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Ep. 133 – John Papadakis – Pollfish – How to Start a Market Research Tech Company

Today, my guest, John Papadakis, is the Founder and CEO of Pollfish,  Inc. Pollfish is a platform that provides brands a revolutionary way to learn, communicate and interact with existing and prospective customers.

FIND JOHN ONLINE:

https://www.pollfish.com/ LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/papadakisjohn/

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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Twitter: @happymrxp

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


[00:01:08]

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.

You’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is John Papadakis, CEO and founder of Pollfish. Pollfish is a survey platform with a unique approach to sampling, designed to improve data quality and speed to insights. Prior to founding Pollfish, John had worked in technology, developing a platform that made building Android apps easy. John, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[00:02:01]

Thank you so much for your time, and for inviting me.

[00:02:04]

I’d like to start out with this marquee question of ours: Tell us a little bit about your parents and how they have affected your career.

[00:02:12]

First, some background: I’m Greek. I was born in Athens, Greece, and then moved to Germany until I was five years old, and then ended up in a small town one hour away from Athens. Both of my parents are retired now, but they were elementary school teachers. So for the first three years of elementary school, they happened to be my teachers as well. Twenty years ago, being a teacher in a small town in Greece was a really respectful role for the local community. So I grew up in an environment where my parents were very respected by the community, and the other way around. Especially my father was very diligent: he would not have any task undone; he was a very responsible person, and still is. So one of the key things I take away from my parents is “being diligent” and “being consistent”. The other thing is that my father was also leading the school, so he was running a small business. I didn’t understand that at the time; but now seeing back—his having a proper P&L, and having employees—maybe some of that background was passed on to me. The most important one is that they were teachers, so one of their main responsibilities was to understand their kids. So I had infinite moral and financial support from them to follow my crazy dreams. Maybe that’s one of the most important things. But I’ll tell you what: there was one thing that I didn’t learn from them, and that was teaching. I’m notoriously bad at teaching, especially people who don’t want to be taught. So I had some takeaways while some others, things and perks, didn’t pass on.

[00:04:18]

Things sometimes didn’t stick. I think all of us have some of those good and bad characteristics, thankfully, that maybe we didn’t carry over from our childhood. So “supportive”—it seems that was a central theme with your parents. We’re going to get into the details in a minute, but you’ve had a background of entrepreneurship. With respect to your father: Was he a principal? Did he start the school?

[00:04:55]

He was a principal. He was leading the school in the very last years of his career.

[00:05:02]

Interesting. Then what brought you out of Greece?

[00:05:08]

I only recently flew out for the first time to follow my dreams and my career. And that was Pollfish. I flew out of the Greece the second year that Pollfish was founded. Until then, I was in Greece, a Greek-only ecosystem, and doing some technology stuff.

[00:05:33]

So you recognized that Greece wasn’t the best environment for you to be able to create this technology startup. Did you immediately go to New York?

[00:05:45]

No. First of all, Greece on its own is not a good ecosystem to grow a business in. You can grow a local business, of course—you have access to the local market and local talent—but in the very early days with Pollfish, all of our clients were especially from the States. The first time I came to the U.S. was 2015, and I flew to San Francisco. I was staying in one of those houses with twenty-five people in one room. I loved it. I stayed there for about probably six months. We didn’t manage to get any investors, any clients, any partnerships, so immediately we knew that San Francisco, or the West Coast, wasn’t suited for us. And then we started to get customers and partners from New York, so gradually I moved to New York as well and brought a big part of the business here.

[00:06:46]

So technology startups think about Silicon Valley—of course, it’s the “heart” of tech-based startups. I’ve got a lot of experience in that specific ecosystem. Why do you think you found traction inside of New York, with New York investors, versus Silicon Valley?

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It’s mostly with New York clients. This is because a lot of research agencies are here, a lot of brands are here; and our product—market research and what we were selling at that time—was really suited to agencies and consumer-facing brands, especially their marketing departments, and there are a lot of those in New York. In San Francisco you have more technology companies—technology consumer-facing companies in the early days—and they might not be doing so much market research in the very early days, or they might rely more on the early adoption data rather than going out to the market to ask people. We just didn’t find a “fit” at that time.

[00:07:58]

So “Go to where the customers are.” That’s one of my rules in business. You don’t expect customers to come to you; you go to where the customers are in a physical sense, obviously in a digital sense as well. You’ve got a lot of different types of companies, but you’re right: market research is, in a lot of ways, East Coast to West Coast in terms of size, with obviously some outliers in Hollywood et cetera.

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I think that as well. And one other key factor is that—although, I’m biased—in New York you find better talent in that specific sector because you have more experience here, more companies are in New York, in the East Coast, or Connecticut. A lot of market research companies are here, and so you have a lot of people with experience in market research as well.

[00:08:53]

Did you find that your customers in those early days—well, actually, let me back up. How did you wind up getting your customers in the early days?

[00:09:01]

I can tell you the story of how we started. That’s very well-related with this. Back in 2013 we had a few apps, popular applications for the Android and iOS devices. It was the very early days of mobile apps back then. We had quite a bit of users, but we couldn’t make any money out of the advertising that we chose to monetize our apps with. Back in Greece, as well, there were not many advertisers who wanted to advertise, and the only way to make more money was to include more ads, and we didn’t want to do that. So we thought: What is the best way to get money and monetize our content? And we came up with surveys. That was the origin story. We created a survey platform that we incorporated into our own apps, and we re-launched the app and updated the app. We were running surveys, our own surveys, to see if our users would respond to that, and we were amazed by the response rate. So we took those results and we said, “Hey, we have 300,000 users and we launched a survey and got 3000 responses in two hours”; and we went to a local market research company, and they said, “All right, I’m going to try that.” This is when we actually formed the company; this is when we actually became a company. So a kid that has nothing to do with market research goes to a local market research store and tells them, “Hey, I can do this. Do you want to buy?” That was the very first client and the origin story. After this we went to LinkedIn groups and started creating a buzz around how we do market research and how we collect responses, and clients started to come. From the very beginning, all of our clients were self-served, so we didn’t have any services. It was DIY from the very first day. So we started seeing customers from New York and India, but especially and mostly in the East Coast. They just came in.

[00:11:26]

So you quickly moved to a digital customer-acquisition model, is that correct?

[00:11:30]

Right. So the only non-digital acquisition model was the first sale. After that it was all digital.

[00:11:36]

And that gave you, of course, the market proof that there was a product-market fit in that context.

[00:11:45]

Right. However, the story is not that smooth. So, very fast, we went into the market research space and started to get clients. Immediately we started to get a lot of interest in our product, but then we saw that our clients were seeing, at that point, that the way we collected data, because we were not operating as a panel, and the way that we collect from the consumer being mobile-only—not mobile-first, mobile-only—they considered Pollfish to be for toy-surveys. So they would be our customers, but not really. We had to spend a lot of time and a lot of years, actually, to come to 2017-18, where mobile and other sampling technologies are becoming the norm. But in the very early days it was extremely difficult. We had the luxury, and we are very happy to have had supportive investors in the very early days that also believed in that vision, otherwise we would not be here. It took us a while to start making money.

[00:13:00]

Yeah, that’s quite a while, too. It takes a lot of fortitude to stick with a startup for three, four years. Tell me a little bit about your experience, or exposure, to market research. Did you have an understanding of it, or were you more introduced to it as you found your consumers’ interest in taking surveys through your app?

[00:13:29]

Right. Now we have. In the early days we had no idea about market research. So we were very naïve going into that market; and actually, I believe that it turned out to be a plus and a benefit of doing so. We came with a fresh set of eyes to a world that was very standardized. You had the panels, and you had people to get paid to respond to surveys, and you had surveys with a hundred-and-fifty questions—and if we knew all those things before we started the company, we wouldn’t have started the company; there’s no way we would have started the company. So being naïve, we said, “We know mobile, we know people there and we see that our app is getting downloaded thousands of times a day, so people are in there. We’re going to make an experience work for that and want to put the consumer first. We don’t care about the customers, for now, because they’re going to change their mind.” That’s a very expensive and very luxurious decision to make; and if we didn’t fundraise, we couldn’t make that. But luckily, we were naïve enough and had the support of our investors to do those things and be where we are today.

[00:14:43]

How did you manage that relationship with your investors? I’d have to believe it was fairly tense in the early days.

[00:14:49]

Well, not really because, if you think about it, we have a two-sided marketplace. We are providing a way for the publishers to make money, in a very nice way, in a user-engaging way—we take a lot of care about the user experience while doing so. And at the same time, we’re looking for customers to use our services. Luckily, we were extremely successful in the first part, and we managed to train the market, and the market adapted to our mobile-first survey offering for monetization, and the numbers were amazing and the adoption was great. So, to be frank, something was there. Everybody could see that. It just took us a while to go into the market at the right time that the clients will adopt such a solution.

[00:14:45]

It’s pretty indicative of market research. As you said, we are an industry that is very steeped in tradition and approved methodologies, data-collection approaches et cetera, et cetera. And it is interesting. There is this J-curve effect I’m seeing in the tech-space of the companies that can persist for three to five years. The market hits an inflexion point where, all of a sudden, they become considered norms, and then the adoption just sucks up, right?

[00:16:21]

Right, but if they make the right choice.

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Yeah, you’re right. You have to have the right bet the whole way through, but I think it would be very easy for a lot of companies to pivot as opposed to stay the course in market research.

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Right—and I’m sure you know best—but last year market research was extremely different from what it is today, and next year will be also extremely different. So the good thing is that it took a while but now the market is starting to adapt and is starting to try new things and actually acknowledge that there are more things to collect samples, more things to get data, and actually make sense of those all-new technologies.

[00:17:07]

Right. It’s really an interesting time right now in market research. We’ve got questionable growth, and the majority of that growth is actually coming out of social-based approaches, specifically social-listening. Mobile-first is something that we’ve talked a lot about. I like how you framed it as a “toy”, Certainly in the early days of mobile that was the case, but now that brands are under this tremendous amount of pressure for performance, I know mobile is where the consumers are, and just like you did, they’re modeling their data-collection approaches accordingly.

[00:17:52]

Right. And looking to the future, maybe the days of mobile phones are numbered. Market research needs to be mobile-agnostic, really. It doesn’t need to marry formats. Just go to where the customers are and everybody will be happy at the end of the day.

[00:18:12]

You had a company before you started Pollfish, correct?

[00:18:16]

Correct, yes.

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And that was an app that created apps, if I understand correctly.

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Right. Correct. It was an app that created apps.

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Which is a freakin’ awesome idea, by the way. I love that, conceptually.

[00:18:29]

Right.

[00:18:30]

Did you wind up folding that into Pollfish? Or did you close that, and was Pollfish a new initiative?

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The second part. Pollfish is a new initiative. However, there was a first company—again, going into the entrepreneurial space without knowing anything about it. We had as a company a lot of great technology, we had great experiences. The company didn’t end up going anywhere, but that was my first MBA, essentially—I haven’t done an MBA. So I think the takeaways from that experience were so big: what is a company, how to create a company, how to communicate with clients. All those things might seem very straight-forward to people that run businesses, but if they take a step back and remember themselves before they did so, it’s a really good school to start a company. So for me it acted like an MBA. It was a great an amazing period of my life. It ended up being a failure as a business, but with a lot of takeaways.

[00:19:49]

What was one of your key takeaways in starting Pollfish?

[00:19:53]

From the previous business?

[00:19:54]

Yeah. In other words, what was one of the key learnings from the previous business that helped you start and, ultimately, scale Pollfish?

[00:20:04]

Well, it provided a head-start. Instead of learning all those things, you have some experience of how to do the first steps. That was the major one. It would be very hard for me to just name just one.

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So you found a lot of value in the starting of the company, in terms of the formation of the entity—really what I consider to be more of the block-and-tackle of managing the bureaucracy. Was that one of the big takeaways?

[00:20:36]

One of the main key differences in the beginning was that we started the last company without having any clients. We started Pollfish only when we had the clients. Small things, but maybe a change of mindset and experience played a role. And I also think that those experiences play a role today for me. I love when technology enables business, rather than the other way around, but this is not always the case. By looking at our previous experiences, it acts as a reminder as well.

[00:21:14]

Yeah, absolutely. So what is getting you really excited about the marketing research space right now?

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It’s changing, and that’s amazing. I don’t like things that stay still. I like change; I don’t like inertia. To be honest, I’m fascinated to see how this will end up. And when I’m thinking about market research, I always see a lot of similarities with advertising space. Programmatic advertising took 10 years to form the form it has today, and I see that market research lags five to seven years behind advertising. So I’m very curious and excited to see how the market research landscape will evolve; what is the programmatic market research that everybody sees today but nobody really understands what it really is because it’s not defined yet; and how the landscape will be in the next few years. I think that there’s going to be a lot of specialization—not in the use-cases as we have now, when we see companies doing specialization in healthcare or consumer insights, but more specialization in the functions. So we’re going to have companies that are amazing—and they’ve built technology, the best technology they have, with the best people to communicate with the clients—and other companies that have the best flow detection algorithm and the best user experiences, and all those companies working together, and this is when we will truly have a programmatic market research landscape. Right now, we’re having baby-steps, right? We’re at the very early beginnings.

[00:23:06]

Do you think that’s a framework for Blockchain to thrive in, this research market place? When I think about the disparate pieces of a market research project, specifically, there’s a lot of logistics involved, right? Whether I use Pollfish or, you pick the company, that’s a piece of a piece of a piece. Do you think that a Blockchain-based marketplace would be really the framework where we’ll see that technology thrive in market research?

[00:23:39]

I don’t think so. At the same time, I own some coins, but I’m no expert in Blockchain and their technology. But if I were to estimate that opportunity, I would take a look again in the advertising industry. Does Blockchain play a role in the advertising agency? Not yet, as far as I know of. I can see some applications regarding transparency and everybody having a ledger of who responded to what survey so we have the best data, but the same thing can happen to the advertising industry, as well, so that the one side knows what the other side is doing in any market place. So to be honest, I do not believe that in the next period we’re going to have blockchain playing a role—not in the advertising space, and especially not in the market research space. If coins become a really cost-effective way to reward people, maybe we will see some applications there, but that also applies to the advertising space as well. You have rewarding solutions and rewarding advertising units. So, again, I would first look in the advertising space before making any bet for the market research one.

[00:25:00]

I think that’s super interesting: using advertising as the ‘canary in the coal mine’ to dictate where we are going as an industry. And that makes perfect sense given that, obviously, that’s the primary customer of marketing research.

[00:25:19]

Yeah, I think it makes sense as well. I mean, as you said previously, the other companies are feeling the pressure to go on mobile. Five years ago, they felt the pressure to advertise on mobile. At the end of the day, it’s where they are going to find their consumers and where they’re going to spend their money—here’s where market research goes. But we all know that market research moves slowly, and things need to be proven before we do something, so that takes five to seven years, maybe.

[00:25:53]

So coming out of a company that didn’t do well… I’ve had a company, incidentally, that failed. It was called Webconstruction.com; it was one of my very first startups. I did it in 1993, where I created websites for companies, and I wound up closing it. I could do the technology side of it really well, I just couldn’t—it was ironic—handle the accounts-payable and accounts-receivable side effectively. Just really basic stuff that I was failing at. I could do that sales and the delivery side. Anyways, it was a tough time for me, closing that business and taking a job for a few years, which, thankfully, worked out to be a blessing in disguise. How did you emotionally transition or maintain a highly positive perspective moving into Pollfish? Was that ever an issue for you?

[00:26:49]

Very interesting question, and it was not that hard. It was very natural. First of all, we didn’t raise any money, either from friends or family, or VCs; or we didn’t have any clients that were missed or that we had a responsibility against. So, really, it wasn’t that big of an issue or that hard of a decision. And it’s important to know that it was something that happened right after university, with no strings attached.

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Got it.

[00:27:19]

And the thing that made it easier was that Pollfish was, right away: there are no period of doing nothing. It was, “Here is Pollfish. If this business doesn’t go well, half of the team will move forward,” and we moved forward to Pollfish. So it wasn’t a bad period of bad experience whatsoever.

[00:27: 40]

So employees, of course, are the core of any business. In fact they are the asset of the business I have always argued. A contingent of our audience are from the University of Georgia, Michigan State… It would be great if you could talk to us a little bit about what you see as some key characteristics of an all-star employee, and how that really impacts your business.

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An “all-star employee”. That question really depends on the time that you are asking and the state that the business is in. So at this point of time, where we’re running at 200 miles an hour, I think the all-star employee is somebody who is extremely adaptive to changes: “We’re going to this. We’re doing this. The first week we don’t see results, we’re going to retreat immediately.” So being able to handle that acceleration. And the other one is “self-motivation”. Doing so many things and being such a small company addressing such a big market, you need people to be self-motivated all the time. Down the road, maybe one or two years from now, that definition may change, right? You may have more people that can lead teams effectively and educate people and on-board people, but at this point in time “self-motivation” and “adaptiveness” define the all-star employee.

[00:29:15]

Yeah, I love that. I think, experientially, that “adaptability” has always been key; and then, similarly, “self-motivation”. I’ve only managed a 400-person company, but from that framework of zero to four-hundred, I’d say the people that have excelled are the ones that are always adding value above the standard deliverable, and that comes, I believe, at the core of this innate desire to do better, which is to your point all about that motivation. That critical eye that that employee provides on the work, and then the communication and how that informs the broader organization, is really vital, honestly.

[00:30:01]

I agree.

[00:30:03]

In fact, taking it a step further—sorry to be kicking the horse as it were—this concept of motivation and adaptability starts blurring the lines of responsibility a little bit, which can make people uncomfortable, when they like strict guidelines, but that’s where I’ve seen improvements to gross-margin, because people will reach outside of their specific deliverable in a project-process and say, “Oh, if I got the information or the data in a slightly different format then it would save me a certain amount of time.” That sort of dialogue, if it happens at an organic level, can make all the difference in the world for a company.

[00:30:48]

Yeah, and any trait, if it’s in a very exaggerated form, can be negative as well. So, don’t get me wrong: you need responsibility in there, you need communication, you need diligence from the employee for them to be a good employee; but if they have all this and they are also self-motivated and they do not provide an obstacle every single time the business is changing years or direction, that’s an all-star employee.

[00:31:16]

You’re absolutely right. And I think that’s a point well-taken. You have to own your deliverables, your lanes, what it is you have to get done in the context of budget and time. So you’re right, there is absolutely a ceiling and a floor to that framework for it to be successful. And the reality is, I think, we all have and will continue to balance that to some degree. But I like that “adaptability” and “self-motivation” as core to an all-star employee. You’ve built a very successful company. What is one of your secrets that drives your growth, profitability or success?

[00:32:03]

I’m going to go back in answering this question to a similar way I answered one of the previous questions. I think it’s naïveté. It’s going back with a fresh perspective. And I’ll give you very specific examples just to understand what I’m saying. The period that we launched Pollfish, the standard was panels and interviews—they still are, but there was a notion that you had to pay, in some way, with a gift card or actual money, the people that were responding to the survey. That was the standard, and we didn’t know that. And we went into the industry saying that what the consumer and the respondent values is not necessary thirty cents per response, or even one dollar, it’s the experience they are getting: that’s what they value the most. So going there and those things being very native to us, we did it. You don’t expect a yellow cab driver to invent Uber—all he knows is yellow cabs; he does that every day; maybe he’ll invent a better yellow cab. So coming from a very fresh perspective, we managed to change the dynamics and the unit economics of sampling. If we didn’t pay the consumers—this actually happened: we didn’t do the calculations to do that, it actually happened. Without paying the consumers, and only paying the channels that the consumers will have access to, and giving the consumers native, in-app experiences every single time they respond to a survey, we can pass that unit economics benefit back to the client and allow them to do research very cost-effectively. If we had to pay the consumers—that model is broken. And we also couldn’t understand how a person could do 150 questions in one session. I have never done a survey like that. And if I wasn’t research-based, it would grow on me. I would say, “All right, it happens.” So we only, in the beginning, were allowing people to do twelve questions, and then we increased that to seventeen questions. And we lost a lot of clients because of that in the early days. But we were very stubborn, and coming from a different world, and saw—I’d like to think—the disadvantages of the market research base, and we took a completely fresh approach.

[00:34:55]

Know your assumptions, right? This point is my favorite thing that we’ve talked about. I take it for granted myself and am guilty of it as anybody is. We need to understand what our core assumptions are and not assume that they are “truth” because we are probably, to your point, missing the bigger picture. And that’s why it’s so important that we surround ourselves with people that are outside of our industry, that are widely diverse from us on a diverse a perspective as you can get, because that’s where we can start triangulating and then finding “core truth”.

[00:35:38]

I completely agree with that. Yes. Also, it’s a very hard thing to do: once you think you know something, it’s extremely hard to accept a different way of thinking. So it’s also a very hard thing to do as well.

[00:35:53]

So what is Pollfish offering right now that’s finding purchase in the marketplace and offering a lot of value to your customers?

[00:36:00]

So essentially, there are three things. We allow our customers to tap into our survey network—it’s a very big survey network that reaches half a billion consumers—and we allow them to do so in a self-serve manner. So we brought two things: we brought speed and cost-effectiveness by not paying the end-consumer, by paying the channels, and implementing that new unit of economics. And at the same time, we said that we will only allow you to use our service if you know what you are doing, if you can build the survey on your own. That, again, is something that in 2013 nobody would do. So what we are presenting is that we want to make it extremely easy and no-brainer for a business to do research. That has a lot to do with the cost and a lot to do with the speed and ease-of-use, and I think we’re getting there. Maybe we’ve played a very small role in it, but the businesses also want that today. So whatever you are doing now, if you are in a company and you have a question, it’s a no-brainer to run a pollster survey and have more insights for things that when wouldn’t normally pick up a phone and run a survey campaign.

[00:37:34]

Does the SurveyMonkey IPO get you pretty excited? I know today’s an off-day in the market.

[00:37:41]

Yeah, you picked a day. But yeah, it’s the first after a lot of time, right? And I don’t think it’s a secret that more will come. It’s really nice to see how markets react to market research, but it’s a pretty different model and different industry—it’s not on the sample side, it’s more the provider and the tools. But yeah, I was very excited on the day of the IPO. I actually went to Times Square to see the whole thing with the NASDAQ images there. But I think that everybody in the industry is excited with that, to see how that will go.

[00:38:22]

Yeah, it’ll be neat to watch them and then Qualtrics, of course, coming out sooner rather than later, I believe.

[00:38:29]

Right. Yep. That’s my prediction as well.

[00:38:33]

My guest today has been John Papadakis, CEO of Pollfish. John, thank you so much for being of the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:38:40]

Thank you so much for inviting me, and I enjoyed very much the conversation.

Ep. 132 – KaRene Smith, Creative Insight Geek at Shine Insight

Today, my guest is KaRene Smith, the owner of Shine Insight. Founded this year, Shine Insight was created to address the challenges corporate researchers face today by offering an alternative to the traditional market research agency model of operating, scaling, and delivering results. Prior to joining Shine Insight, KaRene has worked in marketing and account leadership for some of the world’s top agencies, including Directions Research, Kantar, and Burke.

FIND KARENE ONLINE:

https://www.shine-insight.com/

Twitter: @ShineyInsights

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:44]

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 KaRene Smith, the owner of Shine Insight. Founded this year, Shine Insight was created to address the challenges corporate researchers face by offering an alternative to the traditional market research agency model, operating, scaling and delivering results. Prior to founding Shine Insight, KaRene has worked in marketing and account leadership for some of the world’s top agencies including Directions Research, Kantar and Burke. KaRene, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[1:37]

Thank you Jamin, and I am excited to be here. I am a very much “Happy Market Researcher”!

[1:43]

Ha! Hey! That makes two of us. I am quite a few years in the space, and I am excited about jumping in with you today, listening to your narrative of working with some of the… actually, the largest brands in our space. So let’s start with your story. How did you wind up in market research?

[2:02]

That is always a great question. I love asking that question to people too because I am one of those typical people that sort of fell into it accidentally. I was actually an Art major to start college. I was on a full Art scholarship but I also had a love for mathematics and writing –one of those weird right and left brain people. So I thought for sure I was going to be an artist or something very much to do with the arts. But after about a year, I had decided that I really missed very much writing and math and all the more pursuits that were, you know, much more solid and concrete, and black and white sort of things. So actually I left Art and switched majors to Research Psychology. And I love the idea of just trying to figure out what makes people tick in certain situations, and I definitely fell in love with statistics. And I was all sad… and I did not know that market research was a field. I was all set to start my PHD in Industrial Organizational Psychology at the University of Akron, and a friend of mine told me about Burke Marketing Research. I interviewed for an analyst position, and I have been hooked ever since. I absolutely love working on projects and just figuring out what that “aha” is and anything about my journey is that I also love visualizing… the insights. So that’s sort of it in a nutshell. But I have had a pretty unique career. I have been in analytics and operations as well as the marketing side of research.

[3:25]

So statistics! That’s interesting that was your anchor point into it.

[3:33]

Ha!

[3:34]

I kind of get it why but can you elaborate on your connection with statistics?

[3:39]

I have always been very curious, and I love answers to problems. And I think that’s sort of why I struggle with art, quite frankly. Because there is not a right answer to art. Uhm… but I love math in school, and physics, and chemistry. But taking my first statistics class in college, it is more of a visual math, like calculus, if that makes any sense. Because you can see the data points on this that tells the story. And I just fell in love, and I took every class that my college offered in statistics including making… having the professor create a couple new ones for me because I loved the idea of experimental design and Latin squares and factor and regression and everything to do with the math of it.

[4:21]

I did not have the privilege of that experience through college but once I started in Primary Market Research, I remember seeing apply statistics in action, and at that point in time I fell in love with it in the same way.

[4:39]

Yes.

[4:40]

Seeing that scatter… Seeing that thing about correlations, for example. And then that scattered plot visualized along with your… you line, right? The regression is super exciting because it communicates so much information relative to what might be driving specific behaviors.

[5:00]

Yeah, and I think that it tells a story. And there is a story there. And something you would never a think a story is. A story in numbers, of course, which I have always just found fascinating.

[5:10]

So as the disciplines have developed more and more in the last few decades, we are seeing, obviously you are aware of it, big data is playing… is all of range over the last what? Five years, six years?

[5:27]

Yeah.

[5:28]

…statistics becoming one of the more important… in fact, I think it is the case of every single person we have interacted with has said that strong quant skills is table stakes nowadays, even if you are not moving into Python and R but just to move into a research role effectively, you have got to be able to operate in that space.

Conversely, we have seen qualitative start moving more and more into the front, with this idea of enhanced story telling. Have you been seeing that transition?

[6:09]

Yeah. And I think it is interesting. I think there are table stakes for the generalist market researcher in terms of understanding quantitative but I would also say it is table stakes for them to understand the soft skills in qualitative. But yes, you know, with all the data that we are swimming in, and that being what they say “the oil of our economy” at this point, it is critical to understand the basics of just… not to be all about the practition and do the statistics but to understand what is possible, and what are the trade-offs of one technique versus another. Or at least to know when to bring in a statistician or someone that can guide you on that path.

[6:43]

So let’s jump in this great reference that you made, which is “oil of our economy”. Talk to us a little bit about that.

[6:49]

Well, I think there is so much data out there that we are not… And as market researchers, our job often times, especially on the supplier side, is to create more data –to do surveys, to do interviews, to do whatever it may be. But there is so much information out there that I think there is almost too much information. So it is taking the pieces across the different areas, and they are not necessarily the traditional, your areas for market researchers. They can be shop-alongs or video diaries or just selfie pictures, and just creating all that to really fuel insights. But it is such an exciting time because of that. We are no longer held to… with technology, we no longer have to be held to the focus group that hides behind the glass window or the online survey. We can use the power of so many of these neat technologies to really fuel some really creative thinking and get some of the “aha’s” for our clients and our brands.

[7:46]

In general, are you seeing brands being more accepting of new techniques and technologies than previously? And how is that releasing budget dollars?

[7:58]

I think that for corporate clients, yes, to stay competitive even in industries where you are not going to see the most innovation, like education or government, or you know, manufacturing, I think you are still trying for people to understand that innovation, and what’s new, and what’s thought-provoking, to be and stay competitive in this day and age where everything is moving so quickly and the competition is more fierce than it ever has been, you really have to think outside that… you know, that box, to stay competitive and in tune with what consumers are thinking.

I spent many years when I was at Burke working on utilities. And this back with deregulation that happened, you know my age here, long time ago. But even those companies that they shouldn’t have to think about a consumer, they are. It is so neat to watch these clients or these brands that are exposed to new ways of doing things. And you can see these classic researchers that have not been able to explore getting so excited about the new things that are out there. So yeah, I do think it is an incredibly amazing time to be a researcher regardless of if you are in the supplier or the client side. And that brands, yes, they are very open. But some are obviously going to be more open than others. A P&G versus, you know, the Duke Energy, you know, there is going to be a very big difference between the brands. And the categories, etc.

[9:28]

So “oil of the economy”… the framework there is that in every way data, or even consumers’ insights more specifically, is what is powering the engine of business.

Are you seeing market research as a P&L, getting more funding inside of brands? Is it getting more attention?

[9:53]

I think… unfortunately, I think it is a really hard time for many market research firms and some companies. Because I think that marketing and other groups within the corporations have become doing more research and dealing with more data that in some instances unfortunately, your classic market researcher is sort of being edged out as marketing becomes more of a data center organization but in other cases, yes, they are getting a bigger seat at the table. It’s really mixed!

[10:23]

“Edged out” and also “promoted”, right? Sorry, go ahead.

[10:26]

Aha. Yes, budgets in general…

When I started in Shine… I went, you know, I am a classic researcher, I had decided, you know, “I really want to find out what is going on in the industry”. So I talked to over a hundred different clients and suppliers as well as, you know, Academia, professionals, to see what they were seeing, what were the trends, what was really going on in the industry. And generally the consistency, especially from corporate clients, was that budgets are not getting bigger, generally. If anything, they are flattered down. So they are being asked to do much more with less. Some of those budgets are being switched to analytics functions, or entire new teams are being created that are taking up some of the budgets from traditional insights functions.

[11:12]

Yeah, I think that’s true. There is this theme that we have seen, I mean, since my entire career “do more with less”, right? And technology, of course, is exactly the way that continues to empower researchers… And in fact, we are seeing a shift… I have seen this twice in my career –a material shift at this point, of brands bringing researchers in-house, just because they can facilitate the research themselves using the existing tools, in some cases free, cheaper and faster than they could with agency or partner relationships. The other point you made, which is this “edged out”, I am seeing this, literally categorically, where again I think companies are just spending money. So things like user experience is getting funded. But it is seating outside of, in most companies, of the market research division. Similarly, big data courses usually seating outside that research space as well. Or if you think about data scientists tended again to be seating outside as well. And that is because they are working in lockstep with the product manager, R&D or whatever inside of the company. Whereas research tends to be seating a little bit more in line with the executive group in the organization. Now, I am saying that not as its truth but more as a question. Are you seeing similar sort of framing with your corporate clients?

[12:52]

Yes, I am but as I said, I don’t there is anyone… you know, as market researchers, we are so hesitant to make generalizations. There is data supports either way! I see both. I see organizations where market research is shrinking and analytics is growing. But I see other places where, you know, they are really finally… the leadership teams and the C-suite are really embracing insights in a way like they have never before. So I think it really depends on what is going on in this specific category. For retail, you know, break-and-mortar, the challenges they are facing versus technology or, you know, consumer packaged goods, etc.

[13:37]

You and I are similar in that neither of us really knew what market research was. In fact, I did not know what it was at all. In fact, I did not really know what it was until I… Actually, I thought I had accepted a job at a marketing company, I swear to God. And it was a market research company. Yeah, it’s crazy. Then I had to figure it out. That was a little bit different time. Do you feel like market research right now is more visible to… as a career path than it was when we started?

[14:04]

Oh, absolutely! Yes. Absolutely. I think that when you and I started probably twenty years ago, marketing research… My dad –it’s so funny, he would tell everybody that what I did was telemarketing. Ha! And I was like “No please don’t tell me people I do telemarketing”. Not that there is nothing wrong with that profession but yeah, there was just a misunderstanding. But now with the pace of innovation, and people launching different products, and the different things you see out there, I think it is much more mainstream in terms of the basic knowledge of what it is… at least among business people. I would think that, you know, still some psychology and liberal arts majors aren’t as familiar with it but among business people, certainly, and there is so many good Master’s programs out there currently… you know, Georgia’s MMR, the Nielson program, all those great programs out there that are becoming more at the fore front. And it is well with just how information is now shared now with social media, etc. There is just more information out there about all the different career paths. And I think, you know, it is hard to just major in Marketing. Anyone could but you would have to choose generally a specialty so I think that is promoted hopefully the success of people wanting to understand more about market research.

[15:17]

So your career, you know, Burke, Side Resource, Kantar, Directions and more recently, Entrepreneur, what was the impetus? Why did you decide to move out of… I mean, what drove you to move outside of… I mean, Directions is considered to be one of the top agencies in the space, out of that company and start your own gig?

[15:38]

It was a really hard decision. Directions is definitely home for me. It is a wonderful company, full of 150 people that I call friends. But I have been thinking on this… I had just rebranded Directions four and a half years ago and given my art skills, I had designed a new logo, created a new website, along with some other folks but you know, new materials, new way to talk about the company, and that was so exciting to me and one of my jobs at Directions for over the last several years was watching trends of what was going on in the industry and trying to keep on top of how do you shape an organization’s positioning given all that was going on. I was so fascinated by what was… what’s happening in agile, and all the amazing DIY solutions that are out there more every day and the fact that you can, you know, download a piano software, from a platform for two hours, which is something that five years ago that would have taken a team of twenty researchers and a week to do. So it was so exciting for me. My husband and I talked… You know, I could not shut up about it quite frankly. Ha! I am listening to podcasts about how I build this, and different things, and reading this entrepreneur books and at one point, he just looked at me and he said: “Why don’t you just try it? What’s the risk? Just give it a go or you are going to regret it.” So I just did, and it was something I thought long and hard of, and still there is days where I think: “What am I doing?” But so far I love it, and it is really an exciting time to market research for so many areas not just for entrepreneurs but people at different corporations or client side that I just really want to explore what was possible in terms of having a really, really agile group of people pushing the limits with DIY solutions but also using my background in visualization to really do some compelling activation and visualization of research insights, which I think is really critical right now.

[17:40]

You are a bit of a unicorn. And obviously, yourself, you are aware enough to recognize that, having the art and the math expertise, very, very rare. Of course you know that is a very desirable skill given your tenure inside of the space and the customers that you have serviced. How long did it take for you to actually get a customer?

[18:00]

Ha! At Shine? Well, I planned to take a few months off, and I had an old client that called me and immediately begged me to work with me so… ha! Yes, I have been incredibly fortunate. Having been in the industry for as long as I have and having worked at these different sized firms that cover a wide array of expertise and categories, I have a lot of contacts in the industry that I was pretty quickly… incredibly fortunate to get rolling pretty quickly. And also I had the opportunity to, I was offered the opportunity by Anne Perret to present an IAEX on visual story-telling as a new speaker and that immediately was very successful for me, and launched me into some new opportunities that I am incredibly grateful for as well.

[18:49]

So have you had an entrepreneurial experience where you have, I am not going to say it is exactly like this, but you know, the cold sweat, at one in the morning, wake up, “what the f did I just do?”

[19:04]

Yeah, I think it’s been more around trying to find the right infrastructure. I have been blessed with my companies where I had excellent accounting people and excellent IT people and trying to cobble that together with an entrepreneur in a way… I am not good with IT, obviously. Ha! I am not good with accounting so trying to put the systems together in place… that was the most challenging for me but finally after one of my project managers I work with has helped me put that together, and I know much better now. There is always going to be, and I think that there is for anybody that is on their own, that sort of whether it is the “impostor syndrome” of the “My Gosh, am I really the right person to be doing this?” or as well as “Where is the next project going to come from?” I think everybody faces that no matter how successful you are, you are on your own or running a company.

[19:50]

So walk me through that a little bit. And I am really interested in the specifics. I am just going to be honest with you. Last night… This is a true story, I am operating on two hours and fifteen minutes of sleep, I woke up, and I was literally afraid for… you know, just the future, which is hilarious because it isn’t based in any sort of reality. I mean, I have had very positive outcomes, you know, sold a couple of companies, but at the same time you do have… it’s different when you are an employee versus when you are… when you starting, when you are “it”, when you are the single source of income for the company. Of course, having a customer right of the gate is a dream come true. Have you had… Was it like… Did you have mounting stress relative to the back-office infrastructure? Or was it all kind of fit together for you?

[20:49]

I wouldn’t say that anything fit perfectly. I mean, I have only been doing this since March so this is all very new. And we talk again, and I might change my opinion. But I feel like that this definitely… And I really have the support of my husband, of my family and friends, and colleagues to really see what I can and cannot do so in general, I have tried not to stress about it but obviously, it is easier said than done. But I am just trying to figure out what makes the most sense for the industry right now and hopefully offering something that is compelling to my clients. Part of the reason that I went with the freelancer model… because I have… my company… We don’t have… I have a couple of contracts people but generally, it’s all freelancers that I work with so I am not worried necessarily making sure that they have health insurance and all those things that come with owning a company. I am more worried about making sure there is enough work in the pipeline for myself as well as for the key people that I support. But really just making sure that we are just really doing some great work out here.

[21:55]

I love the focus on customers and specifically, driving new products to existing products that are making that purchase. I think that takes a tremendous amount of stress out and also say this: “There is no benefit of stress. It is just a waste of energy.” And the fact that you have really isolated accordingly, I am a little bit envious of that. But congratulations!

[22:20]

Ha! Maybe it is because it is going to come later, Jamin, you never know.

[22:23]

Ah…

[22:34]

I am a mom of young kids. I have enough mom guilt in my life I am going to try not to let the… parental guilt too… because I know dads have it too. I am going to try not the work stress get to me too much.

[22:33]

At it, girl!

[22:34]

And I am sort of one of those people that feeds on fast and being really busy.

I have one client that came to me the other day, and said: “What can we put out in the next 24 hours on this topic? And I need video feedback from a couple of consumers that is very specific to a profile”. And so we did it! I love that kind of stuff where it is super fast, super busy, keep me going creative and luckily I have surrounded myself with some folks that really like that as well.

[23:04]

So let’s talk a little bit about trends? What are you seeing in market research? What’s moving right now?

[23:08]

So much! Ha! It’s like everything is moving, you know? Being in the industry for twenty years, there was obviously… it felt like trends were very slowly going to happen. For how many years… I mean, we talked about mobile. We talked about: “Oh, mobile is coming, mobile is coming!” Or the switch from phone to online… It took forever whereas now it feels like if I am not on Twitter figuring out what the new thing is every day I am going to be behind. I think there is always going to be the buzz words and different hot topics out there, whether it be block chain or AI or machine learning or behavioral economics, all these different things. You know, agile, which I am really excited about.

At the end of the day, the pace of change is only going to keep it accelerating so I think that the trend is that there is so many trends out there. But there is still the key trends that I don’t feel like most clients have had fulfilled for them. It is just the whole idea of doing things better, cheaper, faster.

A lot of companies say that they can do a lot better, cheaper, faster but I don’t see it happening as often I think it can. That’s why I am excited about what I am doing and some other folks that are doing, like my company, about trying to ruthlessly take out inefficiency or cost or just things that don’t really need to be there to really get agile solutions for our clients.

[24:34]

Because “agile” coming out of the development world and being applied to market research specifically, in a fast turn, quick turn sort of better, better, better, lean approach, right?

[24:41]

Yes, yes, and having that start-up mentality of “Just try it!”, “What do we have to lose?”, “Everybody, roll up their sleeves!” and “Let’s go do it!”.

There are so many amazing platforms and perspectives and information, like podcasts like yours, and so many other ones out there, that it is neat to be seen on that sea change we are seeing in the industry and just to be part of it.

But I think, you know, as a market researcher, you are absolutely going to have to start paying attention to trends now more than ever, no matter where you are in your career.

[25:21]

When you look at… when you canvas the existing market research landscape, you still see the majority of spin still happening with the large players. We all know that all those large players are being impacted by this agile approach, right? Because it has a very different… terms of trade around it. How are companies adopting… or adapting, rather, to this shift?

[25:45]

Well, I haven’t been in a big company for several years at this point. Directions was more mid-sized. I do think there is a place for most firms that are just willing to adapt and think outside of what they have always done. So I hate to see like “us versus them” sort of thing. But I think it is harder for the larger TNS’s, the Ipsos’s, the Nielson’s to be able to say: “Yes, we have a 24-hour turnaround, let’s put our best minds together and let’s get this thing done for the client”. You know, there is POs, there is processes, there is all this legacy stuff that does not allow for that. So I think those agencies are probably going to always struggle with that unless they are able to segregate specific styles of people that are able to operate much more like a start-up, much more innovatively.

[26:40]

Yeah, I need to get one of those C-level executives on here to talk about that. Because as we ID aid for them really quick, there seems to be a good opportunity for them if they could sequester resources that did operate like a boutique firm.

[26:58]

Yes.

[26:59]

It seems like it would be at least a material opportunity given that they have the depth of key relationships.

[27:03]

Yes, but I think it is challenge for the kind of people who would want to work for those boutique firms. They are really creative little geniuses that don’t necessarily want to work for a big firm, even if it is a boutique agency owned by a big firm. But who knows, that may change, maybe the larger agencies are going to learn lessons as there have been challenges and they have done that and lost a lot of people.

[27:27]

What is one of the secrets that you are attributing your start-up success to?

[27:33]

I think I am… my start-up success lies on the fact that I am focusing on an area that I feel like we are talking about a lot but not actually doing much about, that is, activation and visualization, visual story-telling.

We have had a big focus for the last several years on story-telling but it is fabulous how our market research reporting has gotten phenomenally better over the last couple of years because of that as well as presentations and all the different media out there that talk about insights finding. Most people were given a Power Point five, ten, twenty, twenty-five, thirty-five years ago, and they may have changed the words but they are still reporting the information in a way that does not engage audiences, especially the audiences of today, who have got their phone right in front of them, they are easily… their attention spans are dwindling. They are taking away too much information but I don’t feel like most reporting and presentation of information is designed with the idea of truly engaging an audience. So that’s where I feel where my background in visual story-telling and communication, and also marketing of insights, has allowed us to have a little bit of a unique space here for work that we are hopefully going to be able to take advantage of in the future.

[28:56]

So I love this point about having phones in front of them. You and I have both spoken… I usually have an opportunity to speak, once every couple of weeks. I now introduce myself with my Twitter handle and request that every… And I literally take 3 or 4 minutes of my initial talk to get people on to Twitter so they can interact with each other during the talk, which is very counter how I was brought up in church. Ha! Right? But what I am finding is that little hack creates this connection opportunity not just during but after I am done speaking. So I can operate at the macro level but then I have the opportunity to operate at a micro level or individual level as soon as I am done, or a week after I am done with that particular speaking engagement. So are you seeing… In your talks, how are you engaging the audience that is, to your point, not the traditional Power Point that we have grown up with?

[30:02]

Well, first of all, I love that, and I might steal that. I am actually talking next week so thank you for that. I think that what is powerful about what you just described is that it is not typical. It’s really getting people… OK, we sit in so many presentations. Or we listen to so many people carry on about something that we actually may be very interested in but they are presenting it in a way that we are just in auto-pilot so what I general try to do is… and I also, this is also for when I would build projects for my clients, I would come up with a research plan when we build a project but also I come up with an activation plan. Because we can put so much time and money and energy in doing the very essential part of research, and really work hard on it and it could be lovely but it feels like the presentation or the activation are an afterthought. So I always try to think about what ways uniquely or specifically based on the situation so that we can activate the findings. A couple of weeks ago I did something where we literally… it was about segments so at the end of the presentation, we brought in coffee mugs, each with a different segment, and these were placed in the break rooms and then there were pillows, one for each segment, they were placed in the little seating area. So different ways to activate the insights, not just inside the presentation but after as well but also within the presentation bringing in whatever props. That sounds a little corny but it really is. Can you bring in a consumer to literally talk to the audience? Can you do something to take it beyond that typical droning on of slide after slide.

[31:44]

Yeah, the humanization of that data, right?  So you got the math that tells a story but you got to have that story connect the audience. And 100% of the time I feel that is as important as the math. You got to have both, right, nowadays? You can’t just have one. And there is no one window-dressing research as there was when I first started my career, which was literally we had a library research studies. I know you have seen them too at brands and research firms. So those days are over, it’s all about action to insight, you know, give me the data and so what? And let’s move on.

[32:17]

Absolutely. And I think that it is not only with the overall project of finding the “So what? Now what? Let’s go?” It’s also within each piece that you present in it, making sure that you are not visually overwhelming the audience with these slides that are so data-dense or these findings that are just over articulated. It is about getting to the point and driving the insight whom, making it memorable and easily understood because I think we forget…

Behavioral economics is just a fascinating area of study, and I love reading on it and hearing people’s perspectives on it but I think often we forget that we can apply the behavioral economics in the whole idea of The Elephant and the Rider to our business communication and communication of insights and how we package them. Because people aren’t going to react to our presentation when it is a bunch of peer pie charts or it just not getting what it needs to or has too many numbers. And I think we need to make it more about that our audiences, our business partners or other researchers are human, and they only have a finite attention span. They only have a finite ability to take in information from you, and then make sure that you are not necessarily doing data dumps; that you are not telling a story-telling, arts, etc. but also visually because they eye can only pay attention to so much and so can the brain.

[33:41]

Exactly. I love this activation and visualization element. I really want to hear that keynote. Ha!

[33:51]

Ha!

[33:52]

Was that at IAEX?

[33:53]

Yeah, it was at IAEX. It was basically packaging insights visually to get better engagement. I have done it as a webinar a couple of times, and I spent two days recently, six hours a day, with another firm just speaking on it -solid. So it is a topic you could literally talk about for days quite frankly but I think it is something we really need to think about. Everything is designed in the world.

As graphic designers like to say, and industrial designers like to say: “Everything is designed”. But unfortunately, with business communication, not just for market research but in general, we are just sort of thrown out there. It is like you are pushed out of the airplane and they say: “OK, go ahead and communicate. Here is Power Point” or “Here is Google Slides”. And we are not taught how to do it well. And I think we need to take a step back and realize that attention of our business partners is a very, very precious resource. And you can send a hundred thousand dollars on that project and put a thousand hours into it but if you are not going to get their attention when it is time to really internalize the insight, you have sort of lost the battle.

[35:01]

Yeah, 100%. And I think that part of it is… I remember the very first time I did focus groups, one of the activities I had them do was a collage, the typical tear pictures out of a magazine and build a persona. And I have never been more scared in a presentation than when I had to present that to the customer because it fell so squishy, and the exact opposite happened. The customer latched on, I had all this hard data, math, math, it was very exciting, for me. And the customer was like: “Oh my Gosh, these collages”. And that was the poster in the literal sense for that project that they used internally to make decisions.

[35:52]

Absolutely. And I struggled with that for years as well. I think I am finally getting past that although I do have my moments especially when I am dealing with people in marketing. They would be a little bit too swishy on me. But it is hard, as business researchers, we want to present… we are more academic, and we want to present and not mislead, which is great but sometimes we need to understand that we are doing is inspiring things that the marketing team is going to do or providing information to get to know the consumer more. And for the company to take action on that behalf so it doesn’t have to be an academic exercise to visually or a story sometimes it really is going with your gut and taking something, as you said, “squishy” and presenting that along with your findings. But that’s where I think the real fun is in market research. It’s allowed us with all the neat tools that are out there to be more creative and curious, and asking if there is new ways to present stuff or do stuff

[36:55]

So you have a little bit of a unique model where instead of building out your staff, you are using freelancers, which I can appreciate the wisdom in that, especially in the early days to deal with ebb and flow and work volumes. How do you identify and all-star freelancer and then subsequently manage them?

[37:11]

Yes. It is definitely a process that is ongoing. Mostly, to start with, I am very much working off my network of folks that I know. I think that the most talented people that I know in the industry are freelancers or they are people with non-traditional… They may be stay-home parents that had to leave the workforce because they wanted to be at home when their kids got off the bus, or they are semi-retired. So I started with my initial network of talented folks that I have been blessed to know and then it’s a lot about asking for referrals. Every time I talk to someone I will ask: “Who should I be talking to?” “Do you know anybody in this space?” “Here is the gap”. “I don’t know anybody that is an expert on higher education.” So constantly networking, constantly having these conversations and going on off reputation. I believe there is good and bad market research being done out there, and I am definitely not going to deliver anything to my clients or put my name behind something I don’t feel really good about so if I am working with a newer person, what I might do is combine them with someone that I… you know, if I have a new report writer analyst working on something I might not be as familiar with… they come recommended but I am going to team them up with the person that is the person that I absolute trust for that project to make sure everything is up to the quality that we are used to delivering. And because my Shine and Insight model is basically no overhead, I, we can afford to do that.

[38:43]

So on that subject, what is Shine and Insight offering right now that is adding a lot of value to brands?

[38:47]

I think that we are offering right now is that ability to move quickly as well as to just get stuff done fast, the old habit, the old desire that is always there of “faster, better, cheaper”.

Generally, the pricing that we are coming in with is 20%-40% lower than a traditional general market research firm because we don’t have over hat and we are scaling as needed. And a lot of these DIY solutions versus legacy solutions, which are a little bit cumbersome and costly, I think that’s a big part of what we are adding; that’s good value. But also we are curating what is out there. So I generally try to do one to two demos a week or have a conversation once, twice a week with someone that is offering something really unique or someone that has a platform that is really unique.

We are always on the lookout, my project manager team and I, for what is new, what is cutting edge, what can we bring to clients, and having these conversations to really be on the pulse of what’s happening. Because we are not a large corporate agency, we can move quickly to bring someone in. There is a really interesting woman in Romania, Awana Popa Rango, who is doing custom board games for insights activation. She literally creates card games and dice games and stuff, and her background is in gaming and psychotherapy. It is just there is so many neat people and neat things out there but it is about companies having the time and making it a priority to find them and those unique perspectives that can be brought in.

[40:20]

And it is tricky for the companies because nobody knows what the market adoption is of that, and you and I say ”Oh, we can apply this to one customer” but relative to established businesses, it’s just not moving the needle. And that’s not the future though. That’s what’s interesting is. I remember when online research was literally… people would talk about it the same way we might be thinking about this board game idea, right? The reality is very…  There is a ton of disruption that is happening, and that is going to become the new norm.

[40:56]

Yes, I completely agree. And that’s what’s so amazing right now. It is just not going to be this kind of “Oh, we are in the time of online survey or the time of, you know, whatever.” It’s video. It’s AI. It’s, you know, ethnography. It’s all of these things coming together to make this really amazing menu of offerings for getting into insights. And it can be different from day to day.

[41:19]

I am going to call it “the time of Cioppino” but we need to come up with a better name. I honestly think that would be a fun white paper.

[41:30]

Yeah, yeah, I agree.

[41:33]

Because you are right. I mean, there is not one thing to hang your hat on right now. I mean, two years ago was AI. As you know, right now it’s block chain, big data, and you just kind of pick the flavor of the year. And now everything it’s just coalescing into this smorgasbord of opportunities. And even into board games, which I hadn’t even heard of until now.

[41:53]

Yeah, it’s neat to be… I mean, here is the thing with market research: In my opinion, there is always going to be a need for people who can translate data regardless of how automated we make everything. There is always going to be a need for curiosity and creativity. And curiosity and creativity can be found in so many different ways, in so many different countries or techniques, or even outside of market research that you can bring in. So it’s really, really neat times.

[42:23]

Do you think there is an opportunity in the market research training space?

[42:27]

Oh, yes! Ha! Unfortunately, and I believe it was New MR and New Pointers Group that recently did a survey about the lack of training within the industry, and it’s really unfortunate.

I don’t know if your career was the same but when I started my career, I was very fortunate to start at Burke, which, you know, they are the premier training organization for the market research industry, and I was so fortunate to be trained by some of the best market research trainers in the industry. Absolutely lovely!

And as my career has gone on, I have seen less and less training. And I think that even on the client side, back in the day, when I supported at Procter & Gamble for many years, they were deep vast in terms of training. But unfortunately that’s then. I mean, they still do training and they still do very much invest in their people but the amount of training and research has gone down considerably over the past couple of years. And maybe the pendulum will swing back. But I do feel that with the pace of change and the trends, and the amount of information that we are dealing with, and the different things that we can do with data insights in the consumer center, we have to do more in training. But it’s not just about formal training that companies can provide or associations can provide, it’s also about having your own personal desire to get trained. So that’s why I am always open to mentoring more junior people or people that want to make a change in the industry; and just really taking your own personal development into your own hands. And to always be curious about what’s going on and staying up to date and always trying to be learning whether that would be LinkedIn learning sessions or podcasts or webinars or whatever it may be.

[44:08]

So you are started the conversation today talking about your journey into entrepreneurship, with podcasts and books being a primary source of information to give you the knowledge and ultimately the courage to step out. Is there any one of those that you would like to highlight to our listeners?

[44:23]

The Happy Market Research podcast, of course! Ha!

[44:29]

Ha! I love you! Thank you for that!

[44:30]

I think there is definitely great podcasts out there. I mean, Data Guru, Insure Podcast, Audible Insights, and Telequest. Some really good ones out there as well some ones that are not necessarily about market research. I think that people should listen to popular business podcasts. And also I think following a lot of influencers if social media is your thing whether that be Twitter, Linked in or Facebook. There are some really neat perspectives. And people that are, you know, making their lives work being on top of what is really going on and just by following what they are linking and what they are sharing and what they are writing about, you can really get an easy, efficient way of staying on top. You know, you can read book after book but that takes a lot of time investment. But I think it is finding these influencers that are out there and just tying along with them for the ride as they develop more I think it’s a great way for everybody no matter if you have been in the industry for two years, or twenty five.

[45:26]

One of my favorite hacks on social media, and you can pick the platform is that I try to follow over influencers in our space and outside of our space, in the entrepreneurship community. I often times post something and I see a number of responses. Instead of being one of the responses, I will respond to somebody’s response, and that person would be so happy that somebody is actually providing some value against their point that it creates this nice back and forth, and actually this sort of mini-conversation inside of a larger group but you are already all aligned because that content, right?, is centric to whatever it is that you all care about. It is a great way to improve your follower base, as well as send your influence to the people I network with, a network of people.

[46:18]

Yes, I think that is a very good point. And I think that there is just so many voices out there that… you know, some people are not going be people that the people that post all the time or writing articles but they have really valuable input to offer and just making those connections whether they would be on Twitter or setting up a ten-minute call to see if there is ways that you can collaborate, I think it’s incredibly valued and it’s rewarding. It’s rewarding not even if it comes back to help you in your own career or success but also helps them. I generally always try to make time for people who want to generally pick my brain on what they are doing, their perspective, their career, their jobs, and I find that really valuable to just extend my network to really… And try to support people that are a little biased. I am supporting a lot of freelancers, obviously. But any freelancer that is out there that I can help network or collaborate with or whatever may be to work together… because I think that there is plenty of work out there for everyone. It’s just having the resources and the shared knowledge to be able to go accurate and get it efficiently, smartly and in the best way for the clients.

[47:21]

KaRene, thank you very much for being the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[47:23]

Thanks, Jamin.

Ep. 131 – Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy

Today, my guest is Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy. Dapresy partners with today’s top companies to help them create state-of-the-art InfoGraphics that brings your data to life.

Prior to working at Dapresy, Rudy has had extensive experience at some of today’s top marketing research agencies.

FIND RUDY ONLINE:

https://www.dapresy.com/

Twitter: @rudynadilo

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/rudy-nadilo-291192/

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:47]

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 Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy. Dapresy is partners with today’s top companies to help them create state-of-the-art infographics that brings your data to life. Prior to working at Dapresy, Rudy has had extensive experience in some of today’s top marketing research agencies. Rudy, thanks very much for being on the show today.

[01:36]

Jamin, it’s a pleasure to be here.  Thank you.

[01:39]

Like to start out with kind of the backstory of how you entered market research.  Talk to us a little bit about your parents and how they have impacted you where you are today.

[01:51]

Well, my parents had nothing to do with my entering market research.  And, truth be told, I have a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts degree in photography for my undergrad.  I really was going to go on a different direction. I thought I’d be a Life magazine photographer.  Then quickly realized after spending a stint in L.A. my early years that it was a little tougher than I thought.  But from a parents’ standpoint, my father was the typical 50s, 60s dad. He worked for Seagram’s, the liquor company, for 35 years.  And my mother was a housewife who had a part-time job. And, you know, very typical… We lived in a Long Island tract house – not Levittown, but pretty close to it.  I just think that, growing up, I just had a lot of challenges and things that I wanted to do more. And I knew that I was not growing up in an environment where across from where I lived on the other side of Long Island Sound was all the people who were in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut.  And I had started out in advertising and just like was shocked about this whole different world of people, who were privileged and went to prep schools and stuff. So that kind of gave me this high motivation just to do better and do well. So, I kind of answered more than your question was. But that’s what got me going and getting into this career.               

[03:36]

First of all, I love the fact that you have a diverse background.  We did a separate interview recently, and the gentleman was talking, Clint, was talking about how you can draw stronger perspectives the more diverse the background of the individual as well as the team.

[03:54]

Oh, absolutely.  

[03:56]

So, I mean photography…

[03:58]

Well, I was in photography, and then I went to L.A. to live with my sister for about a year.  And then I wound up going back to Northwestern to get my degree in advertising from the Medill School back in the day when they had a dedicated advertising program and wound up graduating there and had like fifteen plus offers from all the agencies that I applied to.  So, it went to from a barely C student in high school to an A+ student at Northwestern. Getting into these advertising degrees. So, I always felt in life if you’re really interested and motivated in something, that’s going to really get you going. Went into advertising, worked on the Oscar Mayer account.  And they were one of the pioneers using behavior scan, which was a pioneering product that IRI Information Resources did with the scanner data. And it was my working with the Oscar Mayer account and I saw these people coming in from Information Resources and I was like: “Holy Cow, this is really cool stuff.”  So I jumped, after being ten years in advertising, over to IRI. So, there’s another level of diversity and background, right? I was a frickin’ account guy at J. Walter Thompson.

[05:19]  

Gosh, that is super interesting.  I want to hone in a little bit on photography, right, because by definition photography is capturing a moment.  I’m a bad amateur photographer. One of the things I’ve noticed – and probably actually my biggest takeaway from photography – has been my view with my eyes is so massively incomplete cause I can take a picture of something – I don’t know, it really doesn’t matter what – a bottle.  And I can think it’s a spectacular picture, and then I’ll look at it, and all of a sudden, I realize, “Holy shit! My house is a wreck! Right?” It’s because the dishes are behind it and they’re undone or whatever. You know what I mean? [laughter] It’s like the bottle looks great but what a bad setup.

[06:09]

The bottle looks great, but what’s all that garbage in the background.

[06:12]

And you get desensitized to that sort of, you know that, to maybe the minutia, I guess.  And photography, for me anyway, has been this illuminating view of, (no pun intended) created this lens, by which I get a more complete perspective.  Have you drawn from your background in photography, may even passion in photography, and applied that to market research?

[06: 35]

Wow!  That’s a pretty heavy question.  I never really thought about that.   You know you do have in your mind… At least in my brain, I’ve always been a photographic- oriented memory person.  So, if I think of memories… Like I am literally right here now looking at you the last time we spoke at a conference in that outside hallway.  My brain sees you right now, standing next to whatever booth we were standing next to. So my brain has always worked that way. Some people remember things from songs.  I tend to remember certain things with songs, but I’m a highly visual memory person. And there is a part of your brain when you do a lot of photography… I do photo books and things like that.  I’m pretty serious about it. And you know I just have a lens that I just turn on in my head to look at a particular perspective on things. So, I never thought about whether that helps me in business.  I think that if anything, it helps you in terms of the focus. When you’re in photography and you’re taking a photo, you almost just turn everything else off: you’re in the moment of capturing, composing, and seeing what’s going on, and then you do it.  One of the things I started with when I was in photography was doing a lot of landscapes and very classic-like photos. Early on when I was young, I won a couple of photo contests: actually, won a 10-day cruise where I took my wife on for our honeymoon just by some cool photo I made.  As I started doing more, I really became a really great street photographer. So I kind of have two sides to it. And street photography is very much… I mean I’ve got some amazing photos I did in New Delhi when I was in India, working for Anic years ago. That’s a very in-the-moment, almost instantaneous, gut reaction – I got to take this shot.  And I’ve had like people comment to me like, “How did you get that shot?” And I’m like it’s like a subconscious: you just go with the flow, right? You just go with your gut. And I think maybe that has been the way I’ve conducted myself in business. I very much go a lot with the gut, go with the vibe of the moment. I go, “You know what, this is good.”  Like some people read people, and they’re very good at that… versus people are very calculating and thoughtful, right? Neither one is right or wrong. It’s just the way your brain processes stuff. Interesting question, Jamin, and maybe that’s how that’s helped me in business.

[09:25]  

Another part…  There’s two things.  More of a statement or comment.  The other I want to dive just a little bit deeper here, but…  And that is going with your gut… In a lot of ways, I’ve found as a get older, probably the one thing I do the best, or better, is pattern recognition, right?  While it is obviously gut, it’s also based on more than a few decades…

[09:51]

I know exactly what you’re talking about.  Yes, continue. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[09:55]

And that’s it, right?  “Oh, yeah, I’ve read that story or written that chapter before.”

[10:00]

Yeah, yeah, it’s the old “been there, done that,” but you apply that to the situations you’re in.  It’s almost like… I’m sure you had the same when you were running Decipher. You have a bunch of seasoned people, but then you have tons and tons of junior people who are fresh out of school.  I’ll forever… Somebody will just say to me, “Well, geez, how did you know that guy was doing that?” or “How did you know that woman was playing you?” or whatever it might be. And I’m just like, you know, “I’ve best to this dance a million times.”  You kind of get to the point where you’re nobody’s fool anymore. Quit that. I think that’s what you’re talking about, right?

[10:40]Exactly.  You kind of start seeing things unfold and you can recognize, “OK.”  Anyway, yeah. A hundred percent. And then the other part that is really interesting is your core business is creating visual representation and stories of abstract data.  And that in a lot of ways is exactly what you do with a photograph, is tell a story.

[11:05]

Correct, correct.

[11:08]

So, have you applied that same… those lessons learned from your background in photography to the dashboards?  

[11:20]

The really honest, honest answer is that I’m not the guy who’s building the dashboards.  I’m the guy who’s out there talking to people conceptually about what you can do it, do with it, which maybe in many ways helps me.  First and foremost, I’ve always been a sales and marketing guy, and I’m a salesman at heart. So, what I sell to people… Yes, that helps me do that.  No doubt. And I’ve actually added some functionality and features (not much) but a couple things on to Dapresy that kind of fall in that vein of what you said.  OK, geez, we got this tool that represents information this way. But, you know what? From a user’s standpoint, we really could use this and this and this to better now utilize that and represent it, which in many ways ties back to “How do I put these pictures together or these pieces together to tell a better story.”  So, yeah, you know, it’s an interesting question. You really got me thinking cause I’ve never thought about this, tying those two together. So…

[12:26]

It’s funny, it’s funny how that background…  at least from my vantage point. I have only been doing photography for a few years, so it’s probably a little different for me because it’s fresh, right?  Those basic learning things like “Wow, my dishes haven’t been done. That’s really gross.” The fact that your core business is quite literally just storytelling and that’s exactly the same thing that you do with a…

[12:53]

You kind of kicked the side of my head here.  At one point in my life, I had worked for… (This is prior to Information Resources.)  I was at IRI for about ten years; I ran their info scan panel. This is back in the hay day when IRI and Nielson were going head to head, and IRI launched the scanner services.  Well, to complement the scanner services, they had a huge household panel. And prior to going to IRI, I had worked in the 70s… It was the biggest research firm in the U.S. It was called MRCA (Market Research Corporation of America).  I mean it’s a dinosaur. They used to go head to head with MPD. They’re out of business for many, many reasons we could talk about separately. But one of the things with panel data is panel data lets you tell a story. And I remember back in those days, there were clients that I would always go to the meetings with, and they would be talking about the information.  And management would be there. And I’d say, “Hey, guys, think about it this way. I don’t mean to be sexist, but that was the day when you’d be like, “Look, your wife is going down the aisle with the kids. And this is what’s actually going on. This is what the data says, but this is actually what’s happening behind the data.” So, I always kind of had that proclivity.  You know what I mean?

[14:22]

That’s just it.  I don’t know if this is true or not, but I imagine that in some ways this is largely the value prop, which is a picture is worth a thousand words, right?

[14:35]

Exactly.

[14:36]

As you know I’m familiar with the product.  And you guys have done a really good job of creating not just static but the interactive dashboards.  So, you know, the broader point for me is it just continues to reinforce that to be really skilled in this space, you need to be able to draw from outside of the space, right?  So it isn’t just a conversation with ourselves. You have to be able to operate at a macro-level and at a micro-level: micro where we’re doing the work, but at a macro-level where we can see the bigger picture, and then have the ability to draw in whether it’s outside talent or experiences that we’ve had or expertise that we’ve had to create the full picture.

[15:25]

No, no, keep going.

[15:27]   

Let’s talk a little bit about Dapresy.  Started in 2003. Tobi Andersson, the CEO and founder.  You joined about ten years later.

[15:41]

2013.

[15:44]

What was the company like at that point and why were you so bullish on it?

[15:49]

Oh, I’ll tell you a little, funny story and answer your question at the same time.  I was at the London Insights Show. (I’m sure you’ve attended that.) This was back in 2012, 2013, and I’m walking around the corner and I always tease Tobi ‘cause all the Swedes they look like they’re teenagers and blonde.  [laughter] I look around the corner, and there’s this 16-year-old blonde, as I like to say, presenting this software. I’m in the back of the crowd, and I’m watching this. And I’m going, “Holy cow! This is really cool stuff.”  So, I come back again, and I look at it. And I go, “This is really cool.” And there was a gentleman, who was a friend of mine, who ran a London-based research firm. And I said, “Hey, why don’t you come here and look at this stuff.”  And he looks at it, and he goes, “That’s pretty cool.” So, I introduced myself to Tobi, and I tell him who I am. You know we get to talking. And, long story short, when there was a lull (I didn’t want to bother him), I said, “Hey, why haven’t you…?  I’ve never heard of you before. Are you guys planning on coming to the U.S.? What’s going on?” And, you know, he was being coy for a few minutes. And then he goes, “Well, truth be told, we’re really not sure how to go to the U.S. We were thinking of maybe partnering with the U.S. Embassy.”  Some corny thing he was telling me. And I looked at him, and I literally said these words, I said, “Today is our lucky day.” And I went out for lunch with him and his partner, Peter Bernstrom, ‘cause Peter is retired now, but Peter and Tobi started the firm together. I sprung out of a Nordic’s fieldhouse.  So, they were really geeky researchers, right? And they were building lots of dashboards. And they realized this is insane. Every dashboard we build is a different version. It’s crazy to keep them up, which spring boarded into “Let’s have a communal platform that we can use.” So, went out to lunch with him and Peter.  And, Jamin, it was one of those conversations – and you’ll know what I’m talking about. You start saying something, and the person ends the sentence; and then the other person says something, and YOU end the sentence; and then you say something, and they end your sentence. We were so in sync: it was one of those magical, magical moments.  And then that night or the next night (I forget), I went out and had a four-hour dinner with Peter. And it was the funniest dinner I ever had because I thought that he was going to talk to me about business. He didn’t talk anything about business. I realized after the fact he just wanted to know, who’s this guy Rudy, what’s he about. Can I trust him?  Normal guy, not normal guy? You know the normal stuff you do when you want to meet people. And that’s how we got it going. And I… The reason I was so excited is, as you know, I was the first CEO of Greenfield Online. And I got that company from zero to like 18 million, right? And we had revolutionized at Greenfield the field side collection. We had the first online panel that sprung out of the work I had done both at MRCA and Information Resources.  I was a panel guy. And we originally thought it was going to be a panel, but it quickly became just a huge panel with a traditional market research firm attached to it. So we kind of revolutionized the collection of research data. And it was literally the first time that people had done online research. And Hugh Davis, who’s now the founder of the Critical Mix, he was the brains behind everything going on there. And he and I… the team built this thing up.  So, I saw Dapresy, and I said, “Wow! Here’s a company that’s going to revolutionize the reporting. If Greenfield did the field work, Dapresy is all post-field and reporting. So that’s what got me very excited and continues to this day to keep me motivated. I mean you asked what was it like when I joined. I mean we were probably, oh God, 15 people between Europe and here. Now today we’re up to about 70 people. Revenue-wise ten years ago, I mean it was a tiny boutique with amazing clients.  I mean TNS as a client and GFK over in Europe. And now, today you know we’ve got between Europe and here, we got a couple of hundred, 250 research firms and a handful of really blue-chip enterprises that are using us. And the software, it’s like night-and-day difference from the past five years, where it was five years ago and today. You can’t even compare. It’s been an interesting ride.

[20:57]

Yeah, congratulations on that.  One of the things, thinking about your Greenfield Online…  For those who don’t know, actually probably the most successful panel company early on by a wide margin.  In fact, filed IPO, went public and then eventually sold to Microsoft for quite a bit of money. Very successful outcome in those days.  You left that space or that sample space. It’s really the data reporting side or the data visualization side has largely… I believe that it’s the fruit on the vine still, right?  I like… I don’t know if you had a chance to listen to my interview with Rogier Verhultst, the head of Insights for Linkin. He had this great quote or saying, which was “Yeah, you gave me your research report.  So what and now what?”, which is largely what Dapresy is communicating in a visual form, right?

[22:06]

Yeah, the goal is, as our client Adeo well had said quite a while ago, the goal is to democratize the data, right?  You really have a pretty diverse group of people in the market research field. And I can say that there’s really a binary reaction to what we do.  You have the traditional, old-school, “wrap your arms around the data,” “I don’t want to give anybody anything” unless I bless it and see it, right?  In many ways, they’re crippling their organization by being such tight gatekeepers on the data. And then, on the other hand, (and this is true about most of the clients we work with), people have become more enlightened to the fact that, if you have a system and a system allows you to put out information…   In our system, you can control data access and functionality right down to the individual user. So you’re not going to give people data that they don’t know what to do. You’re not going to give somebody a cross-table if they don’t know what a cross-table is. You know, if you’re giving data out to senior management, it’s going to be metrics-based.  And, if you have metrics-based with… You know, if you’re giving data to the CEO of a Coca Cola, why not put the data sitting on top of a Coca Cola can? Even better, why not have the Coca Cola can fill up with the data? And, if you’re talking about females and males and families and whatever, why not, instead of saying you know, “We have this thing that we show people.”  The classic PowerPoint says, “Automobile trips have risen by 10%.” Well, why do you need to say that when you can have on a metrics-based dashboard an automobile and it says plus 10%? I mean it says it without saying it. And that’s really the trick behind it. It’s basically getting rid of this pedestrian, pedantic, very clunky way of reporting and putting it into something.  And, again, those traditional researchers think, “Oh, that picture is getting in the way.” And they don’t realize that picture is enhancing it by an order of magnitude and wanting people to self-serve, right? Wanting people to take that and go, “Wow! Can I filter this by this geography? Click, click, yeah, geez!” The Coca Cola guy, “How is this affecting Coke Zero? Click, update, ahh.”  Or, “Do I want a Coke Zero and Coke next to each other?” You can just do that. Why wouldn’t anybody want that? So, that’s self-serving obviously. [laughs] But that’s the reality of the market we’re in. So, we still in that early adopter, trying to push ourselves into the main stream. It’s a tough crowd in research; you know that.

[25:09]

It is, and actually this particular issue that you’re wrestling with – the visualization of insights – is, I believe, one of the hardest things probably, honestly, probably the hardest thing to do because there is…  Obviously, science is the underpinnings, but the art is as important because it has to be.. there’s that communication piece. So it gets really tough – not impossible by any means – but it gets tough to crack the nut of one-size-fits-all research.  SurveyMonkey went public this week. (It’ll be about three weeks til this episode airs.) Which is a big thing for our space. There hasn’t been another material IPO that I’m aware of in the data collection space or data logistics space really since Greenfield.  What trends are you seeing and how do you think, if at all, the SurveyMonkey IPO will impact our industry?

[26:14]

How it impacts the industry I don’t know other than it’s going to give them a gob, a load of money to buy up other companies.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they start adding in aggressively more and more functions to what they’re doing and more and more companies to enhance their offering, right?  That makes sense to me. I don’t know. I don’t believe they’re doing, for example, text analytics but you go public and you have a gob of cash, “Well, let’s go buy a text analytics company.”  “Let’s add in some other functionality.” I do know one of your questions you had asked about was “With the industry, what do you see in trends?”’ I just think that larger mash-ups. Look at Ipsos now buying GFK.  We just had… SSI and Research Now. We work with LRW and Kelton; they both merged together or LRW swallowed up Kelton. What I think that’s doing, on one hand, is bringing back – especially the LRW-Kelton merge, not merge but acquisition…  The middle-sized research firm seems to be starting to come back. And I think these monster mash-ups are really spurring more startups and smaller companies to go out there because, you know, like you said earlier. We were talking earlier… working for a big firm isn’t necessarily what you wanted to do anymore.  And I think… at least, I’m seeing a whole plethora of research firms out there that I’d never even HEARD of before. I ran into one a couple of weeks ago: it’s a 100-person research firm I’d never heard of before.

[28:11]

Which is crazy, right?  And there’s a ton of money that I’m seeing enter the space.  Our sister podcast done by Alexandra’s MRX News… It’s just a podcast, two-minute industry briefing.  We’ve been paying attention to the news cause we’re curating it now. It’s a different sort of thing. I’m blown away by the number of mergers, acquisitions, and funding that is happening.  I mean it’s literally every… Like our news is there is no M & A today. That’s a breaking story. [laughter] Right?

[28:49]  

That’s pretty funny.

[28:50]

And it’s true too.  It’s true. So, you’ve been a successful entrepreneur; you’ve been a successful key executive.  One of the things I like to do is try to pry the secrets out a little bit, right? What is one of your secrets that drives growth, profitability, and success?  

[29:11]

I knew you were going to ask something about this.  I don’t know if this does affect all of it, but I really think that empowering your employees is probably the most important thing you can do running a company.  You just can’t run a firm, especially in the service business that we’ve both been in, without giving people empowerment and letting them know that they can make decisions in front of clients in real time and not having to feel like everything has to go through committee and get a final approval in three weeks.  We would be dead in the water just as your company that you started would have been dead in the water. So I think that’s really, really important. And then I think the second thing is the focus on solid marketing, benefits-driven marketing as opposed to features only. There’s a fine line there because oftentimes, especially in the industry you’re in, the feature is the benefit.  So you have to play with that, but… You asked about when I started with Dapresy. Five years ago, if you saw a Dapresy presentation and you talked about what it is they were focusing on, it was a lot of features. Today we say, “Hey, Dapresy is efficient production and effective reporting.” That distills down everything we do into those key two benefits. So I think that’s very important for any company.  And then getting good – what I call – coin-operated sales people. Think about a vending machine. You feed it money. Well, you got to have coin-operated sales people. And that to me has always been another critical piece to the pie. So, that’s my two cents on that.

[31:21]

No pun intended.  With the employee’s side, thinking about employee empowerment, can you give us an example of exactly what that has looked like for you?  

[31:36]

Well, I think if you…  In order to do that, I think you need a couple of things.  You need an employee that is self-motivated, right? It’s just not cool to work with people that you have to hold their hand and spoon-feed them everything they do.  Now granted when you have new people… But even we’ve seen it here. We hire… Most of our highly successful employees are graduates from the local University of New Hampshire.  And oftentimes they come out of the business or data management or the stats side of the business. So, if they have a proclivity for numbers, we know that they get research, and they know their way around a mouse.  They come in and they can be pretty successful here. We also look for people who are really smart as does everyone, right. And for me personally, I think the key to that empowerment and having a really good employee is somebody who pushes back.  I mean I can’t tell you how, for me personally, important that is. And a silly example is, I give you on Monday a list of ten things to do in an update meeting. Later on in the week, somebody comes back and says, “You know you gave us ten things.  We did the first three; the second three we’re still thinking about; and these other four – they make no sense. You don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.” [laughter] I love that! That’s the way it should be, right? Granted there’s exceptions, right?  I’m not talking about telling somebody to put a contract together but, if it’s working on something and working through a problem, I don’t have all the answers. I have the experience; I have knowledge and years behind me. But I don’t necessarily have the insights that you might have if you’re working directly with a client.  So I think motivation, brains, and the ability to filter and push back and even add to a list, to me makes a great employee.

[33:46]

Yeah, totally.  Have a point of view even if the point of view is wrong, the fact that the employee is bringing that to the table means that they’re taking an ownership position as opposed to more of that passive doer.  That’s a pretty powerful combination when you can get that tethered with a little bit of humility and confidence.

[34:11]

Absolutely.  

[34:12]

What is Dapresy offering right now that is finding purchase and adding a lot of value in the market place?    

[34:20]   

Well, there’s one key thing that we offer, and that is a better way post-field to produce efficiently and report effectively all in one automated system.   And, conceptually, when you tell people that, especially senior people, they get that; they like that. The devil, of course, is in the details when you’re dealing with some of the people I alluded to earlier, who were so stuck in their way that they can’t understand a world where a 200-page PowerPoint deck for a brand tracker can be replaced with a 10-slide, highly filterable, and dynamically configurable dashboard.  You know it just kind of boggles their mind. So that’s really the challenge, and again that’s where you get this early adopter going into mainstream people. Is that what you were asking or did I…?

[35:29]

No, that’s exactly right.  And so, I do have one question on this topic from a channel strategy perspective.  Are you guys integrating with survey platforms like a SurveyMonkey? One of the things that is unique about – I say “unique” but it isn’t unique anymore – but one of the transitions that survey platforms have gone through is they largely started generic and then they moved into being specific.  So, for example, every survey platform has a net promoter score survey, right? Are you guys integrating with some of these platforms for automated dashboarding?

[36:12]

Yes, but…  I’ll leave it like that.  So on the integration side, we have API’s to almost all the major platforms.  So, we have an API out of SurveyMonkey, SurveyGizmo, Voxco, Nebo, Questback, obviously Decipher, Qualtrics – all the major platforms we have that if they have a published API.  But, even if they don’t have a published API, we still can have those platforms exported out – let’s say in a SPSS file to an FTP site we can pick it up. We’ve made a decision to be somewhat platform-agnostic.  The advantage to the client is you put all your survey work or you put some of your key tracking studies or you use ad hoc production with a Dapresy and then, all of sudden, somebody decides, “Well, geez, I’ve been working with this survey tool and this other survey tool came along with better functions, better features, or better pricing, right?”  Let’s face it: a lot of that is driven by price. Well, if you’re tied to a survey reporting engine that’s with the survey tool, all of that reporting goes away. And, truth be told, in my experience, except for very basic, basic reporting, most people use other things for reporting than the survey tool. So we stayed agnostic there.

[37:56]

Got it.  That makes a lot of sense. Today my guest has been Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy.  Rudy, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.

[38:05]

Jamin, this was great.  Thank you so much.

[38:13]

Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, KaRene Smith has recently started Shine Insights.  Please join us in our next episode where she breaks down how to create agile methodologies for your research.  

Ep. 130 – Tim Peacock, COO of Affectiva

Today, my guest is Tim Peacock, COO at Affectiva. Affectiva is a spin off from MIT and is the pioneer of Emotion AI.

Prior to joining Affectiva, Tim has had deep experience in all areas of technology.

FIND TIM ONLINE:

https://www.affectiva.com/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tim-peacock/

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:46]

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 Tim Peacock, COO of Affectiva. Affectiva spun out of MIT and is the pioneer of emotion AI. Prior to joining Affectiva, Tim has had extensive experience in all areas of technology from startups to large organizations. Tim, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[01:35]

Hi, great to be here.

[01:37]

So, maybe you could start out telling us a little bit about your parents, how they’ve impacted you in your current career.

[01:46]

Sure, I’d be happy to.  It’s going to take us back a little ways.  My parents were born in England, and I’m English myself.  My dad’s career relates to how I find myself in the United States.  Dad was a hardware architect for IBM back in the somewhat the early days of business computing.  And he was working on a large project called System 360, which had the novel idea that software programs should be able to run on all different models of computers. While working of that, which was really a major project in the United States, he was transferred over to New York and that’s how we came to this country.  I think what I got from my dad was a sort of an engineering perspective into solving problems and looking at things, framing everything as a problem that needs to be solved. Thus, my interest in software engineering. It was much later actually that I discovered that he knew Fred Brooks very well. And Fred Brooks, for your older listeners, wrote the seminal text on software project management called The Mythical Man-Month.  So I found it interesting that I had a connection to Fred Brooks like that.  My mom was very different: my mom was an executive secretary in New York City for many years, working for various presidents of companies, including Viacom just before Sumner Redstone took over it.  And what I really got from her was a feel for operations and how things actually work. So, the presidents of all these very important companies would say, “Oh, you know I can always get you tickets and I can do this and I can do that.”  But all that really meant is that they would turn around to someone like my mom who knew how to actually do it. So I think I acquired a fascination in how things actually work and not just how people think they work. And so the combination of that engineering and operations just sort of led my career to where it is today.   

[03:43]

I think that the operational consideration of how things get done is so powerful and is oftentimes demeaned inside of the organization.  So people will see the CEO – you pick the bigshot in the company – but it’s actually the people that are underneath them that are providing a level of support that are really delivering on those promises.  My favorite example of that, personally is… I did an internship, doing mainframe support, back in ’89. [Laughs] Super old, right? This is the vacuum-tube type thing; Wang was the system. And I had these expense checks or expenses that I incurred doing the job and I needed to get them reimbursed because, you know, because literally I was going to eat or not eat based on the timing of those payments.  And so, I would bring a donut to the lady who did the accounts payable for expense reimbursements once a week. So it was about whatever it was back in those days: 10 cents? – sort of an investment. But I actually got hand-delivered my checks by her a week or two ahead of my boss.

[04:59]

There you go, there you go.

[05:02]

It’s all about figuring out how the organization worked and could accomplish that objective.  

[05:06]

Yeah, at every sort of start-up I’ve been, I’ve always made a point of always understanding who’s doing the payroll, who’s doing accounts payable.  Obviously, that function reports to me right now, but it didn’t always. And I always would look at people who would annoy the people who cut their paycheck.  And I’m like, “Why would you do that?” [laughter] In what world would you annoy the person who is cutting your paycheck? [laughter]

[05:25]

It’s like the opposite.  

[05:26]

As the donut story definitely shows.  

[05:30]

For sure.  You think about like sales.  A lot of time if you have this bottoms-up – which most market researchers do – approach where we’re starting with usually at a project manager level and then as the tools or services get traction and then you move up the value chain, ultimately, of course, hopefully to the final decision makers whether it’s SVP at marketing or CMO’s,  that source of brand that you build at those early rungs is absolutely most critical because this is the foundation of the potential size of the engagement that you wind up with.

[06:05]

Exactly.  And what I found interesting in our run in market research, which as you know started in 2011…  So Affectiva has been in this for about seven years now. It’s not always clear even in large organizations where the decision maker is.  A lot of our best stuff… our best relationships have started with somebody just authorizing a single little project and doing that well the first time and impressing someone and creating a champion in the organization.  It’s so critical for the future success.

[06:35]

So seven years you’ve been in this space, and that coincides, of course, with your tenure at Affectiva.  Did you help bring, open up that channel or that market?

[06:46]

Yeah, but it…  I was there. We all did really.  We were a smaller place then and this opportunity came in with Kantar Millward Brown to do a pilot.  And we could see the potential, and it was very much in the sweet spot of what our technology did then, still does now, of course. So, I was involved in the early pilot.  And it’s interesting how much of this stuff that we kind of made up as how it should work for that pilot has still stuck to that day. I mean now the science is vastly better than it was.  And the norms and the sheer number of these tests we’ve done, like 35,000 plus. But some of the stuff that we did in those halcyons, very first weeks or so is still really how we do it today. It’s been quite a ride.  

[07:37]

So, Kantar was… in a lot of ways, opened up market research for you from an access point.  Can you talk to us a little bit about the early days? I know this is going to precede your experience, I think, anyway with Affectiva. But back at MIT.  So what was the original value prop and then how did that help you get a major customer like a Kantar?

[08:06]

Yeah, as you’ve noted, after Affectiva began… actually it begins before MIT, at Cambridge University where our founder, Dr. Rana el Kaliouby Rana…  Rana’s Ph.D. thesis was about humanizing technology, which we’ve now come to call emotion AI. Her thesis demonstrated that a simple laptop computer webcam can measure the expressions and emotions on one’s face.  She was inspired to do that by Dr. Rosalind Picard’s book, Affective Computing, which sort of created the field actually, literally created the field of affective computing in the ‘90s.  And so when she got her doctorate, Rana went to work for Ros in the Affective Computing lab at MIT’s Media Lab.  And what happened was… The way the Media lab is funded is a large number of industry sponsors. And whenever they come in, it’s sort of a demo-or-die experience for the researchers at the Media lab.  And Rana and Ros and their team would be doing that. And the interest from the commercial side just got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. And eventually, they went to the head of the Media lab and said, “Well, we just need more graduate students to do this interest.  And he said, “No, no, that’s not right at all. You actually need more… you actually need more to spin out more; you need to be a commercial enterprise. The interest was very broad but market research such as from Kantar was there right from the beginning and that was because emotions matter.  I mean the premise of our company is that emotions matter. We know from neuroscience research that the emotional centers of the brain kick in before the cognitive centers do in our decision-making process. They’re both involved but emotions get started. So, anyone who is attempting to influence decision making, loyalty, stuff like that – all the classic roots of marketing – knows that emotions matter.  The question is how can you best measure them. And that, of course, is where Affectiva and emotion AI comes in. So to get started, what happened was that Kantar, Millward, Brown, and Pantic… there’ve been a lot of other firms as well. We’re very strong on the cognitive side. We’re sort of the classic surveys. And then there were various attempts to infer human emotion from how fast you answered a question and things like that, but very few people were directly measuring them.  Some the other technologies around were EEG rates where, you know, you’re putting EEG rates on people’s heads. And those have come a long way in the years since. And people still do that. But Kantar, because their customers were Fortune 500 – global Fortune 500 companies, they needed something that could scale around the world. And our technology had that promise. They basically felt that if our technology really worked – which was the point of the pilot – that this is something they would invest in it and that we would scale together.  And, indeed, the pilot was very successful. The customer was really happy. They never really had seen anything like this before, thought of it as a great advantage. The rest was a multi-year buildout to work on all the different ways that people do market research in 87 different countries around the world.

[11:14]

Emotions matter.  In a modern context, that is more and more and more important like literally I’m seeing daily movements toward raising this banner.  You think about the impact of voice on a consumer-purchase journey and, unless a consumer connects to a specific brand name at an emotional level over the generic, then you’ve got a big problem, right?  It’s all about… I’m going to call it The Love Connection. (If you remember that show.)

[11:52]

Yeah, I do.  We’re both showing our age a little bit, but that’s OK.

[11:56]

Yeah, that’s kind of sad.  It’s kind of sad. That’s fine.  So, we hire younger people because they keep us relevant, I guess.  I don’t know. So, are you seeing an insurgence of adoption, given that banner?

[12:08]

Yes, very much.  Just to come back to the brand point for a second:  the one I always use is my own emotional connection.  I’m a BMW driver. I was lucky enough to start driving them many years ago.  And I have this emotional connection, as you say to the brand. I don’t think which car… do a whole search.  It’s like, ‘Oh which of the latest BMW’s I’m going to buy.” And that’s something that BMW has fostered in many ways with me.  And that’s the connection that you’re talking about. So, are we seeing an insurgence? Yeah, absolutely. Market research was very much our breakthrough market.  It took our technology worldwide. It gets us seven million plus and growing every day. People’s faces, empowering our science and our norms. But it’s spread out.  We get inquiries all the time. And we’re very much involved in things like the emotional aspects of automotive and the cognitive aspects of automotive safety and automotive cabin design – cabin experience, I should say.  We’ve done some education; we’ve done some health care. We have people using our stuff for the online video recruitment. And then, I don’t know if you made it to our recent, second emotional AI summit, but one of the things we had on display there was a pepper robot from SoftBank.  What we’re doing there is enabling Pepper to understand emotion. And that’s really getting into the bigger play which is where Rana’s dream really began back at Cambridge, which is the human-machine interface. Machines aren’t going to interact with us smoothly and effectively unless they understand human emotion.  Our approach to that is to understand emotion the way humans do, which is what we call a multi-modal approach where we don’t consider just what you’re saying or the commands you’re typing on the screen, but what’s on your face, what’s in the tone of your voice, what gesture you’re making at the same time. All modalities matter.  That’s how humans have been evolutionarily been taught to convey and understand emotion. We’re going to enable machines to do that.

[14:25]

When you think about how much is communicated through spoken word versus body language.  I kind of harken back to – this again real early days – ’96, I did my very first chat-based focus group.  In that experience, I thought it was interesting because I was able to get feedback in that… I had transcripts of the discussion, but I felt like I lost a lot of the value because I couldn’t read the room so to speak.   

[14:59]

Yeah, we like to say some social research which shows that about…  You and I are in conversation, if we were actually face-to-face in terms of the emotion that we were communicating to each other, we’d be getting a bit over half, 55%, from face and gesture, 38% in terms of how we are saying things, and the actual words in terms of conveying the emotion – only 7%.  So you look at some of these technologies that are doing sentiment analysis. Now, they only have the text. That’s all they can do. But if you’re doing sentiment analysis off text, you’re actually reading 7% of what the human was conveying. So it’s a very tough approach. So, face-to-face we learn to read it.  And that’s the approach we’re taking with our technology, with our emotion AI.

[15:51]

Run us through those percentages again:  so 7% is words,

[15:56]

38% is how you say the words – the prosodic features, and then 55% are visual – that’s from… a lot of that what’s on your face but it also includes the gestures, body language, that kind of thing.       

[16:13]

So, as your systems develop will it be incorporating more and more of the whole person?  The whole body?

[16:20]

Absolutely, absolutely.  But I think I may have mentioned to you, but I’ll happily tell your listeners.  We now have a voice capability in pretty late-stage beta, and it’s actually been delivered in the automotive versions of our STK.  We’re already getting everything off the face. There’s always room for improvement, but it’s very well developed. And we’re starting to bring voice into it.  We will add gestures, and we’re also going to look… Context is very important. When you and I are judging ourselves, we consider if we’re talking across the table might be very different than when like if we’re sitting at a sporting event, right?  So context matters as well in understanding emotion.

[17:02]   

It’s super complex, this whole reading emotion.  And I take it for granted and all of us as human beings take it for granted.  Somehow we just figure it out early and forget it’s hard, right? This mass of communication.  I think of language as the hard part of it, but really it’s the body language piece. Do you see that the body language transcends region and culture?

[17:28]

Ahh, that’s an interesting question.  We’re just getting into the body language rather than the face.  On the face… the expressions that a face can make are universal because it’s dictated by the muscles.  But when people make them? How often they make them? What can they mean? Even sometimes a nod and a shake are different than what we think they mean in the U.S.  So, yes, very much cultural. I’m not an expert in the body language itself but, based on head shaking and things like that, I would absolutely expect the meaning of gestures, the norms of gestures to be culturally specific.

[18:06]

Again, just kind of a broader context, isn’t it?  

[18:09]

Yeah, absolutely.   

[18:11]

So, let’s go back a little bit to when you first started seven years ago in this space.  In terms of trade, was the transaction more of a one-off? So, “Hey, we’ve got a study. We want you to run your algorithms across these videos and we’re going to pay you for that”?

[18:30]

It began that way.  We also had a separate product, a hardware product, which measures the galvanic skin response off your skin.  We did a lot of custom research projects of people. So, we were almost like professional services, a research agency almost.  We were going “Can you guys do this and do this plus analyze it?” And it was very interesting but, in terms of building a business, it was hard work.  And it wasn’t obvious how it would scale. There are definitely organizations that have made their mark as services organizations. But we were looking for a more scalable software solution.  And that’s where – particularly advertising inside of market research began to show promise because it was repeatable even if we were doing some of it by hand in the very early days. Obviously, we weren’t doing the facial coding by hand.  But, in terms of delivery, we knew that we could automate it; it was sort of straightforward software engineering. With time and effort, we would get it. And that’s why we ended up pivoting so hard into focusing on that area for years because it was repeatable, it was scalable.  We had other partners but Kantar became a significant partner. And the drive of them was to get them to standardize on that. Instead of saying that this was an option that a client could elect and their sales force could CHOOSE to sell, it had to have enough value; the price point had to have the reliability; it had to have the case studies – you know everything that a large multi-national needs to have to back it up such that they would just include it in their standard products.  And that was a couple-of-year effort, including… You know we had this wonderful cloud-based system, and then we found out that in parts of Asia, the market research was done off-line. [laughter] So we had to figure out how to do that. That was a bit of a surprise. But, anyway it was successful: they did standardize it. And, along the way, they went from commissioning projects to bulk ordering, bartering batches to get a better price and then eventually multi-year contracts that were based on it being standardized in their offerings.  It was quite a journey. One of the key learnings for us which we’ve now taken forward to all our partnerships was a belief that the way we’re going to win business by having a collaborative, transparent partnership, that we going to sit down “This is what our science can do. This is where the research can take us. If we don’t have what you exactly need today, we’re not going to make it up. We will tell you what we have, how it applies, and how we can get to what you want.” And that can be a slower sale, but it creates really enduring partnerships, and that I think tremendous value for Affectiva.    

[21:28]

I love that…  Every company that I’ve run into so far, especially in the market … 100% in the market research space, has been built on the backs of solid relationships as opposed to technology or services or price point or you-pick-the-USP that is used.  I want to hone in a little bit though on the early days compared to where you are now. And, for our listeners, you guys are definitely the dominant player in emotion AI, but yet you didn’t start there, right? That wasn’t the initial – I’ll call it – value prob.  And, as Paul Graham, one of the founders of Y Combinator, he has this framework for startup success, which is you start a business in a non-scalable way and then you scale as the business… You figure out to scale it as the business expands, right? You’re sitting on a lot of code and IP and Smarts, etc.  Is a big part of the value for the company in the norms, the thousands and thousands of hours of video that you have?

[22:54]

I think it is a big piece.  I think norms married of expertise would almost be the formula.  We had early expertise, and we knew the value of the data but it was partnerships where we brought our expertise to bear that brought us in more data.  So we did get into a virtuous cycle where simply by doing more business and delivering value, we brought more data in. That data improved the core science, the classification ability of the AI itself, and it also powered the norms database.  So now we… You fast forward seven years, and it’s this seven million plus videos of various people around the world. And then all of that powering norms so that practically any country in the world that could come to us and say, “Well, is this the norm for chocolate ads in Morocco?”  And we could say, “Yes. No. This is the norm. We know what it is.” So, we didn’t have that all to begin with. To your point, we had to sort of scale and produce it. Very early on it was clear that it helps to be an AI company so that you sort of appreciate the value of data inherently.  But very clearly on as you talk to customers, they’d be like “Well, what does this mean?” And we knew the value of being able to tell them what it means. Not just a normative value but by doing case studies that can tie it to things that they actually care about, which are things like sales-lift, brand recall, earned media – the stuff that really measures the effectiveness of advertising

[24:34]

Which, of course, is a golden goose as you guys have continued to crack that nut.

[24:41]  

One other thing is…  I was just thinking back that you start out with non-scalable things.  Yes, absolutely, I totally agree with that. You have to find what the customer wants, and the chance that you are going to do that by building a scalable system first and that’s going to be exactly what they want, is very small.  You have to be able to iterate quickly and get to them and be flexible. So, you have really non-scalable systems: People dragging stuff into Excel or some data analytics program and producing plots and saying this is the way to do it or that the way to do it and writing custom scripts.  I think the first project we delivered for Kantar took us a week plus to deliver the results, involving pretty much entire team and how it should work, and to do it. And today it’s a self-service thing that takes two minutes off in the cloud somewhere; we don’t even notice it happening. But the key is you do the non-scalable stuff to get the feedback from the customers of what they really want.  And when you’re sure… reasonably sure that you have what you want, that’s what you scale.

[25:46]

Are you seeing on a go-forward basis that there are other people that are going to figure out these or have figured out these algorithms or the AI or what have you?  The missing piece for them is actually the data to help inform their systems, right? Are you seeing that as part of the go-forward model or are you thinking of that …? Keeping that as the moat around your IP?    

[26:11]

Yeah, I think that we view data more as a moat around the IP.  I don’t see us sharing it, certainly not in areas that directly compete with where we want to be.  So I would view data more as a moat. Yes, I just think there is the answer there. We do collaborate academic research because there’s a lot of value in our data for analysis that we may never tap.  So, from a general knowledge point of view, we love to collaborate particularly with academics about certain things. One of the data points that came out of that is finding that in the U.S. (we know this for a lot of countries) but in the U.S., females tend to express about 20% more than males do in terms of advertising, reacting to advertising.  So, you need to obviously keep that in mind when you’re analyzing an ad. But, if you go over to the U.K., males and females express at the same level and markedly lower than the U.S. levels. An example of what research can find and the kind of research we would do. And some of that is definitely done with academic institutions that are interested.  

[27:24]

So, are you selling directly?  Obviously, you’ve got strategic partnerships inside the market research agency world.  But then are brands a major part of your customer base?

[27:36]

Well, that’s a great question.  Let me get at it from sort of a core strategy point of view and try to bring the answer back to you.  We’re an emotion AI company. We want to be the experts in understanding human emotion whether that’s for the analytics case like market research does or more for the interactive case – say when you’re talking to an Alexa or talking to your car or interacting with your car.  So, our focus is on the emotion side. The full-fledged solution for a brand, for a brand advertiser should – obviously we include objective scalable measure of emotion – it should include the cognitive side and, depending on what they’re doing, it should include more or less research assistance in terms of …   “This is a fifty-million dollar advertising campaign” – spent a lot of time with the team that does that every day and understand every last nuance. Or “This is a quick run on the… quick, digital campaign and we’ll see how it works, in which case do a quick test and move on.” We want to be the emotion component.  And so, we’re committed to a partnership channel wherein our partners, generally speaking, work with the brands directly and we provide the emotion. Having said that, there are exceptions to that rule. Sometimes the brands themselves are essentially their own research agency, which case we’re happy to deal with them and work with them.  And then, of course, we’ve worked with 25% of the global 500. Pick any name you want. (I’m not necessarily going to be at liberty to share them.) But when they want someone from Affectiva to get on a call and help them understand what the emotion traces mean, of course, we’re there for our partners. We do that all the time. But the key partner relationships with these larger firms are with the market research agencies, with the brands.         

[29:35]

Yeah, because…  and it makes sense on both sides because what you’re doing is providing the data.  Then what the researcher is doing with it, whether it’s internal or external, is providing the so-what, now-what insight.

[29:51]

Exactly.  And there are definitely other firms that have gone other ways, and that’s fine.  For us, it keeps us out of a channel conflict, right? We don’t find ourselves competing with our partners for business; we almost have exactly the same interests.  In the analysis of even a short, 30-second ad or, if you’re cutting a 60 to a 30, intent matters, context matters. I can’t just look at an emotion trace without the context and tell you that it’s a good ad.  People ask that all the time: “Well, was that good?” It depends on what you’re trying to do a little better, right? What emotion were you trying to evoke? We can tell you what you’re doing. We can tell you that there are some general rules, of course.  And those can be tailored to match exactly what you’re trying to do. But deeply understanding what the brand’s ad campaign is trying to do and then relating the emotional data and, indeed, the cognitive data back to that – that’s the role of the research agency.  And that’s who our partners are.

[30:44]

So, I want to shift gears a little bit and talk about employees.  We have three listener types: one of which is aspiring insights professionals.  At your company and given your broad experience, what do you see as the three characteristics of an all-star employee

[31:01]   

Absolutely.  First of all, I’ll use four.  So, I’ll cheat.

[31:05]

Yeah, you can use as many as you want.  

[31:09]

Because I got to claim that there’s a foundation layer, right?  So, you have to have the core expertise in what you’re doing. When we hire an AI researcher, take it as a given that they have to have an expertise in deep learning and the latest in AI research, right?  So that’s my given. You have to have the expertise in whatever thing we’re hiring you for. What separates the average machine-learning researcher from an excellent one or a software engineer or the average biz-dev person?  I would list three things: passion, flexibility, and get things done. So, going a little bit deeper into each of those. Passion is… It’s a long haul on a startup, right? where there’s going to be great ups and there’s going to be downs and there’s going to be sideshows and all sorts of things.  What brings you to work every single day to do your best – and those occasional late nights and weekends, and messed-up vacations and all that – is a passion for what you’re doing. So, understand what the company is doing. We’re trying to humanize technology. Go there if you have a passion for it.  Don’t go to a startup if you don’t have a passion. Don’t go to a startup if you think, “Ahh, you know they may get bought in six months and I’ll get rich.” That does happen every now and then, but more often it is usually eight years before you’re an overnight success, right? So have a real passion for what you’re doing.  If that passion drives you. It’ll make you stand out as an employee. In contrast to very large companies… Parenthetically, I worked at a company that got bought by IBM. So I’ve done several years at one of the world’s largest. Flexibility. Yes, there’s the core job that you’re going to do but there are all sorts of other things.  For example, we just put on an Emotion AI summit a couple week ago. Hundreds of people came to Boston, hosted by us, to talk about trust and AI, diversity and AI – some very important, general AI topics. Yeah, we had help and we spent some money. But everybody in this company did an amazing job of pitching in on things that had nothing to do with their jobs.  We were standing around and we had a moose in demos. “OK, it’s a few blocks that way.” “Help us load the van up” and things like that. But every day in a startup, it isn’t just the trivial stuff like that. It’s very important stuff like, ahh, you may not be comfortable on customer calls, but this customer needs an expert, and you’re the one that’s available. So get on that call and help us explain what’s going on to this customer.  So passion, flexibility, and then finally get things done. Don’t be a talker. Don’t sit back and hypothesize this or that. From researchers to engineers to absolutely everything, startups only create value by getting things done. So have a knack for getting things done. Get to closure. Get to finish. Deliver stuff to the market. Deliver stuff to the customer. And that all is based on people who get things done

[34:15]

I interviewed a…  I don’t even want to say the job title cause I don’t want to hurt anybody but this is such a great story relevant especially to your last point.  Jamie Plunkett and I interviewed this senior-level person. It was a really important, critical role – like a building-block role for the organization.  The guy looked great on paper. He left the office. It was an eight-hour interview. We looked at each other. You know he’s checking all the boxes. And Jamie actually told me, “Jamin, this guy is going to say all the right stuff but at the end of the day, he’s not going to do shit.”  And that’s exactly right. I was like this sort of view of “I’m going to create this façade of work” as opposed to the adage of rolling your sleeves up and getting the work done alongside the rest of the employees. Then also, the flexibility in that there is no task that’s too small or too great for me to tackle.  Even if I’m operating outside my comfort zone, I’m willing to suck it up and have that uncomfortable customer call, right?

[34:25]

Yeah, so I’m an old engineering guy.  So, I have a standard speech to new engineering managers who have the fortune or misfortune to work for me.  Engineering management is about delivery, right? There’s like two scales that I’m going to grade you on – two grade ranges, if you will, at the end of a project, right?  There’s one that sort of runs from A to B+ to C, and that’s for projects that finish and deliver, right? And then there’s another one that might touch B+ just but it’ll go a little lower than that and that’s for projects that don’t.  So, don’t have the great excuses about why you didn’t deliver or it couldn’t be done. Get it done. You have to get it done to get into that A range. That’s what engineering is about.

[36:11]

That’s a 100%.  I mean it’s across the board.  More obviously in sales, but even marketing or product or customer service…  It’s all about that ownership mentality across the whole organization.

[36:26]

Exactly.  Yeah, and it can be hard.  I haven’t run into it at Affectiva, but certainly in startups, you find persons sitting in key spots in the organization and you suddenly…  It’s not a “sudden”; it’s a slow dawning on them. “Oh, they sound great. They’re really good at analyzing the problem.” But you begin to realize that they never actually get anything done with that.  And, if the startup is going to go anywhere, you do have to make a hard choice. Maybe, you can find a different role where they are better suited but, more likely, it’s time for them to move on.

[36:59]

Anytime you factor in burn rate, I agree with the latter part, right?  100%, 100%. So, what is one secret that you see or that you may have for driving growth, profitability or success of your company?   

[37:17]

I think it’s…  One of our secrets is to be true to our core, true to who we are.  When we are doing, when we are delivering emotion AI and we’re working with partners or large firms or whatever to bring our expertise to bear on solving a real problem that they have or their customers have, we do great.  When we start getting into, “Oh, we’re something more than that. We could be the market research agency. Oh, maybe we can cobble together a panel. Oh,” that kind of stuff, that’s when we lose our way. The secret to our success is stay true to our core.  We are an emotion AI company. We want to be the world’s expert in humanizing technology and helping machines understand and adapt to human emotion. And THAT has to be our focus. There are all sorts of adjacent opportunities that would drag us off focus. I’m not saying that those aren’t legitimate strategies for some other company, but that’s not what Affectiva is about.  So the secret to our success in emotion AI is staying on point. It hasn’t been perfect; we’ve definitely moved around a little bit and tried a few things often. And that has just reinforced my belief in stay on your core. Focus on your core. I’d say parenthetically the hard part in a startup is you want to really be focused until you’re sure that focus is wrong. You start off stupid;  you have to be open; you have to keep your eyes open. And even when we say that we’re really, really focused on market research, we had to keep our eyes open for the other markets were going. And that has helped. But, as a core strategy, even when you say it’s emotion, that still leaves you lots of possible places to focus. For us, we want to be true to emotion AI.

[039:13]

Not only does that clarity benefit the organization from a trade-off where you spend time and treasure but it also creates channel clarity for your customers.  So that, whether you’re servicing Millward, Brown, or Pepsi, neither feel threatened.

[39:33]

Exactly.  I mean I’ve had that conversation, explaining it to some very large brands, and they appreciate the clarity and they like…  “OK, I understand how I get done, what I need to get done.” So, they’re not looking for some confused “maybe it’s this,” “maybe it’s that.”  And I think that it also helps them. Some of these large brands have ended up at relatively small partners. But it still helps them that…there’s a nice, young market research firm called ProtoBrand, doing really great.  We’ve been partnering with them for just a few months. And we love it when they win deals. It’s a passionate agency that wants to be an agency, wants to provide the insights work, closely with the brands. That works really well for us.  And I think that, as you say, it gives simplicity and clarity to the brand of who’s doing what.

[40:21]

See and what happened right here…  I want to just take a moment to highlight this for our audience cause it’s so subtle and so important.  The way that I got Decipher’s largest customer, who’s still incidentally I believe the largest customer, is by doing what you just did, which is promoting their business in conjunction or even ahead of my own.  In so doing, you create, you bridge – I’m going to tie this all the way back to the beginning, right? – you start building or forging these relationships that are mutually beneficial not just now but it’s like compounded interest time and you just create a time machine where you go forward a thousand years.  It’s a very powerful tool. And I’m surprised honestly more people don’t do that.

[41:13]

And I think…  I’ve been in a couple firms whose strategy ended up giving them a channel conflict.  Early on I think we were considering a path that someone could channel conflict and people were kind of poo-pooing it, saying, “Oh, there’s always a way to work around it.”  But it’s actually really hard because the channel conflicts when they exist are fundamental, right. Let’s say that I’m trying to pitch Pepsi against Kantar. That’s an insane place for me to be.  You can’t work around it because fundamentally in the end Pepsi is going to pick somebody, right? And whoever loses isn’t going to be terribly pleased about it. So, sometimes you have to have a pretty clean foundation that does not have that conflict in it.   And then, yeah, there’s a lot of things you have to do to build on top of it.

[42:04]

So what is Affectiva offering right now that is getting purchased in the marketing research space?  

[42:10]

Yeah, we call it Affectiva for Market Research or MR.  And that is basically a quantitative solution for understanding the emotional reaction to video content.  It’s often, maybe predominantly, used for advertising, but it’s also being used for much other content. Let’s give a shout-out to the Good Doctor, which is a TV pilot that we tested.  And because I happened to watch the test, I’m now a fan of the show. It’s quantitative testing of video content. We’ve done 35,000+ of these. As I’ve said, our science and the norms that are derived from the science are based on over seven million people interacting with video content.  Eighty-seven countries, 25% of the Fortune 500 and now an increasing number of TV studios and networks are using it to analyze their content. And essentially what happens is there’s no change… using our stuff or not using our stuff. If you’re just doing a survey, there’s no change. The only difference is your panelists (and parenthetically we strongly believe in informed consent, the panelists are asked to opt-in for emotion AI; in market research, people call it facial coding.  So I will use that term going forward for facial coding… And while they’re watching the ad, your branded content, your TV episode, your movie trailer, they’re recorded and their emotions and expressions are measured. This is then presented back quantitatively in two major ways. There’s scores, various summary scores that attempt to summarize how joyous they were or how confused they were, and their overall engagement with the ad, but also a moment by moment trace where you can synchronize along with the video and say, “Here’s a joke.  This ad built to a joke. And look at this: males loved the joke, females are turned off by the joke.” Did we mean to do that? Usually probably not. And so you can be informed moment by moment as well as in the overall effectiveness. All these are then tied to norms based on that database of over 35,000-test run. And we can relate those norms and also norms plus cognitive norms on the survey side and tell you how they relate to sales-lift and brand recall, shared media. And the good news is your intuition about how emotion and sales-lift should be related is actually true.  So there isn’t a big counter-intuitive case to be made here. It turns out that if people are positively engaged, particularly when your brand is on the screen or when the brand reveal occurs, that’s a good sign for sales-lift. And neutral engagement is “Nah,” and negative engagement – negative reaction, I should say – is obviously poor. This is subtlety. This technology is designed to embed along and to work with the methodology that your market research agency uses today. We don’t require any particular methodology or any particular platform or any type of panel. We’ve worked with hundreds of agencies over the years.  Almost certainly the platform that you’re on as an agency, we’re already integrated with. If not, our professional services organization can take you through that in a very small number of days.

[45:40]

I love that.  Very, very valuable.  Are you picking up the voice or the Amazon-effect in terms of market adoption?  Did you get the question? I did a bad job of articulating it.

[45:58]

I don’t know if it’s a bad job.  It sort of raises two questions. One I want to touch on is the importance of privacy.  I think that anyone who does business in Europe knows GDPR came online in April and we and presumably everybody else is fully GDPR-certified.  So one thing that it begins with is everyone has informed consent about what you’re doing with the data and how it’s used. And then, of course, you have the right to be forgotten.  You’re only going to use it for the needs sake. By in large, we don’t look at voice in quantitative ad testing. Which is one, because they’re not expected to say anything, so there really isn’t much going on in the voice channel.  And, two, from a privacy point of view. So we actually drop the audio out. It’s obviously more private to never have something that you don’t need. However, we have done a few qualitative studies, and our technology is used for doing online interviewing.  And, obviously, in both those cases, people understand that the voice channel is being measured. And that’s a very interesting area. I think it’s a potential growth area for us as our combined voice and face capability gets deeper and broader. We’re much earlier on with that than we are with the face-only offerings.  But, I think in terms of understanding what’s going on when people are talking – obviously, we relate back to those statistics – the voice is extremely important.

[47:27]

Yeah.  makes sense.  I tell you I could honestly – I know we’re approaching the end of the time.  It’s hard for me to stop. This is a lot to unpack right now because, as you just said, voice is really important and voice is becoming more and more important, especially in the context of the new purchase journey brought to us by Google Home, etc.  It’s just vital that this emotional connection is a pivotal part of any successful brand strategy. So anyway, thank you, Tim, very much for being on the show.

My guest today has been Tim Peacock, COO of Affectiva.  Tim, thank you for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.   

[48:16]

It’s my pleasure.  Happy to do it.

[48:24]

Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’ll be interviewing Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy.  We’ll be covering the early of days of how he and Toby found their product market fit here in North America as well as making some really unusual but important connections between photography and visualization of data in a meaningful storytelling-based way.  

Ep. 129 – Gaby Villa, High School Entrepreneur

Today, my guest is Gaby Villa, a student from the Patino School of Entrepreneurship. Patino develops entrepreneurial skills through a project-based curriculum.

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[00:26]

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 Gaby Villa, a student at the Patiño School of Entrepreneurship. Patiño developed entrepreneurial skills through a project-based curriculum. Gaby, thank you are much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[01:10]

Thank you for having me.

[01:11]

It’s an absolute privilege. You are our very first high school student that we’ve had on the show.

[01:17]

That’s very cool. I’m excited.

[01:19]

[laughter] I am too. I am too. Well maybe you can tell us a little bit about where you’ve grown up.

[01:25]

Okay, so I grew up on the east side of Fresno in Callowell with my two grandparents and my dad. Both my parents worked at the time, but they were divorced. So I mainly stayed with my grandparents; so I was raised by my grandparents and grew up there, learned Spanish as my first language. As I was going to school, I had to learn English and adjust to all the different standards that they had.

[01:47]

Yeah, no kidding. So, growing up with your grandparents… I spent quite a bit of time with my grandparents growing up too. They had a really small – I want to say – five-acre farm. We did some produce-to- farmers’-market – you know what I mean – like vegetables and whatnot. Saturdays were farmers market for us. Back then, it was fun. Do you guys do anything like that growing up?

[02:09]

Well, my grandpa had his own little garden in the back and a bunch of trees. So we would attend to those, and then we did the cherry auctions as well.

[02:18]

Cherry auctions… That’s nice. Now I don’t remember. Is there a cherry auction locally?

[02:23]

Yeah, the swap meet. The cherry auctions in Fresno, yeah.

[02:27]

Totally. I forgot about that. That’s years back for me though because I’m old. I remember that now. So, Patiño School of Entrepreneurship, it starts from 10th grade and goes through 12th. Most high schools are 9th through 12th. Where did you go to 9th grade?

[02:42]

I went to actually Hoover High.

[02:44]

Hoover High. Nice. Knights, I think, right? No?

[02:49]

Patriots.

[02:50]

Patriot, patriots. Why the change to Patiño?

[02:54]

Well, I got into a lot of trouble at Hoover. So going from my middle school to Hoover, it wasn’t very challenging because I went to Computech.

[03:04]

Just for clarity for our listeners because most of them aren’t going to have the point of reference. Maybe you could tell us a little bit about Computech.

[03:12]

So Computech was a gate program, a middle school that you had to get accepted into. And they had very high standards. It was all gate programs. It was a very hard school to get into. You had to have like pretty much straight A’s throughout elementary and have like good citizenship and stuff like that. So you had to work hard on your studies going there. And it was very hard. If you ended up with straight A’s at Computech, then you did earn it because the curriculum was hard. There were core classes. And then you had eight classes, and you went from 7:15 to 3 o’clock every day. And then we had late starts on Thursdays where we started at 9.

[03:48]

Yeah, it’s not like a grade-on-the-curve kind of environment.

[03:53]

No, we wore uniforms. So everybody looked the same pretty much. We all wore uniforms, certain standards of hair and dress and everything.

[04:01]

But a public school. So free, as long as you qualified to get in that. And Patiño is free as well. So, you transitioned from middle school into high school – Hoover High. Not a great fit. It sounds like largely because not very challenging.

[04:19]

I would get bored in class because I’d finish all the work in time. So I wouldn’t have nothing to do. My teachers couldn’t give me the work for the next day, so I would just sit there bored. I got into some trouble. So, I was like, “Yeah, I don’t this is going to work.” So Patiño came to do a presentation at our school. I was interested because they have computer, basically computer science. They offer you programming, and that’s what I was into. I wanted to go into computer science. So I figured, “Oh, this could work for me.” I could see this going somewhere. So I decided to transfer.

[04:48]

Did you have any friends that you transferred with?

[04:51]

I had one or two, yeah.

[04:53]

So, you guys kind of like created this little group and said, “Let’s go to Patiño.”

[04:56]

Yes, pretty much, yeah.

[04:58]

So, we’re in the room today with three other students from Patiño. What’s your connection with these ladies?

[05:06]

Well, I actually met them my sophomore year. We all had the same class schedule for sophomore year and then from there, we ended up on the same business team our junior year. So from there, our relationship has grown into pretty much our own little family.

[05:20]

Love it! Tenth grade you transfer in, and you build relationships, it sounds like pretty quickly. Tell us a little bit about Patiño’s school. Again, remember our listeners have never heard the name before.

[05:34]

Patiño is an entrepreneurship school. It first started off with 10th through 12th, but this year is actually the first year where they accepted freshmen. So now they have a freshman class; so now we have all four classes. They offer business-based classes to where everything pretty much connects into the real world. Your business is that you create your junior year. Your sophomore year, you get into like project-based learning and learning how to work into groups, and how to be out there. And they show you how to pitch, what’s good, what’s not good, how to be confident when you’re up there, and how to speak. So you learn the basics, pretty much the basic skills as well but a little extra. And you get an internship with Bitwise Industries your sophomore year. And you create their social media or their websites local businesses, depending on which… either you’re in online marketing or web design. So the online marketing, you create their social their media and then with web design, you’re creating their website.

[6:30]

Which one did you pick?

[06:31]

I chose web design because I was into the whole coding thing, so I wanted to learn how to code and do websites.

[06:37]

Got it. And are you using WordPress or…?

[06:41]

Yeah, we use WordPress and also Themify and we use Code 9 sometimes and I think it’s Cloud 9 or something like that.

[06:50]

OK, what’s the code 9?

[06:51]

Code 9 is where you code it out yourself. You actually do all the coding.

[06:55]

You actually get into the… I call it shell because I’m old. Yeah, that kind of thing. That’s really cool, that’s really cool! Most of the people that are your age are they doing… do you mind if I ask you how old you are?

[07:09]

I’m seventeen.

[07:10]

Seventeen. So you’re a junior now or senior?

[07:14]

Senior.

[07:14]

So this is this is your last year.

[07:15]

Yes.

[07:16]

So the first year – 10th grade – is about kind of building those basic communication styles, figuring out what you’re going to do. Is that when you formulate a business?

[07:24]

No, that is your junior year. At end of your sophomore year, they do a whole announcement of who is in your actual junior team. Then your junior year is when you figure out what you want to do for your business.

[07:36]

And then your senior year…

[07:37]

You continue your business unless your business doesn’t do as well as you expected. So you either can break apart or start a new business with the same people.

[07:46]

So is the business like a real business or is it like a school exercise? In other words, is there anybody buying anything?

[07:55]

Yes, actually, if your business does really well, you can actually make profit off of your business. If you are able to market well and have a good base and a good idea, you’re able to. And you can get funding and investment pretty much.

[08:08]

All in high school.

[08:09]

All in high school.

[08:10]

I think about the fast-forwards that would have given me in life just from a learning perspective. It’s huge; it’s absolutely mind-boggling. So are there any seniors that you are aware of who have actually have made money?

[08:23]

Our business actually is the top business in our school currently with the most money being made.

[08:27]

[Laughter] Congratulations, congratulations. So, maybe tell us a little bit about your business.

[08:34]

My business is Cultacks. And Cultacks – we came up with two words. We put them together. It’s culture and snacks. We put those together and came up with Cultacks. What we do is… we have three different size boxes we offer. And in each box, you get multicultural snacks. So our largest box is a multicultural snack box of your choosing. So you have the option between three to four different cultures, but we choose the snacks. We have our small/medium one, which is just a single culture. So it’s just the one, and you get to choose which one you want and that’s 8 to 10 items. Then we have our mini one, which is basically a smaller version of our multiple one. But instead you get two big snacks and then the rest are kind of small. Then with each snack, you get the historical facts of each snack that is provided in the box.

[09:19]

So where are you buying the snacks?

[09:23]

We buy them locally. So we look into local vendors to see what is the best price and where we can find them. And we also do it based off of if we can find the information of those snacks because we want to make sure our customers receive the facts.

[09:35]

So you’re providing an information sheet along with snacks.

[09:38]

Yes.

[09:39]

You didn’t happen to bring a snack box, did you?

[09:41]

No, not today. Sorry.

[09:45]

Oh, that’s cold-blooded. [Laughter]

[09:47]

Ah, we do have pictures of our products if you’d like to see one.

[09:51]

Yeah, yeah, you know what we’ll do: we’ll put those up on the website, on the show notes. And then a link to them on the show notes as well as a link to your website. So, you said you’re selling stuff. Are you selling stuff to…? Obviously, your parents are excited about this. Family members are excited, right? Are you also selling online?

[10:13]

Yes, we actually have a full website running to where you are able to purchase a website, and it be delivered to you.

[10:19]

How are you marketing it?

[10:21]

We go around school; we do a bunch of social media posts, and we’re looking to outsource more. And we’re actually looking into going to local businesses, like doctor offices or something or even wedding planners as little gifts and stuff like that and also florists just to put our name out there. Then make business cards as we can and we do flyers as well.

[10:46]

I love the hustle, I love the hustle! Where are you getting the most customers from?

[10:51]

So far, it’s been our own family and our teachers in school. The staff they support us and buy a box whenever we do a sale, or they try to buy a box whenever they can.

[11:03]

Have you guys tried any like – I don’t know – give-away type options or maybe have two-for-one on Friday or something like that? Promotional opportunities?

[11:15]

Well, we actually teamed up with another senior team for an event that we did. So it was if you bought a Cultack box from us for $15, then you received a free milkshake.

[11:25]

Awesome!

[11:26]

So we did that with them. Then currently at our school, we’re doing a drawing competition for our boxes because our boxes are so far just white. So we’re looking for new ideas to design them with. So we did a competition within the school where, if you can design one of our boxes and we like the idea and you win, then you can win our largest box and a free T-shirt.

[11:44]

That’s pretty big. I like that you’re keeping it in the school. Are you using social media to market?

[11:51]

Yes, we have SnapChat. I mean not SnapChat. We have Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

[11:57]

No Pinterest?

[12:00]

No, we haven’t looked into that yet.

[12:03]

I mean it feels like you’re probably… So Pinterest could be really interesting for you. There’s a local entrepreneur, started a company called Creative Love, which is date-in-a-box basically. When you guys are older, get into serious relationships, married, whatever, dating with your spouse becomes a lot less exciting than it was in the early days. So what this does is basically gives you a… it’s date-in-a-box. So it’s something you’re not expecting. You take it to wherever you’re going to eat dinner. Open it up and it gives you guided conversations, questions to ask, activities to do – that kind of thing. It’s really interesting. But the reason I bring it up is because his number 1 sales channel has actually been blogs. So bloggers that have identified their content with relationships, they will do a product review. Then on that product review, they’ll give the link to their website. The second most impactful way that they’re getting customers is through Pinterest. And all they do is that they open up the box and add these attractive photographs of the content of the box, along with the information about it, so that consumers know what to expect. And they’re getting a lot of eyeballs. You know it’s like if you know what you want, you go to Google but, if you don’t know what you want, you go to Pinterest. And that’s kind of the mind space. Talk about your experience with each one of the platforms. Start with Twitter.

[13:43]

So for Twitter, it’s not very active, but we do try to keep up because we’re trying to figure out how to promote our business on there as well as keep it trendy for the students or for the people that look at it so that they can reshare it and repost. We use a lot of hashtags to get noticed more. So we try to make it to where people are understandable, but we still get our business across to the point of what we do. And then we try to keep it like teenage-friendly…

[14:10]

Totally.

[14:10]

…so that we can target that audience as well.

[14:13]

Yeah, for sure, right? I mean that’s where all the people that are popular in your generation or, in terms of who your target market is… I would really think about jumping in on some of the conversations. So I post on Twitter. That’s my number 1 social platform, and it has been. I’ve been on it since 2007. Yeah, I’m old. You were… anyways. But Twitter for me has been very successful in terms of when I engage with other people’s content. It’s less successful for me when I just post stuff, right? What I’ve found is that the consumer wants to hear about themselves – they don’t want to hear about me as it turns out as interesting as I think I am. And so, if I can turn it around and say, “Wow, I really like that post. That’s interesting or whatever,” figure out how I can add value to the conversation, then my level of engagement, the number of people who are responding to me really increases. Just kind of a cool, little hack. You might want to think about that, especially if there’s people that you’ve identified – you know people who are posting that are in your target market, right? So, who do you think is your target market?

[15:29]

So far we, honestly, don’t have one because we want to target everybody because our boxes are honestly for anybody because if you want to try something new…

[15:37]

Because the price points are low enough?

[15:38]

So, if you want to try something new, then you have the opportunity to try something new. Or, if you do know the snacks, but you want to learn something about it, then you have that education behind it, you have the fun. And then we also use recycled paper at the bottom of our boxes, so it’s friendly, it’s earth-friendly so we’re not wasting any other paper. And then we just try new things. We do certain holidays. So we target the holidays and stuff like that. So we pretty much target anybody that wants to try new things, that likes to travel but can’t travel. So we bring it to you so you have that experience without having to go out there if you can’t.

[16:13]

Very cool. I like that cultural exposure, right? I would think like moms that have not maybe really young kids maybe but kids that are old enough – post 1st through 4th grade, could be a good target market. You know they’ve got their children for a long period of time, so they could actually go on the internet, learn about a particular area, and then taste the food of that culture which would make it more like product… more whole experience for the kids. Every kid is going to be like, “Eww, it’s not like chicken nuggets,” but still, right? What about Facebook and Instagram? How are you using them?

[16:56]

Facebook: we do post. That one is kind of more targeted to more parents because a lot of the older generation likes to use Facebook. We try to target them and do posts to where they’re related to it. And we try to make it to where it seems like it’s for the kids even though it’s snacks. But the education behind it, we try to promote that to where you learn and you’re learning something new and it’s something interesting that the kids can find because, as they’re eating it, they can read the back of the snack or they can read the paper and figure it out where it’s from, how the culture uses it or what it does or where it started from.

[17:30]

Thanks, and Instagram?

[17:32]

Instagram? That is pretty much our main social media platform that we try to use. We feel like everybody is on there for the most part whether it be moms, teenagers, or parents, or whoever it is, or local businesses themselves. So we try to create posts of just ourselves or of our boxes or giving them like fun facts of the day or something like that or “Have a good day” so that way we’re just out there. And we always have the link to our website just in case they want to order. And then we tell them about our specials and stuff like that.

[18:00]

Have you tried using SnapChat at all?

[18:06]

We were going to do it but then we realized SnapChat really isn’t going to work for us unless we get people to add us. But we’re not that popular to where people are like, “Oh, let’s add them on SnapChat and see what they do in their daily lives.” That’s what SnapChat is mainly for; so, we figured that it really won’t work for us. We figured that if we stick to the normal platforms, it’ll be easier for us to promote ourselves.

[18:27]

Got it. It’s really tricky, right? SnapChat is this funny spot. My favorite feature of SnapChat is the map – the heat map – that they have where you identify activities that are happening and like can zoom in to Australia and see what they’re doing. That looks like so fun. Let’s go do that. Or even around Fresno, it’s kind of cool. The other day… all my kids have SnapChat, and I got a lot of kids. We were all like together. So I got on there. At the end of the day, we park our phones in the same spot in the kitchen. So, everyone has gone to sleep at this point. And I look and everybody’s SnapChat accounts are active still. So you actually saw our little bitmojis that are all stacked up together. It’s super cool!

[19:11]

It’s so cool! It forms its own circle for each little person. Or, if you’re in the car and they’re all together and then it shows you moving in the car. Or if you have earphones that show your little music on…

[19:21]

It’s so cool. I love that. Anyway, that’s me. That’s amazing. Although I will tell you that I don’t like the way of growing the account because I just haven’t figured out how to do that, you know. That’s kind of the harder part. Again, I’m not on Snap. That’s not my primary; that’s my least favorite platform. I just like it for certain aspects, but I’m trying, I’m trying.

[19:44]

Everybody does.

[19:46]

Surveys. Have you guys done any customer satisfaction or anything like that? Feedback on your boxes?

[19:54]

Yes, the first time that we did an MVP, which is our Minimum Viable Product, of our boxes, after that, we did do a survey to figure out what our customers liked and what they didn’t like. We did receive a lot of feedback, and it was good because from there we were able to adjust our boxes to fit them and figure out what worked best.

[20:13]

What platform did you use to do these surveys? Was it an online survey or did you just call people and ask them questions?

[20:18]

No, we went around school because that’s where pretty much we sold our boxes to. So, if you purchased a box, then we would ask if you could take the survey because we asked for email when you first ordered the box. At first, we were using Google forms to order boxes. So we asked for your name and email and then from there we sent out the survey to figure out what you liked best or if you had any recommendations or comments. And then from there the next time we did it, we adjusted it.

[20:45]

Got it. So you used Google forms for the survey part of it in the end. That makes perfect sense to me. I actually used Google forms for some basic surveys that I did back in September of last year for the first time. And it was crazy easy.

[20:57]

Yeah, it’s really easy: just drop and drag.

[20:59]

Yeah, it was unreal actually. And then I switched over to SurveyMonkey just cause it had a little more – I don’t know – power to it I guess. And it’s a free tool too. So there’s that if you think about continuing your customer satisfaction journey. Yeah, for sure. In fact, I’ve got four businesses that are coming in today to talk to me about how to do customer satisfaction, using SurveyMonkey – which is kind of funny too.

[21:29]

Wow.

[21:30]

I know. [laughter] There you go. So, what were some of the biggest challenges of high school students today?

[21:38]

For like Patiño or like high school in general?

[21:42]

For Patiño, sure. Yes, for Patiño.

[21:44]

Well, for Patiño, I think it’s actually putting yourself out there and making those new friends because for Patiño, you’re coming from all different high schools from your freshman year. (Well, for our class.) So it’s new people; not all your friends transferred; and it’s different schools. So you have to figure out how to put yourself out there, make those friends, get used to working in groups because your sophomore year, they do have you doing a lot of group-based projects. So, if you don’t know them, then you’re not going to get the work done because it’s uncomfortable. But you have to get over that and overcome that fear of not wanting to talk to new people. Also getting over the fear of standing up and presenting to people cause that is one of the major things that they do do there. So that would be one of the challenges: it’s pretty much overcoming your own fears, cause a lot of people are scared to go up to new people, make new friends.

[22:32]

A hundred percent.

[22:33]

Cause they don’t know them. They’re used to being just this little group with other people so now it’s a whole new environment, a whole new atmosphere. The desks aren’t even normal high school desks; we have rolling chairs, moving tables; you can write all over the boards because it’s pretty much all white board. So it’s new, and we have TV’s, tablets – like most high schools don’t have that.

[22:52]

Right. So it’s still set up old school in most high schools, right? Where you got a teacher up front, and there are rows of desks.

[22:59]

Yes, exactly.

[23:00]

Exactly. This is completely different where the desks are really set up like in an office environment where you have these… it’s almost like a team environment, right? Where you have these – they’re not quite circles – but they’re roundish. And then the chairs sit around it. And everybody got these large monitors that are on the tables. Thank you. That’s right. Very unusual but seems like a fun environment.

[23:20]

Yes, it is. Once you get past the whole being scared thing, you really start to enjoy the environment and realize how it is different and how it’s way better than a normal high school cause you don’t have to deal with the normal high school issues. So it is kind of easier once you get past that fear.

[23:37]

Do you think it’s you don’t have to deal with the normal high school issues or do you think it just helps you, it gives you the skills to deal quickly with the stupid things?

[23:47]

I think it helps you easier, like it’s quickly to deal with them cause we obviously still do have the normal high school issues. I mean any high school does, whether you’re a special high school or a regular high school, you still have them. But I think Patiño gives you those skills to pretty much grow up more to where you’re able to face those problems and issues faster and quicker, and you’re much more mature about it.

[24:07]

Love it! Absolutely love it! So, what do you like about being an entrepreneur?

[24:11]

I like the fact that you can… you pretty much have your own business; you run it yourself. You make your own choices; you don’t have someone telling you what to do. And since it’s tied into school work, for us seniors they give us our assignments and then WE have to make the time to do them. So they’re not sitting here and reminding you and forcing you to do it. So, if you don’t do it, then you don’t get it done. So that is up to you. So you have more freedom, and you have more responsibilities so you feel like you’re actually in high school, in life. You’re not like being forced in sitting down and stuff like that.

[24:44]

Have you figured out… Are you going to go to college?

[24:46]

Yes.

[24:46]

Where?

[24:47]

I haven’t actually looked into yet but…

[24:50]

Where do you want to go?

[24:51]

My dream school is UC-Berkeley, but I’m not sure. But that is my dream school. But I want a double major, is what I actually really want to do.

[24:59]

In?

[25:00]

I want a double major in computer science and mathematics with my teaching degree, to teach high school.

[25:05]

Awesome. You can use me as a reference if you want for what that’s worth.

[25:12]

Ah, thank you.

[25:12]

And probably, some of our listeners will reach out too.

[25:15]

Thank you.

[25:16]

So, what is the URL of your product? Do you know offhand? Sorry, the website.

[25:24]

Oh, yeah. It’s www.cultacks.com. So how you spell “Cultacks” is

C-U-L-T-A-C-K-S.com.

[25:36]

Cultacks. Cultacks. Got it.

[25:40]

www.cultacks.com

[25:51]

My guest today has been Gaby Villa from Patiño School of Entrepreneurship. Gaby, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[26:00]

Thank you for having me.

[26:01]

And thank you to everyone who has subscribed to our show. If you find value in these episodes, we would love, appreciate greatly your ratings on Apple podcast. Please feel free to share this. If you’re interested in finding out information or buying the products we described today that are created by Gaby and her team at Patiño School of Entrepreneurship, feel free to look them up online, reach out on social, or check the show notes. Have a great day!

[26:35]

Next time on Happy Market Research, I’ll be interviewing Tim Peacock, COO of Affectiva. There’s quite a bit of value inside of this. My favorite parts are his centric mentality around partnership and ideating with customers, both in the early days and in late stages of an organization’s development. I hope you’ll tune in.

Ep. 128 – Jessica Richards, Market Research Program Director at MSU

Today, my guest is Jessica Richards the program director for the marketing research program at Michigan State University. Michigan State is one of the top research universities.

FIND JESSICA ONLINE:

https://msu.edu/

Twitter: @MSUSpartanFan77

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jessica-richards-mba-8b56699a/

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:30]

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 Jessica Richards, the Program Director for the Marketing Research Program at Michigan State University. Michigan State is one of the top market research universities. Jessica, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[01:13]

Oh, of course, thank you so much for having me.  I’m honored to be on the show today.

[01:20]

You’ve got a really interesting background.   We’re going to be diving deeply into your experience in the military, journey into market research, and what Michigan State University is doing to help prepare students for today’s top brands.  But I wanted to start with this basic question of what do your parents do and how has that impacted your career?

[01:45]

Well, that’s a great question.  So, my parents… my father works for General Motors, has for more than 30 years – he’s going close to 35 years now.  And my mom was an E.R. nurse for many years over at Sparrow, and she now helps to work with their process improvement.  And my parents have been wonderful – basically, guiding lights in my life. My dad is full of what they would call Dadisms, and he has tons of sayings that really have stuck with me since I’ve been a child til now.  One that really sticks with me is to “Take a smile with you and bring it home.” And I know that’s such a simple concept, but it’s something that can get you through anything in life, no matter what you’re facing. My mom, you know, she always taught me to be a hard worker and to… and they both told me to focus on my dreams.  And I never felt anything other than if I worked very hard and dedicated myself to my goals and what I wanted to accomplish. I truly believed that my potential was unlimited. And a lot of that comes from the way that I was raised and their mindset and truly helping me to believe in myself while growing up and into my adult years.  

[03:10]

One of the things I’m hearing repeatedly on this podcast from our guests is that one of their parents or somebody significant to them at an early age installed a tremendous amount of confidence – piggybacking on this word that you used, limitless opportunity, right?  It’s the confidence that our guests have had. And when you think about Rogier Verhulst – or just fill in the blank, right? – Laurie at GoDaddy. These are movers and shakers in the market research space. These are the leaders of our industry. It’s so important that parents or those people who are thinking about having kids at some point, understand that’s a core benefit that will stick, probably more important than education or any sort of material investment that we wind up making in our kids.  It’s just this fundamental empowerment that “You can do it.” And the other thing I want to talk about really briefly is this idea of “Take a smile with you home.” (I think I misquoted it, right?) What was it?

[04:20]  

“Take a smile with you and bring it home.”

[04:22]

“and bring it home.”  That’s right. So “Take a smile with you and bring it home.”  There was a study done about 15 years ago in Portland where they A/B-tested clinically depressed individuals.  I just happened to read an article on this, and so it’s timely that you bring this up. One group was given medication, and another group was asked and monitored to smile for between 20-30 minutes consecutively, in a row in a day.  And they actually found that the people that smiled had as much lift or benefit as those that were medicated. And so this concept of smiling is just such a core to impact who we are and I think literally the smile has somehow the power to magically – and it’s not magic – to change our psychology and our lens that enables us to interact with the world in a more positive way.  So I loved hearing that quote. Thank you for sharing it.

[05:28]

Of course.  As simple as that sounds, it really has a lot of complexities to it.  And I truly believe in the power of positive thinking. And we’ll talk about that more as we kind of deep dive into, you know, the experience I had with the military.  But I truly believe that our mindset and believing that we can accomplish anything and overcome any challenge is truly how we reach new levels of success as leaders, really in any industry.

[05:59]

So, you do have a military background in the Army National Guard.  Talk to us a little bit about how you wound there and then moved out of that into the Master’s Program at Michigan State.

[06:13]

Absolutely.  Well, growing up I was very much into sports, and competing and success, and achieving.  I wanted a challenge that a lot of people… something that I viewed as really challenging, I wanted to accomplish.  And I decided that I wanted to join the national guard (this was before September 11th.)  And I wanted to help people who were in need.  And I wanted to do like hurricane cleanup and help families who were in need while I was in college to get some more experience of different areas around the United States and learn about different families and how they grew up and just kind of get some different perspectives.  I was 17 years old, so my parents actually had to sign for me to join cause I wasn’t quite 18 yet. And then a month later September 11th happened.  So, instead of going to …  Well, I went to basic training and military police school the fall semester after I ended up graduating.  Actually, I did one year in the National Guard part-time before I graduated. So I was still in my senior year.  And then once graduated, I went to basic training and military police school for… I want to say it was for around 19 weeks; it was pretty long – 18 weeks.  Graduated with honors and then was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq. So, I actually had a track scholarship to Ferris State, but I wasn’t able to compete because I was pulled from school to go and deploy.  And I ended up being gone for 22 months. And during that time period, I earned three combat patches. So that means that I was a woman who was in a combat zone for more than 90 days with three separate, larger units.  So, once you serve with a certain battalion or company, depending on how and who you are attached to, you know, as a National Guard unit, if you’re serving in a war zone for 90 days, you get to wear their combat patch on your uniform, showing that you’ve served that time.  So we served quite a bit of time. Part of what I did while I was over there was some customs work, so making sure that tanks and equipment coming back to the U.S. didn’t have anything dangerous in it. We did a lot of outprocessing of soldiers. And then our mission switched to be combat support, and so we were actually combat security for convoys traveling from Kuwait to Iraq.  So like if a convey… typically, a convoy would leave and you’d be gone for seven days, so it’d take you 3 to 4 days to get to your location. You’re guarding these large trucks full of supplies to make sure that they get to different bases okay. So you’d go on a week-long rotational mission. And if they were attacked during that time, we would suppress the attack and make sure that these supplies got to the location they were supposed to be at.  So that’s typically… That’s what I did for 22 months. I’m very thankful for the challenges faced at that time. You know I’ve never once in my life felt limited by anything, especially my gender. And I felt like I… as long as I worked hard and committed myself and dedicated myself to achieving my goal that I wanted to achieve, I truly have always felt like I could do anything. And I feel like that mindset is what allowed me to come back as a female combat veteran and succeed in life.  So that challenge of coming back from war made me a better person; it made me stronger; it helps me relate to people better and it helps them to understand that even though they may be facing challenges in their own life, whether it’s a disease or a divorce or anything, you can overcome any challenge if you are mentally strong and a positive thinker and focus on the good things and keep smiling and just continue to move forward. So, upon coming back, you know I worked full-time, I went to school full-time, and worked my way from an Associate’s degree all the way to my Master’s and completed my M.B.A. with quite a good G.P.A. and was able to apply to a job here at Michigan State University.  I started as a dual operations supervisor and then moved over to the role that I’m at now, which is Master of Science in Marketing and Research Program Director. I absolutely love it. I get to work with students every day and mentor them and help them understand that they can overcome any challenge, that they can do anything that they set their mind to. And I help them take that step by step, you know, not only in their resume, their interviewing skills, how they present themselves, and really give them an advantage in the job market so that they can have the very best start to their life.

[11:29]

That’s fantastic.  I don’t know did you get a chance to tune into our interview with Research Now SSI’s Melanie Courtwright?     

[11:38]

I had not had a chance to look at that one yet, but I definitely am going to listen.  

[11:43]

She was the first female to get a perfect award – and I’m going to completely botch the rest of the reference but – in the Army’s marksmanship competition.  It’s highly competitive. You’ve got 100 shots. She got all 100 at varying distances, etc., etc., – all with an iron sight too. So, anyway, it’s interesting listening to the corollary between how gender is not a limiter.  In fact, our limiters are primarily those things that are centric to how we think about things and the situations that we are in.

[12:19]

Absolutely.  And that’s very impressive.  Yes, we used the iron sights as well.  Props to that woman. I’ll definitely listen to her podcast because that’s highly impressive.  I can’t say that I’ve done the same. As far as being an expert, I was most proficient with grenades [laughter from Jamin] and the nine millimeter; I was expert right- and left-handed.  But still, she’s got me on the iron sights with the larger weapons, for sure.

[12:47]

I think she would be tipping her hat to you as well.  [Ms. Richards laughs.] There’s not a lot of universities that have Master Programs in Market Research.  Maybe you could take a little bit of time and talk to us about how you entered into that program and then became ultimately, obviously, the director of it.     

[13:06]

Absolutely.  Well, I just believe that marketing research is really the future of marketing.  It’s where things are going. Companies want the facts, and they want the statistics with the insights.  It’s no longer enough to just be creative. Yes, that’s a component of it, and it’s very important. But you got to have the facts with it, and you got to have the statistics with it.  So, really this program started seven years ago. I’ve been with MSU about five now, and I’ve just watched it grow. I’ve seen the market change; I’ve seen this, you know, big data revolution; and I’ve just seen the changes in technology and the big need for data.  And watching this program grow, it’s really just been incredible. So, I just believe in marketing research and I believe that it’s a great career. So I wanted to transition over here to really help lead the growth of education in marketing research. Right now we are the largest program I’m aware of that exists – education-wise in marketing research.  And it’s been humbling and exciting to watch us grow. We, actually, were just ranked number 1 in North America by EdUniversal in marketing research and number 13 overall among all Master’s and Marketing Programs, which included top MBA programs around the country. So it’s just really been an incredible experience to see the changes in marketing research in the industry and the need for it and then to also help lead it on the education side.    

[14:48]

Congratulations!  That’s a big deal.  

[14:52]

Thank you.  Yea, it’s just been very humbling and exciting.  And really, we’ve just focused on being nimble, and we have more than 70 companies who advise us on our curriculum.  And we listen to what they need. And we listen to the types of people they are looking to hire, what’s changing, what new skills do students need to know entering into the market research industry?  What do you want? As a company, who’s your ideal person? And then we also listen to students: so any feedback that they give, or classes that they want, or any other additional instruction that they feel would have helped them to be better prepared.  We’ve implemented. We implement updates nearly every semester. So, because we’re so nimble, we’ve been able to just be really efficient and change with the needs of the industry and the companies and the students. So, because of that, we’re able to build up and get this ranking.  And, really, we were focused on providing excellence to the students and companies, and the ranking just kind of happened.

[15:58]

Yeah, market researchers conducting marketing research is one of the most powerful combinations in the marketplace.  That’s every tool I’ve seen, every service I’ve seen in the space, the ones that are winning are the ones that are also practitioning, you know, eating their own dog food – I think is the way we say it?  And, having been part of that program myself as an adviser, I can tell you it’s exactly correct. The core of the decisions is centric to what the constituents – whether it’s the companies that are hiring and the student body – want and the feedback they’re getting.  And that’s how you guys are staying so relevant and progressing the agenda of really promoting data-driven decisions in corporate America.

[16:44]

Right.  If we want to give marketing research and insights a stronger voice and I know that you had mentioned that there’s not a lot of programs in market research and you’re right.   Most of the programs that are emerging are in business analytics or marketing analytics and they’re more statistics heavy, which we do cover – lots of statistics and analysis in our program but we believe that the insights are really the key to differentiating and truly understanding what that data is saying.  So we really focus on the consulting, the consumer insights, the psychology, the communications and, of course, emerging research, trends and methods to ensure our students can not only look at the statistics or data and understand it but to really be able to communicate that to a company in the most efficient manner.    

[17:36]

I’m on a number of college boards.  One of tension points is the market in general – whether it’s technology or systems, theory or whatever – moving faster than the rate of academia.   Our space has been particularly disrupted over the last decade: internet first, of course, a couple of decades ago; mobile later; and now a million different things from big data to blockchain, AI – you name the buzz word.  What is a fundamental change or a course that you’ve added to the curriculum in order to help address the educational requirements around your student body?

[18:17]

Oh, my gosh, there’s been so many.  I feel like there’s a new one every semester.  So we’ve incorporated a lot of electives into our program.  So we’ve hired professionals all around the U.S. to teach in their area of expertise.  So that could include online qualitative research, mobile research, text analytics, pricing research.  We’ve even included business development, R statistical methods. We’re looking at possibly a data visualization elective.  And I know our academic director has a whole list of other electives that he’s looking to add on. But, basically, students within our program can customize and specialize even further by choosing elective topics that they’re most interested in, and they can learn online from the best in the industry that we’ve hired.  Maybe they’re in California or New York, or we even have one that works in the British Virgin Islands. Maybe they’re located all over so students can learn from the experts really anywhere. We’ve incorporated so many different courses. A new one this August that we just had added is “New Design and Methods,” with former CEO Michael Brereton.  (He was the former CEO of Maritz Research). And now he is part of our faculty here at Michigan State. He brought in around ten different speakers that were high-level executives – some even CEO’s from around the industry – to speak to our students and talk to them about emerging topics and trends. So that’s just one of our most recent courses, but our academic director, Dr. Richard Spring, is absolutely phenomenal.  He is always looking at what can we do next, what can we add in that is an emerging topic or a method that is going on in the industry now that students need to learn. I really feel like you’re correct that most programs in academia are behind, you know, where the industry is at, but we’ve worked really, really hard to stay current. I really feel like we do as good of a job as is possible to provide the information that’s needed for now and in the future, rather than things that were of the past.

[20:36]

You have a unique position because in a lot of ways, as we know, history informs the future.  You’ve been able to identify things that are actually sticking versus the things that are – I’ll call them passing fads – in market research.  So, as you look forward to the next, let’s say, 3-5 years, what are you seeing as potentially disruptive, whether it’s technology or techniques or methodologies, whatever, to our space?      

[21:04]

Well, I think that’s a great question.  And, you know, I think I’m looking at it very similarly to many people.  You know, what’s next and what’s coming with technology or possibly AI. How do we ensure that we’re future-focused and creating a need for our jobs?  I think that everyone is thinking how is technology going to change in the future and how can I change or enhance my skills or the way that I think or the way I do research to make sure that it’s needed and not replaced by potentially a computer going forward.  And so I think we really have to think out of the box with new strategies and methods and, you know, really focus on interpreting the insights and the human component of interpreting the data and statistics, to find new ways to innovate, to work with technology, to grow and increase jobs, rather than let it be something that could feel threatening.  

[22:12]

So, it’s almost like a partnership that you’re talking about between technology and humans where we do the interpretation.  Storytelling? Is that a big part of the human-aided adoption of insights?

[22:31]

I absolutely believe so.  I think that being able to tell a story and to communicate data in a simplistic way to really any audience that makes an impact and sparks emotion is going to be key.  And I think that, instead of looking at technology in almost a worry of how is that going to impact me, you know, could that potentially take over some jobs, I think we need to look at how can we work with technology to grow and create more jobs.  How can we use what’s coming and these advantages to do things differently and more innovative to increase our productivity, increase our business, and become more efficient and provide and deliver better insights that are more impactful and more emotion… that ignite more emotion, and thinking about what we can do and coming up with new ideas.  I think the next step is what is that idea. I’m just not sure that anyone really knows 100% what the key thing is. But, if we have that mindset and we focus on looking for that solution, I believe that’s where we’ll find our answer.

[23:53]

So, as an educator, what do you…  I’ve been in academia or connected to it for years throughout my career.  One of my big learnings is that I’m probably going to get only one major thing out of a class, right?  And then that rolls up to inform my behaviors or views or whatever. What are you seeing as one of the key skills that new researchers, that is, people who are entering into the job market, need to have in their tool kit to be successful today?

[24:28]

Well, definitely being an efficient and impactful storyteller is huge.  That’s what I hear a lot of recruiters and companies asking for, is they want someone who can tell a story from data that sparks emotion in people.  People buy based on emotion; people are moved by emotion, and positive emotion, and deep emotion. So being able to spark that in an audience or a panel or even with a product, that is going to be a key differentiator.  I think there’s going to be a lot of skills needed for the future. One, students really need to focus on their GPA’s. They need to get good grades in school. They need to be analytical. So, they want to focus on learning softwares, there are many out there.  Several could include SPSS, SPSS Modeler, perhaps SASS, if they want to go in more into some data mining, R or Python. There is even Google Analytics. But learning different softwares and being proficient will be quite helpful. They also need to have an interactive personality, they need to be able to engage people, they need to be able to understand how people think and have that human element along with a curious mindset to kind of deep dive not only into data but on the qualitative side as well.  So I really think that there is a lot of pressure for students to do well but, as long as they focus on achieving and stay confident in their skills and abilities and keep learning and pushing forward to learn as many tech programs and skills as possible, they’ll be successful in our industry today and for the future.

[26:26]

So what is Michigan State offering right now that’s got you really excited about in this program you want to tell our listeners?  

[26:35]

Gosh, well, we offer our program in a twelve-month format or twenty-month format.  Yes, we have students who are newly graduated and going out into the market. Some of those students are even advanced, dual-enrolled, which means they’re completing their Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at the same time.  I am very excited we’re able to offer that and to help students not only leave Michigan State with a Bachelor’s degree but also with a Master’s. We’ve designed our program to where students can dual-enroll and double count actually up to eleven credits between their Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees so that they can graduate with their Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in the same year.  And we help place them as well. So not only do we help them leave Michigan State with their Master’s degree, we place them. So that’s what we do for a lot of the more newly graduated students who are dual-enrolled. And then we also have an online program. So those who are in the industry now, or perhaps wanting to transition into a marketing research role or move into a marketing research manager or leadership role, we have our online program, and they can complete that while working full-time.  It’s only five semesters (so twenty months), and we provide career services for them. So, if they’re looking to advance or move up, we help them with their resumes, we do custom job searching. We just really provide so much support for students in helping to place them, whether they’re more newly graduated or they’ve been on the workforce for ten years. So we have a format for everyone to where they can learn about marketing research and how to be part of the industry.

[28:15]

Do you know offhand what your placement stats are, post-graduate?  

[28:18]

So most of our graduates… cause we track the placement for the full-time students because our online students most of them are already working full-time.  So, we had… right now we’re placing our cohort who graduated in… I’m sorry, who started our program in January of 2018. So our most recent placement statistics would be from the fall of last year, and we were 87% placed even before the students graduated, and 100% within like 30 days.    

[28:53]

Holy crap!  That’s amazing!        

[28:59]

Yeah, there’s a lot of jobs out there.  And this cohort that we’re placing right now – they’re in their last semester – so they’re probably about 60% placed.  So we’ll probably have them about the same: probably close to 80 – 85 – 87% placed before they graduate in December. And we’ve had a lot of big companies that we’ve really never seen before, hiring these students and the salaries are quite competitive.  So they’re very happy: it’s the highest average salary we’ve ever seen for market research. So the demand is growing, the industry is growing, it’s just a really exciting time to be part of this industry. And of course, with our ranking, we’re excited to see the growth, and we’re humbled as well.  So, to be names number 1 in North America for us is just exciting because we’re able to help continue growing and to assist these students in entering the industry and making an impact for the future and helping to take marketing research into the future and finding those new methods of providing quantitative and qualitative research so that market research continues to grow over the years.

[30:09]

There’s been a number of different podcasts where I’ve talked about this view of market research and that is, for the last two decades that I’ve been in space, it’s almost always felt like we’re at the kids’ table inside of the brands, and we have to wait for permission to be able to move up into the C-suite and provide information.  But for the first time over the last – it’s improving almost month over month – I feel like market research is literally at the adult table and has a significant voice. At the same time, there are a lot of other voices at that table, but this is our time to succeed. And it’s great hearing about the success that you’re having with (1) educating and in (2) placing your students successfully to help impact brands so that they are data-driven.  Well done!

[30:59]

Thank you.  Yeah, I agree with you.  It’s been very exciting. We actually just held one of our larger career fairs this past week, last week.  And basically, every company who came was there to hire market researchers. In the past, it has not always been the case where it’s been business-analytics heavy, but that’s not really what we’re seeing.  We’re seeing the companies come out for market researchers, which, you’re right, is very exciting. We’re seeing the excitement in the industry. I completely agree that we’re definitely at the big table now.

[31:32]

One of the fun things that’s happened with Happy Market Research…  Of course, you think about who your initial customer is and you create a persona, and for me it was insights professionals.  What I didn’t realize is that there would be a large subset of prospective insights professionals that would be tuning in. And so, because of that, we’ve actually gotten a lot more traction ahead of insights in major brands wanting to be on the show.  They’re seeing it as a mechanism for legion, really sort of the top of the funnel for their H.R. hiring. It’s been neat to see how… In a lot of ways, we’re facilitating a different conversation than I had initially had set out to, but it is adding that value across the spectrum.   

[32:18]

That’s wonderful.  I’m just so glad to hear that.  It’s so exciting. I second that.  That’s definitely what we’re seeing as well as far as corporate involvement.  

[32:30]

My guest today has been Jessica Richards, the Program Director for the Marketing Research Program at Michigan State University.  Jessica, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Podcast today.

[32:37]

Great, thank you, Jamin.  I was honored. I appreciate it.  Thank you very much.

[32:46]

Next time on Happy Market Research, I have a very special guest, Gabby Villa.  There is a local high school called Petiño School of Entrepreneurship here in my hometown, Fresno.  It specializes in serving a highly minority-based community and teaching them how to conceive of and actually start a business from scratch to revenue.  This lady is a senior in high school. She has started a business; it is getting off the ground. We dive into her journey as well as how she’s using insights to create positive outcomes for her team.  I hope you’ll tune in.                             

Ep. 127 – Ricardo Alvarez, Head of Insights for Mastercard

Today, my guest is Ricardo Alvarez. For the past 10 years, Ricardo has been the Director of Research & Insights at Mastercard and has recently left to pursue a career as a consultant. As a technology company, Mastercard is in the global payments business connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. Prior to Mastercard, Ricardo has worked on both the brand and agency side gaining extensive experience in the US and Latin America across food, retail, personal care products, digital and financial industries.

FIND RICARDO ONLINE:

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:17]

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 into 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 Ricardo Alvarez. For the past ten years Ricardo has been the Director of Research and Insights at MasterCard and has recently left to pursue a career in consulting. As a technology company, MasterCard is in the global payments business, connecting consumers, financial institutes, merchants, governments, and businesses in more than 210 countries.  Prior to MasterCard, Ricardo has worked on both the brand and agency side, gaining extensive experience in the U.S. and Latin America across food, retail, personal care products, digital and the financial sectors. Ricardo, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[01:27]

Thank you, Jamin.  And first of all, I want to express my sincere congratulations for this great initiative of yours to make the Happy Market Research Podcast.  All of your podcasts will help a lot of market researchers from many generations. So your effort is going to have a great impact in our industry.  So, congratulations for that.

[01:50]

Thank you very much.  I appreciate the positive impact.  It’s been an interesting process over the last two months.  We have been gaining – I call them viewers – but listeners, I guess, an audience.  And that’s been very exciting. The best, I’d say the highlight for me, has been listening to the brands the professionals such as yourself, who have been on the brand side, identify where the market gaps are and then how the agencies are working hard to understand those opportunities so that they can create solutions that really help brands become more data-driven.  It’s been an exciting journey for me personally and for the rest of the team. So, thank you very much for taking the time to be with us today.

[02:47]

Thank you.  

[02:51]

So, let’s start way back.  Tell us a little bit about your parents and how that has affected your career.

[02:54]

Well, my dad was a journalist.  So, since I was a little boy, I learned how to appreciate the opinions of people with regard to social topics.  I started to learn more about the interview as a data collection method and as a genre. To me an interview reflects reality, and it is a creative process of discovery.  My mom was dedicated to the care of my dad as well as my brothers and sisters. We were six. So we were a big family, and you can imagine that she had a lot of work in the care of all of us.  So, I learned from my mom to listen to others and identify the emotional statements versus the rational ones. So, from my dad I learned the love of journalism and the genre of interviews, and from my mother the ability to make an interpretation of emotions.  So, I was born and grew up in Mexico City; I studied marketing and communications with two concentrations: one is market research and the other is journalism. When I was 18 years old, I began to write chronicles, and I started to develop a great appreciation of the interview as a journalistic genre.  Therefore, I was a journalist and, in the end, I dedicated myself to one of my passions, which is market research and consumer knowledge.

[04:21]

Journalists to me are one of the most fascinating professions.  And I think, as I’ve grown in my research expertise, one of the things that stands out to me is how a journalist can take disparate pieces of data and then usually incorporate some qualitative view – whether it’s just interviews and what have you – and put together a beautiful, compelling story.  Was your father helpful in helping you understand how to create a story from data?

[05:05]

Well, yes, we used to go together to bullfights.  And after the – every Sunday – after the bullfighting, he asked me to say, “Tell me in one phrase what was the most impactful of the event.  Or tell me how you phrase it or how you synthesize what you saw today.” So it was every week; so I had to work a lot to try to put together in one phrase the most important nuggets of what I saw.  So this was when I was growing. And in research you have a lot of data, and you have to have the capability of synthesis, analysis, and also to tell the story. But at the beginning, you have to capture the attention of what is the most important thing.  

[06:07]

I like this concept of one phrase. You know the world has moved more and more toward headlines, of course, Twitter being the antithesis of that environment.  The skill of reducing massive amounts of information and experience into a short, concise phrase that really captures that emotional moment is critical I think – I know.  Across the brands that we’ve interviewed on this show, all of them has said that story telling has become a much more important part of the researcher’s role, regardless of if they’re qualitative or quantitative.  With your work at MasterCard, was storytelling becoming more and more important?

[6:56]

Yes, absolutely, it is very, very important.  I think this is one of the challenges that we have today.  And I would say that, first of all, one of the… the researcher needs to connect the dots with solid foundations of research to tell the story, and that story must help the management team to make decisions and to help the business.  But that is very, very important, and this is something that is one of the capabilities that we have, we must possess. It’s very important to connect the dots and create the story.

[07:48]

So, tell us a little bit about how MasterCard uses insights to help inform their business decisions.  

[07:54]

I believe that the function of corporation market research is to generate a great impact on the company.  The companies pay us the salary or our money for having an impact in the business. The way to do it is not only generating insights or knowledge about something but generating insights that are actionable.  If we do studies and do not take actions, we cannot create impact. The way to make the insights actionable is by generating very specific business recommendations. If three recommendations are carried out of ten, then we can say that we are impacting the business.  In my opinion, the corporate research role is critical. And the only way to make an impact is making sure the studies are actionable. So, this is the way we help at MasterCard and the other companies I worked for before.

[08:57]

Are you seeing brands like MasterCard bring more research in-house over the last few years or are they using more vendors to get research done?  

[09:12]

It’s more using vendors to get research done.  It’s ah… Yeah, we don’t do anything in-house, almost nothing.  But we have a lot of resources of information and the role of the corporate researcher is…   By the time, by adding a lot of studies and a lot of data, you have to be able to connect and understand the data, make the analysis, and connect the dots from different sources of information and create a story.  And this is the beauty of the corporate role because one day you do concept testing, the other day or other month, you analyze the tracker or whatever. So those sources of information shouldn’t be analyzed separately; they should be connected.  And this is intellectual work that we must do to connect those things to help the brand and to help the decision-makers to make a decision on things that help the business and connect it to the business because sometimes in marketing we do things that are not really connecting to the business.  

[10:32]

Now I’ve done a lot of research in… across the world.  Latin America has been one of my more challenging markets to get whether it’s qualitative or quantitative research done.  What unique challenges do North American firms face when doing research in Latin America? And do you have any like tips or recommendations?

[10:56]

Well, yes, I would mention three challenges.  I believe most companies continue to study the past and literally nothing is done to help the business to see the opportunities of the future.  So, in my opinion, brand trackers must be transformed and be more predictive. Otherwise, they can become obsolete. I see a great opportunity in our industry to innovate more and find an objective way to measure the intel channels, for example.  That would be the second challenge I see. And the third one is that we continue to use or abuse intrusive data collection methods such as phone calls at dinner time to ask people to answer a questionnaire. I just think that doing service through artificial intelligence or chat bots are going to help improve the respondents’ experience.  But I believe that we must make faster progress also in social listening, using the existing engines. We are supposed to be the experts in consumer knowledge or behavior. So we must find a way to take advantage of what consumers are saying in social media. So I would say those are the things in a nutshell that are the biggest challenges that CPG firms and market research firms in LatAm (Latin America).  We rely a lot on the past; we keep analyzing the past with the trackers. And I think they should be abolished immediately.

[12:34]

I mean there’s a huge shift from moving away from longitudinal trackers towards more of an agile research approach.  And I mean that’s impacting the entire brand in positive ways and then it’s having some potentially negative, well, definitely negative side effects in the market research space because it’s disrupting, you know, the revenue models of many of the largest, in fact, all of the largest market research companies, right?  So you’ve got like a longitudinal-study, brand tracker, might be a quarter million dollars a year or more. And it’s being substituted for 50 five-thousand-dollar projects or whatever the numbers are. It’s much smaller price points.

[13:31]

Correct.

[13:33]

Are you… Do you think that there’s an opportunity for agencies to partner with brands to help, like you said, turn these longitudinal studies into predictive models?

[13:47]

Yes, I would say that we are in the learning curve, in the beginning of the learning curve.  And I would say that there are no good tools yet to measure, for instance, the effectiveness of advertising in digital media such as Facebook and Twitter.  For example, for credit card companies you can’t completely rely on surveys conducted on Facebook because out of the people that they interview on Facebook, you don’t know what percentage of the respondents are banked or have a credit card.  For other categories like consumer packaging goods and consumer products like shampoo, soap, it will work. But I think that we’re in the process and someday we’ll be able to close that gap. But I think as researchers in our industry, we have to do more to really measure the effectiveness of advertising in media, in Facebook and Twitter, in digital media.  And I think we need to combine because for decades we’ve been using the television, but consumers, in addition to television, they are also watching our advertisement efforts on Facebook and Twitter.

[15:12]

I even saw a paper recently citing Purina, who is predicting over the next 3-5 years 50% of their products will be purchased on voice devices, such as Google Home or Alexa.  

[15:29]

Wow!

[15:33]

Yeah.  So I think what you’re saying is exactly correct, and it becomes more and more important for brands to get in front of the consumer experience, especially in the context of an invisible purchase journey.  Losing the opportunity to intercept the customer – whether they’re at Amazon Store or Google Store or actually in their physical brick-and-mortar store – those days are moving away from us, and it’s going to be all about the emotional connection that the brands are creating with the consumer.  And, of course, we have said that for years, but, man, I tell you I’ve recently started purchasing things in my household on our smart speaker Alexa, and it is changing everything for us just from an ease of accessibility. [Alexa’s voice is heard is the background.] [speaking to Alexa] Alexa, stop.  Sorry about that. She’s nosey. [laughter] So, what steps would you take if you were looking to get a job in the market research space?

[16:46]

Well, first, we must demonstrate that we have a great analytical ability.  Second, we should prove that we know how to listen and that we know how to observe.  The third one is that we must know how to connect the dots as I said before. From the great amount of information that is obtained, we must know how to put it in context.  The fourth step is very important and consists in knowing how to tell the story. We must know how to tell stories as we just explained here. This story should be short, based on data or facts and must be actionable because we can create stories but if they are not connected to the business, that doesn’t make sense.  So, it should be short, bold, and based on data.

[17:45]

I really like that, that rubric of short, based on data and actionable.  If you can check those three boxes, then you can say, you know, my research has been successful.  And, if you’re not, then it’s the opposite actually. You’re wasting resources in both time and money.  So, across your years of experience, thinking about the people who have stood out that you’ve liked to work with, what are some of the characteristics of an all-star employee?  

[18:20]

The first one is that the researcher can be able or should connect the dots with solid foundations and that he or she knows how to tell a story that helps the management team make decisions for a healthy business.  The second one has to do with identifying the audience. For example, we must understand the audience to increase our influence. We must know how to adapt to different leadership styles. The corporate researcher, in my opinion, must know how to deal with people.  For example, we must know how to be effective in communicating good or bad news to a diverse audience. Sometimes we need to report to executives with very big egos or to people with little emotional intelligence. So, the point is that your internet client must feel comfortable working with you and you have to know how to communicate with them.  I have said that sometimes the researcher’s profession is very ungrateful. When you have good news, you’re a hero, but when you don’t have good news, then you need to be ready and prepared to have difficult conversations. The third one is I would say to build credibility and respect. Credibility in our profession means everything. The credibility is with every day and in every action.  Only with credibility we can build the influence to others. And you notice that you have influence when executives come to you looking for your advice or for your opinion as an expert. At the same time, you notice that executives want to work with you because they respect you and believe in you. I would say that those are the three key characteristics that our all-star employee must possess.    

[20:26]

We recently did an interview with a young man named Jake Pryszlak, and he’s out of the U.K.  He talked about the importance of developing a personal brand and how he has personally used that to stand out in a, you know, world that’s flooded with whether it’s data or people competing for jobs, or attention or what have you.  And a core takeaway for me from his interview was this need to be credible and trustworthy because that ultimately is the currency that you will build your entire career on. And I liked how you phrased that. And then being able to cultivate these relationships, being emotionally intelligent so that you’re… you know how to deal with the jerks or [laughter from Mr. Alvarez] or, right?  I have other words but, you know, the people that maybe don’t prioritize the… aren’t nice. I don’t know how else to say it. You got to align with them; you got to make sure that there’s a relationship there.

[21:40]

Absolutely.  You have all types of characters; you have to deal with all of them.  Sometimes people who never believe in research, once they see some data that you have that they can use to their advantage, they use it in disproportionate ways.  And you have to be honest, and you have to also know how to deal with that. And I admire and respect our colleagues that stay in the corporation right now more than five years or more than seven or eight years because it is a tough job.  It is. In corporate America, you have to have short-term scores, goals accomplished, and research is not separate from that pressure. And you have to deal with all the stress caused and the emotion caused by that pressure.

[22:43]

And then what you’ve given our audience is so powerful, and that is a way to track your overall success.  Thinking back about every research project needs to be concise, based on data, story, and actionable – if you check those boxes and when you’re meeting with your supervisor or other key executives, you’re going to be known as the woman or the man who gets the data in the context of the business.  That’s a very powerful seat to occupy inside of corporate America cause you start building a real strength that will protect you when, you know… We know that corporations do well and then we know there’s layoffs. We know that sometimes people like the data and what it’s saying and sometimes they don’t.  And that’s when you can see personal attacks happen, etc. So, being armed in the way that you’ve articulated, it is really powerful from enabling you to stay that course. Is a lot of this coming out of your tenure at MasterCard and other brands that you’ve served?

[23:55]

Yes, yes, absolutely.  And you never deliver the results of one single study:  you have to craft also with other studies that will complement, that would tell the story or to help complement the story.  Sometimes, I mean very rarely, we just deliver the results of the study whether it’s a concept test. Most of the tests that we’ve done… in ten years, for instance, I tested more than 500 concepts or ideas.  And in order to have above-the-norm concepts or ideas, you have to nurture those ideas with a different set of data. And you just don’t communicate, “Oh, you know your idea or the concept failed.” No. It’s okay; it’s not compelling; it’s not working because of this, this, and that based on that data.  You have the data and create and try to just connect the things is more helpful than just deliver, “Oh, this is the score” without any context. I don’t think that would be a good thing or good work from our side. We need to put things in context; we need to help the decision-maker to understand why this, in this example, this concept didn’t test as we expected, no?  

[25:29]

Right.

[25:31]

And you have to be armed for that.

[25:33]

Yeah, yeah.  Living inside of the…  I have seen this throughout my career where you’ll have internal stakeholders, and they’re really just focused on whatever they see as their deliverable to help inform the organization.  But that’s just not it! We’ve got to pick our heads up; we’ve got to get our hands dirty; we got to understand what’s important to the executives so that we can then create that story that connects and moves the organization forward.  I really enjoy your solid… I could talk about this rubric you’ve created, honestly, all day long. That should be… [Mr. Alvarez laughs.] How did you come up this? Did somebody teach this to you? Or is it just years of….?

[26:22]

Mostly it’s experience and experience over time.  Because you know people that… your constituents or your internet client like product people, let’s say, a product manager…  Probably they spend or take six months or a year in building a product. When this product is going to be out before they go out, they ask you to test the target audience.  And there’s a lot of work, and of course, emotion. Because we are all human beings, there’s a lot of emotion. It’s like your baby, and you think that this is the best idea in the world.  And when you test it and it’s not testing good, then you have to be ready to have that difficult conversation. What I do is, normally I don’t wait until I have the result of the study. So, in an early stage, I talk to the team involved, saying “You know according to the data, the results are not looking good.  You need to be prepared to have a Plan B.” And Plan B I would say would be this, this, and that. So that way, you alleviate the tension and you are upfront about all of that. You just expose the problem and face it and together try to resolve it. It is tough, but it is good for the business. And I think that way the researcher is not just a judgmental person but is a part of the team.  And I think that is the way we should work in the corporate world right now.

[28:14]

Yeah, Kristi Zuhlke had a similar take.  She’s the founder and CEO of a company called KnowledgeHound.  They have a search-based insights platform for large organizations.  Anyway, she worked at Proctor & Gamble for years. She said that it was mandatory that you have, literally, an ROI on your research for it to be viewed as successful.  And it fits – maybe more broadly – but, you know, it’s getting to the same thing that you’ve crafted here. So, I want to move on a little bit to talk about the agency world and the brand world.  What is one of the big gaps that brands have in their insights or in marketing research that they wish agencies would fulfill.

[29:14]

Well, I think that, number 1, they need to understand the business client and the nuances. If they plan to pitch, for instance, companies in credit cards, it’s no longer just Visa, MasterCard; it is also PayPal and Google Wallet.  So try to understand the ecosystem of the industry in which the target company is involved. That’s number 1. Number 2 is stop selling their solutions and first try to understand what are the corporate needs, what the brand needs, because the solution is not…  I mean they try to accommodate their solutions to the needs, and it should be vice versa. And the third one which is very important is what I mentioned before is the ability to do a better job in social listening. I’m an advocate of social listening because it is a non-intrusive way to understand what people are saying.  And we have discovered a lot of very good data by analyzing the pictures and observing the pictures of what people are posting on Facebook or Twitter. So you can have a very good sense, very good insights, of course, qualitative, but those are the things that you can do with very little money and that you can have good results in terms of quality of that.   

[30:57]

Are you seeing companies enter the market research space that are technology-based, that are doing a good job of this and helping process massive amounts of what is traditionally qualitative data so that you can then analyze, synthesize and build a story?

[31:16]  

Well, yes, I’m sorry.  I would say I’m a fan of communities.  I like communities to

co-create and to generate new ideas.  When people have spare time and they have in their hands their mobile device and actually we are kind of incentivizing to post things.  We ask a task like, for instance, on Tuesdays, please go to the bank or do this and take, when you make these transactions, take a picture or take a video, and participate in that kind of WhatsApp environment so that we can share in a closed group of people what we learned.  I think that those are the things that are also helping us or helped us a lot. And it’s very efficient in terms of time and cost.

[32:18]

Social listening is a reservoir of data, and I’ve still not seen a great solution that is easily digestible for the organization, but I think that the way that you’re tackling it with managed communities for co-creation and doing in-depth interviews is very effective for grabbing the pulse of the consumer so that you understand what those constituents are thinking and where they’re seeing the needs.  I want to piggyback a little bit on the second point you had made about “agencies stop forcing your products down our throat and instead give us the products that have the biggest benefit to the organization,” right? So, in every way, we on the agency side, which is where I’ve spent my career… you know I have a shoe and I want to sell you a shoe, and, if it’s a size 9 and you have a size 10 foot, I’m going to force your foot into that shoe, right?     

[33:25]

Uh-huh

[33:27]

Are there specific agencies that have done that particularly well?      

[33:30]

Well, the global ones are the ones that are not doing the job right or correctly because they have their shoes already manufactured, following your example.  The medium and the local ones are very easy to adapt and to really get into what is needed. So the global ones are I think are big elephants, and they are slow.  And you have a lot of people with good talent and not-so-good talent like anywhere. But medium and small, then you have a very good caliber dedicated to you, people with good experience, and they care about your brand.  So, I think – to answer your question – yes, the solutions are made for the big ones, global ones. They don’t care if there’s not a match with your shoe… because they have other clients. [Jamin laughs.]

[34:49]

Yeah, there’s that.  So, let’s shift gears a little bit.  What type of companies are you consulting for and what services are you offering?

[34:57]

Well, I’m more consulting the fintech companies because there is a hunger in Latin America, there is a big entrepreneurial spirit.  And these fintechs are taking a lot of advantage because they take risks the banks are not willing to take. And they need a lot of information, so I support more of the fintech industry in new companies in Latin America and also the ones that are more relevant to customer experience and loyalty programs.  Those are the three areas on which I focus more.

[35:39]

My guest today has been Ricardo Alvarez, industry vet, expert and sage.  Ricardo, thank you very much for being on our podcast today.

[35:50]

Thank you very much, Jamin.  Great talking to you. Great conversation.  I enjoyed it very much.

[36:00]

Jessica Richards, Michigan State University, very exciting interview with her.  They have an 85% placement of their student body before graduation and a 100% placement within 30 days of graduation.  I don’t know of very many universities that have that sort of outcome for their student body. She talks about how they achieve that, how her students are adding value to market research, and trends that they are seeing in education.     

Ep. 126 – Dave Carruthers, Founder and CEO of Voxpopme

Today, my guest is Dave Carruthers, Founder and CEO of Voxpopme. Voxpopme is a platform optimizes and automates insights gained from video.

Prior to founding Voxpopme, Dave had worked extensively in tech dating back to 2001.

FIND DAVE ONLINE:

Twitter: @DaveCarruthers

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

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

[00:00:03]
I think this has been talked about in the podcast a number of times how difficult change is to implement and drive within the industry. There’s lots of reasons behind that, the status quo, and professional risk, and what if it doesn’t work? And as an industry we’re not, we tend to be typically risk-averse. It was tough in the early days for sure –

[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 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 Dave Carruthers, Founder and CEO of Voxpopme. Voxpopme is a platform that is optimized and automates insights gained from video. Prior to founding Voxpopme, Dave has worked extensively in tech dating back to 2001. Dave, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[00:01:20]
Thanks, Jamin. Looking forward to the next half hour for sure.

[00:01:24]
So one of our core questions and it’s driven by the audiences’ interest is how did your parents wind up impacting who you are today and ultimately the success that you have had with Voxpopme?

[00:01:40]
I guess everything starts with our parents, our upbringing, our values. And it’s a bit weird because in my family no one else was really entrepreneurial, was within business. But even as a young kid I was always setting up these business, whether it was washing people’s cars in the neighborhood. Or setting up a magazine, and these kinds of different things. I was always looking at ways to make money. I think the biggest impact, in terms of career-wise, was probably my father. He was a computer programmer, so that definitely got me interested in technology from an early age. I remember seven years old, getting a Commodore 64, which dates me somewhat, as a Christmas present and learning to write these basic programs on that device. And tango to 20-20 run and all of this stuff. And it really started my obsession with technology and what was possible. So from an early age, I would say that that influence there was massive for me.

[00:02:56]
Commodore 64, so that was actually my dream device growing up. My parents wouldn’t support me for it though, unfortunately, because we went with the early adopter of Atari 2600.

[00:03:09]
Atari 2600, yeah, it was great. I just remember playing Football Manager on there and we had this army assault game. The amount of joysticks we went through because they were, you had to shake it left and right to run faster, and they weren’t particularly robust back in those days, the 27 minutes for the game to load as you put the tape in and stuff. It’s amazing to see where we have come now to VR and these immersive games we’ve got, and incredible really.

[00:03:43]
And then you have this whole, you can actually make a living streaming nowadays. So talk about a complete divergent path that I am massively envious of.

[00:03:55]
Yeah. I think there’s a famous cartoon about how you could make money playing computer games and it was satirical back in the ’90s, I think it was. And then here we are today with some of the best-paid reality stars are Twitch streamers. We have got e-sports athletes. So the world has changed completely for sure.

[00:04:24]
The whole Twitch thing, you have obviously been following some of the adoption of Twitch and how I believe, it’ll eventually overshadow in the next ten years what is professional sports right now. There is a lot of buzz around LA specifically thinking about Blizzard created their own gaming area, EA has one for e-sports now as well. So it’s just there is a lot that’s blowing up in that space. Have you been seeing any of that impact research?

[00:04:59]
Yeah. Well, Twitch is actually a client of ours. So we have actually done quite a bit of work with them getting to the voice of the gamer and stuff. Quite a lot of video feedback at events and capturing that. And also doing stuff within their platform to capture feedback on streams and things like that. So yeah, it’s a really interesting space and I think what you’re seeing, all of these pro sports teams have now got their own e-sports teams. Whether that be Madden teams or FIFA teams, or even the Call of Duty, and obviously Fortnite as a phenomenon seems to have taken over now as well. So yeah, I think that medium, the thought that there’s thousands of people watching someone play a computer game. For me, all it does is remind me of how bad I am at these various games, so I kind of tend to stay away from it. It’s certainly changed things for sure.

[00:06:07]
I play Fortnite with my teenage boys about once every two weeks and it is the most humiliating experience ever. What’s funny is, I have always prided myself on being a particularly good gamer. So right when World of Warcraft first came out, however long ago that was, 15 years or whatever, like 2000, is that right? Maybe 2002. I was early in that game with alpha access and then hardcore raiding nights, early morning Sunday mornings, it was a very exciting time. And then completely separated from that as I moved into the professional world, in a big way, and then now trying to get back into it a little bit. It is definitely the wrong size shoe for my foot, and it’s completely embarrassing.

[00:06:59]
Yeah, for sure. I was back in England at Christmas last year seeing family and things like that. And my lowest gaming point came as my six-year-old nephew beat me at FIFA.

[00:07:12]
Don’t you want to just punch him? I know he’s only six but there’s a little bit of me that’s like, “Mmm.”

[00:07:17]
Yeah, and the kid, he had so much attitude as well. So he was like, it was my brother was just couldn’t stop laughing.

[00:07:30]
Of course, because it’s just so humiliating, it’s hilarious. Are you seeing – So being early in the video space, as you have been, VR, AR; are you seeing entrants there or applications there for research?

[00:07:49]
Yeah. I think there’s some really interesting stuff happening in that space. I think the challenge has always been, historically, a couple of things has been. One is, the cost to create these environments and how do you create these virtual stores and things like that. It was starting at easy six-figures and stuff to do. And I think now you’re seeing more and more of this stuff being able to be put up and built far, far, far quicker and stuff. So I think there is definitely an increase in that. The challenge was always how do you make this scalable? This isn’t something that everybody has. You had to get people to central facilities and stuff. And while it was still probably there, now in terms of that adoption curve that not everyone has a VR set in their house. We’re still starting to see things like Google Cardboard, and everyone has got a smartphone, and different entry points for VR and creating experiences that can be done. So I think like any new technology, the adoption is becoming more mainstream as the entry point comes down and the hardware is in more people’s hands.

[00:09:07]
Have you done any personal, had any specific experience with VR?

[00:09:12]
Professionally or personally?

[00:09:14]
No, personally.

[00:09:15]
Personally, yeah, I have done quite a bit on the PlayStation gaming one. And then a few of the guys in our UK office have got pretty sweet Oculus setups and stuff. One of the guys brought in all of the sensors and full-surround sound and stuff, so, yeah, we have had some good experiences with that in the office. And it’s just, it’s incredible. You’re kind of like, “Oh, it’s just a game.” And as soon as you put that headset on you’re just completely immersed and just our brain can’t – just the signals are all there. I think it’s interesting to see is it the company Magic Leap with their new, they have raised hundreds of millions and yet to ship a product. And I think their first product just came out recently and it was a bit of a disappointing experience. Certainly, the reviews weren’t great because it had been pretty hyped and stuff. But I know Microsoft have just announced a new platform and that merging of AR with the real-world stuff rather than – I think the AR applications and overlaying into real-world environments is probably more interesting than the VR applications. How we can combine the digital and the physical, I think that’s super interesting.

[00:10:47]
There’s two points that I want to piggyback on. One is, personally, this last Christmas, we purchased an Oculus for the family Christmas gift. And we went on Steam and got a horror game. Everybody put the Oculus on and experienced this, basic, very straightforward walkthrough jump scare. And even though you knew at what point it was going to happen, it was so immersive that you would literally scream and almost fall over. It was just like that. You could be the sixth person in line and you still believed it when you’re in that “environment”, and I put environment in air quotes there by the way, because, as you know, it’s just not “real”. But I do think that thinking about what the focus group room looks like in 20 years from now will be completely different. And especially as companies like Magic Leap or whoever winds up driving it, get that light ware figured out, it’s going to be really impactful for researchers.

[00:11:59]
Yeah. I think that ability to showcase different content and different environments, and as I said, it’s becoming more scalable. I’m excited to see where that goes.

[00:12:13]
My kids are going to be permanently scarred, which is the second point that I wanted to make. I have a three-year-old, we didn’t let him wear the headgear of course. But he was able to watch what was happening on the computer screen as we were mirroring it. And there was this doll and its head would turn and follow you when you would walk through this room, of course, typical. And so he literally would, every time that he would see it, he would point at the screen and go, “Scary baby, scary baby.” And so he still says scary baby [INAUDIBLE] I know.

[00:12:42]
You’re going to be paying for that later in life.

[00:12:45]
Totally. That’s why I actually have to keep working is because all of the therapy that my children are going to be going through, having me as their father. It’s very sad.

[00:12:56]
There you go.

[00:12:58]
The augmented reality piece, I have seen a lot of, I have actually read quite a bit on how that will change our future. Google Maps, for me, being probably one of the most easiest things to tether to. I grew up in a world of Rand McNally, which is paper maps for those listeners that don’t know. Merrill Dubrow, you do know. And so as we would travel around the country, you’d always have to stop at gas stations once you literally ran off the map. Google Map now has just completely, it is just such a different point of reference on how easy it is to get around places, especially with traffic notifications and [INAUDIBLE] provided. So that’s very powerful. But then thinking about the consumer purchase process with augmented reality, the power really continues to get, whether it’s just product reviews in real-time on what you’re viewing, or pricing considerations, and it just keeps going on and on. You remember the old school shelf tests that we used to do, which were just static images and click tracking. Now, it’s a lot more powerful. Have you looked at what Betty, and I can’t remember how you say her last name, Adamou, I want to say. She recently came out with a book called Games and Gamification in Market Research. Have you had a chance to look at that?

[00:14:24]
No, I haven’t checked that out.

[00:14:26]
I have been following her and I have actually, she’s got an app that you can download and it’s basically just a story-based narrative that tracks consumer choices. And it’s a surrogate for traditional conjoint, but again, to your earlier point it’s expensive and time-consuming. So it’s not quite in line with what brands are demanding, which is feedback in two days versus two weeks or two months. So as that continues to, as the gamification of research continues to get cheaper and faster. I’m convinced it’s going to become a major part of how we wind up gathering consumer data.

[00:15:12]
Yes, 100%.

[00:15:14]
So a large part of our constituents are employees or aspiring employees in the insights world. What – if you were entering in this space in today’s modern frame, what would be some of the things that you would do in order to secure a job in market research?

[00:15:35]
I think – so the one fascinating thing, and I notice this from hearing a number of different people that have been on the podcast story, is no one really ever seems to set out to get into market research. You know, very few people were age 10 are telling their career adviser, “I want to be market research.” People always seem to come to this industry for different channels. I definitely think it was an interesting debate on LinkedIn yesterday I think it was, I think Ray Pointer started it. But it was around how – what were the requirements of the market researcher today, and how have they changed. Obviously the traditional skill set of the researcher is still a big part of that, but that’s important, those traditional softer skills, the psychology, the anthropology, that type of inquiring mind. But I think now you need to have that element of that data science background. It’s helpful if you know basic programming skills and things like that. So the ability to be able to hack data sources together, merge. We’re in a world where we’ve never had so much access to data from different third-party sources, and I think as researchers now, it’s incredibly important that we’re able to merge, synthesize, rationalize multiple different data sets and see how they correlate and interact, and be able to derive insights from that. There’ a real shortage of data scientists right now. It’s one of the top paying skill sets, because there isn’t enough people, it’s become such an important role for a company to be able to fill.  There are simply not enough graduates or people going through training to acquire those data science skills. If I was trying to get hired in the market research today, I’d double down in data science and really chin up in that area.

[00:18:00]
We were just talking with GoDaddy and – who was it – MasterCard yesterday. Both of those interviews talked about the need for data scientists, but what’s interesting is that role seems like it’s fitting more and more with R&D, and sometimes product as opposed to underneath the preview of market research inside of brands. Are you – with your customer base, are your customers predominantly market research? Are you seeing companies maybe in the user experience or data science area using Voxpopme?

[00:18:40]
Yes, I think predominately, our customers are more on the insights and market research side of things and I think that’s predominantly because, you know, a lot of what we do, even though it’s kind of qualitative at scale, it’s still a very qual-type output within video. Even though we’re collecting video at a far larger scale than traditionally you would have done and we’re able to automate the analysis, we’re able to quantify data from video, it’s still not really a huge data science change. I also think because of this lack of shortage – this lack of data scientists within companies, most of them are in areas of the company like BI and analytics, and sitting in, as you said R&D and other departments because potentially, at this stage, that’s where they could probably have the most impact and maybe MR hasn’t quite yet caught up to how it could be leveraging some of their skill sets more, combining multiple. It’s still – I think research is still very episodic and in the main, and still very kind of single source, single study. More and more I think we’re seeing brands looking at how can I merge transactional data with social data, with other streams of data to be able to answer business questions without conducting primary research. I think that’s the change. With all this data, you know, one of the things is it’s not going to stop the research we’re doing, but it’s going to change the questions we’re asking. Fundamentally, they’re questions we shouldn’t really need to be asking because we have that data available. It’s just we don’t have the people and the skills to unlock that data effectively right now.

[00:20:44]
So this tethering of data to workflow is a theme that’s been coming up for me over the last, I want to say, five years. But as I’ve been doing these interviews, three or four a week, I mean, it’s really punching through louder than I ever thought it would. You’re hitting to an interesting point, which is in thinking about UX research, that’s part of product as opposed to the market research division. And the reason it is, often times is it works in lock step with the cycle, the agile development cycle of the product team. Whereas research, to your point, fits more outside of that because of the length of time it can take to gather the insights. Is the utilization of video as relevant for UX researchers or is it predominantly used for the story telling inside of the insights division?

[00:21:48]
No, I think video has obviously been a massive part of UX for some time and with time to see more and more clients leverage our technology alongside other more traditional UX tools. So, a lot of the UX tools are great conducting the interviews, capturing, doing the screen capture side of things and things like that, but they are not able to really – a lot of them don’t provide any transcriptions with the videos, they don’t recognize key things that are happening within there. So, we’re starting to see a number of clients saying, “Hey, we’ve got all these videos form product X. Can we import them into your platform as an easier way to understand kind of what’s being said, splice them together to share with the product team?” And things like that. Because as we’ve seen very regularly, there’s loads of great platforms out there for capturing video. The challenge on most of this platforms, there’s very little out there to be able to quickly understand it and take snippets of the outcomes and turn it into something meaningful, which might be two to three-minute video that shows the pain points with a shopping cart. Like if you’ve done user testing, there’s no real quick way on a lot of these platforms to splice up OK, here’s five examples of people getting stuck with our advanced product filter. Whereas within Voxpopme, it’s very quick and easy to do that. Yes, there’s some interesting things we’re looking at in integrations into commonly used platforms like that.

[00:23:22]
So let’s talk about the early days of Voxpopme. What was your inspiration?

[00:23:27]
Yes, so some of your listeners probably know like we came into Voxpopme with no research background, experience, kind of stumbled into it. I’ve been involved in building technology companies, a platform that was very similar to yelp.com, been involved in building mobile apps and all kinds of early stage stuff. I’ve been at a conference and someone was presenting a social platform to change the world, as many of these pitches went back into those days, and it was all about how people can get behind different causes and convince brands not to do certain things. So maybe it was Nike, you shouldn’t be having your trainers made – your sneakers made in this particular country or you should be paying your workers this, whatever it might be. They were like, “This is what we can do and it’s gonna force brands to change.” One of the things we can do is post a video to the wall as to why you think. I remember thinking to myself and I said to the guy at the time, I was like, “It’s great, you’re trying to save the world, but it’s a huge opportunity you’re missing in terms of the business model. It should be how do you let people give feedback to brands via video?” Video was such a growing medium at that point. Everyone was, you know, the iPhone, we were at the second or third generation of the iPhone. So more and more people – everyone had a smartphone in their pocket. Things like FaceTime had just launched. Facebook was moving more and more to video. So we just saw this opportunity to connect brands and consumers. So, initially, we came up with Voxpopme app, which is still a big part of our business today, which is an on demand app. You want to get 100 responses from consumers in a couple of hours. You can push your question out, get those videos back really quickly. So I remember early in the journey, we were like everyone’s gonna want to watch these videos and really understand what the customers were saying. And very quickly we found out that no one had time to watch a 100 customer feedback videos and we needed to find a way to automate the analysis with things like transcription and themes, and sentiment, and things like that. But where we really kind of – where the things really changed was actually Manchester City Football Club in England asked if they could embed our technology into Vision Critical, the community platform at the time. And that kind of got us thinking about our business is great, we’ve got this app and some early interest, but it’s kind of limited by how many people we have by the app, what countries we have the app in, and things like that. If we could power video questions on any platform, so whether you’re using fuel cycle, goal tricks, decipher, Survey Gizmo, whatever platform you were using, if we could be the kind of intel inside to power video, that really was what changed the game and we started to see more and more companies wanting to add video open end questions into their surveys because they were so much richer than the text alternative.

[00:26:42]
Did you encounter budget mapping issues early on? What I mean by that was traditional brand –

[00:26:49]
I wish it was early on.

[00:26:51]
Good point.

[00:26:53]
You mean like we don’t now? You mean because it was something new that people haven’t really considered?

[00:27:01]
Precisely, right. Because you’re not – in every way, you’re doing qualitative at scale. So you’ve got this pre-conceived notion of how research is done. I’m going to do this qualitative, I’m going to do a survey, I’m going to have an answer or whatever, and what you’ve done is effectively created either another cog or replaced an existing cog. In either case, it’s definitely a change of behavior.

[00:27:26]
Yes, and I think this has been talked on the podcast a number of times how difficult change is to implement and drive within the industry. And you know, there’s lots of reasons behind that. You know, kind of the status quo and professional risk, and what if it doesn’t work. As an industry, we’re not – we tend to be typically more risk averse. Yes, it was tough in the early days for sure. I think what we found was that once customers find – you know, we had relatively low entry point in terms of how you can get started. And then once customers presented findings internally and all of the sudden, rather than people sat, looking at their phones, scrolling through Facebook while they were doing their read out, people leaned in and leaned forward. It was like hang on. That customer just said this or this is in there. All of the sudden, that was kind of the wow moment for our clients. It was – for the ones that have done video previously, who tolled and labored all weekend to try and find what the insights was in the data and try and use very, very basic video editing skills. And then try to download video, and then it didn’t play in their presentation. The wow moment for them was how easy we’ve made it, but for a lot of clients who haven’t experienced using videos, what they found was when they presented those insights, there was so much more – there was so much more buy in from stakeholders and executives because again, they were hearing that message directly from the customer. It wasn’t an interpretation. It was the customer delivering it in their own words. And, you know, when you combine that output with statistically significant, you know, robust quant behind it and you have this hybrid methodology, yes, that was powerful. But it’s still something we come across today because you know, is it replacing – is it an alternative to how they’re doing qual already, is it a faster, more agile way to do qual? Is it something that adds cost to their quant, but actually means they can do everything in one study? Yes, it’s still a challenge today for sure.

[00:29:46]
One of the key themes that has emerged is the importance of storytelling. Kind of going back a little bit to what you talked about in terms of skills, between soft and science skills. And in this framework, as Q plus Q is qualitative and quantitative are being blended more and more to enhance ultimately the stats so that they can be understood and consumed by the organization that then effects change. Video, of course, is playing a pivotal role in that storytelling. Are you doing a lot in terms of educating your users on how to effectively craft and then tell stories?

[00:30:35]
Yeah, I think we’re definitely trying to help them create that narrative and take that data and what is the best way to present this in a compelling way. Because with video it’s very important. Usually you’re going to take a handful of video clips that make a certain point. Pick a couple more clips that make a certain point, to build that overall story, and what you’ve got to be careful of is (a) that message that you’re delivering and story that you’re curating is actually the story that’s in the data. Because with just a handful of video clips, you can – it could be very easy to misrepresent the story that was in the data. So, we’re starting to do a lot of work with that, around automation. So, being able to summarize efficiently 100 videos and condense that down into three or four minutes of content that really accurately represents what was said in that whole corpus of responses. So, we’re trying to educate both how researchers can stitch together video clips to tell a story in a way that’s going to connect emotionally and resonate with the audience and drive home that point. But also trying to look at ways where automation can start to build on some of those stories and kind of really bring that to life.

[00:32:12]
How many employees do you have now? About.

[00:32:15]
I should know this, right? We’re just over 50 now.

[00:32:20]
That’s great. That is a tectonic shift in it for a CEO. I don’t know what it is, there’s something magical from 49 to 51 that happens. There’s this whole new layer of complexity it feels like. What do you see as the three characteristics of an all-star employee?

[00:32:36]
I think, like hiring is everything. You can have the best technology in the world, but if you have crap people, you’re going to have a crap company. So, finding those all-star employees is the most thing, and it’s the thing that keeps me up at night. I know we can build good tech and stuff, and just finding good people and nurturing them, and bringing them on as individuals and as a team is obviously one of the biggest focuses you can have as a CEO. So, I would say the three things that I look for when I’m interviewing people, curiosity. I think that’s massive. I think there’s not enough people these days that are curious. They don’t always search out answers. So, we’re really looking for people who are – they find solutions, they question everything. They’re constantly asking why, how do I make this better? And they’ve got their own initiative to get on with that. So, I think curiosity is massive. Hustle. It’s become a bit of, I guess, an overused word in the entrepreneur real circle, you’ve got to hustle, hustle. But it’s true. You want people who, they don’t wait – they don’t kind of always look for permission. They’d much rather do something, and try something and fail, than – and then seek forgiveness. So, they’re always kind of going out, they’re hunting down the opportunity. They’re looking to solve problems, and they just want to get shit done.

[00:34:12]
I like that. Curiosity to action to resolution. That is one of the core tenets, I believe of the successful life. If you can be just naturally curious, but then not stop there, but actually seek out the answers. When you think about it really, in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what researchers do, isn’t it?

[00:34:32]
Absolutely. I think you’ve got to – the best researchers are curious, and they put that to action. And then your answer to the final one was just having that customer focus. They put themselves in our customer’s shoes, and they’re constantly looking for that kind of win/win outcome. Trying to – which is back to that kind of solution. Solution, focus, curiosity, hustle.

[00:34:57]
Over 50 employees now, very successful company, great brand inside of the market research space. What is one of your secrets that drives growth profitability, or the success of a company?

[00:35:09]
As I said, obviously it starts with people, but once you find good people, essentially you’ve got to really trust them and empower them to get on and do stuff. And the only way that you can trust them and empower them to do stuff is make sure they understand the vision. So, one of the key things for our team is making sure from myself all the way down through the organization that people regularly – people really understand what we’ve got now, where we’re trying to get to in the short, medium, and long term. And how that’s evolving. And in an early stage company as I’m sure you can appreciate, given the genuine to cipher, that’s constantly evolving. And you’ve got to bring people with you on that journey because you can’t silo an executive team away and be like, well, we’ve got to hit this number, we’ve got to ship this product, we’ve got to do this. If that whole team isn’t kind of rowing together towards that goal, you’re just going to kind of tread water. So, the key thing has really been – and that’s tough. With ourselves, we’ve got people in Sydney and Australia, we’ve got a big team in the U. S. Most – half the people are in the U. K. And we’ve got people spread out over a lot of different offices and remote working and stuff. Being able to bring those people together regularly, make them feel part of something has been huge.

[00:36:42]
What is your sequencing to that? Are you doing a monthly all-hands? Or through email?

[00:36:48]
One of the things I do is a weekly video. Kind of the state of play, things that have happened. Call people out who have done great things. And just update them on the journey. We have a very transparent culture. People within the company know how much revenue we did. They know what our churn rate is. They know what big deals have closed, what big deals we won, what big deals we lost, who we’re hiring for. So, I think that culture of transparency, so that video is kind of like the sound bite, just keep everyone on there. And again, I know it’s not always me that does that. Some weeks it’s Tom, our CRO. Andy, or CTO. Different people across that executive team. And then, yeah, we tend to have kind of monthly, all hands, where people dial into. And then we’ll also do with smaller teams, quite a lot of kind of off-sites together. Usually that’s more of a functional team, so maybe the dev team will all get together and spend some time. Or the sales and marketing organization will all get together. We’re yet to have a kind of all-company retreat. I always see Zappi do that each year and stuff, and it looks – Ryan says it’s one of the best thing they do each year and stuff. So, yeah, we’re looking at implementing something like that. It just, trying to logistically, trying to get 50 people into one place is never easy.

[00:38:16]
It’s really difficult to do that logistically. On top of it, it can be really disruptive to your core customers, right? Because that means that there’s some level of service that may be sacrificed, perhaps increase delays in responsiveness, etc. And that was my – one of my bigger challenges when I would do a corporate retreat or take R&D out, or whatever. It basically shuts down that division, or you run the risk of alienating a subset of the employees that keep – the skeleton crew that keeps the ship afloat while everybody else is out having a good time.

[00:38:55]
Yeah, it’s something that we’ve been conscious of. As I say, historically we’ve done that as small teams or geographic groups of people. So, we’ve never kind of had that kind of all-company within there. But I think you’ve just got to try and structure that. But ultimately I think there’s things, measures, that you can put in place to mitigate against some of that. But it’s about, if constantly everyone’s working in the business – one of the big changes I’ve noted, personally, over the last 12 months is how do you as a leader kind of try and pull yourself out of the day-to-day to focus on real vision, more strategic things? I think it’s important, that’s not just a CEO change, that actually right across the company everyone starts to think about that. Everyone’s got their day job, but if people are just heads down five days a week, 40 hours a week, whatever that is, then people need time to think. And I think giving people some thinking time and some space, great things can happen.

[00:40:13]
I love that. So what is Voxpopme offering right now that can add value to brands?

[00:40:18]
Obviously, we’ve been absolutely laser focused on video and how do we remove that pain from video? The thing I’m probably most excited about at the moment is we’ve made a big push into customer experience. And kind of when I think about customer experience, for me that’s an industry where today it’s still reliant on this survey instrument. We’re trying to understand people’s experiences with brands by forcing them through a very structured 15-20-question survey about rating every facet of the business. Ultimately this is where a video really plays a role. When you’re talking about experience, that’s an emotional connection – a journey point within there. So, for us that’s about allowing people to give feedback to brands directly through video, and moving away from everything being about scores, and moving more into what are those customers’ stories? So, we’ve got a big focus on customer experience for sure. And then ultimately when brands are looking to do qualitative research in a more agile way, and turn projects around in two to three hours, Voxpopme is the company to call for sure.

[00:41:41]
Do you think that Voxpopme in some ways, or the utilization of video more broadly, is cannibalizing traditional focus groups or IDIs, or do you feel like it is overall augmenting the budgets – or budgets being bolstered in order to support this added benefit?

[00:42:01]
Yeah, I think any kind of new technology will always start to cannibalize a little bit of some part of the industry in some way. But for the main, it’s not I’m going to do this or this, it’s I’m going to augment, I’m going to do more. I think people – innovation and research has allowed people to do more with less, more faster. They’re not spending any less money, they’re just doing more research. So, I think what Voxpopme enables people to do is think and iterate more quickly rather than say it’s about how do you iterate faster, rather than do more research, and ask more question, rather than cannibalizing what they’re already doing.

[00:43:04]
Are firms like Firefly or different major players in the qualitative space, is that one of the big channel strategies for growth for you? Or is growth stemming more from brand relationships and deeper penetration?

[00:43:19]
I mean, for us, as a company, we definitely cross both sides of that. We have very strong relationships with the Cantiles [ph] and Nelsons, and the large agencies who are embedding our technology into different programs that they’re doing. Likewise, a lot of brands work directly with us. So, we’ve from day one had this dual channel strategy. I think when you talk to – on the brand side of things often that can come alongside the need for professional services, and talking with Braden, our SVCP at customer success, generally, of course, you know, well, that was one of the challenges you guys had during Decipher, how did you support that professional services or not. And yeah, that’s definitely something that we’ve been looking at is when we – as we expand and we do more with brands, we absolutely want to stay as a technology vendor and a technology solution that can be used in a DIY manner, or used by agencies for their clients. So, we don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming a research agency. I think we’ve seen that story happen to a number of technology players in this space and it doesn’t end too well.

[00:44:44]
I agree. I think it’s a trade-off of short-term boost to your P&L. But long-term value degradation. And you’re absolutely right. Everybody that’s entered into that, or made those transitions, has paid a price ultimately for it, and I’m not going to go through the names, of course. There is an inherent benefit of having services integrated into your technology solutions. One of the challenges though, beyond just the support side, is the overall evaluation of the company. But if you’re thinking about what’s best for the customer, I believe you always attain that best possible outcome for your business, whether it’s just continual growth or eventual sale. That it’s all about putting the customer in the middle of those decisions.

[00:45:40]
And we’ve took a strategic approach to that. You talked about the cannibalization of maybe things like focus groups and IDIs and in-person. We’re actually doing some really exciting work in that space, where we’re not going to get into that space, but our solution, lay it on top of what existing vendors in that arena are doing can add some real value and stickiness. So, actually, in-person becomes even more useful through the addition and augmentation of combining that with technology. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of opportunity out there and we’ve been a very kind of pro-partnership company.

[00:46:26]
My guest today has been Dave Carruthers, founder and CEO of Voxpopme. Dave, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:46:32]
Thanks, Jamin.

[00:46:36]
Next time on Happy Market Research, Ricardo Alvarez Diaz, head of insights for MasterCard. A ton of value relevant to doing business in Latin America. And probably the most impactful episode we’ve had so far about how to do storytelling inside of a brand. If you’re an agency or you’re employed at a brand, you absolutely have to listen to this. This creates a rubric for success.

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/

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.

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.