny how our fathers inform our view on ourselves and in a lot of ways, speaking for myself, that has caused me to control some of my outcomes, or rather actions, in order to prove them wrong. So you started doing Skype interviews, right?

[7:47]

Yeah, the idea frankly was that back then, and even today, there weren’t that many podcasts back in 2012 when I started this. There were some but that did not appeal to me. The major news distribution method that we had on those days was we have today, and that was a couple of UK-based email research news delivery service. I was fortunate. My daughter had just gotten married to a guy with great IT skills. We were talking and he said: “I know that you want to do something media wise, and I would like to help you. What can I do to help you?” And I told him: “I would like to explore the idea of doing a regular video news report”. Back then, I was thinking in very grandiose terms and that it might even run 30 minutes a day or something like that. And pretty clearly that became pretty obviously not doable. But we hounded down and said: “Let’s see what we can do for maybe 5 or 10 minutes.” And he helped put together what we have today.

[9:04]

That is awesome! That all happens remotely, right? Or is it a proximity thing? Is he working in your office?

[9:12]

No, no, no. I am in Chicago, and he is in Israel.

[9:14]

Wow! That is so neat.

[9:18]

You can imagine the sense of relief that I had because you probably have the same thing that once you have got the program in the can, as they say, you just turn it over to a very adept technical person and they make you look good or sound good.

[9:37]

How has that ride been for you? Having been there… I am not going to say in the early days because that was 2006 or 2007 but when it starts hitting saturation and then riding it through, have you seen market researchers on YouTube increase, stay the same, decrease?

[9:58]

I will talk about it in terms of our audience. Our audience for the first 4.5 years was pretty consistence, and it was consistent of 150 views of every video we put out. We have always been doing 4 videos a week, Monday through Thursday. Something happened with Google, which owns YouTube, in the middle of our fifth year. They changed the algorithm. And they did so because they were trying to crack down on a lot of YouTube sites that were claiming hundreds of thousands of views a day, probably by putting a lot of very pretty dancing girls on the screen and having somebody sit in front of them and talk about anything. Who cared what they were talking about? But literally they were trying to crack down on that. And they were trying to do away with all kinds of mechanical manipulations of the viewer count because it is very easy –I don’t really understand how, but it is very easy to manipulate it by just having bots keep hitting the viewing button over and over again. So what happened affected us. I noticed that we had something like 82 views. And went out to lunch and came back around 12:30/1:00 pm, the number of views had jumped down from 82 to 58. So a couple of hours after that, it was down in the 40s. Now something obviously was really very wrong so I had my associate contact Google. You cannot get them on the phone but you can get them in a chat room. So we were joined in a chat room by several small video operations like our own, and we all had the same complaint! You are literally knocking down our number of views! What in the world is going on? And they explained to us what I just explained to you. And we said: “Yeah, but you are killing us? Why are you even applying that algorithm to us?” And they said: “We really don’t have any choice.” And in the end it came down to the fact, as they said to us, “You guys are just really small potatoes for us to really worry about in any way, shape or form.” So we were kind of screwed. Because we could never could claim thousands of views on our video but we could claim 150 to 200 a day, and it was valid, and we were getting good quality people. These were not low people on the totem pole in research but were pretty good research executives both on the clients and suppliers side.  And we struggled through the end 2016 and into 2017 with exactly what we should do and how we should do it. And this year we have come up with a little bit different formula: we streamline our process. Our videos are much shorter. I have done away from my one-on-one interviews with people, and instead I have been invited people to do two-minute long commentaries about subject matter that I agree with them that was important enough, different enough, innovative enough, that deserved to have the attention of the research audience. And our views have gone up this year. We are probably are at the 100-125 level because the quality of what we are presenting is I think somewhat more in tune with what the people out there are expecting. But even that is a real challenge every day, Jamin, because I tell people that the market research industry is about 3 miles wide and about 1 inch thick. And by that I mean, you have people interested in television research that could not care less about scanner data. The people in scanner data could not care less about television research. People in television research could not care less about online communities. The people in online communities could not care about on and on and on. So it is a real task every day to find a subject matter that attracts a large enough audience to really maintain some credible numbers. But I think that we are making some progress there.

[14:31]

That’s great! I think that part of it… and I agree with your assertion that we are as researchers fundamentally Jacks of all trade, masters of none, in some ways and in another ways right where we get really, really deep and whatever it is our thing that we really care about, whether it’s add testing or whatever, and then forget about the space around us. But when you think about the commonality across the hundreds of interviews that you have done, what stands out for you over the last 6 years, 7 years?

[15:15]

The words that immediately come to mind are: “innovation”, “breakthrough”, truly presenting something that is state of the art, and that is not generally known a great deal about by a lot of people. And my barometer, my thermostat basically is myself. So if I don’t have any idea about what they are telling me that they have now developed, then I assume the audience doesn’t either. Because most people in our industry, which is probably 95% of them, are so busy and so focused on their specific area of responsibility that they don’t really have the time, they probably have the interest, but they do not have the time to really absorb what is going on in another area of research that ultimately may very well impact their research and their careers.  

[16:17]

Earlier today I had an interview with Frederic-Charles Petit, who of course you know is the CEO of Toluna. He had mentioned that it is really incumbent upon market researchers in the industry to present ourselves to the next generation so that they choose us as a career.

[16:41]

I am not sure I am answering your question precisely but I would tell you that I could not agree more with what Frederic-Charles told you.

I have been on a very quiet but very stern mission for the last five years with the industry, and frankly they are not listening to me. We are completely missing opportunity after opportunity to attract young super talented, inquisitive research types. In my almost 25 years in the industry, I think I have met 3 or 4 people who actually told me that when they were growing up, they wanted to be in research. Almost all of us, and I am in that grouping, we kind of fell into the research industry. And for many people, it happened because it ended up being their first job and they liked what they were doing. But I maintain that we should be reaching out to people as early as high school because young students are interested in all the basic things that go into research: anthropology and sociology, statistics, online capabilities, and graphics, and all kinds of things that really can lead to a research career. And the last six years, without fail, among the most available jobs to recent college graduates has been Market Research Analyst, paying from what I have seen on average 50,000-60,000 dollars a year. That is a hell of a lot of money for a just graduated college senior! Their eyes probably grow very wide unless they come from a millionaire family. And I proposed to the associations; I have talked to almost all the heads of the associations and mentioned this and said: “Look, there is got to be a program I can set up. I know where we can build a curriculum from and we ought to be introducing it locally through research agencies and even through client research departments. Again, all in a localized basis to the universities and colleges. At the very least, trying to create a Market Research 101, and then shortly thereafter a Market Research minor, and ultimately, a Market Research major.” And I think we would be doing ourselves such tremendous benefit because we would be attracting some of the most talented young people out there who otherwise might not even consider because it is just not on the radar screen.

[19:52]

Love that framing. I completely agree. It is almost like maybe the partnership has to happen with Georgia or Michigan that are becoming a broader networking opportunity or pipelines for those universities with those specialty programs.

[20:14]

Michigan State has basically the curriculum that you need to establish and the books that they use at the graduate level right now. But you need to have the arms and the legs locally. For instance, here in Chicago, you would need somebody to go visit the University of Illinois-Chicago, and Loyola University and University of Chicago and all of the community colleges, etc. It has to be done at the local basis. And the research agencies and other entities whose lifeblood is research do exist that could do the reach-out and do the encouragement. And they could all, at the same time, and I think this is very key, offer the inducement that the top kids each year would have a guaranteed summer job internship at a research agency or at a client research department and such. And just imagine the impact that we could have across the country where you would have thousands of kids ready to enter market research as a career, and we would have the pickings of the best of them.

[21:31]

Yeah. I am thinking about reaching certain economies such as where I am based, a resident California, which is well above average and has about 8% of unemployment, or Detroit. When you pick these markets where there is lack of opportunity at a high school level, people are already thinking: “Okay, so how do I make money as soon as I graduate?” So you are really talking about a trade school aspect that could be introduced into that curriculum in lieu of PE or whatever, a much more educated or active part of our economy that is centric to this, what I believe is, the rudder of a brand, which is market research.

[22:14]

Agreed. So if you want to join me in trying to push this, I think it would be a great enterprise to be involved with. And I think we could get the industry to follow along if we would just get enough people who would be enthusiast about it.

[22:33]

There is a local entrepreneurship school here in Fresno called Patiño School of Entrepreneurship. It is a high school. It is completely free, open enrollment. The student body is massively diverse so it is not at all what you would normally think of a school like this. I am starting to do the podcast onsite… when is the first one? It has not been scheduled but it is this month, right? It is in September. We are going to start doing it once a month. I am going to be interviewing the students. So what I am going to do, Bob, based on this feedback, is incorporate a set of questions about market research just to gage overall interest. So that will be part of the public domain from a visibility perspective, and I think separately it would be interesting to see if we can plant a flag to help raise awareness in this space.

[23:24]

The idea also frankly came through the annual University Research Award that GFK had instituted five or six years ago, and I believe it is still in effect. What they do is that they have a competition. And any college or university with a research program of some sort is eligible to do a research project. They get some guidance from people at GFK, and at the end of the project, there is a competition and GFK picks a winner. And for four or five years in a row, I have talked to the winners. And the winners all told me that they had no idea what research was about before they did this project. All of them they came with very different interests, such as I laid out a few minutes ago, whether it was statistics or online research or anthropology or that sort of thing, and yet almost without fail, the four or five team members said that they wanted to go into research as a career as a result of their exposure to it. So that is really where I think we can make the greatest point about the potential for this idea.

[24:49]

Speaking of insights, so how do you use data to drive your organization forward?

[25:00]

Honestly, not very much. Ha! We are not data-oriented because we are very small. We don’t have a lot opportunity to look at things… Our data, our metrics are basically looking at our videos, looking at the reaction response we get for the newsletters that we put out. For instance, we put out now for the third or fourth year what we call “RFL global top 50”, which is our listing of top research-related organizations in the world. It was specifically designed to take on the gold top 50, that is an industry staple, and we have made some nice progress in doing that. But we don’t really get too involved in the data, because there really isn’t that much for us to do, and we only have a two or three person operation so we cannot really afford to get too enmeshed in.

[25:57]

We are similar, right? I only actually have one KPI, which is number of daily downloads, and that is the only thing that we care about. We have just started our journey but as we are learning and failing and winning and learning, we are going through these cycles. One of the things that has been interesting is how we utilize social media. At an organic level, not at a paying level, although you could apply this to paid, we just don’t have the budgets yet for the paid. Ha! So…

[26:37]

Neither do we, although I get a phone call every two or three weeks saying that they can improve my viewership. It will only cost me 30,000 dollars a month to move me up from number 5,000 to number maybe 250. And I say: “Really? Do you think that is a wise investment on my part?”

[26:57]

I love that. So are you using other… How have you used other social media platforms to help drive awareness of your YouTube channel?

[27:09]

We have followers on Twitter. We have followers on Facebook. I have over 4,000 connections on LinkedIn. We message out to those people every day. We also use a system called Hootsuite to spread as virally as we can our Facebook and our Twitter messages about what is the content on the video today, or just to send out some messages about. For instance, there is a big news item like the day that the Ipsos-GFK deal came out a few months ago. I actually put a Tweet about the fact that it had occurred because nobody else seemed to be picking it up. We just try to make use of social media that way. And it has its benefits. What we have really learned is that if you put at something out at nine o’clock in the morning and the target will be pretty large, and does not see it until three o’clock in the afternoon, or does not get around to check it at three o’clock in the afternoon, chances are they won’t see it. We do send out the same message a couple of times a day. And that actually irritates people but there is nothing we can do much about that.

[28:20]

Yes, I think the choke point is exactly what you just said. Every single social media platform is inundated whether it is through paid advertising or just your normal channel activity basically. I think I follow, I don’t really know the exact number of people on Twitter, but let’s say it’s between 300 and 600. But that is a lot of tweets! And then on top of it, you add in other stuff. It is highly unlikely, unless you are retweeting your things that I am going to have the opportunity to interact with you so… But then you walk this balance of how much do you choke a channel because there is this tipping point of just becoming obnoxious. We are having that discussion right now in terms of is Instagram a relevant platform for Happy Market Research. Have you played much with, whether it is Instagram or Facebook, on that front to help drive awareness? I know that there is the Market Research Rocks Hell Yeah Facebook group. Has that been effective for you?

[29:27]

Instagram, I don’t think so. Facebook, yes, to some degree. I have actually found it very successful in promoting my book. But we use Facebook every day, we use Twitter every day, and it just depends on how and when you reach the audience. We know there are people out there that are interested in what we have to say but it is a matter of getting them at the right time because I don’t really check my own Twitter or Facebook feed for business all that often during the day because if I do, I will spend half an hour or an hour doing that and that is not an effective use of my time.

[30:08]

Interesting. So let’s dive right in then, to the book “Beyond Broadway Joe: The Super Bowl TEAM That Changed Football”. So what was the inspiration for the book?

[30:20]

I grew up in New York City in the 1960’s. I was a New York Met’s fan in 1963, their second year. And I just got interested in baseball. The baseball season ended, and one Saturday night I turned on the radio and low and behold I am hearing a football game, and the announcer is one of the Mets announcers so I started to listen carefully, and knew nothing about football. And I really got into the New York Jets. Joe Namath joined the team, and everybody knows that in 1965. Everybody knows who he is. Namath starts to do some amazing things. The Jets have some skilled players in a number of positions but all we basically heard about, living in New York and reading the papers every day, was what did Joe Namath say, what did Weeb Ewbank say. We did not know or read too much about the other players because there was actually intense interest in Joe Namath.

Over the years I’ve thought many times about writing a book about that team. There had been innumerable number of books written about the Jets and Joe Namath, and how Joe Namath won that game. And there is no doubt about the fact that Joe Namath was the difference maker. He really was a super-star that day but over the years, everybody else on that team –and there were 44 other guys who put on that uniforms that year, and almost without exception every one of those guys faded into anonymity. That did not sit well with me. And about four years ago, I was sitting watching a re-play of Super Bowl 3 with my two teenage sons and one of them asked me: “Who is this guy 81 on defense?” And I told him who he was. And “Who is this 75 on offense?” And I told my other son who that was. And my wife walked down the steps and said: “What are you watching?” We told her. And she said: “You know, you have always talked about writing a book about that team. When are you going to do it?” And I looked at her and I said: “I have never had the right angle on this because I can’t write another book about Joe Namath. There is no market for it.” And she said: “What are you going to do?” And I said: “You know, Charley and Mikey –my two sons, have just given me the idea of how and why I am going to write this book. The book is going to be about everybody else on the team who did not have the name Joe Namath at the back of their uniform.”

[32:52]

That is really cool! And with media stars like Gary Vaynerchuk increasing visibility on the Jets, it seems like there is an opportunity to be able to perhaps create some sort of partnerships to help lever the market into seeing your book and having the opportunity to buy it. I am not a sports guy incidentally, I do not follow any… I don’t even do fantasy… I don’t play sports video games. I do not do anything on the sports side so unfortunately I do not have a lot of connection but I tell you, I have now pre-ordered it, I guess.  Congratulations on your book! It is on Amazon for pre-order I believe, is that correct

[33:33]

Yes, it is. You can get it at Barnes and Noble, you can get it on Amazon. It is now on the book stores. They actually released it yesterday but there is another angle to this that I think is very relevant. I had to use a lot of research skills to do this book. And I did not even think about it at the time but I did 70 or 80 IDIs and a number of other skills that I had to really put to use in order to do the interviews and track people down, and all sorts of things. And I am actually going to be talking about the research elements that I had to incorporate in order to use this book at a couple of conferences this fall.

[34:14]

That is such an interesting point that you are making, Bob. And that is the crossover of a skill that you gain as a market researcher. I believe specifically on the qualitative side but it certainly translates into the quant side as well into other things like sales. I will give you a great example: I just had lunch with a customer today, and they were asking me about… they have a very high close rate but they only own a small fraction of a specific market. So I asked: “Who is winning?” So they told me who’s winning, and I asked do they know who their customers are. They were able to access it at a municipality level, so it is public information, and they actually know when one of the competitors closes a new account and who that new account is the day it closes.  And I said: It’s really easy, you go pay that person 60 bucks and you ask them about their customer journey to identify where the channels are that you are not currently penetrating, and then you reverse the sales process and start getting in front of that new market. And they were like ”You are so smart!” And I am thinking: “No, I am just 20 years in market research, trying to learn how people think and reverse engineer success.”

[35:35]

I will give you the biggest research attribute that I did not really have to apply but it is the most relevant thing of this book from a research perspective, and it came from my wife, who does not really understand all that much about what I do for a living. She said that she was talking about this out loud a couple of months ago: “Don’t you talk about new product success and failure all the time?” And I said: “Yeah.” She said: “Aren’t the Jets a classic example of a great new product success?” And I said: “Wow, yeah. This was a franchise that was bankrupt. The Jets were worth $6 million before Super Bowl 3 started. The next day, after they won, they were valued at $16 million. The latest estimate that I saw from last year was $2.75 billion.

[36:34]

My guest today has been Bob Lederer, the owner of Research Business Daily Report. Bob, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[36:44]

Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your time. Thank you very much for allowing me to talk about my book, which as you mentioned is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your local bookstore.

Ep. 124 – Ray Fischer, CEO of Aha! Online

Today, my guest is Ray Fischer, CEO of Aha! Online. Aha! Online offers a full range of services and technology to conduct your research project – do it yourself or let their experts do it for you.

Prior to founding Aha! Online, Ray Fischer has been working and leading in the market research space for over three decades!

FIND RAY ONLINE:

Twitter: @rayfischer3

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/raymondjfischer3/

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/happymrxp

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/happymarketresearch/


[00:00:00]

Here’s what you can look forward to in today’s episode.

[00:00:03]

You know I think that we have to recognize that companies have cycles and so if I look at the current cycle, I think that where we are right now is [INAUDIBLE] a decision that we made four or five years ago. And the decisions were very – I mean, looking back, very simple but you know at the time they were quit bold.

[00:00:30]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted, our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources, now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast, today my guest is Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO and founder of Toluna, Toluna connects businesses with consumers to deliver real time insights. Under his leadership Toluna has had a successful and stories legacy, playing a key role in the market research space. Frederic, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:01:21]

Thank you for inviting me, I’m thrilled.

[00:01:23]

So what did you parents do and how did that affect your career?

[00:01:27]

Yes, I think that’s a very good question, actually because my father which is a role model for me, was an entrepreneur, and across his career he had to change business, move countries, and I think I always looked at him as a very hard working person, always working hard and trying to show the example but also very low profile in terms of his talent or his authority or his interaction with people and I think that influenced me into wanting to build a business, and I think that’s the role model, clearly, and I saw the same with my mother, she was not working, but she was a very hard working person as well and she still is actually.

[00:02:28]

The subject of humility is interesting especially from contrasting the earlier generations to modern generation, there’s a lot of self promotion going on in social media now, myself included, I guess, how do you think the tension, or where is the tension between humility and at the same time talking about your whatever it is that you’re doing in order to promote your brand, your products and ultimately yourself, so that you can have a successful, modern career?

[00:03:02]

It’s a good question, I think that you can still be humble, the low profile for me is being humble, and you know having this mentality of a challenger, by that, I mean that the minute you believe that you are a leader and therefore you should have the status of a leader which I don’t know anyone who would think like that. I think you’ve already lost the envy, the traction, the appetite for growing and for change and I think being humble and passionate, I think these are tools that can follow you during all your career and you can still be humble and be proud of what you’ve achieved but I think that there is a fine line and clearly times have changed, but you can still be – try to accommodate the two.

[00:03:58]

Tell us about your transition from your early career in law to a start up of Toluna?

[00:04:06]

So yes, I wanted to be a lawyer and I became a lawyer, I did Corporate Law MA, I studied in France and at NYU, in the US, and I saw – I was in the US from 1995 to 1997 which doesn’t make me younger when I say that and I saw a lot of the startup and what we used to call the New Economy, and I came back to France, I started law and after – very quickly I understood that it was not a path for me, for the reason that we’re linked to my role model, my father, because I thought that law could be entrepreneurial as well, that I could create my own law firm and build a practice but with my expertise which was Corporate Law MA and the fact that I wanted to play with the large law firms, it was impossible. So I was very excited about the internet and the ability to start a business at that moment in time which I felt was unique, 1999-2000, there was uniqueness in that moment and I decided to move on and create that company.

[00:05:32]

It was a really interesting time in the US at that point in time for dot com based companies, in the middle of the Silicon Valley, it was just crazy, crazy, crazy everywhere you went, what was it like in Europe?

[00:05:46]

In Europe, I think things have changed a lot but I was leaving France by then, and in New York there was excitement and a feeling of being intrigued by the internet and startup culture, but it was much harder and especially in France at the time, it was harder to start a company, just starting a company even if you were not raising any funds was very hard, even if you had the funds, opening a bank account as a corporation, and all that, so there was a lot of excitement, people were a bit dubious about the reality of this business model, because a lot of the business model was how much cash do you burn, or how much hit on your homepage, and people weren’t seeing that much revenue, and it was not much so it was a dual feeling in terms of – but clearly things have changed, in France especially, it’s a much more entrepreneurial culture than it was back then.

[00:07:07]

Does it feel like the startup culture now is similar to what it was in 2000?

[00:07:13]

Do you mean in general, or – I think it has changed in a way, it’s much more sophisticated I think, I feel that although we were not the first one because I founded the company in 2000, so I was quite late if you compare to the US but I was in the first wave, I think that back then you could come with an idea and a business plan and start a company and raise the money, and that’s what exactly happened to me, I had an idea, we drafted a business plan and we went with that business plan along the back of that, not even having created a company, we raised the money, I think that with the dot come boom and then the dot com burst, and the sophistication of the investor and things have changed and there is a much more organized process from when you start to when you raise your seed and your series A and series B and so on and so forth, so it has changed. I think it’s not easier today than it was back then.

[00:08:36]

How did you navigate Toluna to survive the 2001 dot com bust?

[00:08:42]

That’s a good one, I think all my friends were in law firm, they all said I think it’s great, what you’ve tried, why don’t you come back, and so it’s what we call B to C, back to consulting, and B to L, back to law, and I was very stubborn and I did believe that consumer opinion and the opinion of the consumer would change the interaction between brands and consumer and ecommerce and so I felt as well, which is very important, I felt a sense of responsibility in terms of commitment to the investor, that they had trusted me with that fundraising and my role was to fight very hard to survive during that period, which was really the – it was the winter of the internet economy in Europe, it was really awful, I have to say, because everywhere we were going was in the research industry at the time, and we were trying to explain that online, online was going to change the industry, just based on the data collection basis, everyone was very – most of the people I would say, not everyone, most of the people that we met at the time were very – I don’t know how to say that in English, they didn’t believe in it, they said we should come back ten years from now. And so it was very tough and so the way you survive in those moments is that you regroup, you stay focused on a very few items, you have to change your business plan, you have to change your ambition, sometimes it’s a day of reckoning, what you wanted to achieve versus what you can achieve within the period, and I was fortunate to meet a couple of people who were very, very nice with me, because I had to do my fundraising, at the time 2001, and one has become a friend so I was going to launch for us in France a massive ad campaign, for people to join the community, the Toluna community, and so I went to a number of agencies, big ones, a very big one, a small one, medium one, maybe had enough time, and agencies to get feedback and one agency, the one agency I chose came back after three weeks and we had the contract to sign and they said we have the recommendation for you, I said give me the recommendation, and he said it’s one word, don’t do anything right now, and I was very fortunate because I met these guys who basically helped me save the money to go through that very tough period.

[00:11:57]

I love the attitude and the mindset of conservative growth especially set in the backdrop of such a crazy economic period for startups, I’ve got this mantra, run to revenue, race to profit, it really tries to get to you need to build your core product and then get customers but as soon as that core product is in place you absolutely need to stop that burn ratio, and move the business to sustainability.

[00:12:29]

But it’s tough, it was tough, so a lot of good people, I have to say that I met during these years and it’s tough you have to make those choices and sometimes choices are imposed upon you.

[00:12:45]

In 2014, you acquired Harris Interactive, what was that acquisition thesis, the biggest challenges, and the outcome that you were most proud of

[00:12:56]

So first of all, I’m the CEO of a company called ITWP, which mean In Touch With People, actually, and ITWP owns two companies, it owns Toluna and Harris Interactive, so in 2014 we acquired Harris Interactive Europe, France, UK and Germany from Nissan, and that was quite a transformational acquisition, the acquisition was on the basis that we believed that there was a thesis as you said for digitalizing an online research agency and by that I mean that you can be online, but you’re not digital, by digital I mean using technology to produce and deliver insight almost in real time or in real time, and so we felt at the time that Toluna had a lot of this end to end technology, DIY consumer data, communities and that we could use all this Toluna technology to help Harris Interactive digitalize itself because Harris culture was already online interactive and it was easier and it was really a business case, we said we’re going to take this agency in the market which is flat, or flattish, or even declining, for traditional research, custom, by using – by leveraging the expertise, by leveraging their relationship and leveraging the technology of Toluna, they are going to go ahead of the market. And that’s basically what we’ve done and that was very challenging so what I said initially to the team, I said this is the first year, I want you to keep 100% of the staff, and I want you to keep 100% of the clients and I’m not here to disrupt, I’m here to help on that digital joining, and basically we did it, we grew the second year, ahead of the market and since then we’ve – I believe we’ve bid under the market share after a year, and Harris Interactive has been, I believe the example of a digital research agency, building the agency of the 21st Century which is the combination of end to end technology, access to seamless, access in real time to either people’s opinion or behavior and consulting expertise, but not repeating tasks that you can replace by automation and technology, reinventing the wheel, project after project, because the market has changed dramatically and what I believe brands, the brand manager or the marketer wants, they want almost real time access to people’s opinion and behavior, and I think that means that you absolutely need the digitalization to deliver on that, so I think that it was a bold move but I think the move was right when looking back.

[00:16:52]

In every acquisition there is this one plus one equals three and you’ve got to figure out where that value is, more often than not what I see in the thesis is reductions in staff, at a minimum redundancies are removed, how did you handle that differently?

[00:17:11]

It was not a cost driven acquisition, it was really a gross [INAUDIBLE] acquisition, and the fact is that we needed the expertise of the researcher in order to basically go back to gross but we needed the staff, the members of the staff to do higher value engagement with clients and not the repetitive one that you can replace by the technology, so that’s really what was driving the rationale for keeping – the headline was 100% of the staff, 100% of the client, and I understand if you’re doing an acquisition of companies that are – where there is overlap, then obviously you need to act differently.

[00:18:07]

What steps would you take if you were trying to get hired in the market research industry today?

[00:18:12]

I’m sorry, if I’m going to reverse the question if I may, I think that – and please that’s my perception of the market right now, if I’m a recruiter within a research agency the question I would ask myself day in and day out would be what steps my organization should take to hire the talent out there that may decide to go somewhere else in research or in a research company, because there is so much choice for people who are data driven and so much choice for people who understand – who have to purchase and can use a variety of segment or vertical other or industry other than within the context of a market research industry, where they can go to consulting, where they can go to media, they could go to ecommerce, they could go to even brick and mortar, and do that, so I think that the challenge for the industry right now is to attract those talents and to culturally understand that the world has changed, that the code what a research company should be and what type of staff a research company should hire has changed and that we need an influx of fresh energy from the less traditional staff that the research companies have recruited, so I think that if I am – if I was a graduate and I had choices, cards in my hand, and I wanted to go to a research company, I would show my difference versus the traditional researcher, and by that I mean we need what I call traditional researcher, people who understand the formality, the rules of research, and the foundation of research but we also need these people who have, who are crunching data, people we call data scientists, engineers, people coming from different backgrounds, and who certainly have across the board the ability to do it themselves and have learned that and I think that’s – really I think that that is the larger challenge for the research industry to attract that talent, so I would – how can we make ourselves more attractive.

[00:21:05]

One of the themes that I’ve seen emerge over the last five years, even more than that, is this responsibility it seems for the entire organization to conduct research, not just the market researchers, and so it’s created an empowerment which is great for everybody from the intern to the CEO to be able to conduct research, but this democratization of access to insights is creating some level of confusion, and a good example is of an international, I have a relationship with an international tech company, they’ve got five full time market researchers and they have 40 full time UX researches, that are partnered with the product team, and those 40 people are fitting outside what is traditional market research however they actually are doing customer satisfaction segmentation, a lot of the same type of work, this is causing confusion across the organization because you’ll have sometimes conflicting results, customer satisfaction being one of the more obvious opportunities for conflict, so how are you seeing this materialize in the industry?

[00:22:24]

Yes, it’s very interesting what you are saying because you know we are founding members of the Insight on Demand Consortium, we have right now close to 150 companies who have joined the consortium, a lot of consumer brands and one of the streams of discussion in the consortium is how do we cope with the silos between consumer insights and CX and how do we make sure that maybe we create more link within, and it’s possible, within the organization between those two parties or those two departments because in a lot of instances they operate in silos and I think that’s an issue moving forward because you need a lot of the crossover or the joining those dots, I think that’s quite important.

[00:23:29]

What are the three characteristics of an all star employee at Toluna?

[00:23:33]

I think that we have a series of values and those values, we basically, it’s not just to put them on the wall, I do believe that the values of the company are you know what unite the staff and when the staff need to regroup when things are tough and the values make the staff and the company excel when things aren’t going in the right direction. So I think that the first thing is that if you’re working at Toluna, and I’ve learned that over the years, you need to show the values of the company and the values – a couple of the values are meritocracy which means that wherever you are, wherever you come from, you have a chance of building your career within the group and growing within the group, regardless of which region you are, which department you are, and that’s very important, rewarding talent. One other value is that we like bold moves, that’s what we like, we like making a move like the move that we make over the time, and those – and standing by the bold move, we like to act as one team that succeeds, not just being one team, but one team that succeeds, and these values come back to the early days of the company when we were like 15, 20, 50, so I think that’s the first thing and I’ve learned very – sometimes it was tough, I’ve learned that if you recruit someone that does not share the value of the organization of the company, it’s problematic, I think that you need to have obviously the expertise, but that’s – I would say that’s a given, if you recruit someone for the wrong role, it’s a mistake for both parties, so that’s a problem and you have to be passionate about your work, because I think passion is a tool that you can use to go faster, to win, and I think that there needs to be a sense of loyalty between the company and the individual back and forth and I think that sharing those values, having the right skill set and ensuring that we help people get to the position where they can excel, and also having loyalty back and forth, and so I think that a company has multiple constituencies and actually that was my thesis when I was a law student was the constituencies of a company and the constituencies are obviously the shareholder, we need to give back to the shareholder, the clients, the staff and the community in which you operate, so I think that we need to look at those things when we recruit someone and sometimes we make mistakes, we have to recon the mistake. I have, there were times when I was doing a lot of the recruitment, I made some mistake, I recruited people who were excellent in their job, fantastic, but didn’t share at all the value of the company, and so that was a problem and we have to recon that and it’s not reconning just for the company, for the benefit of the company, it’s for the benefit of the two parties, the individual and the company, and there are stars within Toluna, a lot of them that have gone very fast within the company because we trust people, we trust people are doing – want to do better, want to do their job better, and the trust that we’re giving them is I think critical to take bold moves to act as one team to not just satisfy clients but to delight them, to be the company and that’s all – I said that yesterday to the team, one of the first things I said when I founded this company was I said we want to be the company, it’s very simple, that answers the phone at 6pm on a Friday to a client that needs us because we’ll be the company that that client will call at 9am on a Monday. And that was very simple values, it was delight the customer, but at the time I didn’t need to put that on the board because we were only 25 people.

[00:28:26]

One of the benefits about being old is, for me, is I can look back over my career and see how different choices I’ve made have impacted where I am today and one specific example of this is working with Braden Johnstone, and a client on Christmas Eve in order to solve a particularly difficult project that was in field at that point, we worked Christmas Eve, we worked a little bit on Christmas Day, project wound up going great, and that particular client was Edwin Wong which was my very first brand interview that I did at Happy Market Research, so you’ve got to remember this is right, the early days of Decipher, in fact Holland Partners where he was working at the time was only five people, so this is super early in everybody’s careers, you fast forward and now he’s the head of Insights for a major brand, the decisions and the way that we act in those early days massively – there’s a big lever there that impacts our personal brand and how we’re viewed later on in our career and I believe that it’s a core tenet if you treat people well through your process then they’ll be there for you in the end.

[00:29:40]

Exactly, it’s – I remember once I had – we had to do an acquisition, we had someone there, a very nice person, and a client calls and it’s a true story, I sit in the office, it’s a Friday and the client called and the phone is ringing, and the guy doesn’t move, and I said are you answering the phone, yes but we need to educate the client that they can’t call us after an hour, and we just acquired that company, it was one of the – it was not one of the senior managers, it was one of the business managers of the company, a very nice guy actually, and I said no, wait a minute, I’m not teaching the client any lesson, that’s not the role, I try to work with clients, but we are here to serve the client so if they are calling at six or seven pm on a Friday it must be very important so that’s where I confronted myself a very long time ago to the fact that culture is key, you have to share the same culture. And you can be different, you can operate differently, but the fundamental set of values needs to be the same for success. Otherwise, because when things aren’t growing, when the overall market is growing, no one cares but that’s when the market gets tougher and if you don’t share a set of shared values, then it’s – I think that the overall organization is, the English would say, in sticky wicket.

[00:31:29]

What is one of the secrets that drives growth, profitability, or success for Toluna?

[00:31:36]

I think that we have to recognize that companies have cycles and so if I look at the current cycle, I think that where we are right now is [INAUDIBLE], the decision that we made four or five years ago, and the decision where very – looking back very simple, but at the time they were quite bold, we always invested in technology, we always had an understanding internally, more internally than externally, that Toluna was a technology company and that we believed very early on and it’s easy for me to say that now but that’s true, very early on we believed that technology would be the key driver of change within the research industry because there is such industry, it’s a fantastic service industry but if you want to scale it for the digital world you need more than having offices everywhere, you need a strong scalable technology that automates a lot of the tasks and makes data or insights in real time, and we really believed in that, and so we invested ahead of the market the same way I think we invested ahead of the market in 2000 for the transition from offline to online so the gross trajectory that we have right now in this market is really linked to the decisions we made and we stick to the decision so we believed in the decision, we checked for the signal that this was the right decision and we stick to this decision and we [INAUDIBLE] the overall company. We motivated all the staff around the technology investment, and in order to digitalize research and I think that’s – yesterday I was talking to the staff and I said our gross trajectory is linked to three words, digital, digital, digital, and that’s really what’s driving our gross right now, it’s delivering insight in real time to brands across the globe and automating research in order to make sure that our clients can get the results faster, make their decisions faster and be able to make research and deliver research at the speed of business decision. And that’s really – it’s not about three weeks, it’s not about two weeks, it’s not about three days, sometimes it’s a matter of hours, and we have to understand that, these are the ways decisions are made, within our organization, right now.

[00:34:36]

You were very early in the mobile space, in fact, I think you had the very first mobile app for panelists, can you talk to us about what that – how that decision was made?

[00:34:49]

Yes, I think we came back so that there was two steps, step one, before the app, in 2006-2007 we looked at what we were doing and we said we need to reinvent the way we interact with our members, the members of our community and we were really a consumer opinion platform, a platform where people would give their opinion about product and services, and so on and so forth, and so we regrouped and going back to talent and we had a lot of sessions brainstorming, discussing, and so we came back with the concept of social voting, social voting meaning the ability for the consumer to create and exchange opinion through votes, so the ability for the consumer to almost build their own research. And so that’s when we decided to create, change the new Toluna and become a social voting community and then clearly we decided and in part of that we decided to create a DIY suite, we were already doing software as a service, convenience and things like that, but we decided to go very high speed into investing in DIY, so because we said the same way consumers will create their own vote and then currently exchanging votes online, at the time it was online the brands and the companies would do it themselves, some of them at least, and we need to give them that ability, and naturally we decided to build the app, but when we launched really the Toluna Quick Survey platform, more than the app actually, because the app was for consumers, so it was not so visible to the market, it was for the millions of members of our community, but when we launched Toluna Quick Survey there was enough which was a DIY, which is a DIY real time platform to generate consumer insight, a lot of the players in the market didn’t really consider that research, and so in a way we were very fortunate but we were also a bit questioning, why is it that we’re not the only one but we’re a few to understand that it’s going to be – it’s going to have to be delivered in real time and for that you need a community of consumers who can exchange votes on a real time basis and in the course of exchanging those votes and voting on subjects can basically be placed in front of the subject of the brand or the companies or the research companies or the consulting or media agencies and all that in real time. So I think that there was no difficultly in the decision because we tend not to, if we have a strong belief about a development for the company then we listen to the constituencies, the clients, the board members, but we tend not to listen to the rest of the ecosystem will usually, like us sometimes, will do the same thing for every day, for years, and may not see what’s happening next, so we try to keep that external view of where the market is heading and it’s hard because we’ve been in this market for 18 years.

[00:38:35]

What is Toluna doing right now that is getting a lot of traction?

[00:38:40]

I think that what we have is an end to end technology platform which really empowers user to be more agile, to adopt new research approaches, be able to do what I call do it yourself or assisted do it yourself research for the enterprise market, and that’s very important, so it’s not DIY, and by that I’m absolutely not negative, it’s not DIY for moms and pops, it’s DIY for the enterprise market. And so by [INAUDIBLE] the user to interact with the platform, interact with millions of consumers in real time, we give them the ability to make better and faster decisions, day in a day out. And so I think what’s why, that’s really what we’re bringing to our clients and there are a lot of stories like that of brands who are – have shifted from doing things that were taking weeks to doing things that now are taking hours. And I could give a lot of examples, there are so many examples, where we are seeing brands using our technology in real time to inform – be it their advertising campaign, their new concept, giving them the ability to iterate and the word iteration is absolutely important when it comes to launching new products or new ideas in the market or adopting new formats, and so that’s really where the company excels in terms of the digitization of research and it’s driving the gross of the company, and I think it’s very synchronized with that moment in time where we are.

[00:40:41]

My guest today has been Frederic-Charles Petit, CEO of Toluna, Frederic, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today

[00:40:49]

Thank you very much for having me today.

[00:40:52]

And thank you to everyone who has liked us or followed us on SoundCloud, Apple Podcast, or Google Play, we really appreciate that feedback, keep it coming, have a great day.