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Ep. 123 – Lori Iventosch-James, Senior Director of Customer and Market Research at GoDaddy

Today, my guest is Lori Iventosch-James, Senior Director of Customer and Market Research at GoDaddy. GoDaddy is the largest registrar of internet domain names and offers a full range of tools to help you build your online presence.

Prior to working at GoDaddy, Lori has been a leader at top market research firms and technology companies. Additionally, she is a Ph.d candidate in Educational Psychology, specializing in Quantitative Methods at UC Berkeley.

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www.godaddy.com/‎

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

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www.happymr.com

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[00:00:00]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. Today my guest is Lori Iventosch-James, senior director of customer and market research at GoDaddy. GoDaddy is the largest registrar of internet domains and offers a full range of tools to help you build your online presence. Prior to working at GoDaddy, Lori has been a leader at top market research firms and technology companies. Additionally she is a Ph. D. candidate in educational psychology specializing in quantitative methods at UC Berkeley. Lori, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[00:00:36]

I’m happy to be here.

[00:00:38]

We’d like to start out with a little bit of a background on even before your career. Tell us about your parents and how they have affected who you are today.

[00:00:49]

Absolutely. My father was a small business owner. He owned a small variety store in Montclair, California. Not too far from here. And I worked at his store a number of summers when I was a teenager. And I always enjoyed it. But overall I developed a deep appreciation of small business by observing my father and how hard he worked. And how much pleasure he got out of his store, his employees and also just the whole local community. His store Freeway Variety, it was called, was just super super popular. And it’s funny because I was contacted by a group who have a Facebook page called Forgotten Montclair. And they have a whole bunch of posts all about Freeway Variety, reminiscing about it. And the candy counter et cetera. I’m so just the impact of that small business. And so really in my career I’ve had a variety of roles, but my favorite has been where I get an opportunity to work with small businesses. I just find their passion to be incredibly inspiring. And it certainly is one of the reasons I chose to go to GoDaddy.

[00:02:00]

GoDaddy has a suite of tools that extend beyond just domain registration. Right? That help aid small businesses.

[00:02:08]

Yeah, absolutely. And that’s what I think, again, is one of the exciting things about being here is while we’re best known as a domain registrar certainly in the US but also worldwide. We also offer a whole suite of tools for small businesses to kind of grow their online presence. How they show up online. So it’s both websites, if you want to do it yourself or we can build it for you. All sorts of different tools for really growing that, your customer base through email marketing, through online marketing and digital tools. We have email productivity tools and now just more recently, we acquired a company that focuses on social media management. And how all of those different things kind of come together to help those small businesses succeed.

[00:02:57]

Now having that, I’ll call it early career, right? It’s the pre-college. As a small business owner I’d imagine your father had you in the store fairly regularly and getting that first-hand experience of what it was like to successfully grow and maintain. I imagine that, that perspective helps inform sort of your hypotheses when you’re conducting research.

[00:03:23]

It does. It does. And I think that again just really understanding kind of that mindset. And in the end everything is on their shoulders, the small business owner. And so figuring out how you can really help make their lives easier in a variety of different ways to just lighten up that load. I mean the good news is, is that is also incredibly powerful and exciting for them because they are running their business and making it happen. But there are so many different things that they need to do at any given time and to the degree that we can try and help them and make it easier for them. And of course again, many moons ago when I was working at my father’s store we didn’t have the kind of tools that we have now to help make small businesses successful. It was obviously not a whole lot of digital was going on at that point.

[00:04:16]

Yeah, it definitely has changed the landscape, but I do think, especially at the S&B level, I’m talking about like brick and mortar S&B. That customer experience is one of the primary differentiators versus like an Amazon or whatever big box you might want to throw at it. It’s funny how these companies, small companies are leveraging more and more insights integrated into their POSs to help govern, take a temperature of their customer, weather it’s satisfaction or repeat purchase behaviors, so that sort of thing. So this is a much higher level of sophistication that is operating really at that off the street level.

[00:05:00]

Absolutely. And its wonderful. Technology has provided so much more and again in some cases I think for small businesses it can be kind of overwhelming. Because there’s so much data and so many things and what do I pay attention to and what does it really mean and where do I invest my money and what’s the return on investment for it? So while that’s awesome and wonderful it’s also pretty intimidating. And the other thing that you said, and I think it’s super important is really when you do spend time talking to small businesses, one of the things that is really most important to them is the service they provide. And nine times out of 10 they will say that is their key differentiator. And again particularly the local small businesses that service and knowing their customer and providing that extra level of service is just huge in terms of their business and how they feel about being able to serve their customers

[00:05:55]

In about, this coming Tuesday, I’m going to be conducting a how to do satisfaction to increase your income. Lunch and Learn here in Fresno, where I’m inviting a bunch of small businesses to come in and I’m just going to walk them through some free tools and how they can track that customer satisfaction and actually generate an ORI based on those numbers. But you’re right there’s like a, it’s super intimidating for these guys and gals because they don’t understand the base, the research basics. And it is a huge opportunity to help improve and shore up their customer relationships. Obviously, Survey Monkey you’re familiar with their recent filing for their IPO. A big player in this space. Does GoDaddy aspirations to move that direction, do you think?

[00:06:53]

That’s a really interesting point. You know I think we definitely given kind of the place where we are in terms of helping small businesses succeed and all those tools. So some of those tools are going to be very kind of quantitative in terms of helping them get stats on their website or you know again ORI on an email campaign et cetera. At the moment that kind of direct query isn’t really high on the list, at least that I have been aware of. But I do think that it’s part, it is part of where we would help guide small businesses to really understand their customers. And that’s, certainly surveys, interviews et cetera. Really anyway that they are able to get closer to their customers and that’s something that’s really kind of in our DNA at GoDaddy, is how do we get super close to our customers. Keep our finger on the pulse of our customers. And truthfully I think for any small business that is truly one of their key elements of their success.

[00:08:19]

So I teach an MBA course on entrepreneurship and I spend a little bit of time, I say a little bit of a time it’s about 4 hours actually of total class time. Talking about the importance of building your network and their peers, will, who I would say call it 28 fairly early in their career, are going to be the CEOs, the CMOs, the head of insights of companies in 20 years. Right? So you certainly, nobody starts their career as an executive. Can you kind of walk us through your career path both on the agency side and then how that’s helped you in your delivery of insights inside of major brands like GoDaddy?

[00:08:50]

Sure, I’d be happy to. I think I did start, well actually I started in academia for many years at Berkeley. And that’s really where I kind of developed my affinity for more quantitative metrics and measures. But I worked on the agency side or the vendor side for many years and it was really a terrific way to kind of grow your expertise. To learn about all the different kinds of methodologies, different industries and grow and kind of build your expertise. But what I did find after a number of years is that you do these projects and they would be terrific and wonderful, and you would present the results and you’d hand it off and then you’re on to your next project and your next project. And what I really came to miss or feel like I needed is to see where those projects actually went. So how did those projects really drive the business? What business decisions did they make? How did they inform and change the business? And so that’s part of why I moved over into the what we call the client side. As in being the expert in a business. Is that to me one of the most exciting things I can do is do some really great research. And then help and see how that research informs our executives, informs decisions and really help steer the company to better decisions. Again, to me that is just the pinnacle of success. I guess for my kind of world it’s not just doing great research, which is good. But doing great research that helps drive the business and helps the business make key decisions in a really intelligent informed way.

[00:10:39]

Kristi Zuhlke of KnowledgeHound, I did an interview with her, I think it just went public actually on Friday. But she was talking about research needs to have an ROI. And I love that framing and I really feel like if researchers could, either internal or external, agencies or internal managers of research at brands, could get their head around that thinking about for example, companies churn rates. We have as researchers an awesome opportunity to do follow-up research on the subset of the customers that churn in order to understand how we can help eliminate that attrition. And that’s super easy to be able to create a direct connection to revenue. Are you seeing that sort of direct connection to revenue as a major part of the output of research?

[00:11:36]

Yeah, absolutely. I mean again depending on the type of research we do. You know one of the things that more recently we have a new CEO, Scott Wagner, who moved into the role about 6, 9 months ago. And he is complete customer obsessed. Really really passionate about the customer. So much so that when he really first started he said, you know what my bonus is going to be tied to net promoter or customer’s loyalty. That’s what my bonus is. In fact the whole company is going to be bonused on net promoter. And you have no idea what the kind of, everybody from our technical people to of course the people who are doing research are all taking a big gulp. But it’s awesome because it’s this incredible passion for it. And so needless to say while we were doing that promoter for many years this really changed the game. When you start thinking about net promoters going to become one of our key metrics, our KPIs and    associated with our bonuses. And so we’ve done a ton of additional research and really have been able to some interesting kind of predictive modeling around lifetime value of our customers and how that ties back to net promoter and what the kind of customers are. Where customers might be churning and falling off. And what does that really mean to us? And so, yeah I think there are definitely ways to be able to turn kind of research into a really more predictive modeling and give us great direction in terms of what we can do. You know really to increase the loyalty of our customers, to retain our customers. And to build that deep deep loyalty.

[00:13:22]

Oh my gosh. So a couple of things. I’ve just got to unwind a little bit. One is, Scott your new CEO, I love how he created a unifying KPI across your organization that really drives that bonus. To how you described it, how then that completely changes the view of net promoter. Right? And whether net promoter is or isn’t right isn’t really the point here. The point is that you’re putting the customer in the middle of the conversation when you’re making decisions on where are we going to invest from an R&D perspective, sales focus, et cetera, et cetera. And as you’re saying, moving from a laggard to a forward-looking KPI where your modeling outcomes based on our predictions, based on changes of behavior. That is fundamentally exactly I think the right way for research to be able to help steer the ship.

[00:14:28]

Absolutely. And you know you said it right. There’s many people who disagree or argue about net promoter and is it predictive and is it the right measurement? But to your, it’s not net promoter per se. It’s that focus on the customer. And the focus on doing right by the customer. And so the number, well you know we track it, and we’ve definitely built up a pretty robust system. It’s more importantly what are they saying? What’s behind it? And when we see problems and detractors are popping up and we really dig into try and understand what’s driving it. That’s where the real golden is. The number it’s helpful, but the gold is in understanding what is driving the number and the customer promotion. Great. And or detraction. And that has proven to be super helpful for us. We’ve got a boatload of different projects targeted at key areas we’ve identified from our net promoter program. And are really making great strides. And again it goes back to previously it was a harder sale to say we need to do this, maybe a change in our renewal pricing. And what’s the benefit. It was very hard to sell a benefit without the numbers behind it and competing with well yeah but here’s the revenue we get. So now we’re in a much better position to be able to really quantify the benefit and the return by making some of these changes.

[00:16:01]

What is the number one gap that you’re seeing in the market research space and specifically what you wish market research firms would offer in order to help you do your job?

[00:16:16]

And I’m sure you’ve probably heard this in a bunch of your conversations. For me it’s speed. I’ve been in research for many years and there was a time where you have a discussion with your client and you talk to a vendor and then you go back and forth and then you start the research and literally a couple months go by before you have your insights and then you go back to your client who is excited to see the results et cetera. Again everybody was pretty comfortable with that. But the speed of decision-making is so much faster and particularly, not surprisingly among companies like GoDaddy or internet-based companies. They’re going to, our executives are going to make decisions. They need to make decisions very quickly. They will make them with or without my insights. And I  really really really want them to have my insights to make the better decisions. And so from my perspective that’s where I am kind of caught, that Catch 22, is being able to get insights very quickly, be pretty confident in the accuracy of those insights. And so speed for me is really key. And being able to turn research around not in three months or two months but in a couple of days and maybe 2 weeks is critical. And so the tools that help me to do that and the services that help me to do that are definitely areas where we focus, and we constantly try and look at what’s new out there that allows us to do that.

[00:17:52]

It takes a ton of time to canvas the current suite, I’ll call it new tech in market research. These are companies that have been around for maybe less than four years.

[00:18:04]

Yeah, I get deluged with emails from folks. And again, for me, it’s really what’s unique, what’s new, what is going to really make my job easier. And if that’s not pretty obvious, then there’s not going to be a conversation.

[00:18:21]

So great. The importance of having your unique value proposition dialed in and then listening. This is one of my big pet peeves is if you pay attention to brands, they’re telling you what they want at a social level. And so, if you’re just monitoring that you can start identifying where you might be able to help add value to them, which then hopefully informs how you’re presenting your solution to the company. And just going to say it, just completely plainly. And that is obviously ROI on research and speed to incite, right? So just tethering those two things into your overall solution. And I’m talking about real delivery here, not just words, right? That where the value is. And my hypothesis is part of the issue with market research is we haven’t done a great job of getting in front of the trends in data. And so meaning, specifically speed to insights. So that’s left a lot of wide space for what’s now been termed CX or customer experience. And I’m seeing a lot of overlap in terms of the types of projects that are done, whether it’s satisfaction, customer segmentation, et cetera, et cetera, in across these two disciplines. How are you addressing that inside of GoDaddy?

[00:19:21]

That’s great. I think and I have certainly in my experience seen where customer experience, user experience is a completely separate organization from “research and/or market research”. And I think that’s just a big mess. At GoDaddy, we actually have part of my team is both the market research and as well as the user experience and the customer experience research. And so we span across all sorts of different projects. But the insights are really what’s critical is bringing those together. And so and that by having us all report into kind of the same organization that gives that broader picture, we’re able to be a lot more holistic in how we present our insights, how we look across insights, to be able to confirm and to end or leverage other insights. And so like my CX or UX group or is very, very close with our product teams. And they work directly with the product teams and trying to figure out how the customers using our products, how that end to end flow of our products is a good experience or not, some cases. They do lots of bench marking to try and understand how we are getting better and the end flow. And also how we stack up against the competition. And that’s great compliments to some of the other research we’re doing without maybe looking at. Again, obviously, Net Promoter comes in here because we look at our product Net Promoter, and how is that? That’s the ultimate kind of big picture goal. So we have insights at many, many different levels. And the ability to have them kind of all come together and be able to look at that is I think, extremely helpful, and it also fosters great work across. And so, again, my market researchers work with my UX researchers, and there’s no silos involved there where they can really do complimentary work and leverage each other’s work. And I think that one of the things I also really encourage people to do is bring in the analytics folks. And again, they are not currently part of my org, but there’s tons of opportunity to leverage our insights to drive better testing and/or from the analytics to be able to put more information around what those trends mean, and the why behind some of the analytics that we see and some of the tests that we see. And so that’s another area where we’re really trying to become much more integrated, again, all about insights.

[00:22:29]

One of the themes I’ve been hearing that’s come up is these SOA and NAWA of research and you can think real hair for that at LinkedIn. I love that sort of ending of, OK, we’ve done this stuff, but now we have to actually put a stake in the ground. And that helps the business drive itself forward. It’s interesting how you guys are unifying your insights underneath the market research largely, and then helping the entire organization. Seeing the benefit of that, I think one of the dysfunctions inside of organizations is speed to insights or the necessity for speedy insight has really fostered the utilization of tools that are easy to use to get to the customer voice. But without having that broader view, they can offer conflicting outcomes or hypotheses to the business which ultimately isn’t helping anybody.

[00:23:31]

No, and there’s so many examples of where if you looked purely at the numbers like website conversion, and this is a company I used to be at and they did something that I thought was really a bad idea from a customer view, but they saw conversion go up, and everybody was high five and celebrating. But I happen to have an interceptor survey on the website to be able to get the experience as well. And oh, my goodness, you should have seen the round result from that survey, though, even conversion was going up, customers were furious about this particular change, particularly a sub group of customers. And so without that, everybody would have kept going with this one particular approach. That was, again, just a really bad customer experience, purely because the numbers if you were just looking at conversion, it looked pretty good. So I’m a big fan of having both the hard quant and the behavioral stuff and that deeper understanding of what’s really behind it.

[00:24:36]

Yeah, I mean, revenue is 100% a laggard indicator, right? And so that’s exactly the point. You can make changes to your business and have lift short term but you need to understand what the next six months are going to look like in today’s competitive market or you’re going to help customers really quick.

[00:24:54]

Absolutely.

[00:24:57]

Let’s shift gears a little bit. A subset of our audience and this actually surprised me, this group was latching onto the podcast, are people who are aspiring to be insights professionals, whether they are at the agency level or at the brand level. What steps would you take if you were trying to get hired in the market research industry today?

[00:25:14]

Sure. I actually recently hired somebody so I cannot talk to that. I mean, when I look at resumes all the time, I think one of the things that really for me distinguishes a person is their ability to quantify the impact of their work. And it’s hard, it’s not an easy thing to do. Because oftentimes, we do research that will drive a decision but by the time it’s really quantified like as in going into market, et cetera, it’s pretty far down the train. And so one of the things I really recommend and I know I look for is quantification of impact for your research. I don’t care that you can do 15 studies in a month. In fact, I’d wonder about that, I don’t care about that, I don’t care about the beautiful methodological purity of a particular study, or kind of that. What I really want to know is the impact of the kind of research you do because when somebody can share that, that basically tells me that they’re thinking about research driving decisions, research driving change. If you don’t present that, then it’s really easy to seem like you don’t care as much about what the end result of your research is. And so I think that quantifying impact is super important. Don’t just give me a list of all the methods you can do and that you’re very skilled at one thing or another. I think the other one and I already mentioned it is just that familiarity and comfort with analytics. Analytics is a critical piece of really any company’s insights. And so, as a researcher and really an insight professional, you have to be super comfortable with that and understand how that can be leveraged by your research and vice versa, how your research can be leveraged by the analytics. And I think that that in this day and age is pretty critical that you’re able to be able to do that and really give examples about how you’ve been able to leverage more of the analytics and testing. And then finally, obviously we talked about it, I think if you in terms of being able to get it, find the right fit is no surprise, a lot of networking and it’s not like I’m telling it anything that is a big surprise but keeping those contacts with people you’ve worked with in the past is super important. But the other thing that I do think is something that not everybody thinks about is also keeping those contacts with your vendors, your market research firms. I’ve stayed in contact with a lot of ones that I’ve used over the years or continue to use. And interestingly enough, a lot of times if they’ve got a really good relationship within a company, they know about opportunities and jobs that are becoming available and can actually recommend you. So I’m a big fan of saying, “Hey, stay close to your favorite vendors.” And if you are looking, obviously you might want to be kind of quiet about it but there are ways of being able to leverage their connection to a lot of other companies and in a way that can be super beneficial for you. So I think that that’s one of the things that not everybody thinks about but works really well.

[00:28:43]

I want to just dive in a little bit on the point that you made about impact of insights or research driven decisions as you said which I going to be my quote for this episode, by the way, I love that. In order to pull that off successfully, what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to have both the capacity to operate in a macro level and a micro level, right? So you’ve got to understand what the business cares about, in this case, NPS/ and revenue. And then you’ve got to be able to create that at a execution level, the insights that ultimately deliver on whatever that hypothesis is, that consumer based assumption. We all know that analytics are the cornerstone of research specially today because it’s like it’s becoming a bigger and bigger part of every organization. Data scientists being one of the top jobs, I believe now and hardest to fill. Qualitative and quantitative, what proportion of your budget and your time is spent across those two disciplines?

[00:29:50]

That’s a good question. I think certainly, when it comes to more of our UX research, that by nature tends to be a lot more qualitative, small group intensive, sitting in front of a computer with using our product. And so that portion of my group is probably, I don’t know, maybe 75% qualitative by nature of what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. My side and more of the marketing research side is probably more quantitative. And so again, I’d probably flip that and say, maybe 75%. As a whole, we’re probably about 50, 50% of the time you put them both together because I think that they fit really obviously, they fit well. It’s that qualitative is wonderful and helpful and just gives you so much richness and depth but you also need to be able to then say and this quantitatively is actually validated by these numbers and give. Again, when you think about your executives that they’re going to want some numbers behind that rich, deep data. And so we do both probably, as I said, on an average probably about 50-50.

[00:31:05]

I’m seeing a lot of firms incorporating both qualitative and quantitative in the final delivery of the research reports with the intent of building stories inside of the numbers, right, which is a big shift from how was over 20 years ago when I started my career which a bunch of pie charts and tables, right?

[00:31:25]

I do think you’re right. As I said, I’m quite lucky in being at a company that is so passionate about customers but just that story and that closeness to customers. And we do a ton of customer immersion activities and not truly “research” but our executives, I’ve organized a number of what we call follow me homes where they go out and spend a couple hours with a small business and really just immerse themselves in their day to day life, their challenges, their issues, et cetera. So it’s not true research but it is a huge benefit both to our executives but also across our entire company to just bring you closer to that small business to their experience, to their pain and I just think it’s a super important piece of it and it does. And when I’m sharing some research with them, I can brag and say, “Oh and by the way, here’s Marcia[ph] and this is her experience. And you might even have a video clip and it just brings it to life so much better.

[00:32:34]

I love the incorporation of videos in quantitative presentations, by the way. I think it’s a super, super powerful. Characteristics of a all star employee at GoDaddy. Who are the people that are standing out? I don’t mean names. I mean, more specifically, like what traits do they have?

[00:32:56]

That’s great. Well, not surprisingly, I’ll go back to two things that I’ve already mentioned which is the passion for customer. Again, I have a number of people in my team and I don’t think we would be very successful researchers if we didn’t have that kind of underlying passion for the customer and to understand them and to represent their needs. So that’s super important. And not everybody has that, honestly. I think speed, being able to be scrappy when appropriate. I’ve got a big, big project that’s going on that’s extremely strategic, long term vision. That’s a project I’m probably not going to try and be scrappy with because it’s a way too big and the risks, et cetera. But for the most part, the majority of our research needs to be pretty speedy in whichever way we can do that. So I think speed is important. What the other things and you may see this also is I call it just, I think the folks who are extraordinarily curious and curious in that they don’t just take things at face value. Maybe you give them a report, they look at one chart and got it. I think that curiosity and that constant questioning is actually incredibly valuable because it challenges you, it challenge you to think differently. It may uncover unexpected things that again, if you were just looking at, here’s my hypothesis, it’s true or it’s not. And so I definitely see that as a characteristic that is extraordinarily important in at least on my team. People who are really successful is that constant questioning curiosity, just wanting to dig in and really get into the details to understand kind of that deeper, the deeper why behind it.

[00:34:56]

I don’t know if you have checked out my GoDaddy account but I’ve been a long time user, I have a ton of domains. I don’t know why, I have this like, I’ll come up with this domain, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, that’s such a great name for a company.” And then [LAUGHTER] anyway, I’ve got this graveyard inside of my GoDaddy account of these fantastic domains that I still love and renew. It’s hilarious.

[00:35:20]

[LAUGHTER] Someday. You know what? Someday you’ll come back and go, “This is the perfect one”, right?

[00:35:28]

Totally. I know. And I’m not willing to give them up. It’s so funny. So what is GoDaddy offering right now that has you excited for the consumer market?

[00:35:38]

Oh, consumer, interesting. Well, what’s fascinating, particularly there is, I talk a lot about small business. We talk a lot about the small business but what we realize is that there’s this in this very kind of a gray scale going from a consumer to a small business and we actually have tons of consumers who have our domains, who have websites or blogs, and they vary. There’s a lot of different kinds of consumers who are thinking about you know what, I’m going to have a domain name with my name or my children’s name. Maybe that’s something I want to do because someday I’ll use it or maybe I have an idea that I’d love to do. I don’t have time now, but to your point, a great company name, someday I’m going to get there. So we have a lot of really interesting folks who are, we kind of call them column dreamers in some cases where they may be currently nine to five, et cetera, but they have dreams of becoming a small business or maybe they have dreams of just having what we call side hustle. A side hustle is incredibly common nowadays. Lots of people have, maybe they’re selling on Etsy or eBay or they do something on their own. And so there’s this the spectrum from consumer to small business and we actually serve all of that. So it’s not just small business, even though we talk a lot about small business and their needs are generally kind of greater because their revenue, their livelihood is tied to it. But we also have a pretty big array of customers. And these folks who are kind of what we would call maybe side hustle or independent contractors who also have really significant needs for their online presence. And even people who want to just have a website to share maybe their church information or their kid’s soccer team. So we cater to and try to understand across that entire spectrum, not just small business but across all of that. And again, oftentimes people start with a blog or maybe their social media and that kind of morphs into their side hustle and potentially their business overtime. And so we want to be part of that journey.

[00:38:07]

My guest today has been Lori Iventosch-Jame, Senior Director of customer and market research at GoDaddy. Lori, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.

[00:38:16]

That’s my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

[00:38:18]

And thank you everyone who’s been subscribing to our show or listenership continues to grow. I would really appreciate it if you take time to leave a review on Apple podcasts or of course you can interact with us directly on any of our social media channels. Have a wonderful rest of your day.

Ep. 122 – Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision

Today my guest is Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision. FocusVision is the only comprehensive research software solution to capture real-time human insights and analytics.

Zlatko took over as CEO of FocusVision in late 2017. Under his leadership, FocusVision has won a prestigious MarTech award for customer management.

FIND ZLATKO ONLINE:

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[00:00:00]

Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. Today my guest is Zlatko Vucetic, CEO of FocusVision. FocusVision is the only comprehensive research software solution to capture real-time human insights and analytics. Zlatko took over as CEO of FocusVision in late 2017. Under his leadership FocusVision has won a prestigious MarTech award for customer management. Zlatko, thank you very much for joining me today.

[00:00:29]

Thank you for having me on the show Jamin. I’m delighted to be a part of your show. I’ve been following over the last couple of weeks and it’s been truly amazing to see what type of conversations you’re having with various individuals and it’s very, very impressive that you’ve been able to have a good conversation with a lot of the various brands and enterprises out there and their relation to market research. So good work to you guys on getting something like this up very, very quickly.

[00:01:02]

Hey, thank you very much Zlatko. A little bit of a plug for the show, I’m starting to get inbound requests from major brands, most recently MasterCard to be on the show. So it’s actually pretty exciting to see how the value hypothesis is getting proven out here at Happy Market Research, which is the brands’ needs have shifted on the insights. They want to communicate that to the agencies so that agencies can better meet and address those gaps meaning that insights becomes really the rudder of the ship of these business decisions. So it’s an exciting time for me honestly and a hell of a lot of fun.

[00:01:44]

So you’re basically the Henry Kissinger of market research industry.

[00:01:49]

I hadn’t thought of it like that but there you go.

[00:01:54]

That’s good. Somebody has to be in the middle and translate the both parts as one and that’s not an easy task.

[00:02:00]

Zlatko and I, just for the audience’s benefit have a long-standing history of working together for the better part of gosh over two years. We were introduced originally in London about two and a half years ago and I absolutely fell in love with his work ethic and intelligence. He absolutely blew me away from a production or productivity perspective working with me when I was the CEO of FocusVision. And when I recognized that that role was not a good fit for me, I worked hard alongside him and the rest of the board in order to make sure that there was a smooth transition of leadership, which he assumed that CEO mantle very effectively. So I wanted to just kind of give that preface to the show so that people understood one, where we’ve come from; and then two, gosh I was in New York was it last week or the week before and we had dinner. Thank you very much by the way for buying. I do appreciate that.

[00:03:01]

Yes, of course. And thank you for clarifying that. A lot of people in the industry get a little bit surprised when I tell them that I spoke to Jamin or I met Jamin. That’s still a funny thing to experience but as you said it yourself, yeah, I think it was amazing working with Jamin at FocusVision. It was definitely a different experience for me understanding not only the entrepreneurship that Jamin had but also the innovation and really understanding the passion behind building a good product that he built over the last decade. So it was a very, very good introduction and I would say even go that far that if it wasn’t for Jamin, probably I never would have relocated with my family to the United States. So if that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t know. People ask me is that a good or bad thing. It has yet to be determined, but I think so far it’s been an awesome journey. So I actually owe that to Jamin as well.

[00:04:01]

Awesome. Thank you very much. So let’s just jump right in. Our standard opening question, what do your parents do and how has that affected what you’re doing today?

[00:04:10]

So my dad was a – he’s retired now. He was a diplomat. My mom is a financial accountant. I think my parents for me – how does that affect what I’m doing. So growing up in Denmark I think – the one thing that you get always taught through either the education system or the society is that you have to make your own money. So the first job you have in Denmark is when you’re 13-years old and that can be everything from delivering newspapers to working in a supermarket basically removing the empty bottles from the assembly line and putting them in the boxes and recycling them and sending them back to Coca-Cola and all the other distilleries out there. So I guess that’s – I don’t know how my parents, how they’ve influenced my upbringing and some of the work qualities that I have but I guess my – I think my upbringing in Denmark has a lot to do with – for me a job is a job and there is no – every job out there is equally worth it. And every time when you speak to somebody in Denmark they will tell you that before they were 21-, 22-years old, they already had nine different jobs working either as a dishwasher, cleaning things, and because we are in a very non-hierarchal society you will see people from all kind of classes from society working next to each other. So it’s a very normal thing. So I think that part has taught me that there’s always a very important thing that you do your job well regardless of what kind of job that is and that’s something that stuck with me ever since. So I’m not sure how much I can dedicate to being a part of that type of society versus my parents. I think the part where my parents have influenced me quite a lot has been on the honesty side. I’m extremely honest and direct. And I think it’s very, very important that people are especially in the business. It’s not always the case in a lot of the countries and companies that I worked with over many years that that’s always a right strategy to pursue. And it took me some while to understanding what people mean with honesty and candor versus what that truly means when you start translating some of those elements. But that’s something that I’m getting a little bit used to it a little bit more now but I guess that’s definitely a thing that I have from my parents in terms of being very, very candor and being very, very honest. That can be either job-related or a private situation or something else that needs to be addressed in life. I still truly believe that if you’re not really honest with yourself in terms of what you need to do better, how you can improve, then you’re never going to reach the final goal that you set up front.

[00:07:04]

Yeah, you see that trending over the last year, this whole concept of radical candor or radical transparency inside of corporations. And then also developing self-awareness at an individual level so that you’re operating inside of your skill. We heard that in the very first episode with Merrill Dubrow how he knows where he needs to focus and he focuses accordingly. Certainly seen that play out. Also on the grit side, I think that’s super-interesting. How did this grit or this work ethic help you succeed so profoundly at your time at Saxo Bank. You went from really an entry-level role there and within 8 years were an EVP.

[00:07:51]

Yeah, that was a great ride. I think at that time we were one of the fastest growing companies especially in Europe; in Denmark for sure. It was – there was a lot of challenge. There were two things that were driving that primarily. I think I’m extremely competitive and that drives a lot of my – a lot of the engagement that I have in terms of the people, businesses, and everything else that I do in life. I still hate to lose any kind of video game or card game to my 7-year old daughter. And I still get upset with that. But I think that’s one of the parts is that I’m extremely competitive. I want to succeed always. The second part is that what’s been extremely important for me is to undertake challenges that nobody wanted. So a lot of the different things that people were doing and saying well I don’t want that opportunity because there’s so much risk and there’s so much change in it that’s going to affect me on a personal level or on my work level, I’ve always said yes to those challenges. So I think that’s – I think in life if you want better, first of all you need to – you never stop learning and you always have to learn new things. And the second thing is you always have to take some risk in terms of the things you’re doing. Sometimes they work out; sometimes they don’t. But in general the people that I’ve seen taking a lot of – and I think Jamin, you know this better than anybody else in terms of the entrepreneurship and people being very innovative and taking slightly more risk than anybody else are the people that always succeed. In the end, it is about the hours that you put as well. I understand the entire concept about working smarter, not harder, but a lot of the things that we are trying to achieve in our lives is also a matter of the time that we take to understand them. I always go back to Mr. Michael Jordan saying for – he had to miss 10,000 shots before he understood how to make the last great shot. So I think that is extremely important in business as well. We have to fail and we have to fail many times to understand where we can improve, where we can become better, and most importantly how can we surround ourselves with the people that can improve us because we can’t really have all the competencies at the same time. So think that for me it’s been more about the grit, the risk, and being extremely competitive in what I do. And I don’t – I used to be a competitive athlete in the past so people ask me sometimes is it because of the competitiveness, because of you’re playing a sport or you were actually quite good at sports. I said no, I was actually OK at some sports but it wasn’t really that it was driving. And I think for me particularly, I have – I grew up in Denmark but my background is Croatian. So I think growing up in Denmark with a first name like mine you always feel that you have to be a little bit better. It’s not really how the society portrays you or sees you but I think there is something latent in your own soul that feels that this is something that you have to do – you have to be three times better than anybody else in order to get a chance. And I think a lot of people have it like that, especially people that have a different background than other people in the country where they’re living. So I think that’s been a prime driver of my will to succeed. So – and it still is. I guess in America there’s a lot of more people that can pronounce my name so it’s a little bit easier here but it’s something that really not only makes me outcompete on a lot of the things that I’m competing about but really think about how do I plan and how do I also manage some of the risk that I’m taking business wise.

[00:11:51]

How do you think – reflecting on being an outsider from marketing research, Chris Fanning also – one of my favorite CEOs in the space, he was the previous CEO of SSI prior to the merger with Research Now. How do you think that informs you and your business decisions giving FocusVision perhaps an edge?

[00:12:15]

I think the difference – first of all, I think the market research industry is an extremely exciting one. I started my career actually in market research doing qualitative and quantitative work for Danish Royal Hospital when I was 18-, 19-years old starting in the business school. So I worked with that in the past but I think the biggest difference here is that when you – with my background working with other industries that has a lot of academia in it as market research has but also went through a similar change when it comes to technology and enablement of technology you see some of the similar patterns. And I certainly see some of the similar patterns that I’ve been seeing in other industries happening in market research space. So I think – I’m not saying that you can predict what’s happening in the industry but you have a more casual relationship with the industry, which sometimes gives you a little bit of easier way to navigate through that. And I feel that a lot of people that work in a specific industry for many, many years from time to time they do have a problem of disconnecting from that and taking an outside view on a lot of their solutions. I think technology today and software in general has enabled us to look across the industries and start making some informed decisions about how to transform those industries. So I think coming from outside, it gives you the edge that you don’t feel obliged to adhere to certain rules that are imposed by the industry from the beginning where you’re actually – when you grow up in the industry. I think when you grow up in the industry it’s slightly different. There’s only one – not only one way of doing it but there are certain – I guess there are certain perceptions and paradigms that’s ruled the industry and that nothing can be changed and that’s not specific to market research industry. You can find that across most of the industries. So I think that’s the edge that you’re actually provided is you actually think slightly different or you see the same story that you have seen just by – just in a completely different industry.

[00:14:28]

Yeah, I completely agree with the perspective. I think the longer a management team works together, the easier it can be or maybe the greater the temptation is to keep doing the same thing over and over again. And then you miss the level-up opportunities inside of an organization. And I think having that value – the lens as the value from the outside are saying hey listen, I’ve seen the same script before but we can do x, y, z and apply that whether it’s social media marketing or whatever that may be a little bit outside of the comfort level of normal – of the normal industry.

[00:15:08]

And I think – I fully agree with that. And I think just to give you another example. I think when you look at the market research terminology sometimes it – I don’t think that the big data movement that we saw a couple of years ago, which is kind of now still a core part of the strategy for most of the enterprises out there. It’s kind of hasn’t really benefited the market research industry. And the reason for that is primarily because of the academia. And I remember the first couple of – so we were one of the first at that point in time, financial institutions that were utilizing big data to create modeling around customer behavior. So basically mimicking what Amazon does and Netflix in order to understand your behavior. And I remember we never became successful in most of those parts and the primary reason for that is that a lot of the findings were drawn in academia rather than something that’s actionable. So you will have a presentation by analytical teams where 40 slides out of 45 were mathematical models. So instead of just assuming that we trust people that they know how to do their math and just go to the findings, and the actionability of those findings, we kept refining the methodology and going back to one source of the truth. So then you end up spending two, three years on figuring that out and before you – and when you’re done – when you have the final solution none of the stakeholders in the organization actually believed you could deliver something that’s actionable. And I think that’s been a little bit problematic. And I think we need to go back to extremely not only fast data collection but also actionable insights. If those insights are not deliverable in a form that the company can act upon extremely quickly it’s going to be very, very difficult to have data-driven, big data strategy as a part of the core strategy because you’re going to lose the attention of the stakeholders.

[00:17:01]

I love that. ROI on research. Every project needs to drive cash into the business. And I think that is a major transition that has been taking place over the last few years inside of the brands.

[00:17:15]

Yeah, and as I said, sometimes people – when you speak with the people within the industry they make it seem like a tradeoff between the value added versus the academia or the right way to do it. It doesn’t have to be like that. I think that the faster we can combine those two schools of thought, the faster we can actually deliver something very, very useful, something that is correctly done but also something that drives the action. And I think right now as one of my friends said once is everybody has one fear, and one fear only regarding what product they’re building and that fear is Amazon. Amazon is right now driving any – every fear in any product organization or any organization that’s developing something that’s extremely client-driven. And I think that forces the enterprises to think differently in the way how they actually approach this market space, but I don’t think replicating that model is going to make them successful because we cannot all be masters at all but I think it has been a little bit of a – at least what I can see sometimes in the industry is there’s a lot of discussion on academia versus quick insights. And I think that’s a part that needs to be merged if we want to be successful at creating that return on investment on the research.

[00:18:44]

Congratulations on the MarTech award for customer management.

[00:18:45]

Thank you. We are the well-best hidden secret in the world. We get questions asked how many employees do we have in your startup. For the record, I would like underline that we’re not a startup. We’ve been around since 1919 in some shape or form or size. And we’ve expanded quite significantly over the last five years through acquisitions. We have a number of offices worldwide and more than 400 employees employed. So we’re definitely not a startup. And we are really honored by being recognized by the MarTech [INAUDIBLE] and the award that we received for the best innovation on the customer experience part because I truly feel that we have great products and we’ve been a part of the DNA of market research for the last 20 years but nobody has been recognizing that in the industry. So it’s good to see us getting the recognition and we are very happy for the recognition as well.

[00:19:43]

We have done a segmentation of our listenership, which we’re now coining Insights Nation Zlatko. What do you think about Insights Nation? Is that good?

[00:19:54]

Yeah. Insights Nation is good. Just make sure to trademark it before Live Nation comes to it and they say it’s too close to that name. But Insights Nation is probably right. So I think there’s a lot of discussion now on how to card frame the terms around the people within it. I think I always look at Sales Force and all these guys having their marketing cloud, client cloud. So you need to think about in terms of what can we actually – how do you bring all the people together. But Insights Nation, it sounds like something that is extremely catchy.

[00:20:32]

So with our segmentation, we’ve identified about half the audience are people that are looking to get jobs inside of either a brand, doing an insights function or a company like FocusVision where Ipsos, etc, etc. If you were entering into your career, so you’ve just graduated, what are a few steps that you would take in order to ensure that you got a job in marketing research.

[00:21:01]

I think I would try to understand first of all what’s happening in the industry. I think the industry is going through a lot of changes right now. And there is a lot of interesting, exciting things happening because of the changes of technology. So I would do my homework very well trying to understand how that fits the picture in terms of where I want to be a couple of years from now. Now I’ve also told you that I’m very, very – well, I do like to take risk, so probably my advice is not worth anything for the young kids out there in terms of what they should do. But I would actually look at the growth that you’re seeing in a lot of the large enterprises where they’re actually establishing large organizations that need to act extremely fast based on the customer feedback and based on other insights that they’re receiving from their clients. I think that would be an interesting thing to start but most of the people that I’ve met with the enterprise clients that they’re sitting on their various insights/analytical teams or any product teams or anything else out there. They started their career working in market research agency space first and I think it is sometimes good to start your career there and understand the basic of what you’re supposed to do

[00:22:16]

That’s exactly in line with what we had learned from Rogier at LinkedIn. That you could have that benefit of agency then go into brand or vice versa, but both inform each other.

[00:22:32]

Correct. I think it’s – once again, it’s one of these other discussions that it’s either one or the other and I don’t see it like that. I do see it as a more of homogenic environment where the brands and market research agencies need to create a better access to talent because the biggest problem they have out there is that there’s a fight for talent, regardless of which industry you’re in and in order for market research industry to become better at attracting that talent, there needs to be a change in how – what’s actually being offered out there in terms of the potential career but also the tasks that the people are doing. And I think that part hasn’t really been well defined and that’s primarily because market research is done by several – in several parts of organizations. So that takes some time for a lot of people to understand where they should actually go. But I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done because the fight for the talent base is really, really challenging. Everybody wants to work with Bitcoin, robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality. So when you start speaking about the research analytics it sometimes tends to be slightly a second priority for a lot of the people out there starting their career in market research. But I do believe that right now this is probably the most interesting area to be in because you’re dealing with data, you’re dealing with customer experiences, and our ability to change a customer experience within a product or a brand has never been larger. So enabling that kind of possibility to really influence the client journeys and customer journeys is something that you don’t really get to do in any other industry. So I think we just need to do a better job in terms of communicating the opportunities rather than explaining to people what kind of methodologies they will be learning, how they can apply this in their work.

[00:24:44]

That’s brilliant. You know, you’re right. Getting a job is not just about you presenting yourself correctly or going through these steps, jumping through these hoops to get the interview but also – but you’ve got to have the attraction as the organization to get that top talent. I know that you’ve opened up an office in New York. I assume that was part of the reason is to get access to talent. What is FocusVision doing in order to tell that story that you just told to attract that talent?

[00:25:14]

Once again, I think right now the biggest thing that we are trying to do is really to tell the story about who we are today and where we want to take the business. And in terms of where do we want to be ten years from now. And I think that’s the story that you can attract people and you need to have that vision. If you don’t have the vision, it becomes not only difficult to get the right people but it also becomes very, very difficult to recruit people that want to have an ability to change. Money is not everything. I used to think otherwise for a lot of parts of my careers and then I became wiser as well many years ago. People do look for opportunities to evolve and to develop a skill set they don’t have. So we’re actually trying to facilitate that as much as possible. We are – most of our employees have career plans in terms of where we want them to be. I’ve been saying to each one of my employees since day 1 that I don’t want them to be here forever. I actually want to deliver their – I want them to be able to have great careers with us and then go and work for any of the dream companies that they want to do and have the dream job that they want to do. But I want to have an ability to one day to turn around and say that that person that’s a CEO of Google today, he started his career in FocusVision and this is what we gave that individual in terms of the space and support in order for him or her to grow in that particular career and get a job like that. So I’m extremely open when it comes to bringing – to making sure that people have the right careers as long as they have the right mindset in terms of doing what they believe is the right thing to do to progress their career.

[00:27:09]

That’s perfect. So on that note, what are the core characteristics, three characteristics of an all-star employee?

[00:27:17]

I think first of all it has to be grit. It needs to be somebody that’s not willing to put hours; I think it’s a little bit of a misunderstood concept, the hours. But somebody that really wants to understand the nitty-gritty detail, first of all because if you don’t understand it you cannot really correct anything. The second thing is very much of being passionate about what you do. It’s really understanding the – having the passion about improving something or creating something. If you don’t have that it’s going to be extremely difficult if somebody is standing in the corner and telling you what you need to do today, tomorrow, or the next six months. And I think the last thing, which I’ve always valued in terms of becoming a really good employee is ownership. It’s basically just taking the ownership of saying there is an issue that we are facing today. I think I might have a solution. I would like to be responsible for this part and then just taking ownership and delivering the solution. I think that’s one of the things that’s driving my career from where I started and I think for me, I think it’s a – if you want to be successful you have to be extremely focused on what you need to deliver, but you also have to take the ownership for making sure that it is delivered. Nobody is going to come and give you any task if you actually don’t make yourself available saying I actually think we can do this completely different. I always practice open-office policy or open-door policy where employees can come and tell me what I’m doing good or I’m doing bad. That’s been a little bit more difficult here in the states to be honest. I think the culture is slightly different with the employees, even though I’ve been facilitating that since day one. I didn’t get a lot of people coming through my doors and giving me that many suggestions. Some of them have. And that’s great. But I think for me growing up in especially Scandinavia, if you want to see candor and if you want to see people being honest, you should spend a day or two working for a Scandinavian company or a Dutch company because those are the most direct people in the world. I always grew up with working at a company where you could go to the CEO regardless which level you were at and you can tell him when he was doing his job good and what he needs to improve and he will actually sit and listen and take notes. And I think that’s exactly the way that you not only improve but you also empower your employees to give you feedback and thereby giving them more confidence that actually they can even help CEOs to tell them how they can improve their work and what needs to be corrected. So for me, those four things are the most important things in what the criteria and the skill set that people should look at in terms of what needs to be in place in order to be successful. And I think those four elements for me have been something that I’ve seen people through my career have that have accelerated quite well. Some people are a little bit more comfortable on the comfortable side in terms of just doing the thing they know how to do, which is also good. But I think once again, if we don’t take the risk and we don’t learn, it becomes difficult for all of us to develop. And that never really stops regardless how old we are.

[00:30:32]

I want to shift a little bit talking about Decipher and then we’ll move to the broader brand of FocusVision. So as most of our audience knows, Decipher is used by lots of companies as really the backbone of their insights. How has that being – how is that being leveraged by FocusVision in terms of accomplishing your strategy? Is it playing a major part within MarTech and is that then really the next big focus?

[00:30:59]

Yeah, I think it’s always been a focus of investing more in our software technology, especially on our quantitative survey tools. Right now we feel that there’s a shift in the market, which we’ve been seeing over the last couple of years but it’s really accelerated; not really only driven by us but most of the players in the market research space, especially the technology vendors. People are looking for more sophistication in the work that they do. First of all, market is moving much faster to a DIY solution where clients like LinkedIn and some of the other clients that I know you had on your show are really looking at internalizing a lot of research and it’s not because – people think it’s about cost. Cost has an impact but the main reason for that is the ability to deliver something fast and have those actionable insights. So for us Decipher has been a really amazing tool because we are in a slightly different position than most of our competitors in that space. I think that if we carve out that market space that we participating in, I think it’s – first of all it’s a completely different market space than most of our competitors are because they offer much more simpler solution in terms of the capabilities. So if we speak about the depth of the functionality and the power of the product, right now we’re really servicing that professional user and the good thing is that the market change that we’re seeing right now is that we’re seeing an increase in professional users, specifically among enterprise clients. So this is a core part of our strategy. The one place where we really want to invest is in our analytical capabilities because right now the market doesn’t really see the difference between the data collection platform and the analytical platforms that clear. They want all of it at once at the same price probably also. So this is something where we are actually investing quite significantly in terms of improving our analytic capabilities and bringing our product not only to the professional users but also some of the casual researchers that want to become much more sophisticated in their work. So it is a core of our strategy in terms of our quantitative offering and we do believe that we have a well-hidden Ferrari in our garage that a lot of people knew about but I don’t think that we’ve actually seen this much interest like we’re seeing now for the last couple of years. And that’s something to do with – there’s a bigger brand recognition around Decipher that’s been created for the last 10 years. And then the second part is this change in the appetite of how enterprise clients are purchasing the survey software has changed dramatically and we are seeing that change affect Decipher as well.

[00:34:05]

You think the pending IPO of Qualtrics and Survey Monkey are going to create additional opportunities for FocusVision?

[00:34:17]

Yes, I believe so. I think the Survey Monkey, I think – we don’t like to – I don’t know if that’s a – we are not really comparing our products. We don’t really compare Decipher with Survey Monkey because I think the functionality of the products are just completely different and user cases are also very, very different. Survey Monkey is for more simple research; Decipher is a far more sophisticated research. So we are catering for two different segments. But there’s definitely more attention in terms of the data collection tools on the quantitative side. I’m a big fan of both of the companies. I think I’ve been a Survey Monkey user for more than a decade in my previous life so that’s – I’ve always been a fan on that side. I think what Qualtrics has been doing over the last couple of years is tremendous. The growth that they’ve been having all over the world, they really understood the need and the change that’s happening on the technology side and have leveraged that completely. So I have the upmost respect for both of the companies and it’s interesting. You have two of the largest companies on the customer experience/survey quantitative offering doing IPOs very, very close. So that’s going to stimulate some demand in terms of what we do but I do think that a lot of the core users that we have are – have been really, really good ambassadors for us because a lot of the business that we get today is coming from referrals. And we actually do see that increasing over the next couple of years as well.

[00:35:59]

Yeah, I think it’s a really interesting point how you started out Survey Monkey and Qualtrics are really in a lot of ways euphemisms for insights are really important right now to help companies compete against Amazon. That’s the point right, and FocusVision is fairly uniquely positioned in the market because it not only has the quantitative, the Ferrari, but then it also has the qualitative side of things, GDP compliant, etc. out of the box. And so there is this sort of interesting market dynamic and it seems like opportunity that you and FocusVision are going to be able to fulfill.

[00:36:40]

Yeah. I think that part is changing as well. And I think that more the technology improves, the lazier we become, all of us in terms of how we see things and understand things. And I think I always used to have an argument saying if your user is used to simplicity of using an Uber app or Air BNB, or any kind of app out there or product or software, you better make sure that your software has the same usability. So I think we are kind of expecting now and that is happening in the market is that people are expecting to have everything at once provided by one simple vendor out there that can do everything – either do everything for them or deliver them the tools where they can do everything. Of course, another aspect that we didn’t touch upon is that the data privacy policies and security regarding data are going to be changing exponentially over the next couple of years. And I think people will be looking for really making sure that they’re working with the vendors who know and understand the data security policies that that vendor has in place. So I think part of it is data protection. The second part is really understanding the product. So today we are very fortunate to be able to offer both qualitative and quantitative tools for market research and data insights and analytics. And it’s been extremely helpful to have that ability to offer that to our clients. And I think you will still be able to find some of our clients that they don’t know that we actually offer a full suite of products but the ones that have that we have much more meaningful relationships with those clients. And for a lot of the instances we are actually I would say part of their DNA of that customer insights feedback loop and their entire organization is kind of built around ability to provide the insights and deliver on those insights. So that’s something that we’re extremely proud of. We are slightly unique in that positioning because most of the competitors that we compete out there with either cover one or the other side of the product portfolio. We are a slightly – once again, we’re in a slightly unique position for delivering a different kind of service to our clients. And this is something that we are really looking forward to not only proving but also creating an analytical layer on top of that so it becomes even easier for our clients to understand the insights.

[00:39:33]

Zlatko, you know me. I’m a sales guy 100 percent through and through. So I always have to ask this question when I’m talking with a guest. And that is is there a specific offering or product that you would like our listeners to hear about?

[00:39:47]

Right now I think the – for us, the most important thing is that we are really moving fast on building out our analytical capabilities. Some of the new products that we have in place will be launched later this year. And we have been really focusing a lot of building out various machine learning models and models that are based on the AI systems. We’re able to look at large quantities of data and start making sense out of it. So for our listeners out there, and your listeners out there, I think you will be able to see something completely different that FocusVision can offer compared to what we have today. On the other side, our flagship products and such have been extremely solid in terms of the user cases and we’ll be looking to improve a lot of those elements today. I think where we are extremely excited is that change to where we’re specifically seeing on the client side where the clients are actually purchasing multiple products that cover both qualitative and quantitative side and our ability to deliver on that. So I can’t really exclude one product or the other and say in terms of where opportunities are but I think really providing that insights engine to our clients is going to be a main focus over the next couple of years.

[00:41:13]

My guest today has been Zlatko, CEO of FocusVision. Zlatko, thank you for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.

[00:41:19]

Thank you for having me Jamin. It’s been a pleasure.

[00:41:22]

And thank you very much for everyone that is listening and leaving us reviews on Apple Podcast. A special thank you to G Frank 13 who said he appreciated the content and the thought-provoking questions. Everyone have a wonderful rest of your day.

Ep. 121 – Clint Taylor, SVP & Strategic Technologist at Sentient Decision Science

Today, my guest is Clint Taylor, Senior VP & Strategic Technologist at Sentient Decision Science as well as the inventor of Sentient Prime. Sentient Decision Science specializes in behavioral data. Sentient embeds implicit experiments in surveys to reveal the subconscious associations with brands. Prior to Sentient Decision Science, Clint has founded a company and has worked in research and technology.

FIND CLINT ONLINE:

http://www.sentientdecisionscience.com/

Twitter: @ClintTaylor

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

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]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. Today my guest is Clint Taylor, senior VP and strategic technologist at Sentient Decision Science. He’s also the inventor of Sentient Prime. Sentient Decision Science specializes in behavioral data. Sentient embeds implicit experiments and surveys to reveal the subconscious associations with brands. Prior to Sentient, Clint founded a company and has worked in research and technology for over a decade. Clint, thanks very much for being on the podcast.

[00:00:33]

Oh, thanks, Jamin. It’s awesome to be here. Really happy to be talking with you.

[00:00:36]

It’s neat. I was going through your bio. 2001 I think is when you started, about when you started your career, at least documenting it. What did your parents do and how did that affect your career?

[00:00:49]

You know how much I love this topic right here? I mean I think it’s so underrated, how someone’s roots really form a career path. I gotta say that first of all, but it’s super important. My mom, she was a hairdresser by trade. Also broke her back to take care of us kids, my sister and I. She’s, I mean she’s super empathic and she’s absolutely my hero, my mom. My dad, he is, he’s a brilliant hands-on engineer. He worked for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. He worked all over the country, all over the world. And he can’t even tell me what he does. It’s really funny. It’s like he said he works on, he worked on nuclear power submarines. That’s all he can tell me. So that’s the fun about the degree to which he was working on those. I guess he can tell me but they’d have to kill me after that. So, well, we have a really independent family, and so it’s like I have the empathic side of me and the engineering side of me. And being from an independent family, it really drove me to seek validation, seek approval in everything that I did, whether it was sports, and career wise and school wise. And so it really helped my career just by always pushing myself. I would work overnights while I was in college and shortly thereafter. My friends always made me fun at me because I would come in at three a.m. and I’d leave at six a.m. to go back to work. So it always drove me, just that independent spirit, and then having the love of the family, the empathic side and the engineering side that gave me just sort of the ability, the confidence to be able to do all the public work that I did.

[00:02:37]

I mean diving in a little bit here. Do you think the love from one parent and then the overachieving side, I mean your dad who’s working in nuclear submarines is kind of a big deal. That had a lot to do with you mentioned empathy being a key part and it moving you into market research. Did that have a lot to do with your research and your drive?

[00:03:02]

It totally did. I mean even before I got into market research or anything that was remotely psychology based, I was reading about psychology. I’m reading about child psychology, really trying to be introspective, learning how I operate, learning, self-discovery, self-development. And so I’ve always had a recreational interest in it, and so just that nature versus nurture, having that natural instinct to be interested in why things happen, why I do the things I do, why I think the things that I think. And combined with the engineering side of that, oh, that nature with my father, really gave me, I think, just a natural, and which I’m grateful for, a natural competency not just be interested in how people think and how they people behave, but also the engineering kind of infrastructure if you will to be able to break it down into data and understand it quantitatively totally.

[00:04:02]

That’s, it’s fascinating to me how as you reflect back right af-and for me two decades now, in over two decades in the workforce, and it’s just, it’s amazing that those little tiny, what I thought were insignificant bricks of my parents, that is empathy from my mom and maybe of this work ethic type on my father’s side, patriarchal structure, that really kind of drove me to success but then also gave me the tools to relate and connect at an important level and then putting those things together on market research is really the perfect cauldron to cook those things up and develop a career.

[00:04:48]

It really is. And I’d say perhaps if I had sought out maybe some more mentoring when I was in high school, in college, and shortly thereafter, people who knew broadly what industries were focused on the things that I were both interested in and did well, I probably would have entered market research as some kind of like a behavioral research often see a lot earlier. But you learn so many things from other neurologically based industries that you can bring into market research, sort of fresh perspectives, a different way of looking at things that I think has really benefited both Sentient Decision Science, the creation of Sentient Prime, and I’m hoping the industry at large just by virtue of introducing this platform focused on non-conscious research at a time when it was, we were just barely scratching the surface. It was barely becoming into the early adopter phase. So I think a virtue of not being in the industry of the last six or seven years it has brought some fresh perspectives that have helped advance both us as a company and us as an industry.

[00:05:59]

And I love that. I think you’re right. Differing perspectives and provide differing context, which then we can get, if applied, we can get a more complete view of the customers’ perspective. It’s, and also I think market gaps, right? That whenever I meet with other people, especially outside of the industry, I can start seeing, oh, wow, market research could really service this particular need that they have and inform them in a way that they’re just not thinking about. And what I think is interesting and actually really, really exciting is how market research is moving more and more towards the front. I’d say more towards the boardroom than ever before. When I started my career 20 years ago in this space, market research is more this secondary thing, but now we’re really, or actually, I didn’t even know what market research was. I understood what marketing was, but I didn’t know market research was a whole thing, so a whole industry, whatever it is, $50, $60 billion. But it’s really neat to see how we’re moving into the front lines of decision making, and I would even say, going so far as to say that we in many ways are the rudder of the ship that is the business and how those decisions are making. But talk to us a little bit about Sentient Decision Science. I’m not sure our listenership has a thorough understanding.

[00:07:24]

Sure. I mean you gave a pretty great overview to start the conversation. We’re, we have, we’re sort of a couple headed monster over there. We are a full-service market research agency that really focuses on integrating the non-conscious drivers of human behavior into the consumer decision-making process. We’ve always done that, but over the course of the past five years in change since I came on board there, we’ve created Sentient Prime, which is do it yourself, software as a service platform that in automated fashion, all e-commerce based and everything, you can essentially collect non-conscious data using the scientific methodology that we have employed for years in our own full service offering. So that’s broadly what we do. We’re really focused on using technologies that amplify the data collection, the non-conscious data collection, and also using it to integrate with conscious-stated measures in order to provide a more complete picture as science, multi-picture rather of the human decision-making process, as science pulls back the curtain on all that goes into a human making a decision. And as it does that, we’re finding that there are just more validated ways to be able to assess those non-conscious drivers, and also understand the degree to which those non-conscious drivers play into human and of course consumer decision making. We really make our focus there both on the services side as well as on the do-it-yourself software as a service side.

[00:09:09]

How does it actually work? And I don’t mean post-data collection, but do you integrate directly into a survey? Or what structurally is-how is the data gathered?

[00:09:23]

Sure. I mean to do, to explain that, we’d have to go back into the science. So in the ’90s, Harvard University developed the IAT, the Implicit Association Test. And they actually developed it in order to assess racial bias. So what they found was that people making decisions arbitrarily were able to do it with a certain speed and a certain accuracy. But what we found, what they found was that showing pictures of Hispanic people, elderly people, obese people, when people were primed with pictures of these people, it affected their behavior when making very simple decisions after. So what we’ve done essentially, and the explanation of that is a lot larger, but we’ve effectively done with that is applied that same process to quantify how being exposed to brands and products influences people’s ability to associate with emotions and attributes of interest to those brands and products. And so we leverage essentially the same scientific technique that was evidenced as far back as the 1990s and employed it in a way that we’re able to identify the association between consumers and brands and any emotion or attribute that is of interest to that brand or a product of that brand. And so what we’ve found in that in creating Sentient Prime, once I worked with Doctor Aaron Reed, our CEO to absorb the science behind the scenes, the way that technology was going, I looked at it and I said, “You know what? I think we can actually do this. And I think we can actually do this in a way that we can do it on any desktop, laptop, tablet, or a smart phone in the world. I think we can get away with this.” And so by doing that, what Sentient Prime is is we execute this evaluative priming method that was used by Harvard and the IAT, we execute that psychologically. And the way that we plug it in is it’s simply, it’s a Web app. It’s a link. And so really, the ability to integrate that product with anything, since we’re talking about primarily non-conscious drivers of behavior being a part of overall behavior, we knew that integration was just priority number one. And so what we’ve done is make sure that we can integrate with any platform, whether it’s a mobile app, software, or Web-based platform. Like Decipher, which by the way was just classic. I love that platform because for me it really validated what a platform that is built for integration should be. It was fantastic. Well, we’ve built ours much the same way, where we’ll able to integrate it using a simple Web link, and we’re relying on those other encompassing platforms to be able to redirect to us and then we redirect back. So hopefully that answers, that gives a little bit, sheds a little light on exactly how it works and how we integrate.

[00:12:45]

So I’m gonna just be completely transparent with you. I am not the smartest guy in the room. The, for clarity, so is it the case then that you integrate directly into the survey itself? So let’s say that we conduct a survey, whether it was on SurveyMonkey, Decipher, Qualtrix, whatever. And then there’s an opportunity in essence to intercept that respondent while they’re taking the survey?

[00:13:10]

That’s exactly right. And the same thing is being done with other platforms, such as eye-tracking platforms, facial analysis platforms.

[00:13:20]

There’s a lot of science. It’s funny. I was just reading a study on-and of course I can’t remember the name of it because it was last week, which seems like two years ago, on a, the impact that temperature can have on opinions. And so the way that they did the study, there was a college student. He would ask a random stranger if they would hold his cup of coffee while he did something for, and it was about a 30 minute, or sorry, a 30-second exchange. During that 30 seconds, the coffee was either hot or cold, and they found, and then about five minutes later, another researcher would approach that same respondent and ask them if they would for five dollars be willing to give an opinion on which picture they liked. And it was the same picture for every one of the respondents. Overwhelmingly, the data suggested that among the people that had a hot cup of coffee, that they were warm, that they received it more warmly and coldly conversely. So, and a really interesting sort of connection between that experience of, in this case holding a cup of coffee and then their view on whatever the product or item was that they were exposed to.

[00:14:37]

Absolutely. The, and what we’re talking about with that evaluative priming method that we use where we show an image of a brand or a product. We can accompany that with a sound, like a tagline, but it really speaks to any of the senses that impact your behavior. And so what we’ve done is we’ve actually employed Sentient Prime in a lab environment where we had people who were testing perfumes and soaps. And just having say a perfume or a soap in one hand and then swiping on Sentient Prime in the other, we were able to identify changes in the degrees of association between that, those scents and the qualities that the brand wanted to evoke by those scents and do it in a quantitative fashion. So it’s not just visual stimuli. It goes to olfactory and touch and so on.

[00:15:42]

It’s really interesting that the application of this, how it informs like a basic sale, always block and tackle. That you walk inside of a mall. There’s always people that want to spray you with perfume or whatever. So if they can somehow gauge that particular-I’m gonna use the hot cup, cold cup concept and then your willingness to then whether to be sprayed or actually purchase the specific product. So there’s a tremendous amount of opportunity to help control that user journey or the customer journey up to the point of purchase.

[00:16:21]

That’s exactly right.

[00:16:22]

You started Sentient Prime. When did you originally come up with the concept? Was it after you had started with Sentient Decision Science?

[00:16:32]

No, actually. The concept was originated by Aaron Reed, and I had worked with Aaron before my tenure at Sentient on a project where he was a client of mine at a previous company. And I just really admired the work that they did, and I think there was a mutual admiration and respect. He came in and did some work and had to absorb a really large amount of data and a large amount of their workflow and process and knocked out some dashboards for them. But Aaron brought me in and he says, “I want to be the global leader in implicit research technology.” So what it really comes down to Aaron’s scientific expertise on what goes into human behavior and especially the non-conscious drivers of behavior that he studied academically. And he’d always-Sentient has always included that as a part of their discipline. It was really only in the past few years where we looked at it, and we said, this is data collection, and you have two parts of this. You have the data collection, non-conscious data collection. That’s the science. That’s really the science amplified by technology. But when you talk about generating insights for a customer, taking that data and being able to explain and tell the story that the end clients want. That’s just as much of an art form as it is the science of the data collection. So we’re thinking it’s only a matter of time before others, before science pulls back the curtain on decision making, identifies a degree to which non-conscious is a part of that, and others create platforms to collect this non-conscious data. Why don’t we do it? Why don’t we create this platform? Because the art of being able to take this data, ingest it, and be able to fulfill the end client’s needs is an art all in itself. And so doing that, we found no issue with, say, releasing Sentient Prime and having to worry about it sort of cannibalizing any of our existing services. And it was really kind of a watershed moment for us when we made that distinction.

[00:19:05]

Amazon is, as you know, dominant in the marketplace from a growth and a market share perspective and only increasing. They’re winning because of the behavioral science side of things as well as stated, but I really believe the behavioral side is absolutely what’s giving them an edge. I’ve had conversations with people across the board, large, the largest CPGs. All of them are saying that market research is right now not doing a good enough job of keeping up with the market advantage that Amazon has just given their view, their opportunity for view of the consumer level. It sounds like what this does is give CPGs and everyone really an opportunity to, again, be competitive, because it isn’t just connecting. It’s really transcending beyond, above that behavioral and stated data collection.

[00:20:06]

Yeah. Absolutely. You can get non-conscious data by, we’ve already talked about eye tracking and facial analysis. You have biometric response. You have, basically you have a lot of controlled lab settings and ways to be able to collect this data. Our goal was to make this scalable and accessible. Really providing access to the consumer non-conscious or subconscious, depending on how you like to term it. Providing that access in a scalable way that can generate these quantified associations that can give CPGs an advantage because you’re correct. I mean when you’re Amazon and you’re absorbing that much data, the talk now is less about big data and more about smart data. Of course the more data you have to work with, the more likely you are to make that really impactful and smart data. So what we’ve done is provide the scalable way to get the same type of insights that Amazon does by sheer brute force with the amount of data that they have.

[00:21:23]

We had a conversation with Edwin Wong, head of insights for Buzzfeed, and he had this great quote from their CEO and founder. “We’re data full, not data rich.” You’re exactly right, and I hear this all the time when I talk to brands. They have so much data that the problem is less about that part and more about getting to your earlier, how you inform really the science of the story. So getting that methodology in a way methodologically where you are able to systematically report the data in a way that connects at a human level to the organization that then will ultimately drive the right types of change. So we have kicked that horse. Love the points. Congratulations on finding an interesting product market fit. Part of our listenership is fairly early in their careers, whether they’re from Georgia or Michigan or maybe even outside of the universities and just looking to penetrate into the market research space. If you were going to get a job in marketing research or wanted to get a job in marketing research today, what steps would you take?

[00:22:44]

That’s a great topic. Admittedly, I have more of a technological spin and technological history to this, but I mean market research has focused so much, has come to focus so much on technology and automation that it is just a valuable and profitable haven for technologists as it is for classically trained researchers and analysts. And so from a technology perspective, I would suggest that anyone getting, wanting to get into the industry would take a look at the top technologies and innovators. I mean I think the best, one of the best resources out there, take a look at the GRIT 50. Look at GreenBook. Look at the GRIT report. Take a look at the GRIT 50, 50 of the most innovative research providers out there, and look at where they’re focused. Look at what they’re doing. You’re going to find some of the most cutting-edge researchers out there, the most cutting-edge technological platforms out there as part of that. And that is really gonna help you hone in your skills in those first few years of employment, and even in your classwork of where you want to be focusing, whether it’s data science, whether a specific let’s say Amazon services that perform AI or perform facial recognition, whether it’s working with R, the language R, capital R and sifting and analyzing data. I would really work on identifying the commonalities between what these top innovators create, and what you’ve either done in your early career or what you’ve done for academically. And then identify the gaps you need to fill, whether it’s, like I said, a data science class or some kind of a seminar or a course. School up on the science and the business of market research itself, the workflow. Really tech wise, take a look at maybe some GitHub code that performs some of the analyses that we do in the industry. And this, in this country, you almost can’t go wrong by ramping up on any machine learning and AI techniques, as long as it’s based on good data, which goes back to our previous point about full data versus rich data. So any of that, but it really starts with identifying who are the innovators, creating things that are gonna have staying power in the industry.

[00:25:21]

What are the three characteristics of an all-star employee?

[00:25:24]

These, I would say constructive self-doubt is one. I mean you don’t want to be a pessimist going around everything you do, but always questioning the things that have been handed to you, the decisions you’re making as, is this the absolute best I can do, and doing it in a constructive way and not getting into analysis paralysis as they say. But perspective self-doubt is something that I always use, and I always make sure that whatever I’m putting out there is the absolute best possible. And also the way I’m communicating is the best way I can be doing so is possible. Being able to switch between convergent and divergent thinking for me is really huge. Be able to hone in at a micro level on tasks but also be able to quickly back out and see if the way that you’ve done that overall task is best for the ecosystem that you’re in, whether it’s your department, your company, or the industry at large, to fill the gaps between, for me, specifically technology that is created and the business that drives the technology that needs to be created. If you’re reading books on consumer behavior, on leadership, even on technology leadership, if you’re reading common, if you’re reading any kind of light psychology to just understand principles, that constant learning is, I find is just a staple for all of the best people I’ve ever worked with.  

[00:26:57]

Managing that tension between doing versus perfection is absolutely an art form. I was just meeting with our staff this morning here at Happy Market Research on this exact subject. And our general rule of thumb is anything outbound has to be perfect, but at the same time, we’ve gotta get stuff done because that’s what moves the needle for us economically. It forces jobs. The other thing I really liked is this continual learning. That has got to be a core tenet of everybody’s, on a go-forward basis, especially in context of this gig economy that’s expanding. You can’t be expect, you can’t expect an employer to be able to teach you everything about your craft. And in fact, I would suggest that you have to love your craft to the point where you’re educating yourself outside of business hours, because probably where you’re working right now or where you aspire to work is gonna be different in 10 years. And in fact, it could be three or four locations. And so ultimately you’re really robbing yourself by not making those investments. And that middle thing that you had mentioned, the ability to operate at a macro and then a micro is critical. So you’ve gotta be able to roll up your sleeves, get the small tasks done, and you’ve also got to be able to pull back and recognize how that work is impacting both the upstream and downstream of the deliverables.

[00:28:23]

Absolutely, and then it really works hand in hand with that constructive self-doubt where it’s like OK. I think the worst thing you can do in a lot of those cases is do a case where you have confirmation bias on what you’ve created and set out. I am proud of this. I’m happy with this. And so to go in there and say, “Now step back. Is this the absolute best way I can do it?” And not think that just because you created something that is necessarily beautiful. You’ve gotta have that humility to go in and say, “You know what? This might not be my best work. Let me go back and see what I can do to change it.”

[00:28:59]

Absolutely.

[00:29:00]

And if I can make a point regarding that learning, I have read books on political philosophy in the past. I’ve read books on that kind of philosophy that have helped me, just because I wanted to but that have drawn commonalities between the way that, for instance, the United States was formed, or the French Revolution. I’ve drawn commonalities between some of the principles there and the way that our organization is run and been able to bring those principles back. So it doesn’t even need to be these hardcore textbooks, but anything that helps you understand the world in general and societies in general or psychology in general, if you’re able to keep an open mind, that is super effective learning. And it’s learning in a way that someone coming right out of school is probably not gonna have because they’re gonna be focused on just the tactics. But if you can take a step back and read things that are pretty rich, you’re gonna find some ways that it’s going to make you that all-star employee and really show your value in your organization.

[00:30:11]

Hundred percent. I love this subject by the way. It’s probably my favorite ones about areas for people to be able to identify all-star employees inside of organizations. I just, I find that there’s so much value that can be, that I get out of it personally, honestly, which is funny in my mid-40s. But, so thanks for sharing. I completely agree. I can read something about, I can read this, a book on principles, which has direct impact on any business. But you’re able to apply what you learn in that book or even different fantasy series as far as that is. It’s crazy. I just recently picked up Dungeons and Dragons. My, I have some teenage boys and they’re interested in playing it, so we’re trying to learn the rule set. For me it’s I’m dusting off the books because I played in the ’80s. But I’m literally reading this series, or it’s three books: the Monster’s Guide, Dungeon Master, and Player’s Handbook. And in the Dungeon Master, it actually goes through a how to build a story, and the application for market research is so freaking relevant. We, I could literally take that excerpt and apply it to market research data, and I guarantee you, you would see a lift in the reception of how the organization receives that and acts on that data. It’s hilarious.

[00:31:42]

It really is, and it’s funny because I think that with anything that is, that can have whether tight or loose correlations to market research and what you do in market research, I think in order to be able to make those connections, you have to, you’re kind of subject to something that is beyond your control, which is you need to have passion for what you do. If you don’t have that innate passion for what you do-and like what I do with Sentient, I’ve done with Sentient Prime and other technologies that I’m interested in-if I didn’t have that passion, then non-consciously or subconsciously I would not be naturally making those correlations between things that I’m consciously reading and that the other loosely or tightly connected world that is my job. And so you need that for, it’s not just something that happens.

[00:32:35]

What is the, what is one of the secrets that drives the growth profitability or success of your company?

[00:32:42]

It’s funny. I just talked about this at our semi-annual meeting with the company. And it’s something that I’ve been doing for my entire career, but I just, I was reading, again, reading a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb who’s like an empirical skeptic. I’ve read three of his books. He’s fantastic. But he called it the Barbell Approach, which is you think, you picture a barbell where you have a weight on one side and a weight on the other. So again, the weight on one side represents the past. So what I do for me is I focus on two things. I focus on preventing catastrophic events that absolutely bring us down and really, really focusing on that. Whether it’s our data being corrupted, a hacking attack, a client who creates a study at a point where the platform’s in its infancy, and we haven’t established a brand yet. And it creates something that is, and they do, let’s say they do a poor job at creating it. And they call us out and say, “Hey, this platform sucks.” But we have to educate them on the way that it’s used. That’s a killer for us. So really preventing those catastrophes that bring you down on the one side. On the other side of the barbell are those opportunities that can absolutely make you and be your swan song. Building and architecture that is open has so many doors open to those once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like a client wants to come with you and they want to essentially up your-they want to up your production by 10,000 percent. Like a Facebook or a Google comes along to say, “We have this   opportunity, multi-million dollar opportunity, and, but we need to increase your productivity on this platform.” Making sure you have the doors open both in the code, in the architecture, and in your work flow processes to be amenable to those opportunities, absolutely huge. The things in the middle, again, you picture that barbell smaller as smaller the middle. Things in the middle, you do pay attention to, but you know that it’s not gonna make or break you if you those things sit on the shelf for a little bit. Things like routine enhancements to the platform, some fixes that are just inconveniences to people where of course you don’t want to have them. But in a world where money and resources are not unlimited, you need to focus on the things that protect against catastrophe or will in one opportunity just make you for life.

[00:35:31]

There was a lot there. I’m gonna talk briefly about this barbell metaphor. I would wrap that up in intentionality. When you think about any vacation, that the memory is always centric to the things that happen that were really bad or really good. And so all the other stuff where we spent 99% of our time, and the customer experience is exactly like that. And so it’s all about driving an intentional, driving your company in an intentional way, driving those consumer experiences in an intentional way, and driving those key partnerships, as you said, at a macro level. Whether you’re dealing with servicing a company like Google, you need to be very intentional so that you’re set up to succeed as the opportunities present themselves. Because those are the things that people remember, and those are the things that people take with them to the Yelp reviews or to their word of mouth among their family and friends.

[00:36:29]

Exactly right, totally.

[00:36:32]

So what is Sentient Prime offering right now that can add value to Insights Nation?

[00:36:36]

The entire industry is really focused, like I said, on non-conscious research, which is a great thing. And we’d like to think that we help raise that awareness of exactly what it is. Really what, how we can, how we differ from other non-conscious platforms, if I had to point out one thing, is that we can test every non-conscious, subconscious association that can’t be tested with other scalable techniques, such as iTracking and facial analysis in a scalable way too. I mean facial analysis, you can, they’re a great platform, and they provide data that our implicit method just does not provide. But when you’re looking at, say, facial analysis, you’re talking about maybe 15 to 17 different emotions that you can infer from the way that the face moves and the micro expressions. What were able to do as a platform is target any association, whether it’s sexy or a high quality or high tech or soft, we’re able to quantify the association that consumers have with any of those above and beyond the other techniques out there that are scalable.

[00:37:56]

My guest today has been Clint Taylor, senior VP and strategic technologist at Sentient Decision. Clint, thank you very, very much for being on the podcast today.

[00:38:05]

Thanks so much, Jamin. It’s great to be here.

[00:38:07]

And thank you everyone who has left ratings and reviews on Apple Podcast. A special thank you to Mom Brazil. Yes, that is my mom, who said, “We have a solid understanding of the marketing research space and bring key issues to the service so the industry can better meet the needs of brands.” I swear to God I did not write that. That was my mom. I can’t explain it, but there you go. We love hearing from you. Thank you everybody. Please feel free to share the podcast. If we’re adding value, comment back. We’d love to hear your reviews and ways that we can improve and better meet your needs. Have a great day. Bye.

Ep. 120 – Dyna Boen, President Marketing Research at Survata

Today, my guest is Dyna Boen, President of Market Research at Survata. Survata offers a technology platform that informs business decisions used by today’s top brands including GameStop, Clorox, Gartner, and Disney. Dyna is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in all aspects of the marketing research space.

FIND DYNA ONLINE:

https://www.survata.com/

Twitter: @DynaBoen1

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dynaboen/ Survata’s Data Quality

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]

Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Dyna Boen, President of Market Research Survata. Survata offers a technology platform that informs business decisions used by today’s top brands, including GameStop, Clorox, Gardner and Disney, my favorite brand of all time. Dyna is a serial entrepreneur who has worked in all aspects of the marketing research space. Dyna, thank you so much for joining me today on Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:00:30]

Thank you for having me, Jamin. I would say that I’m a Happy Market Researcher.

[00:00:34]

I love it.

[00:00:36]

So very smiley, happy market researcher. So I’m glad to be here.

[00:00:40]

We all are, we all are as long as we’re making a payroll. What we found is our audience is really interested about what Survata is doing today, what you specifically – how you are specifically fitting in. But what I’m really digging is the background of what got you here. So could you tell us a little bit about what it is that your parents do and how that’s informed what you’re doing today?

[00:01:05]

Yes, absolutely. Well, my dad was an auto broker and he was in the car industry. And so, he’s a very dynamic sales person. He’s your quintessential car guy and I grew up with him owning his own business. SO also an entrepreneur. And so what he did was he bought fleets of rental cars from Hawaii and then sold them as used cars all over the mainland. And so for me, I got to travel with him, which going on a business trip to Hawaii is like how I thought business was done growing up. I’m a little spoiled. I’m looking back and I’m like wow, that was really fortunate. But I would get to travel with my dad when I was on school breaks and sit on business dinners that he was having, and just a lot of it was observing the way he did business in the Pacific Rim and my mom was a teacher and an educator. So my parents were always very supportive of education.

[00:02:07]

The sales side of things that your dad had, that sounds like directly it fed into, obviously, your marketing background. Did he use TV, radio, et cetera or was he more network-based distribution?

[00:02:21]

He was more network-based distribution I would say. We’re very similar in that we’re very – just social animals, both of us are. We like to talk to people, we like to network, we like to build relationships. And that to me, whether it’s Survata or in the market research industry, that’s what I enjoy most. We all spend a lot of time at work. My daughter will sometimes call me a workaholic, but it’s because I love my job and I want that to be an example to her, that you can be a professional and love what you do, and it’s about the people that you spend your time with every day, and life is short and we spend a lot of time at work. So if you can surround yourself by wonderful people and partners, and colleagues that support you and support them, I think that’s pretty good life.

[00:03:12]

Yes, no more Mondays. So I was, I had a conversation with John Dumas, entrepreneur on Fire is like one of my aspirational podcasters. Got about a million listeners, million listeners, what I mean by that. He said, “Jamin, every day for me is Saturday.” That’s right, literally. I woke up this morning early, I couldn’t wait to get in the car, come down here, meet you face to face, have the conversation. It’s just like when you love what you do and you love the people that you do it with, it makes all the difference.

[00:03:39]

Yes, I agree. And, you know, Saturday is my most energetic day of the work week, which sounds really strange, but I go to the gym and I’m on the elliptical catching up on everything that didn’t happen during the week and it’s my catch up. So I tell my team, “Don’t feel compelled to respond. I’m getting back to you.”

[00:03:58]

Totally.

[00:03:58]

But I think it’s the time when I think most about social media posts and blog posts, and just I don’t know. I think it’s because you’ve got a little bit of space for yourself and my mind goes to business a lot of times in a fun way.

[00:04:11]

Do you think the Saturday mornings, I’m going to call it three hours, do you think that, it could be more, it could be less, but do you think three hours of work, that invest that? That has a bigger lever of what you get done during the week? Do you think that three hours actually equals a whole day?

[00:04:29]

Sometimes in terms of just quiet get things done work and thought time, absolutely. I also think that, my observation is – I’m not unusual in that regard, I actually think that certainly in the market research industry, a lot of executives use that time because you’re used to getting up early anyway. And so, you’re up and you’re family is still sleeping in or doing their thing and it kind of gives you that quiet time with your coffee that’s not your regular work day to do that. So it’s pretty, pretty common actually. And I’ll out Kristin Luck, but Kristin Luck and I sometimes will be late night on a Saturday or at Friday night and we’re like, “Look at us, emailing now.”

[00:05:13]

Winning.

[00:05:13]

Yes, no, you know. Not trying to set an example there at all, but you know those Friday nights you have on occasion. Hopefully, not every Friday night.

[00:05:23]

I do, I do. Kristin and I have had – she’s my work wife so to speak. I really always say that in the industry and we’re not two sides of the same coin. We’re literally the same side of the same coin. And so, yes, [CROSSTALK] those Friday nights.

[00:05:44]

Yes, work wife and work husbands, yes, I had several of those I think in my past.

[00:05:48]

Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Nursing, super interesting. How is the healthcare? So you were originally going into nursing?

[00:05:59]

So I started out going into nursing. I have to tell you, self admitted, I’m not the most nurturing person. If someone says a Band-Aid in my family, I’m like get it yourself.

[00:06:12]

I love it.

[00:06:12]

They are like, “But I’m bleeding.” I’m like, “Then stop it.”

[00:06:13]

Put the light pressure and get it yourself.

[00:06:18]

Yes, while I think of myself as a nurturing business mentor, maybe not so much on healthcare side. So I decided to pivot and go into business. But you asked about my parents earlier, I grew up with a dad that said “Hey, you should grow up to be a teacher or a nurse.” And that sounds a little bit old school, Archy Bunker I think.

[00:06:39]

A little.

[00:06:39]

But he wasn’t saying it because he was trying to restrict my choices as a woman. It was because he thought that that would be a successful path for me. But I didn’t want to be a teacher or a nurse. And so, I went into healthcare, but what I really loved was business. And what happened is when I transferred over to the business healthcare program, the business school at Oregon State was sponsored by Hewlett Packard and we had state of the art technology. Our technology was all of the newest stuff that the business world didn’t even had yet. So as a function of the time and space I was in, when I came out of school, I had technology skills that were beyond using the software and the hardware, beyond what was in the business world. And so, I took in that direction. I took healthcare and went into healthcare technology.

[00:07:36]

Interesting. I wonder how much of that – because you were able to see maybe a year or two, maybe even three or five in some cases, because I know especially in medical kind of education, it’s not like they are on the cutting edge of technology usually. They are usually using older stuff.

[00:07:56]

That’s right, yes.

[00:07:56]

So having that view, did it enable you to identify gaps in ways they could do better in using technology or more modern technology?

[00:08:07]

I think I hit the job force at a time where everything was still moving from, you know. In some cases I would be doing code into a green screen to put networks in place for hospitals and everything was moving to Windows interfaces. So, I was going in, replacing systems in hospitals with Windows interfaces and making it easier for people. But that was new to that world. It was something I’ve been doing for years in school. And so, I came out – at that time, I was a young woman, I choose technology. Nobody was really doing that. Most of the people I was working with were older IT guys, fantastic mentors by the way, but I was just very different in that. And here I am, fresh out of school, first person at the company I work for to get a laptop to use in the field. Like at that time, if you remember back, late ’90s, it was still computer consoles in businesses that everybody shared, printers that everybody shared. So today I think about Google, Women In Coding and its thing now to be a female engineer in Silicon Valley. And I’m not an engineer, but there’s so much more for women in terms of supporting them in technology today and at the time, I was just trying to figure it out because it would just happened to be something I’m interested in.

[00:09:38]

And I think everybody in those days, those super early days were just trying to figure it out. There was – the application of technology reflect on the ’90s and 2000s, and really the last decade that we’re getting ready to close soon, it feels like it’s very unstructured and then all of the sudden, I want to say in ’99, you know, X, triple XML formats came out for market research, data structures, that actually informed us in the industry of how single selected, multi selected question should be coded digitally. And so you see this structure that keeps getting narrower and narrower, which is one of the reasons why, I know that you’re involved in Wire, Kristin Luck’s organization, God, this is turning into podcast about Kristin Luck, it’s so important, is because as I think things are getting narrower and narrower, we need to make sure we’re more and more inclusive as we continually see in the data. The more diverse the teams are, the higher probability of success and the greater the outcomes. So, to shift gears a little bit. If you were young professional wanting to get a job in Survata or another insights based organization, whether it’s a brand or agency side, what are some of the steps in order to secure your job?

[00:10:54]

Well, it’s kind of interesting I think because I just did get a new job. Survata is very real. It’s real for me and it’s real for young people. I think I’ve done three interviews for young people for Survata coming out of school. And so, I would say for any of us looking for a job, people always say networking, but networking is really important and fostering relationships. As it relates to young people coming out from school, number one for me is attitude, just a good attitude. You can bring somebody with a good attitude in the room and it lifts everyone in the room up. And if you have somebody that has not so good attitude that brings everyone in the room down. And I like things to be up, I like upbeat. We have hard days, but attitude is how you get through those hard days. So attitude is by far number one. Number two is willingness to get there and roll up your sleeves, and be part of the solution. And so, stylistically as a leader, I’m roll up your sleeves leader. I’m player, coach operator because that’s what I’d like to do. I like to get there and be part of the team, and co-sales and work together and do things together. So, I look for team members that come on board to Survata that want to be part of that. I want to say the thing that is fingernails on a chalkboard to me when I’m talking to candidates or even people young in my career is, “Well, that wasn’t in my job description.” And when I hear that, I’m like oh, my Gosh. I don’t know if that’s going to work because I think back of the job description I had at Market Tools when it was a startup, and it was like it wasn’t in my job description. I came on board to be implementation manager, I moved out to General Mills to run a remote team, I was kind of a client service person at that point/implementation manager that went on to lead sales, that went on to start the central region for Market Tools and all of those things build my career in market research and none of those things were in my job description, none of them, not one. And so, I – you know, the thing too that I would say is some day it’s your job to be a C-level executive and other days it’s your job to just take out the garbage. If you’re entrepreneur, you’re the janitor and the CEO, and everything in between. And so it’s really about not to feel entitled. I just spot that degree so I don’t do that. We all do that, whatever that is, to get through the day to work together, to have a team culture. And so, I would say that that for me, it’s the attitude that it’s just willingness to jump in and I love people that make mistakes of action. It’s the inaction, when you do nothing, something clearly had to be done, but you did nothing. If you did something and the client or your team member sees that you’re trying. You might not be perfect, you might not be all the way there yet, but you’re trying. Anybody that I see that’s trying, that’s rolling up their sleeves and getting there is somebody who I want on my team.

[00:14:18]

So much to talk about.

[00:14:18]

A lot there.

[00:14:20]

I want to hone on two things, attitude, attitude, attitude. You’ve got to bring it to the table. Like if you’re the kind of personality where when you come in you’re looking at receiving, it’s going to be tough. But when you enter into conversation and you show up to work Monday morning even if you were out Sunday night, you need to expect you’re giving your energy to the room. That is huge, the impact. And one thing I really want to hone in is as you went through the – I would call it the accidental job promotions at Marketing Tools, and that would be nothing to –

[00:15:02]

It’s absolutely true. Yes.

[00:15:04]

Not only did you not say, “My job description has not changed or that.” And I’m hypothesizing here. So please if I’m wrong, correct me. It would be a normal course in the show, you probably did not say, “Hey, I need to be paid more money.”

[00:15:22]

I was, you know, I even talked to some folks on my team about that recently. It’s interesting conversation, the conversation of title and the conversation of money, because they are just practical realities, they are just practical realities of your cost of living, of paying the bills and things, they are practical realities of how people view you inside and outside the industry, you know, it’s just our culture. But most of the jobs I’ve done, I was already doing the job before I got the title and before I got the raise, and before I got the commission check, and whatever. It was like, “Yes, I deserve that.” But the things to get to that point were already happening. And I think as a young person coming out of school, that’s just misnomer that all of us as leaders need to mentor people on, which is hey, it’s not like you get the promotion and then you level up your game. When I get the promotion, now I’m going to act more like an executive or now I’m going to act more like a manager. No, no, no. You’re doing these things already and when somebody sees that in you, you’re like yes, I want that person to be in charge and I want them to have the title and have the appropriate salary, and you’re happy to give it to them because you’re like, “You deserve it,” and you’re rooting for them.

[00:16:44]

100%.

[00:16:44]

And with Wire or even with any of my mentees, whether they are through Wire or not through Wire, or people from my team, you can start to see the signs of people that you know are on the C track. You can just see that and be like I’m betting on that person, I’m betting on them and I’m betting on them too. It’s fun. And I would say, I know I’d mentioned Wire, but I’d say that’s true of women and men and that’s really important for me to call out, is I’m an equal opportunity mentor and I’ve mentored both men and women throughout my career, and it’s true for both of them, attitude and doing the job before you get the title.

[00:17:29]

So you talked a lot about the values you have with the characteristics. Do you look at LinkedIn? Is the resume important?

[00:17:36]

I feel like I should say yes, but no, it’s not. I’m an in person person.

[00:17:44]

Totally. Let me back up. How do they get the interview? Like are you interviewing everybody that applies?

[00:17:49]

Actually, at Survata the people that are interviewing right now, my managers are putting them forward.

[00:17:58]

So they’ve already done some of that work.

[00:17:58]

They’ve already done some of the work. So I would say on the LinkedIn comment, yes, LinkedIn is important to me. I think being mindful of your public persona is important at this day and age. I call it public is the new private. If you don’t have a picture of yourself on LinkedIn, what’s wrong with you? They are shady. Why don’t they have a photo? You have more people, more privacy when people see that who that person is. There’s a little bit of that. But I think it’s important too, we’re in market research, it’s a function of marketing and the person and the thing you should care about in marketing the most is yourself when you’re looking for a job especially. So at Survata, something that we’re working on, and I won’t go into too much detail on this because it will be a little bit of our secret sauce, but we’re working on social selling strategy. And so, you’ll see more of that over the coming months, but you guys know me, that I like to social sell and it’s part to connecting to people beyond San Francisco and across the world. But also for my team of young people that are new to their careers or to anyone who’s in their careers, is how do we lift each other up. And it’s about hey, it’s your turn to write your blog post this month and it’s about creating thought leadership, it’s about using our networks to raise each other up. So, LinkedIn is important and people on my team have been cleaning up their LinkedIns and their Twitter, because they know this thing is coming.

[00:19:42]

That’s good.

[00:19:42]

So yes, LinkedIn is an important part of looking for a job and that right out of school you should be – we had an intern this summer from Duke University and her LinkedIn, I would have loved to have that LinkedIn coming out of college, but his last day at Survata, I was like, “The number one thing you need to do today is send every person in this company a recommendation request to write you a recommendation because you’re going to come out of Duke with an internship at a Silicon Valley startup with these people that have loved all the great things you did for us this summer.” If you’re at school and you’re doing internships, start building that up, you know.

[00:20:19]

I love that. That’s so important. Because I’m old, you’re not, but I’m old.

[00:20:25]

Thank you. That’s generous of you.

[00:20:27]

So, after 20 years working in this industry after leaving Focus Vision as a CEO in September last year and kind of stepping into this I didn’t know exactly what, I’m like I know the CEO of that company and the CMO of this company, and so on and so forth, the CPO, and so on and so forth. I’m like that’s so weird because I remember when we were bootstrapping 18 years ago, you know, they were project managers and partners. You know what I mean?

[00:20:59]

Yes, I do.

[00:21:01]

And then as time progresses, those relationships that you’re building when you’re literally on the trenches on Christmas Eve trying to solve the problem, that pays forward. It’s like compounding interest on steroids, right?

[00:21:16]

Yes, I believe that. I call it – I talk a lot about the Market Tools mafia because –

[00:21:23]

Yes, this is great. [CROSSTALK] I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. This is a great point.

[00:21:28]

I talk a lot of mafias in general in a good way. So, the Market Tools mafia, and everybody that’s listening that worked with me at Market Tools knows this is near and dear to my heart. And that team of people, we’ve built – I was there for 12 years. So we’ve built I think all of the best leaders that I know in the industry that went on to different things were at that company at one point in time. And so, as I think about that, there’s a strong network of people that supports each other, that recommends each other, has networks. I’m having lunch tomorrow that was Market Tools mafia at all the different companies sample technology research. And so, it’s about going through the trenches with somebody and you see this with any business. When you’re building something together, you become family and you have good times and bad times, but whatever they are, they all make you stronger and connect to you. We do that as people. That’s why I think people in the military are so tight. You see that. So you see that in the military, you see that in work environments when people are starting companies. But there’s other mafias out there. There’s the Decipher mafia out there, there’s GreenField mafia, there’s the Research Now mafia. You think about all of these companies that were build as market research emerged and I get to watch all these people that went on to build their own companies. We are sort of managers or directors, or you know, tier two executives that have all said, “Hey, I want to go out and build something, and take a shot at it.” No matter what that outcomes looks like, you’re rooting for that person that’s just gone out there and taken a shot at it. I’ve kind of digressed.

[00:23:13]

I love that.

[00:23:13]

But that network is also a LinkedIn network.

[00:23:16]

And it starts on day one as you walk into the room, which is why it’s so important people get energy and not take it, because how you behave when you’re 23 and 24, and getting paid is how you’re going to be perceived 20 years later.

[00:23:35]

And Survata team is that energy right now.

[00:23:35]

You get it when you walk in.

[00:23:38]

So we’re in the middle of a build. There was a team early on that was just rock and rolled through series A. And then I get to come on board at this really exciting time when it’s just closing series B and help grow the business at that time. And so, we’re in the middle of another one of those things, I just love that feeling, and I look at everyone at that team and I remember when I was at that level at Market Tools and it was pre-married, pre-babies, pre-you know, manager director titles, C-level title, all of that and we were all entrepreneurs, and I look at this team and I’m like this is so exciting. You don’t even know what you’re in for. Like fasten your seat belts.

[00:24:22]

And that’s the best part of age. We were talking, probably the best skill that I have is pattern recognition, you know. So it’s great. And then what’s going to happen, because you know that there’s these floodgates of cashing. And I was around at the ’90s, I lived through the “.com” crash with my company. That is going to happen again at some point, that is going to happen and we’re going to react. It’s totally different, right? You don’t have to go through it the first time.

[00:24:52]

Yes, it’s interesting. I was reflecting on the first.com bust and the Market Tools because I think one of the questions you guys have sent me was about Survey Monkey, right?

[00:25:05]

Yes.

[00:25:05]

And so, I think back to all – Survey Monkey and what happened between Market Tools and Survey Monkey. It’s like Harvard Business Review case. Some of it is just classic stuff, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s really hard to see the forest through the trees.

[00:25:20]

You can’t.

[00:25:22]

And so, Market Tools, we were the first online survey platform and that was Zoomerang, DIY, won lots of awards for that in the years 2000.

[00:25:31]

Zoomerang, closed if I remember correctly, around ’99. Gosh, over $20 million in funding I think. It was a big, big round in those days.

[00:25:43]

In those days, right?

[00:25:43]

Yes, absolutely.

[00:25:43]

It was the high flying days and –

[00:25:46]

And definitely, the dominant – just because of the audience because maybe they don’t know, but they were the dominant force in the DIY survey platform.

[00:25:52]

That’s right.

[00:25:54]

They were the [CROSSTALK]

[00:25:57]

Yes, and my job actually, when I came on board, similar timing actually of coming on board at Survata, at that time I came out as an implementation manager because of the network experience. And so, I was the implementation manager for Ztelligence, which was the enterprise platform. There were no DIY consumer platforms [INAUDIBLE] and there were no enterprise platforms. And I think ConfimIt was starting around the same time. And actually, we saw ConfirmIt as more of a direct competitor to us at that time than Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey didn’t even get started until 2004.

[00:26:32]

That’s right.

[00:26:34]

I was four years into moving from San Francisco to Minneapolis to take on running the General Mills account and they started at Wisconsin above a record store. Today we think of them as Palo Alto, Silicon Valley and all that it is now, but they were not a treat at all. It was a classic you don’t think they are a treat until it’s too late. And so that was 2004 and we thought they were going to go under. They didn’t really get going until 2006 and get momentum. And so, by the time we realized they were a treat, they had too much momentum already. Unstoppable momentum. And so, we actually focused on building capabilities they didn’t have. So as opposed to just this race to be the same, we focused on what are the key things that could be different and in the end, those were the things that Survey Monkey actually ended up acquiring and also just the service base and everything else.

[00:27:31]

Yes, panel asset.

[00:27:32]

The zoom panel that we built, yes, we’ve built the zoom panel originally at General Mills. Then that went on to be our big consumer panel asset.

[00:27:42]

Such an interesting story. They had – I think one of the first things that stood out to me is when they first entered in 2004, it felt very copycat and then, no offense Survey Monkey people because I love them very much now, but at that point, I was like really. It felt like the same thing But then, like you said, about two years later, it felt like their marketing, I don’t know if they had funding or what happened, but it felt like –

[00:28:09]

Dave came on board and yes, he came on board and yes, I think it was a game changer for them at that point. And they focused on DIY, they focused on the long tail. We were, at Market Tools, we – so we pivoted to survive the.com boom and that’s what happened. That’s what changed things. We had to do that to survive. And so, should we have focused more on Zoomerang, maybe. But would have been around to talk about it, don’t know. So we pivoted into the panel, we’ve pivoted into full service research. We focused on big brands and enterprises, and they focused on that long focus of DIY.

[00:28:49]

That’s all they cared about.

[00:28:51]

So, you know, at the end that was what ended up driving the evaluation of the sale of Zoomerang too to Survey Monkey.

[00:29:00]

And congratulations to Survey Monkey because as you know, they recently filed their C1.

[00:29:03]

Yes, I’ve heard that.

[00:29:06]

So it’s kind of a big deal, big deal. I’m just watching them right now just to see what’s going to wind up with the evaluations. I’m excited for them. They are going to do well. So let’s shift gears. Survata right now, congratulations, series B. It’s a really, really big deal. What’s Survata doing that’s got you most excited and it’s getting purchased amongst your customers?

[00:29:30]

Survata us so exciting to me because I think I was so in the mobile kind of blinders on that it was all I was thinking about and when that wrapped up and when that chapter closed, I started looking around, realizing, really observing what was happening in the industry and thinking mobile is an important part to a research business, but it’s one piece. Online is one piece, mobile is one piece, they are component part to a much larger thing that’s going on with data collection and reaching the consumer. So as I look at Survata’s assets is our publisher network. So, Survata has two business lines, the marketing research part, which I’m responsible for, and the ad measurement business line. And thinking about how market research can apply ad measurement types of functionality and capabilities of market research is very exciting to me. So I’ll use an example of True Sample. If we think about True Sample, when we created that company, we weren’t inventing validating who people were. We were just inventing it in the market research industry. So the team looked towards the credits in the industry. It was a team who built True Sample. So my colleagues that were part of that. It was like how do people validate credit scores today and how do we take that concept and apply it to validating surveys as real and unique. So, that was take from one industry, apply to another and have new applications of how you can use. So as I think of Survata and market research, ad measurement, Survata started with market research and we have a strong – we have a survey platform. It’s really cool one. It’s Device Agnostic.

[00:31:20]

Nice.

[00:31:21]

And it’s easy to use, very simple. But the secret sauce to that is it plugs into our publisher network. And that is for all intensive purposes, our intensive source. It’s an audience. It’s not a panel, but it’s access to publisher samples to what I call net two sample. So part of the challenge with panels is [INAUDIBLE] different. I love panels and they have a purpose, and we use panels on part of our business. But they are a lot of times you’re talking to the same people that have been part of a panel for a long time. The people that we access through our publisher networks are not on panels. The way that we incentive people is we unlock content. So they don’t get points, they don’t get gift cards or rewards. So we unlock Wi-Fi, we unlock Wall Street Journal articles. And so, when you’re on LinkedIn and you click on article, and it wants you to subscribe, and you think I don’t want to pull up my credit card right now, not going to read it or answer six questions, answer 10 questions, get it for free, I’ll do that. And so, while we may not be part of a panel, we might be willing to do that to get access to that service or that article, that app game, whatever it is. And so, we have a unique way of reaching audience and we have massive scale in the way that we can do that across the web. And so, our respondents are not your typical panel respondents, but we’ve got a lot of them, we’ve got them across all devices and we’ve got national rep sample going out the door. We don’t have to wait to balance it. You just go. So our survey platform is connected to survey wall and when people do surveys with us, they go up to the publisher network and you can do that in a DIY capacity. You can go to our platform, you can set up your survey, you can launch that survey and it gets send out to the publisher network and then you get your results.

[00:33:21]

Very unique. You know, in terms of how you accessing the completes, the user on the platform that’s very powerful. You obviously define the sample frame after you – or at some point during the project creation.

[00:33:35]

Right upfront, yes. You just click, age, gender, you set your parameters and then you just say how many people do I want. Do I want 100, do I want 500 and then drag, drop, setup your survey and boom, launch.

[00:33:48]

So, the unique selling proposition is really centric to the quality sample they are able to use on the Survata platform?

[00:33:56]

That’s right. We’ve done some research on research comparisons between traditional online panels and our publisher network. And the thing you don’t see on the publisher network is fraud because there’s no incentive. So you don’t see duplicate survey takers, you don’t see people lying and biasing the data to get through screener because you can’t stop pile free Wi-Fi. You can’t exchange free Wi-Fi for cash or gift cards. And so, there’s no incentive. It’s hard to do because of the way we deliver the surveys to begin with, but then on top of that, there’s no incentive to lie through the screeners because you’re not trying to game it in any way.

[00:34:41]

Super interesting. I’d love to see that white paper. Maybe we can put that in the show notes.

[00:34:44]

Absolutely, yes. I can share some information with you on that.

[00:34:48]

That would be great. My guest today has been Dyna with Survata. Dyna, thank you so much for joining me today.

[00:34:55]

Thank you.

Ep. 119 – Kristi Zuhlke, CEO of KnowledgeHound

Today, my guest is Kristi Zuhlke, CEO & founder of KnowledgeHound. KnowledgeHound is a search driven analytics platform that enables anyone to find answers and tell stories with their customer survey data.

Prior to KnowledgeHound, Kristi worked on the Tampax and Always brands at Procter and Gamble, as well as developed retail strategy.

FIND KRISTI ONLINE:

Twitter: @zulk10

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristizuhlke/ https://www.knowledgehound.com/

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]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Kristi Zuhlke, CEO and founder of KnowledgeHound. KnowledgeHound is a search-driven analytics platform that enables users to find answers and tell stories with their customer survey data. Prior to KnowledgeHound, Kristi worked on the Tampax and Always brands at Procter & Gamble, as well as developed the retail strategy. Kristi, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[00:00:29]

Thanks. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.

[00:00:31]

I like jumping right into – it’s hard for me to postpone the getting to KnowledgeHound piece, but our audience has found it particularly interesting learning about the backgrounds of our guests, and then ultimately what wound up leading them into their current careers.

[00:00:46]

No problem.

[00:00:48]

Would you tell us a little bit about your parents, what they do and how that informed what you’re doing today?

[00:00:54]

Sure. So my mother was a part time nurse and full time mother growing up. And at one point she even though retired from nursing and started her own retail, online retail store. It was interesting. She – it was right during the dot-com boom. And so she was always a very cold person, and so she always wanted hats and scarves and mittens. So she created an online retailer that sold warm clothing to women. And of course when that bust happened, that didn’t work out, but very entrepreneurial journey for her, and I watched her go through that. And then my father, he grew up on a farm, which is probably one of the most entrepreneurial things you can do. And he really wanted to be a farmer, but his parents said, hey, you know what, we’re really poor, and we do not want you to be poor as well, so don’t be a farmer. So he instead went and started working for a utility company in Wisconsin, and worked his way up from picking rocks in the field to being the executive that ran their wind energy business, so very entrepreneurial in thinking as well.

[00:02:13]

God, I love that story about both of your parents. As you know, I went through that whole dot-com phase. Started – Jamie [ph] and I started Decipher along with Evan Andreas [ph] in 2000, and then lost 93% of our business in a three hour period during that dot-com bust. So it was a little bit white knuckle ride there for a year. So I respect tremendously what your parents went through. Your dad is super interesting. So coming from humble beginnings, hard work, sounds like it was part of your culture, core values.

[00:02:43]

Yes, absolutely. We always were taught hard work. Also, my dad still owns the farm that he grew up on, and so we still go up to Wisconsin and plant trees and do all kinds of work on the farm as well.

[00:03:01]

How big is the farm?

[00:03:02]

So it’s over 400 acres of land, and it – we don’t have any animals on it now. We mostly grow trees and make it a place that deer and turkeys and all these things that we want to hunt will come and live, so that we can live off that land.

[00:03:20]

I am an avid – my father’s from Arkansas, and so we’ll go back once every other year or so and do a bow hunt.

[00:03:26]

Oh, yeah.

[00:03:28]

And I’ve tried wild turkey a few times. Unfortunately, always come up with a big zero on that one. But –

[00:03:36]

Because it’s not easy, not easy.

[00:03:39]

No it’s not, and it’s certainly not in my natural skill either, unfortunately. I wish it was. It’s a fun process though, the whole camouflage part of it, and the –

[00:03:53]

Oh yeah, calling them in, and any – it’s definitely a good way to get back to our roots as humans, in my opinion. It’s a – you really have to know the land. You have to think like an animal. You have to think about what they love to eat, and how you can sit near something that they would love to eat. It really kind of puts you in touch with nature, and goes – kind of goes back to our roots and how we used to think as humans thousands of years ago.

[00:04:18]

Such an important point, an opportunity for people to connect with nature. And if hunting isn’t the thing, I think about fishing frequently. Fly fishing, you don’t actually have to use a fly rod for it, but you can use flies, and as – you need to pay attention to what things, what insects are hatching at that particular point in time in that particular location so that you can make sure you have the right flies that are in line with where nature is at that point. And then – so it’s a – I love that educational component, and really connecting, as you said, with what’s going on around us.

[00:04:57]

Agreed.

[00:04:59]

Felix [ph] – it’s a company you started at Xavier about – and you ran it for, gosh, seven years? Is that right?

[00:05:06]

So I actually ran it – so the way that it worked was, it was – so it was a movie rental store, which makes me feel really old. There was a gap – I noticed – I realized there was a gap on our campus for people to have a way to rent movies, and so I went out and created a movie rental store. It was called FliX [ph] with a capital X, because obviously, Xavier and Flix, whatever. Anyway, so I went and got a loan from the student government, and they gave me a very low interest rate on the loan, and started the first student run and owned business on the campus. And then the idea with that, we would get interns, and “we” meaning myself, and there were two other guys who worked with me. And we would get ourselves interns, and then we would prep them and groom them to then own the store, so we would pass it on to generations after us. And then it was also set up as a nonprofit, so that when we did have profits, they would go back to the scholarship fund for the university.

[00:06:15]

So key lessons there, when you think about the transference of knowledge from – you said generation, right? It’s that class cohort.

[00:06:24]

Right.

[00:06:25]

There’s a lot of learning involved in what’s in – what that means. How do you actually do that?

[00:06:30]

Oh, I had no idea what I was doing in general, so that was – there was so much learning from both the legal side, and I [INAUDIBLE] up to, how do you do that? How do you manage people, and how do you give them so much responsibility that they want to take over something after your time at the university is over?

[00:06:52]

I wish that universities did a better job of – across the board of creating that entrepreneurial opportunity at an earlier stage in people’s careers, maybe even at the high school level. I feel like the lessons that we learn when it’s our vision are so much greater than when we just plug into the workforce post-graduation. It allows us to see really the whole thing, and then also learn how we can fill the gaps ourselves.

[00:07:24]

Oh, absolutely. And I think that the hard part is, when you learn by owning something or leading something, it’s some – it can be very painful. And so I think academia can sometimes protect us from the pain, which is great because as humans, we’re naturally wanting to avoid painful circumstances. But at the same time, we won’t learn as much. So it’s maybe an easier route to go, but it’s certainly not the way at least that I learn the most.

[00:07:58]

So on the subject of being a student – and then post-graduation, of course everyone’s looking for a job, they want to put that knowledge to work – if you were a recent graduate or someone interested in entering into the insights arena from a career perspective, what advice would you give them in terms of how they can get a job?

[00:08:16]

So I found my job at Procter & Gamble, and the way that I found it was through my network. And so when I was at Xavier, I – because I started FliX, I sat at on the board of entrepreneurship for the university representing the student body. And there was a woman who also sat on the board of entrepreneurship at Xavier who was a director of insights at P&G. And she – that’s how we met; she was on the board representing entrepreneurship. And so she was like, what are you going to do when you graduate? I was like, I’m not really sure yet. She’s like, why don’t you come to P&G and we’ll teach you how to grow a billion dollar brand and how to be a leader, and then someday you can go start your own business again? And I was like, that sounds like a great idea. So it was really through my network that I found a job in marketing and insights, but I – the reason why P&G hired me was because of my leadership. So they really looked at – and they hire – so P&G is unique in that they don’t necessarily look at what degree you have. They hire a lot of people who have Spanish degrees or English degrees, history, political science. It’s very interesting. But what they look at most is what leadership positions you had. Did you start a company? Did you – were you a leader in a club? Were you leading a movement on your campus? What are those – can you be a leader? And they – their philosophy is, they can teach you the skills that you need to know. They will – that – they’re just looking for someone who’s ambitious and a leader. Now, I don’t think that’s most cases for most companies, so I think really it’s about networking with people early on in this field that you want to be in, and figuring out what it takes to get hired at their organization, what skill sets are they looking for. But I would bet that most of them would say leadership is key. So think about how many things can you be involved in and take a leadership role in as well.

[00:10:36]

Insight nation, this point that Kristi just made is huge. Two things stand out. One is the importance of developing your personal network. You can do that best in person where you are among your classmates and among your professors. The quote that comes to my mind is what Yoda said: Do or do not, there is no try. And it’s all about starting. You want to start – if you’re going to be a researcher or aspire to be a researcher, do research projects. It doesn’t even matter what they’re on; you can go to a small – local small business. It could be the bookstore on campus. Do a customer satisfaction, or intercept at the doors where you talk to people – how was your experience? What could the bookstore do better? Put that on your resume. It is a big differentiator from the people that have just spent time in the classrooms and focusing on grades.

[00:11:35]

I totally agree.

[00:11:38]

So what are the three characteristics of an all-star employee? And I’d like you to reflect on that in terms of both in the corporate environment, but then also as a startup.

[00:11:52]

So I think the number one thing of the employees that I am just over the moon about at KnowledgeHound, and with a consistent quality at P&G when I worked there, was that when you give them a problem to solve, they not only solve the problem, but they came back with two more additional solutions. So it was kind of like when you give someone one thing and they give you back three. And it’s this way that people see a bigger picture. They don’t just execute; they go above and beyond. So I think that is the number one thing that you can do to be the most productive employee for a company. I think the number two thing is really about being passionate about what you’re doing, and that means learning in the office and outside the office. So what are you doing in the evenings? You’re networking, reading a book. There’s extroverts – get a lot out of networking and learn a lot that way. Introverts get a lot out of reading. So whatever matches your style – you – it doesn’t mean you have to go to all these networking events. You can match it to your personal style. And then the third thing I would say is that really, it’s being proactive. So even when I don’t present you a problem and say, hey, come back and give me something, it’s being proactive and saying, hey, there’s actually a problem over here and I’m going to go solve it, and here’s the solution. I love that. That is the best thing an employee can do, is say, I see an opportunity, and let me go fix it.

[00:13:36]

Lifelong learner – I love that point. Recently I hired three staff; the people that I wound up hiring were – for example, we have a vlogger. It was – she actually had an active vlog on YouTube, was working on [INAUDIBLE sounds like: SEO], paying attention to how – the content that she was going to provide, how it related to current events to ultimately drive her viewership, her subscribers, level of engagement. All that activity, she was doing before she started working for me, so I knew she had a body of knowledge that she could transfer. But the thing that excited me the most about her was she had the capacity to figure out how to get stuff done. And that’s one of the reasons that I encourage all my employees, if they want to have side hustles or whatever, that – go ahead and pursue those things, because it’ll only make you a better employee and provide more value along the whole value chain. I think a lot of times people, especially right out of school, get locked into, this is my part of the process. But as you said, the people that are really valuable, they extend up and down that process chain so that the more comprehensive view they take, ultimately the better value they’ll add, because they’re identifying areas of inefficiency, etc.

[00:15:01]

Absolutely.

[00:15:04]

So while you were at Procter & Gamble, I’m really curious, how does Procter & Gamble process, use insights to make business decisions?

[00:15:12]

Well, what do you mean by process and use? I guess that’s – there’s –

[00:15:17]

Where’s the inception point of, we need to do a research project now?

[00:15:20]

Oh. Well, so everything is led by a business problem. So – and this isn’t exactly how it works, but let’s say in a bubble, you start at the beginning of your fiscal year, and you go, what are all – what are the key things that we need to achieve this year? We need to grow share on – I’m making this up, but we need to grow share on Tide. So we know that’s the big broad question. We do some analysis on – some internal analysis on what core consumers we want to focus on. We probably have a segmentation that we use, and so we know that we have a huge share opportunity with a specific type of consumer. And so that’s where everything stems from at that point. Then we go through, here’s all of our hypotheses; now let’s go bust those. And we make a list of all the research that we need to do in order to achieve those objectives. And what I loved about P&G is they really taught me how to think about research that delivers an ROI back to the business. I think there’s oftentimes – now in the position I’m in at KnowledgeHound, I see a lot of insights functions where they don’t do a great job at explaining to the organization the ROI that they’re delivering. And I – and P&G would even say that they’re not – they have opportunity area here as well. But it’s – the key here is that, how do you make sure that you’re not viewed as a cost on the P&L, but rather a revenue driver? And the way to do that is to deliver research that drives – has a direct link to driving revenue. And what P&G did that was a really good practice I thought was, whenever they would do a study, there was always success criteria afterwards. And that success criteria – and before, we – when we were setting up the research, that success criteria was aligned to, decided upon, and everyone [INAUDIBLE] like, that means success for this. And that success criteria would be based on how it was going to drive revenue. And I think that’s really important to understand as an insight person, is that you’re not there to drive insights. You’re there to drive revenue, and your way of doing that is through insight. But at the end of the day, the business cares about revenue, and I don’t think I ever grasped that when I was at P&G. I think the first time I really got that was when I became a CEO of a company.

[00:18:01]

Oh my gosh. Probably my favorite quote I’ve heard so far interviewing everybody.

[00:18:10]

What?

[00:18:11]

I love that. Listen, it’s not my job to deliver insights; it’s my job to deliver revenue. That puts such a profound focus on how I spend my time and what I need to deliver to the organization that moves the organization’s revenue numbers. It’s all about that.

[00:18:31]

That’s right. And I think especially when we get inside these large companies, the revenue, it becomes a magical number. It’s just like a number that shows up. Your salary shows up in your checking account magically, and you forget how that got there, and you forget that, oh, I actually needed to sell X many number of [INAUDIBLE] at Walmart to make that happen. But because you just start in a large organization and the money shows up automatically in your checking account, you forget that you’re actually directly linked to that. And until you really start your own business, or at least until I started my own business, did I realize, oh, every single thing I do on a daily basis is reflected in what happens with my checking account at the end of the month.

[00:19:21]

It’s huge. It’s a huge point; it’s on point. Thank you for that. So when you think about the impact of an ROI view on insights, do you think that’s part of what’s fueling the shift [INAUDIBLE sounds like: and spin] in our industry with a transition away from these long, large trackers, and more towards nimble, ad hoc based work?

[00:19:45]

Absolutely. I think there is – I think the pressure is becoming great – I think two things are happening. One is, the pressure is getting greater on companies to move faster. And so it’s like, we need to drive revenue faster, so how do we make decisions faster? And so what that is resulting in is that they’re either going – they’re just either going to make their decision without the insights, or when the insight’s conveniently there, they’ll make it with it. And so we are being forced in the insight function to go fast. The [INAUDIBLE] happening is that millennials are growing up inside these organizations, and millennials are used to getting things instantly. They have – they’ve all grown up with Google; they’ve all grown up with an iPhone. They’ve all – everything is instant gratification, and so they have no patience for the long cycle of going, here’s my business question, now let’s wait four weeks until we get the answer. That’s unacceptable to a millennial, and they will get scrappy and figure out how to get that answer, regardless if it comes from insights or not. And so as the insight function, we absolutely need to adopt these new technologies and embrace these new technologies so that we can be agile and make sure we stay relevant, because we will become obsolete in my opinion if we don’t – if we aren’t agile enough.

[00:21:13]

The shift in the generational focus to scrappiness, as you say, is on point also. I see that a lot with young researchers who haven’t been steeped in my two decades of, well, this is how a survey question needs to be asked; these are the three questions that always have to be at the beginning of my screening criteria. The fact that they’re starting with a speed to insight mentality is really driving significant behavior shifts in our space, and I think for the better, to be honest.

[00:21:50]

I agree. I think also there’s – a shift that’s also happening is, it’s good enough, versus, the data have to be absolutely perfect and pure. And that’s a really hard shift for many of our friends who have been in the – who are the purest market researchers who’ve been in the industry for 20-plus years. And there is unfortunately – with moving fast, there is a bit of a compromise. And so we, as insight professionals, need to get better at triangulating three different data points that may not be perfect, but being – saying, this is good enough to make – and the risk is this low that we can just go forward. And that’s a different mentality than what we’ve had in the past.

[00:22:44]

It’s interesting. I love this point. The – having started my career doing in – mall intercepts, doing telephone based surveys, I am – there’s probably not a lot of people that know how dirty the data really is, or was, I should say, in those golden years. But I take your point entirely and agree with it. So you’re at Procter & Gamble; obviously you recognize there’s an opportunity. What was that opportunity, that white space, to propel KnowledgeHound?

[00:23:20]

So I think it’s actually very similar to what we have been talking about, which is agility. So the story that I tell often is that I was in a meeting; our GM of male grooming at the time, Chip, turned to me and he’s like, Kristi, what percent of men shave in the shower? And I was like, I’m sure we know that. And I was actually thinking in my head about the banner tables that we get back from our suppliers, and I’m like, I’m sure it’s on tab 200-and-something on some banner table somewhere. And –

[00:23:52]

It’s 55% though I think. I just saw it on the Web site. Sorry, go ahead.

[00:24:00]

And in – so that’s where the genesis of KnowledgeHound came from, which I was like, hey, this is silly that I can’t just have a Google-like experience with my data. And so I set out to create the Google of market research data. Now, that’s ebbed and flowed throughout the past five years. That’s exactly what we are, and the market’s taken us one direction, and now we’re coming back to another. But it’s been really interesting in solving this problem for the insights world, because it was one that was felt and is still being felt today, and by many, many insights functions.

[00:24:43]

So the tension being, there’s this vast amount of data that exists inside of people’s inboxes at large corporations, and even inside of research management tools. But being able to find that data in an easy way is very, very difficult, and then being able to incorporate that in a broader view is difficult. How has the market created a pivot for you?

[00:25:15]

So it was interesting. When we started the company, the – we – I was like, here’s this amazing tool where you can search any data that you want. And they said, oh, this is great, but you know what, I just need to search my PowerPoints and my Word documents first; I can’t even get that done. And I wasn’t really excited about doing that piece, and – but in order to close deals, that’s what we needed to do. So we really kind of – the market brought us back, in my opinion brought us back, to square one, which was, hey, you’re at the one phase; we’re at the crawl phase, so come back and help us index our PowerPoints, and then we’ll get to the data later. And so we spent a couple years trying to go back a bit, and now we’re back on, now let’s think about data. And finally the market’s catching up with us on this whole data piece.

[00:26:15]

Because the structure of the data is the issue, right?

[00:26:17]

Right.

[00:26:19]

How do you identify and pull out survey based data, which all has – wrapped up in meta, so you understand this is a multi or single or open end or whatever data structure. But how do you make sense of that and then make sure that it matches other stuff? So if it’s a gender or age question, it’s a little bit easier mapping that across other projects. Is – has the problem been the metadata issue inside of the different survey platforms? Or –

[00:26:49]

Yeah, so I think the – for our clients, it was really – it was more so – they just were so lost in curating their own knowledge. So for them, the problem was, hey, I can’t get to my PowerPoints and my Word documents. But for us, from a data standpoint, we are – we’re more so like, well, how do we take the brain out of getting you a data point? So for us, it’s actually been less about the data structure. It’s been more about the user experience, and how do you get someone who’s never done analytics, never done a cross-tab before, never done a filter on data, to understand how to do that, or even eliminate that step so that when they ask a question, they can get right to the data point that they want, versus having to layer on top a filter, having to create a cross-tab?

[00:27:48]

So it’s a lot like Statistica for research.

[00:27:52]

Yeah, exactly.

[00:27:54]

The – I want to hone in on this Statistica connection. Has the organizational adoption been a barrier? In other words, they already have a way of getting, quote-unquote, their insight, whether it’s just some manual digging, and they’re used to that and they’re just unwilling to start in an unstructured way, like a Google search.

[00:28:19]

So the adoption actually hasn’t – so we’ve got a full – so on the adoption piece, it’s really about, how do you get into someone else’s work flow? How do you work your way into their day so that they need – they think, oh, first I use KnowledgeHound, then I use this tool, then I use that tool? And it really is fitting in part of their day to drive adoption, whereas – and so we have a whole client success team that helps people do this, because habit change is really, really hard. And so really, it’s about staying top of mind for them, how to get into a work flow that they currently have. And that’s what’s really important about driving adoption, is making sure we’re there at that point when they need us, and we’re top of mind for them.

[00:29:13]

What is KnowledgeHound offering right now that’s getting the most purchase in the market?

[00:29:20]

So we – it is our data offering, which is the ability to search across every single consumer survey platform you’ve ever done and generate charts on the fly. So a company like a P&G could go in and be like, percent of people that – I’m making this up, but percent of people that shave in the shower. There you go, example from before. They can go in now and type that in and get their data point instantly. So really we are serving a data management, helping people think about, how do I manage all this data that I have? We are that solution for them, and that’s what’s getting the most traction today.

[00:30:06]

Last question. Really want to crack into your entrepreneurial roots here. What is the one secret that you have – I can’t believe I’m asking; this is awesome. What is the one secret that you have that drives either profitability, growth, or overall success for a startup?

[00:30:27]

Oh my gosh. There isn’t just one thing. And I don’t even know if it’s a secret, but you know –

Ep. 118 – Jake Pryzlak, Purveyor of Research Geek

Today, my guest is Jake Pryszlak. Based in London, Jake works in the marketing research technology space, has extensive experience in marketing analytics for the sports industry, is an avid-blogger and speaker. We first met 2 months ago on Twitter.

FIND JAKE ONLINE:

http://researchgeek.co.uk/

Twitter: @Jake_pryszlak

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jacobpryszlak/?originalSubdomain=uk

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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

Ep. 117 – Rogier Verhulst, Director of Market Research at LinkedIn

My guest today is Rogier Verhulst, Director of Market Research at LinkedIn. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn is the dominant social networking platform for today’s professionals with over 500 million members in 200 countries.

Prior to joining LinkedIn, Rogier was a restaurant manager in the Netherlands and has worked at both Research International and Microsoft.

FIND ROGIER ONLINE:

Twitter: @rogier_verhulst

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

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]

Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research podcast. My guest today is Rogier Verhulst, director of market research at LinkedIn. Launched in 2003, LinkedIn is the dominant social networking platform for today’s professionals. With over 500 million members in 200 countries. Prior to joining LinkedIn, Rogier was a restaurant manager in the Netherlands and has worked at both Research International and Microsoft. Rogier, thank you very much for joining me today.

[00:00:26]

Yeah. No. I’m glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:29]

So we’re sitting inside of your offices in San Francisco.

[00:00:32]

That’s right.

[00:00:33]

Thank you very much for hosting us today. We’re thrilled to be here. For all of us, it’s a thrill anytime we can come visit a big brand. I’m sure it kind of wears off for you as you walk in but anyway, we spent a good five minutes in front of the LinkedIn signage doing selfies and updating our social media. I know. It’s just that big of a fan boy. One of our signature questions has become centric to where you come from and what has formed your career today? So could you tell us a little bit about your parents, what they did, and how they helped move you to where you are today at LinkedIn?

[00:01:10]

Yeah. So my parents are both in education. They were both teachers. And I think if you think of market research there’s a big aspect to it that has to do with educating, educating your stakeholders on what’s happening in the marketplace and doing research is sort of an academic exercise. So obviously the notion of education is really important to us when we grew up. Some of that probably rubbed off in terms of my curiosity for looking at human behavior, studying human behavior, and translate that into solving problems for the business. So I think not exactly my parent’s didn’t tell me like you should go into market research but I think there was definitely some of that was rubbing off in terms of their emphasis on my education, emphasis on studying, and which inherently is what market research is about.

[00:01:58]

Yeah, I mean market research at a fundamental level is a scientific test. So it’s build a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, and then be objective in terms of the learning so that makes perfect sense. The educational component is a little bit more I guess abstract and what I mean by that is 10, even 20 years ago market research was I think more of a checkbox for companies and now it has moved a lot more into being a driver of decisions. So how does that fit inside of what you’re doing right now?

[00:02:32]

Yeah, I think market research – I mean back in the day when I was back in school you didn’t have a formalized degree in market research. If you ask one of my peers most people say they kind of rolled into it. They were either on their path to becoming a PhD or doing something academic but felt like they couldn’t get comfortable with the pace or weren’t quite ready to do publications. And so you see a lot of these people kind of move in market research but very rarely do you hear people say like I was born and from the day that I was born I wanted to be a market researcher. So it’s kind of unusual. Me in my case, I love doing – I always had curiosity and I loved kind of observing humans and studying that and I love the part of writing reports about it and sharing it with the world. I think market research here at LinkedIn has evolved quite a bit. I think it’s come from more of a, kind of like you said, a checkbox kind of thing to something that executives really look for answers on questions that quite frankly they cannot answer with just looking at data or financial metrics. More and more companies are realizing that you need to ask the questions to your customers or member to really understand what are you building and where do you find product market fit. I think we’ve come a long way. I think there’s still a lot of room for elevating the world of market research within organizations. There’s still a little bit of a stigma that things take a long time but I think that technology has come a long way in terms of being more agile and data begets data. So when there’s more data, people are naturally inclined to understand what is the motivation or what’s the why behind that data. So I think you’re absolutely right. I think market research is a growing field. I expect it to grow pretty rapidly in the next couple years.

[00:04:09]

Yeah, so do I. I’m really excited about – I feel like market research finally is having some tailwinds from a visibility perspective. It’s almost like we’ve been relegated to the kids’ table and we’ve finally gotten through college now and the parents are willing to sit and have a drink with us.

[00:04:24]

Yeah.

[00:04:26]

I think it’s a super-relevant.

[00:04:26]

Yeah. No. There are some great programs. We hired a few people from the University of Georgia, University of Michigan. They have very good programs among research now, which we didn’t have 10, 15 years ago. And so I think there’s much more focus around it in the same way that you see a lot of focus on product management and product managers.

[00:04:41]

Yeah.

[00:04:42]

And so it’s really a growing field. Yeah.

[00:04:44]

Yeah. Part of our audience is aspiring researchers. These are either recent grads like you said, Georgia, Michigan. They’re looking at how do I enter in and penetrate the marketing research world. What are some steps they could take in order to set them apart from their peers so that a company like LinkedIn, yourself would be interested in hiring them?

[00:05:05]

Yeah. I think the most important thing is kind of your heart is in the right place. I think a lot of people still make decisions in their careers with like I want to be in that world, I want to be a doctor or a lawyer just because it’s going to make me more money or because this is going to get me to where I want to be. But I think the most important thing for people to realize even if they come out of a program from University of Georgia or Michigan that they really have the heart in the right place, they’re passionate about data, they have a natural curiosity for studying human behavior, studying why people make certain preferences for certain products. So I think that’s really important. That’s number one. I think the second thing is – and I tell people this. It’s like you know rather than jumping into one of those cache brands over LinkedIn or Facebook, one of the best education you can get actually is on the vendor side and working with a variety of companies, on a variety of kind of problems to get a breadth of understanding and variety of understanding. Now what you don’t get from working on the vendor side is you don’t get sort of to see how things get implemented or how it drives particular decisions. So at the same token, I always kind of advise people when they’re early on is to look for kind of roles that are sort of related to market research but maybe more closer to the user, the end user or the end customer. For example UEI or customer success even. These roles, which give you kind of a good role and an affinity for what the customer or end user is feeling about the products. And so combining those assets will set you kind of apart from the other market researchers. But I’d say those are the most important things. So obviously you need to understand the fundamentals of market research. But beyond that it’s really looking for like experiences that will help you understand either give you sort of general business understanding or general understanding of how decisions get made within organizations.

[00:06:55]

Yeah, I think that there’s a lot of – I’ve obviously spent my career almost exclusively on the agency side of things, servicing small and large firms. And I get a massive swatch of types of project exposure, qualitative and quantitative in nature, which is really exciting. But you’re right, it’s much more of a short-term life cycle and one of the things – I used to do a lot of work with Visa. As they matured their data management systems, it was very evident to me that I was actually missing on the 90 percent – in other words, once the data was delivered and the why was declared, then there’s a bunch of things that happen and being able to – and you lose that visibility on the vendor side, which is just sort of like satisfaction I think that a person could get out of it. So it would be helpful probably to have both.

[00:07:48]

Yeah, you need to have both but I think when I look at some of the most successful hires we’ve made, I mean they have had sort of this vendor experience early on. It’s good schooling in terms of not just looking at the theory I think you learn in school but how do things work out in practice. And it gives you kind of the underpinnings and help you kind of accelerate. I think when you come out of school, you have a marketing research degree, and you go into a company often times the problems you’re facing may be more limiting. You may not be exposed to all of these techniques that you would be on the vendor side. So it’s a good first move.

[00:08:19]

There is a lot of bailing wire and duct tape on the agency side, putting things together right. So you develop this like scrappy nature of just how to get stuff done. This just came up in a conversation I recently had where the person had grown up on the vendor side, now has moved onto the brand side, and she said I can operate at a macro level. So in other words setting vision and understanding objectives but if I need to I can roll my sleeves up and get it done. Right.

[00:08:46]

Exactly. That’s the other advantage. Like you kind of know enough but you’re not just becoming a project manager, a program manager, but you actually can.

[00:08:52]

Yeah, you can add value at the logistical level as well.

[00:08:55]

Yep.

[00:08:56]

For sure. Three characteristics of an all-star employee.

[00:09:01]

Well, I think this sounds kind of obvious but obviously you need to have analytical horsepower, analytical skills and problem-solving skills. That’s just like number one. I rarely would ask anyone on that that doesn’t have that capacity to do. So you want to demonstrate – this is obviously through the coursework you’ve done – being able to distill information, large amounts of information through insights. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be just quant; it can also be qualitative. I think the second thing is really I mean obviously you need to have technical skills, but more important is that you have sort of the influencing skills that you can take a particular insight and influence the organization to take action. It’s one thing to kind of understand kind of the research and what the findings are but in translating it to kind of the so-what and now-what is almost equally important than coming up with the insight in the first place. I’d say that’s number two. I think the third thing is being proactive. I think often times organizations are moving at a certain pace. And so you need to understand kind of where’s the business, what are the problems that the business is facing and look at it a little more holistically. Otherwise, often times the research you’re doing it’s kind of doing confirmatory research, just kind of validating what the executive wants to hear or know.

[00:10:17]

More of that old-school checkbox.

[00:10:18]

Yeah, versus like you want to be a little bit more provocative and looking at the data maybe from the perspective of what was the data really telling me that maybe is a little bit different than I wasn’t expecting, what was the surprise here. And so then be proactive about communicating the insight back to the organization. So the ability to have that takes a certain experience and skill set. You have to be provocative. You have to be able to sort of get up in front of fairly executive people, particularly when you go in front of sort of a big brand, you quickly find yourself actually in a room with a lot of VPs. So you need to be strong in terms of how you make your arguments and how you make sometimes very provocative statements. So it requires also to build a kind of trust and credibility.

[00:11:01]

Internally.

[00:11:01]

Internally. That relationship-building aspect is really important as well.

[00:11:06]

That is one of the things I’ve seen very successful corporate researchers do an amazing job of managing their personal brand internally just handling the political dynamics of the room. So how is LinkedIn using insights today, and what I mean by that is you’re a piece of an inside of a machine and it’s driving things like business outcomes, marketing spend decisions, etc. And the second part of that is really what sort of tools or techniques are you employing?[00:11:34]

Yeah. So the way I always kind of think about our role is that we play sort of in theory. Like one is we provide metrics that are suggesting what the health of the business is. So to help us understand how strong the relationships are that we have with our customers or members to things like NPS or customer satisfaction. So metrics that are not necessarily financially related, but gives a little bit richer insight in terms of what’s really going on in the minds of our customers and members. So it’s kind of like what I found about the business health and brand metrics and brand formal metrics is part of that, but also churn and why is churn happening on our accounts. I think the second thing is kind of this deep question around where should we play, like who are the markets that we’re going after, what do the audiences look like, so segmentation will often be applied, understanding kind of the competitive landscape. So what’s the arena we’re playing in with different products. Obviously we have a lot of different business lines. The competitors we’re up against in our talent solutions business are very different than competitors in marketing solutions or sales solutions. So understanding that landscape and the board of dynamics is sort of like where to play. And then the last category is really like how do we win. So how do we differentiate ourselves from for example Indeed, how do we differentiate ourselves from Facebook or Google when it comes to ad buying in the ad space. Yeah, that’s generally how LinkedIn uses and leverages the insights that we’re producing and sort of informs those three big questions of business health, where to play, and how to win.

[00:13:11]

It’s interesting that you play such a role – you mentioned churn. So can you talk a little bit more about how you guys are employed in that proces

[00:13:20]

Yeah. So an example would be we have sort of what I call kind of foundational studies or studies that are running sort of on an ongoing basis. And so when churn is happening at an account level, we want to understand why is the customer churning. And so we would often times follow up with a survey to just kind of understand is it because of mac-economic situations; is it because of competitive pressures; or is it because of things that we are missing in our product like dissatisfaction with the product. So research is often the only way in which you can understand kind of what is the right sort of mix of variables that influence that churn decision and how much can we control versus how much we can’t control.

[00:14:02]

So just – sorry, I’m a logistics guy. So logistically speaking, the person churns for the audience means they stop being a customer. An example could be the LinkedIn business – the name is escaping me now.

[00:14:15]

Yeah. Talent solutions or marketing solutions.

[00:14:17]

Marketing solutions. That’s right. Yep. And then you follow up with a survey directly?

[00:14:22]

Yeah, so essentially someone can obviously when there’s a new – there are a lot of times the way our business works is like we have renewals. And so the annual renewal comes up and the customer is spending less than the prior year. So if that’s a significant amount less than what they were spending last year, that’s a churn signal and we call that partial churn. And the other extreme is like people completing churning and stop being a customer altogether. So both situations we want to kind of understand what the dynamics are.

[00:14:49]

So a follow-up with a survey.

[00:14:51]

Exactly.

[00:14:52]

Do you do qualitative in-depth interviews or try?

[00:14:55]

Absolutely. We do that as well. I mean qualitative tends to be – it used to be that quantitative was very time consuming and qualitative was fast.

[00:15:03]

Remember the good old days.

[00:15:04]

The world has changed where qualitative now is arguably actually slower than quant. So we tend to do more I’d say quantitative research than qualitative, but we do qualitative research too when we really want to get a deep understanding of the issues that people may have around usability of our site or the user interface or really try to understand kind of what are their motivations. So we definitely have a mix of things that we do. And often times we have – we have created these sort of insights communities where we can do discussion forums and discuss things fairly quickly around a particular topic or issue.

[00:15:39]

Are you using any specific technologies that might be outside of the market research arena?

[00:15:45]

I’m not sure quite how you define outside the market research arena. We obviously are dabbling in things like mirror imaging and more of the advanced ways of getting sort of signals that are not the traditional survey instrument. It’s like an online survey or an interview. And so yeah, we’re playing with some of these techniques, what are some of the logistical challenges around how do you bring people in a lab and how do you make sure it’s representative. There are some questions around that. But yeah, we’re absolutely looking at other ways of doing or doing interviews at scale where you have interview bots where the bots sort of responding and answering questions as they come in. So we haven’t done that last one yet but that’s something that I’m intrigued by as well.

[00:16:33]

That’s super-interesting. The whole qualitative at scale that’s now empowered by AI. I think that space for market research is going to solve a lot of problems because it lets you get to that qualitative why that has been – is very difficult to do.

[00:16:50]

Yeah, exactly. And then you layer in sort of sophisticated text analytics where you can look at the sentiments or you can derive what the themes are that are coming up through essentially doing interviews at scale. And that to me is really interesting. That’s going to be really interesting.

[00:17:04]

For sure. So how are you seeing tech disrupt what is traditional market research? I’ll pick on the Decipher platform for a minute.

[00:17:14]

No, the interesting thing is I don’t think tech has quite disrupted market research like in ways that it has disrupted some other industries in the sense that it’s replacing people or it’s replacing things or processes that we naturally would have done. I think what it’s doing is it’s actually adding more to the toolkit or the toolbox of the market researcher. It’s allowing us to do things that used to be harder to do. It makes us more agile. It allows us to do things in more real time. I’ve seen some disruption in terms of the digital transformation in terms of like everything is moving to the internet. So you see a lot of companies do a lot of AB testing and sort of testing themselves to what they perceive to be their perfect products or they’re arguably people recognizing you need to understand the motivation behind it. So things that we’re doing less of than I think 15 years ago like conjoint studies, like these heavy duty sort of tradeoff exercises that are lengthy and very sort of cumbersome on the respondents and you see more and more being replaced with like AB testing. But like I said, I think where technology has been really powerful in addition to the interview bots and like mirror imaging and I think it’s going to be also very interesting how it plays out in terms of plan measurement in terms of how you derive sort of the signal from a large volume of data to understand kind of what’s the brand trying to – or how well is the brand regarded when it comes to trust. So I think we’ll start to see a lot of investments in that regard as well. But again, the core idea of looking at data, interpreting it, making meaning out of it, I think that’s core. That’s sort of where market research sits and I think it will continue to play a really important role in that.

[00:18:56]

How is storytelling being changed inside of research?

[00:19:00]

I think storytelling – I mean short stories, more sound bites. And so can you come up with things that are shorter as opposed to the 20, 30 PowerPoint deck – slide PowerPoint deck. Can you – how do we know that specific insight that drives that particular action. I think that’s how storytelling has changed so the story becomes more of like a mini version of that. Also I think how storytelling has changed or what I’ve seen especially over the last 12 months is like you can’t just leave the story with cold facts. You need to make it emotional, you need to make it – you need to connect it to a more deeper emotional feeling in order for it to have an impact. So what we’ve learned over the last 12 to 18 months is that when executives look at the data and the statistics, if you can out men them, make it come alive with some of the qualitative findings or qualitative quotes or videos it just lands much more effectively.

[00:19:55]

I had a presentation about four years ago where it was an Amazon versus eBay study. And the – and actually co-presented the paper. There were slides, normal, and on every slide where we presented data we would have a video of a respondent actually addressing the point of the slide, the headline of the slide, which then informed the data. And it had a lot more impact at the executive level than any presentation I’d ever given before.

[00:20:28]

That’s a great analogy. I think the one I always refer to is the sea turtles. We’ve known for a long time that sea turtles are an endangered species and they’ve been using a lot of cold facts to make that point but people didn’t start to take note of it until they saw that turtle that was wrapped around in plastic and the whole world became disgusted by it and so many people are paying much more attention to it. So making that connection at that point yeah, is really important. And I think that’s what a quote does and the voice of a human being does.

[00:20:59]

It’s almost like in thinking about what makes a video go viral, it’s sort of that same mentality but for market researchers, which traditionally we’ve been a little bit more on the boring side I would say.

[00:21:10]

Absolutely. We’re changing that

[00:21:11]

Yeah, a little bit. What is the number one gap that you’ve experienced working on the brand side. In other words, if you wake up in the morning, gosh darn it, if this one thing was fixed or I wish somebody would address this.

[00:21:24]

Yeah, I think the world is getting – it’s easier nowadays for people to do a survey, with Survey Monkey we decipher, you have these insight communities and so it makes it really easy for anyone in an organization to launch a survey. And quite frankly what we find ourselves in is we do quite a bit of education and people think that they are a market researcher but there’s a real craft to sort of design a questionnaire, interpreting the data, formulating hypotheses. And so I think where there’s a gap is in terms of just consulting and education and making sure that market research is not confined to the market research group anymore. Market research is – it’s everywhere and it’s embedded in the entire organization. And so the ability of the market research industry on the vendor side to sort of recognize that and to be able to help the market research function, the central function with sort of like here’s how we best can equip the rest of the organization to sort of do their own surveys and get to the answers quickly.

[00:22:25]

So what is LinkedIn doing right now that has opportunity to add value to the market research space so our listeners.

[00:22:31]

Yeah, I mean LinkedIn is a great platform obviously just to find a job, but it’s also a great platform to learn. And so we acquired [INAUDIBLE] a couple years ago, which just actually we have access to a really rich library of online courses. And I happened to take a look at it the other day and we have a pretty vast sort of collection of market research courses that are very targeted, very specific, around specific skills. So that’s one thing I would encourage people to check out. I think the other thing we haven’t historically invested a lot in sort of groups, LinkedIn groups, but there are a couple of market research-oriented groups on LinkedIn. There’s the market research professional group on LinkedIn, which has about 90,000 members. And so people share interesting articles and engage in a way there to sort of get up to speed on the latest. So I’d say that’s one. And I think the last one is a lot of people think of LinkedIn again as sort of a network of people that are connected but it’s also a fantastic database of companies and company profiles. So if you’re in the market research industry and want to understand sort of an industry or particular set of companies, you can actually glean a lot of interesting information from just looking at company insights through our premier subscription.

[00:23:46]

So to that end, I’d like to give an example.

[00:23:49]

Yep.

[00:23:49]

I recently created Happy Market Research podcast. I’m trying to get connected to insight pros like yourself. I reached out to a CMO, said hey, give her the value prop pitch and she responded back the following morning and said I would love to be on the show. So it would be impossible – and I know a lot of people. It would be impossible for me to be able to penetrate the corporate wall to get in front of her to even give her the idea. But what LinkedIn enabled me to do versus any other platform, and my personal network even, is to be able to cut right to it and drop that note, which she could have ignored or reported me. But she didn’t and she actually found value in what I was contributing. And one of the things that I’ve noticed being an avid user of LinkedIn is the more I invest in the platform, the more trust I build with my – and I don’t have a lot. I have about 16,000 connections.

[00:24:44]

That’s a lot.

[00:24:46]

Among that group. And that group then starts feeding on itself so I can post a question and get an answer. I can post a job and I can get resumes. I haven’t tried finding a job fortunately maybe on that front but it’s an exceptionally powerful platform. I do want to ask you a question about the groups though because – so we are in the process of trying to create a framework for insight pros to have dialogues, ask questions, etc. There’s a few different insight communities that we found that are more forum-based, old-school, forum-based. We were talking on the drive up today maybe we should consider LinkedIn. It sounds like groups on LinkedIn are a viable option.

[00:25:31]

It is. I think we obviously have – we’ve had a long history with groups and I think we’ve made investments and we’ve made heavy investments sort of in the past and we sort of dialed back the investments. And so I think we’re finally trying to understand kind of how to do this well and it’s an important piece of our strategy of creating kind of a vibrant act of community on LinkedIn. But we need to make sure – the challenge with groups is that you need to have sufficient number of moderators and people who actively manage it and want to sign up for doing that to keep things vibrant and fresh. So you’ll start to see us doing more of that and sort of injecting a sort of energy into those groups, but also integrating a little bit more cleanly into the overall experience on LinkedIn where right now it’s actually very difficult to find groups on LinkedIn. You have to go to a separate tab to actually find it. But make it more integrated with the overall experience along with another thing that we’ve launched. It’s called Hashtag so you can actually follow particular hashtags, sort of a hashtag for market research. And what that allows you to do is allows you to get sort of content that we’re sort of curating across the entire ecosystem into your feed. And so then you’re able to sort of indicate what your preferences are and what you’d like to hear of more in addition to what’s happening in the groups you sign up at where you can have that sort of intimate dialogue and two-way conversation.

[00:26:48]

And the hashtags work exactly like they do on Twitter for example, right?

[00:26:50]

Yeah.

[00:26:51]

I know most marketing researchers are using new MR and MRX and then I like the idea since we don’t have the character limit of also expanding that to market research. I’ll definitely start improving my posts now thinking about that.

[00:27:03]

Absolutely. I think the other thing is like the more people that are using it the more people will naturally be attracted to it. And I think it’s kind of a flywheel that we need to respectively play in and keep going. Yeah.

[00:27:20]

My guest today has been Rogier. Rogier, thank you very much for joining me today.

[00:27:24]

Yeah, you’re welcome. Pleasure.

Ep. 116 – Patrick Comer, CEO of Lucid

Today, my guest is Patrick Comer, Founder and CEO at Lucid. Lucid is the first global exchange for market research sample which introduced programmatic buying and selling to the market research industry.

Prior to founding Lucid, Patrick has a decorated career in market research and consulting that spans 2 decades. He lives with his wife and children in New Orleans.

FIND PATRICK ONLINE:

Twitter: @comerpatrick

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/comerpatrick/ https://luc.id/

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]

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today, my guest is Patrick Comer, founder and CEO of Lucid. Lucid is the first global exchange for market research sample which introduced programmatic buying and selling to the market research industry. Prior to founding Lucid, Patrick has a decorated career in marketing research and consulting that spans two decades. He lives with his wife and children in New Orleans. Patrick, thank you very much for being on the podcast today.

[00:00:28]

I am super excited to be here and to support you in this new venture. I’ve been excited to see what you’re going to be up to, and this seems to be the perfect fit, so glad to be here.

[00:00:37]

Ah, thanks very much.

[00:00:39]

Hell yeah. Rock and roll.

[00:00:39]

We all know that our parents and upbringing have an impact on who we are and what we do, varying degrees of course. What did your parents do, and how did that affect your career?

[00:00:49]

So my parents were both priests, which meant that I got to see my father do a sermon every single Sunday, and values and the articulation of those values were important in the household, but also obviously in church every Sunday. And I was reflecting on, what did my parents teach me? What were their core, fundamental lessons that I learned? And I was reflecting on my mother and how she really taught me that it’s not really about me, that the things that I do, the success that I’ve had with Lucid, at the end of the day, it’s not about Patrick Comer. I’m not trying to achieve things for me. It’s really about influencing and impacting the people around me. I’m really not the most important person in the room, and that’s a humbling thing to learn from your mother. And it’s really helped me, I think, be a CEO, because my job is to support the people around me, not to be the focal point myself. And I also reflect on my father, and his big lesson for me time and time again was that everyone mattered. I saw him so often spend an incredible amount of personal time with what would be conceivably the least important person in the room. And it was that presence that he had with everyone-helped me treat, quote, important people as human beings, but also the least among us as people of importance and people that need to be spent time with. And so I really look at those two things, that it’s not about me and everyone matters, as kind of the bedrock of my core values from my parents.

[00:02:36]

It’s interesting how the core values informs really who you are and what you spend your time doing. Entrepreneurship of course, and then one of the interesting things about the company that you started is where you started it, New Orleans. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

[00:02:51]

I’m just really lucky I moved to New Orleans when I did. People always ask me, did you have some strategic plan of moving to New Orleans and starting a business? And it couldn’t be more complex than, I had just gotten married and my wife and I were starting a family. And she’s the youngest of 12, and so we decided to have that family be raised among family here in the Big Easy. So we moved three years after Katrina to New Orleans, and I thought that I was just going to connect with and network with the startup community here, the venture capital community, and find some company to join and help build. And the reality on the ground three years after Katrina is that there were no startups, and I was going to have to build something in order to contribute. The remarkable thing about a startup in New Orleans is that there are two passions at play. It’s really normal for a startup company or a new company to get excited about the mission of the business. We’re going to build this thing; we’re going to be disruptive; we’re going to grow fast; we’re going to get excited about it. That’s normal. But there’s always been this other passion, this other thing, which is the importance of contributing to the community, that our work was really helping the community, and job by job, hour by hour, rebuilding something. And it’s been a core part of our culture where impact on community is a big part of what we do, and is an equal partner to success of business in terms of how we spend our time and what’s important to us.

[00:04:25]

So thinking about those early days starting in New Orleans, wanting to make a meaningful-build a meaningful company that creates jobs, and that’s a-I’m hearing that’s a big motivator, did you start out with funding straightaway?

[00:04:38]

I was able to hash together about $350,000 out of the gate, which is funding. That’s not a non-trivial amount of money, but it’s not millions of dollars. And all that was from local investors and local friends and family, honestly, who was willing to support the venture. So it wasn’t a lot of money out of the gate.

[00:05:00]

And so straightaway, were you spending most of your time talking with customers, [INAUDIBLE] developing the technology?

[00:05:06]

Yes, sometimes, as you well know, entrepreneurship is part luck and timing and luck of timing more than anything else. I started the business in 2010, which is still in the end of a downturn, from 2008 to 2010. So it was just beginning to swing back. People were looking for alternatives, brands were looking for alternatives, market research firms were looking for alternatives, and how they were going to approach this survey business, this research task that they were looking at. And so most of my time on the ground early was revenue, getting clients, building relationships and building trust with those companies that were going to really help us scale in the future.

[00:05:46]

We talked relatively early on, I think it was about 12 months after you started Lucid-it was a big movement, right? There really hadn’t been adoption of anything like a platform-based sample transaction, right? This whole marketplace’s very early days-can you talk to us a little bit about the education of the market that had to take place?

[00:06:09]

Well, I call that pushing sand uphill, because we were-it was a constant battle. You feel like you’re moving something forward; it’s hard to tell when things actually catch on. But we were constantly talking about the future of the industry, which is kind of an odd thing for a new entry to be talking about, where all the industry can go in terms of researchers, and brands, and buyers and sellers of sample and data collection platforms. But we had a clear vision that there was a future state where a lot of this activity was easier and technology driven, versus a brokered process that was the standard when we got started. But it was really hard, because changing operational process within any organization is hard, because you’ve got habits formed, you’ve got behaviors, you’ve got perceptions about how things should or should not work. We were basically asking our clients to change their operational paradigm, and it was really, really hard, while at the same time trying to build a two-sided marketplace, which if I had known what I was actually trying to accomplish out of the gate, I might not have stated the company, because talking with other marketplace leaders, two-sided marketplaces are kind of the hardest business to create, because you’re building both sides at once, and there’s a constant chicken and the egg problem. So for years, it was building one side, then building the other, and convincing client by client that this change of operations, this change of approach from manual to automated, was going to have a significant impact on their ability to delight their clients. Over-it took probably four years for the word “programmatic” to be OK to say in public. And then it’s only been this year that automation has been normal, where clients come to us and say “We would like to transition our business to DIY and automation; how can you help”, whereas before, we were always calling them and saying “Have you heard about this thing we can achieve together? Would you like to learn more?” And that’s been a sea change in terms of how we approach our clients. So we’re over the hump in terms of sand uphill; there’s a lot of runway to go still.

[00:08:27]

It’s certainly exciting times. I love your perspective on, it’s been the last 12 months. I completely concur with that. But before we leave those early days, I want to talk a little bit about partnerships. Did you have any partners that helped you found the company? And then how did that partnership or lack of partnership impact you?

[00:08:42]

It’s a very interesting topic among entrepreneurs, is, should you have a co-founder or not? And I remember in business school at Columbia taking the entrepreneurship class after I’d been in a startup, because out of curiosity, what did academia think entrepreneurship was? And I remember the professor would just bring in founders every week and have them tell their story. And the thing that I learned most is that there is no single path up the mountain. There were some founders who were religious about having an equal co-founder partner, and they could see it no other way. And yet other founders who thought it was-they had to be the only founder and that was it; there was no other path for them. So what I pulled out of that entire conversation was, it’s really up to the founding team or person the path they want to take. There’s no correct or right answers-the right answer for them. For Lucid, my founding partner was kind of my brother Walton, who would fly down from New York every weekend to help me think about what kind of business would be worth doing. And he had a remarkable amount of influence preparing Lucid to become a marketplace, and really building the language and the business model out of the gate. But he didn’t join the business, and so when we started the company, it was me in my garage apartment. And that’s-when they talk about having a startup out of the garage, that literally happened with Lucid, and then to a co-working space and on. So one of the other challenges, it was in New Orleans, and in this town in 2010, not only had a lot of people left because of Katrina and not returned yet, but honestly, I don’t think any one of them knew what the word “sample” meant. So there was no industry knowledge anywhere. Every person I hired, I had to train from the ground up in terms of what this space was, what is research, what is insights, what is sample. Now the good news is, they learned to repeat what I said, so they didn’t have any preconceived notions, which is a positive and a negative. But it was just hard because there was no talent around that knew how to be a project manager, who knew how to program a survey, who knew what any of that was. So it was really from scratch literally; it was hard to get the ball rolling.

[00:11:00]

It’s almost like pushing sand up two hills at the same time, right?

[00:11:04]

I couldn’t just hire people that knew what I was talking about. That just didn’t exist.

[00:11:09]

How did you wind up-from an HR perspective, that sounds like a very difficult challenge.

[00:11:15]

Yeah. Because of this, because we’re in New Orleans, a remote employee is a more natural thing to have. And so we’ve had-yes, we’ve had the abundance of our team in New Orleans, but we always have team members across the country, and in Los Angeles and New York and other places. So that’s always been a part of our culture, that you can be anywhere and work for the company. And that’s out of necessity, because there was no one in New Orleans who really could join at the beginning.

[00:11:42]

Let’s shift gears a little bit. After you started the company, I think it was a few years, you wound up starting what is now I believe the largest sample-oriented event in the market research space, Samplecon. What’s the mission of Samplecon, and why did you start it?

[00:11:58]

Well, it’s funny. The-Samplecon was started because there was no user event for Lucid at the time. And so in 2013, we basically invited all of our friends who were working with us or wanted to work with us to New Orleans to talk about what we’re doing, where we’re going. And it was-that first Samplecon was very Lucid-specific. But once we had the conference, we realized that we’d missed the real value. The real value wasn’t about Lucid at all. The real value was that a lot of sample experts could talk about where the industry was going, its pros and cons, in a relatively safe space. Yes, they were among competitors, per se, but they weren’t at a more research-oriented or brand-oriented conference where their primary function is to sell, and all the content is about how brands approach research, or how researchers are approaching the process. And there wasn’t a place where you could go as sample experts to talk about sample itself, where the content was very specific about where the industry was going, and what were the challenges and opportunities in front of us. So we quickly pivoted to the next Samplecon was not about Lucid at all. Now, the challenge was that a lot of people had quickly associated Samplecon and Lucid, and so we-I think we had three Samplecons in 18 months. We were on this rush, because literally there had never been a place to have this conversation before. Over the last couple of years, it’s become its own independent entity with its own board. Sima Vasa at Paradigm Sample is now the chair of the board. I’m still a board member, but I officially roll off in March. So literally, it’s completely independent conference and process from Lucid, but it still has that mental tie to Lucid for obvious reasons, because we were the main driver of it out of the gate.

[00:14:01]

Thinking about the early days in LA of your career, you started at, I believe, OTX, which pioneered the River methodology.

[00:14:09]

Well, I do have a point of clarification. The River, in my mind, was founded by DMS, by Chuck Miller, long before any of us showed up, or at least I showed up, to the scene in ’96, ’97. And the DMS/AOL patents are the River patents. We at OTX always held a distinction between River, which is a Web intercept model, and routing, which was yield management aggregation of many different sample suppliers. I will make that subtle distinction because I think it’s important to give credit where credit is due, that Chuck Miller, in my mind, is really the godfather of modern sampling from that team which included a lot of people like Mike Billingsley and others that were part of the initial AOL/DMS team. They really were pioneering very, very early. The big insight that OTX had is that it’s valuable to pull together many different sample sources. The norm at the time, in say 2000 to 2007, was that most research agencies would use one, maybe two, sample companies. All of their work would go to one or two. Shelley Zalis, the CEO and founder of OTX, her thesis was that she didn’t want any one or two companies to have that much influence over the research and quality of research, but also the ability or not ability to deliver a project. So she went down the opposite path, which was, we want as many suppliers as possible. That gave OTX the control over quality, the control over delivery, and let’s be honest, the control over price. And it was that mentality that created the first versions of routing, and blending, and aggregation. All those things that are normal today that everyone uses across the board, all that was kind of early days at OTX.

[00:16:02]

So you fast forward, it’s now very obvious-congratulations-that a marketplace wins.

[00:16:09]

Boo-yah.

[00:16:09]

I know.

[00:16:09]

I’m glad it’s [INAUDIBLE] now, because for a long time we weren’t so sure.

[00:16:14]

I remember.

[00:16:17]

I’m glad I was right in 2010, right?

[00:16:19]

What three challenges-I like threes. What three challenges did you have to overcome in order to disrupt the space?

[00:16:26]

I would say the biggest challenge is that most people in research and in brands didn’t understand where sample actually came from. So for years, the expectation was that there’s this fantasy panel that’s really, really big, that delivers all the things. It’s double opt-in, and you can buy it, and it’s special and perfect and good. And that’s the story that myself and everyone else in sample had been telling buyers for years and years. But the simple reality by 2010 was that just didn’t exist anymore. There were great panels; don’t get me wrong. But the reality of sampling was aggregation; it was routing; it was River. It was all this sourcing and blending. The biggest challenge was that the researchers and brands had been sold a bill of goods in that respect. And getting them over the hump of understanding and trust that what’s actually happening in sample today is still good, and maybe even better than that expectation that they’d-the myth that they’d been sold, was the hardest part. It’s still hard today. There’s still the prevalence of belief of this panel process that started in 2000 to 2005, when the reality is that every sample company uses their own assets. They use various marketplaces, various brokers, they use routing. They use all those yield management capabilities to deliver a quality product. It’s just that most buyers either don’t want to or are afraid to go down the rabbit hole with their sample partners. And that was probably the biggest disconnect was the difference between what buyers thought sample was and what it actually was.

[00:18:22]

So a lot of underneath the hood there, right?

[00:18:25]

Yeah.

[00:18:27]

And I think that kinda serves the overall point, which is trust is paramount in this space because what you just said is complex, and actually the execution is infinitely more complex. And brands just don’t have that opportunity for the head space for that.

[00:18:43]

They don’t. And they don’t, and I think that was one of the challenges was as brands and as research partners wanted to have greater control and greater insight into sampling, you had that learning curve to be honest, and that’s always been a challenge. So I talked a little about pushing sand uphill, convincing them of the model, but there was, again, it’s going down the rabbit hole. And would often say to an individual client, “Do you really wanna go down the rabbit hole of how a sample actually is created today?” And to be honest, there’s still people who don’t. They would prefer it to be the other story.

[00:19:26]

I definitely get the sunshine and rainbows view, but I think reflecting back to the early days of e-Rewards, which of course you remember, they were commanding a very different price point than the rest of the market, all predicated on better sample. The point is that people were buying based on the brand promise. And I do think that that definitely plays a major role still today, especially in the framework of an open marketplace like what you’ve created. And so to that end, how are you, or are you monitoring overall sample quality?

[00:20:04]

Well, I love talking about sample quality because it means so many different things to so many different people. I think that for most part, people have a hard time defining with numbers what quality actually is. You know bad quality when you see it in the data. That’s easy. But without a bad data performance scenario, you, it’s hard to measure necessarily good quality. And so the way we look at quality at Lucid is, one, you gotta start with table stakes, which means anti-fraud, high security, and basically uniqueness of respondents across supply. And that comes from our, not only investment in millions of dollars but also research of how other marketplaces handle security fraud and quality control from a multiple vendors standpoint, companies like eBay or Amazon, and really understanding the investment required from a marketplace to control for those factors. And it’s an ongoing fight to manage fraud and manage security across a marketplace of any size. And then you have data quality, and data quality assumes that the respondent is real. But is the data actually any good? One of the thesis that we came up with is that our clients, the buyers, are reviewing all of the data in every single survey, and so they know what quality is. So we created concept of an acceptance score, which is, how much of every supplier’s sample is actually accepted by the buyer after they’ve scrubbed it? And of course we have to weight it by, surveying by buyer in order to get a good score that’s fair to all participants. But what it does show is, on a relative basis, is once supplier rejected or accepted more than the other supplier across the board. And that’s really helped us understand which suppliers are performing and which ones are not without us having to come and define what data quality is as a marketplace. The other thing that we look at is consistency, and this is of course very important for things like trackers and for pre-imposed or any kind of data replication scenario. And so because we see so much supply so often, we can actually measure its consistency period over period. And right now we measure the consistency of all the vendors on a quarterly basis. And then finally, we’re able to measure each supplier against an offline norm, which I think is really important to understand the difference between a panel or a sample source and what’s normally expected in a market. And that’s a scenario where we work with Chuck Miller to design that survey instrument and measure against offline norms. But it’s important to note that we built the quality program at Lucid by partnering with the largest research firms out there. So we partnered with Hall and Partners, Lightspeed, Ipsos, and three or four other. Like GFK as an example. All of those companies helped design our quality instruments so that they could measure the supply chain on our end.

[00:23:13]

That’s super interesting how you guys are addressing that. I know some companies, some agencies are incorporating not just Captcha but also red herrings-

[00:23:24]

Absolutely.

[00:23:24]

Type questions in order to help control that side on there. And so one of the things I find interesting is how it’s almost self-solving as research companies become better at fraud detection and bots get smarter and smarter. There’s still earth elements that can be incorporated to protect the value of the insights.

[00:23:46]

Fraud is a constant cat-and-mouse game. I remember at OTX in 2003, when we were infiltrated by some, or we thought were some Russian hackers who had built a script to automatically sign up for various panels using Yahoo. And then had found a mechanism to create completes through auto-completion of surveys. So this was 2003. And we found that it was happening because every single ID from a particular supplier was the same version of an email address but up by one digit every single time. And that was a big enlightened moment in 2003. We were like, oh, it’s not the suppliers necessarily. It’s that these outside forces are coming in who are trying to gain the system for their own benefit, and really started all the different types of security and fraud detection you can use. Red herring is a great version of that. Attention checks, Captcha. A lot of the work we’re doing now is actually more technical than human based where we’re requiring server to server connections between platforms so that a user can’t manipulate a link and create a survey or create a complete on their end. I know that’s in the weeds, but what it really means is we’ve had a huge investment on technology, not just with us but between data collection partners and survey platforms and sample suppliers to make the process of sampling more secure and make it less able for a third party who’s trying to beat the system to even get into the game, period. And that’s had a huge impact on that acceptance rate, and we track that very closely obviously. And it’s actually gone down precipitously over the past year, mainly because of technology integrations with all the players in the business to eliminate the ability for a person to actually intercept part of the process and game it. So that’s had a huge impact on success of removing fraud from insights.

[00:25:52]

Recently at IAAX, they had the pitch competition as part of the Atlanta-based event. A lot of fun. I was blown away by the volume of blockchain startups. But how are you seeing blockchain impact our space? Specific in the sample area, obviously.

[00:26:09]

Well, I think the first thing it’s doing is sucking up all the innovation. I say this kinda tongue and cheek. That literally it’s with the rise and fall of the price of Bitcoin, the amount of investment time, energy, and attention has waxed and waned, which I think is just a sign of the times. It kinda reminds me of the Internet bubble. At that time I was on the let’s-go-Internet side of the equation, and there was so many existing players that said all the same things about the Internet that people are saying today about blockchain. It’s very reminiscent of, oh, you can’t do this. The technology won’t actually work. There are too many things to be integrated for it to be successful. At the same time, you have the blockchain innovators who are saying words like, “We’re gonna disrupt the panel and it’s gonna change everything.” And I think it’s gonna play out similarly to the Internet bubble, meaning that they’re probably right on the blockchain side. But it’s the time scale of when they’re right that’s gonna really matter. We’re going through a process at Lucid today of trying to partner with as many blockchain companies out there to truly understand their approach. As a marketplace, we want to support different products and services that help improve the value of research. And if blockchain can reduce fraud, if blockchain can reduce or increase uniqueness or improve incentives, there are lots of mechanisms where if the blockchain thesis is correct, the value of a survey increases. And so we wanna support platforms and technologies that do that. And so we look at ourselves as being an engagement or a scaling process for blockchain versus us trying to solve it ourselves. When will it become important is a different question. And I just don’t know the answer, if it’s next year or five years from now, but I do believe that blockchain will become an important part of how we deliver and execute insights across the board.

[00:28:20]

What’s interesting is where you guys sit in context of most other companies in the sample space is you have visibility of the individual respondents. So it seems like it creates this interesting intersection point of visibility across that individual person. And to that end, it seems like it would make sense if there was blockchain developed inside of your panel, for brands to start incorporating their panels. I call them panels. What I mean is their customer lists, really, to be able to deploy alongside of what you’ve got going on.

[00:28:57]

If a brand could add their CRM data with confidence and with security and privacy built in and then be able to tie that back to insight data seamlessly, so everything that, all the data’s been collected via CRM or point of sale now becomes part of the data stream of every single survey moment that you create, whether that survey is for custom research but also for CSET. It all is tied together but also protected from that, from data leakage, because one of the big challenges if you start using your CRM database and opening it up to a lot of different providers in order to expand your data insight ability, there’s data leakage. But with blockchain, there would be no data leakage because of the nature of the blockchain itself.

[00:29:43]

There is a taller hill with more sand, my friend.

[00:29:50]

Well, you probably would not be surprised that our friends at IAAX and Lindy have helped us understand that we can play a role not where we try to solve for blockchain, but to support the blockchain providers and how they’re approaching the broader marketplace. And I’ll go back to we’re blockchain neutral. We have no desire to “pick a winner” or to create a blockchain company who are programmed within Lucid. Our goal is to increase the value and trust of the marketplace, and if a blockchain platform does that, then it’s very important for us to scale it very quickly. So that’s the scenario where if suddenly fraud can be reduced or the value of the data stream in a survey could be increased, then it’s in our best interest to help that technology, whether it’s blockchain or anything else scale pretty quickly. And we are in a unique place in the industry because we run the marketplace, and we have a ton of information around all the different respondents that are taking all the different surveys globally right now.

[00:30:56]

If I understand the technology correctly, I don’t think that there could be 20 winners in this space, right? So there is definitely an opportunity for a king-maker play here. So it’ll be neat to see how that all unfolds.

[00:31:07]

I don’t know, honestly. I honestly don’t know how all that would play out, and if there’s a winner-take-all blockchain scenario, or if there’s a scenario where different chains actually focus on different parts of the problem set. I do think one of the challenges of a lot of the blockchains kinda pitch decks that I’ve seen is trying to be all things to all people and tackle everything. And I believe that’s more likely that traction will occur because different parties will focus on different aspects of the value chain with this technology, and then it will scale from there. Honestly, I think that it will be quite impossible to “king make” this early in the evolution of blockchain and insights.

[00:31:49]

For sure. And a little bit more on this subject. The economic model is gonna be interesting too because that kinda gets to my point of while you could have lots of specific use cases, everybody’s gotta get paid as we all know.

[00:32:03]

Apparently everyone wants to get paid.

[00:32:05]

So anyway, so I wanna talk a little bit about what you’ve got going on. What do you have that is adding a lot of value to the marketplace? Both in terms of from brands’ perspectives as well as agencies.

[00:32:18]

So one of the big things we’re really focused on right now is helping our clients better understand the quality of the data that they actually house. And a lot of this is focused on advertising and marketing in the brand space itself. And we started working on advertising effectiveness a couple of years ago with our proof products where we could take the scale of the marketplace and apply it to helping brands understand lift and effectiveness of their work. And in doing that and in analyzing the data with them, we quickly realized that one of the biggest problem areas is not how good is my creative or how well am I executing the campaign. It’s that data that I’m using to target in the first place is terrible. It’s like the open secret in advertising is that the data itself isn’t very good at targeting, and there have been a number of articles that had come out that it’s, there’s a 50/50 shot of everyone’s ability to target just for gender, which is funny because we almost have a 50/50 shot even without trying any targeting. So our clients on the agency side and on the research side have really been focused on, how do we know that the data that we’re using, whether it’s our internal data, our third-party data, is actually targeting for the right audience itself? Before we even go into a campaign, before we even start. So we’ve built a whole product, which is getting a lot of momentum right now, which we call data score. And we go ahead and test using our platform whether or not the audience in your data set is who you think it is. A simple example would be a luxury car intender. And sometimes these data sets are created from a lot of math and a lot of behavioral models where people have clicked on certain ads or searched for certain things or been to certain Web sites, and they’re bucketed as luxury car intenders. And the number of luxury car intender cookies or identifiers that you can purchase far outnumbers the population in the United States. And so there’s obviously something wrong here. So we literally take that data set and we ask the people. We have one of the largest platforms in the planet that can ask people questions at scale. And so we use that capability to measure, of that data set, how much of it is the audience that you’re looking for against what you would normally expect in the population? And we’ve gotten a huge amount of support from the ARF, from our D and P partners who wanna be able to differentiate quality on their platform between data sets. Obviously the brands want to be spending the money in the right way with the right audiences. And agencies wanna be able to demonstrate to their brand clients that the work that they’re doing is actually improving. And so taking a data set and measuring it is a way for them to pick a data set that’s gonna perform better than based upon the brand associated with it. So this data score product is building a lot of momentum. You’re gonna see more and more work on that along those lines over the next coming months in the back half of the year as we scale it up.

[00:35:32]

Very exciting. My guest today has been Patrick Comer, founder and CEO of Lucid. Patrick, thank you very much for joining me.

Ep. 115 – Matt Dusig, Co-founder and Managing Director at InnovateMR

Our guest is Matt Dusig, Co-founder and Managing Director at InnovateMR. InnovateMR is a panel provider which has created the Pegasus Sample Access Platform, allowing users to employ a DIY sampling solution. Prior to starting InnovateMR, Matt has founded and harvested 3 other companies and invested in many others.

In this interview, Matt covers building successful partnerships and teams in entrepreneurship, how he determines investment opportunities that works for him, and the what InnovateMR offers: quality, price, and trusted expertise. In hearing about his background, we learned particularly about staying ahead of the curve in technology and market research.

FIND MATT ONLINE:

http://www.innovatemr.com/

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

Twitter: @mattdeuce

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


Hi, everyone, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast, today my guest is Matt Dusig, co-founder and managing director at Innovate MR, Innovate MR is a panel provider who has created the Pegasus Sample Access Platform which allows users to employ a DIY sampling solution. Prior to starting innovate MR, Matt has founded and harvested three other companies and has invested in many others. Matt, thanks very much for joining us today.

[00:00:28]

Thanks, Jamin, excited to be here.

[00:00:30]

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

[00:00:34]

Yeah, that’s a great question, so my dad has always been an entrepreneur all through growing up. He owned various businesses, and I think what I learned from him was mostly from being scrappy, when you’re running your own company you know it’s do or die, you have to be creative, there’s no safety net, and he was just, and is, he’s still alive, is just a super creative person, always looking for solutions to problems, which my wife might tell me I shouldn’t be solving all of her problems, but that’s a whole different story. And I just think that that was a key motivator that he started businesses, and that it was possible to do it, that was what I was going to do also.

[00:01:18]

That’s interesting so you knew you were an entrepreneur very early on in your career?

[00:01:23]

Yeah, I had, in college I had a side business doing graphic design for just companies and clients, and that was how I made extra money.

[00:01:34]

You have a co-founder who has been with you, gosh, since your early days, right, that’s Greg?

[00:01:41]

Yeah.

[00:01:42]

Four companies together. I mean, that’s insane.

[00:01:48]

It’s actually five, it depends on how you’re counting.

[00:01:50]

I’m apparently not counting well enough.

[00:01:50]

There have been some failures in between.

[00:01:53]

Wait, say that again?

[00:01:54]

I said we’ve had some failures in between that we don’t always talk about but there have been five companies and in fact if you go all the way back to college there was a sixth company. So Greg and I, our relationship goes back to being six or seven years old. Our families were friends growing up, on the block, and so we’ve known each other our whole lives. My sister, his brother were friends, and then when he joined the fraternity I was in in college, we became best friends again and then college roommates, and it was in college that we actually started one of our first businesses.

[00:02:31]

What year was that?

[00:02:33]

Now you want me to age myself, OK.

[00:02:37]

Well, yeah, I do want you to age yourself.

[00:02:39]

That was 1989 that we became roommates together. In order to launch the business, we had to promote it, and in promoting it we went down to CompUSA or Circuit City, one of those stores, it had a 30 day return policy and we bought a fax machine, and we used that fax machine to send out promotions to different clients that we were looking to solicit and when we didn’t make enough money within about 28 days, we took the fax machine back to Circuit City.

[00:03:08]

That’s brilliant. That’s brilliant, just classic entrepreneurs.

[00:03:12]

Yep.

[00:03:13]

So 1999 you guys started GoZing [ph]

I believe, very, very, very early in not just the online sample space, but the internet in general, what was the motivation for starting GoZing?

[00:03:27]

In the late ‘90s, mid to late ‘90s of course the internet was booming, companies were going public, billionaires were being made overnight and Greg and I just looked at ourselves, we both had day jobs and we said, you know what, we should do that, we came up with this concept of doing advertising on mobile phones and at the time mobile phones could only receive text messages, so that was the only way you could send out a promotion, or we called it couponing, at the time, so you would send out coupons to your mobile phones, and we went to Greg’s mom with this concept, and his mom and dad decided to fund it, and so we decided to quite our jobs and said OK, here we go and of course we were way too early to mobile advertising at the time, probably ten years too early. At the same time while we were trying to get this business up and running we heard about a research agency here in Los Angeles where we’re located, that was interested in getting feedback from people as they were exiting theaters, but they wanted to collect the data mobile, instead of doing it on clipboards and paper and pencil and that was Shelly Zalis [ph]

and OTX and that was our first introduction to market research.

[00:04:44]

That’s so crazy to me, OTX has been, you’ve got Kristen Luck [ph]

of course who’s come out of that company, you’ve got Patrick Comer [ph]

and a few others, it’s interesting how OTX, and especially in the LA market has had such a broad, long term impact.

[00:05:03]

Absolutely, and Kristen and I joke about how in 2000 we were both in the trenches, basically doing the research and sampling project management, at all hours of the day, back and forth. My wife used to say on Friday nights that we couldn’t go out to dinner until Kristen told us we could go live with sample.

[00:05:25]

Man, if I had a nickel every time I’ve heard that, right? You’ve got to remember, so Kristen and I having worked together, in fact, she’s been on the podcast twice now, for so many years, she’s – there’s not a lot of people that have the work ethic that Kristen does, maybe say it that way, she gets it done, it’s amazing.

[00:05:47]

Yeah. Absolutely.

[00:05:49]

So fast forwarding to another start up of yours, Instantly, what technology challenges did you encounter?

[00:05:58]

Well, so after we sold GoZing in 2005 to Greenfield Online, Greg and I sat out of the industry for three years, we always knew we wanted to get back into online sampling, we felt like our job wasn’t done, and so the original name of Instantly was YouSamp [ph]

and the goal of YouSamp was as it sounds, was that you could sample yourself, and we were going to build the industry’s first DIY platform allowing research agencies to log on and access a sample companies panels, and a lot of people in the industry thought we were absolutely out of our mind, that that was never going to happen, and of course I knew looking at the trends of online ad buying that eventually online sampling would be automated and would be made DIY and/or API driven as well. And so that was the original impetus behind starting YouSamp and we knew we had to first build the core of a sampling business, we had to build technology that allowed us to procure and maintain panels and as well to run sampling projects. And only after that technology was built could we actually then layer on top of that a solution for clients to log on, and that was complex, you know, how do you price sample when a client is buying it themselves, what is they say it’s 100% incidence, but your job’s really five percent, what if the client says it’s a five minute survey but it’s really 50 minutes. Just all sorts of complexities like that that we have to solve for.

[00:07:33]

One of the interesting parts about this integrated or I’m calling it now the whole product and research, right, is the brand has a need and then they manifest that through a survey or something else, a discussion guide or what have you, that’s the methodology side of it, and then they get people to fill it out so there is a sampling component and then they have to do the analysis and ultimate reporting. So each one of these bricks that I just described through the market research process what’s happened in the last, honestly in the last probably 24 months and a lot more in the last 12 months is there’s through API there has been a lot of integration, you’re seeing it with Qualtrics [ph]

leading that charge, and other survey platforms, obviously the Zappy [ph]

model is playing out well. Do you think similar to GoZing, you guys were ahead of the curve maybe just a little bit too far with Instantly or YouSamp?

[00:08:31]

We definitely were, we were pushing a boulder up a hill, there was limited awareness about platforms, there was caution about whether the information and the data delivered would be representative and of high quality, and there’s – the sampling industry has been a little bit of a Wizard of Oz industry, there’s this giant curtain and behind the curtain there is a wizard pulling strings and I don’t think the world has really understood how sampling companies get the job done, just that they do. And so unveiling a platform that allowed a client to see all the switches, might have been a little bit daunting, but we had to educate a market so we were definitely a little bit early, now if you look at the industry we launched that platform in 2009, 2010.

[00:09:22]

Right.

[00:09:23]

So eight, nine years later, there’s probably ten platforms out there that you can log onto to buy sample from.

[00:09:30]

Yep. Yeah, exactly, right. So when you think about those lessons that you learned, the GoZing model, I didn’t actually realize that you started on mobile phone advertising and you’re exactly right, it was ten years too early, until you got real adoption and saturation in this space. Marketing research didn’t truly adopt it until about ten years ago, maybe less.

[00:09:55]

Yeah, so.

[00:09:57]

Yeah, so how do you apply that learning to Innovate MR?

[00:10:01]

Well, I think every time you start a business you have – you fail in certain ways and the only way you get better is by learning from those mistakes and trying not to do those again. So the number of times that me, Greg, and George, all the founders of Innovate, the number of times that we are looking to make a decision and we accept the concept that well, in this particular instance we might not know the best solutions, so let’s ask for some advice, let’s not just make a decision and you know, and screw it up, or we look at different scenarios and say well, we’ve done this before, we know that this – going along this path is not going to work well, because of various reasons, and so I think all of that experience over 20 years of really screwing up, has really helped us make Innovate more successful. We have had to be very scrappy, because in this business unlike GoZing and YouSamp, Instantly, we didn’t raise any institutional money from professional investors.

[00:11:11]

Right.

[00:11:12]

And so there’s been no safety net. We’ve had to be scrappy and careful and frugal. Really what the main focus for us has been around automation and efficiencies, and when we were building technology, even for our team, we count the number of clicks it takes for them to actually accomplish a goal and then we look at it and say is there a way we can remove steps and if we can, then our team just gets significantly more efficient. We actually recently removed off of sales force for tracking all of our bids and booked sample jobs and used our own internal tools for that now, and the team is just celebrating the amount of steps that were removed in the process, and so that just allows our team to be more efficient and hopefully allows us to run a more profitable business.

[00:12:08]

Yeah, I think this principle of eating your own dog food in our world, that is market research technology, is probably one of the things that has set the winners from the losers, Decipher, of course being my experience, it was entirely birthed out of my personal pain around marketing research process and just creating these short cuts whether it was a single click to a native PowerPoint presentation, right, to monitoring field and tab, efficiency gains are what has been the differentiator for companies like yours in this space, but I want to target – talk a little bit about, you mentioned advice, do you have, when you’re making big decisions or whether they’re strategic or just tactical in nature, do you get advice from the market, that is to say customers or do you have some trusted advisors, where do you go to for that.

[00:12:59]

Yeah, I’d say we, between the three founders here, we have a rolodex of people that we can reach out to for various situations, whether it’s banking and financing needs, or it’s technology questions, or operations decisions, so we all just have different people we can connect with, sometimes it’s inside the business, and sometimes it’s outside. We don’t profess to be experts in operations and sales and marketing and technology, we bring on people that we know that can facilitate whatever the need it. As founders we’ve broken up the company into divisions where our core competencies lie, so George focuses on sales and demand side, Greg’s core competency and relationships relied on the traffic and supply side of the business, while I over see technology, product and most of the corporate affairs of the business.

[00:14:04]

Do you think that delineation of responsibilities is one of the keys for the long term partnership success that you and Greg have had?

[00:14:13]

Yeah, I think it allows us to be – to not step on each other’s toes and to trust each other that I know that is Greg is the best at what he does and I know George is the best at what he does, and they trust me when it comes to technology and marketing and taking care of dealing with the lawyers and all the corporate stuff and I think when partners don’t trust each other to do the work, that’s when things start to fall apart.

[00:14:39]

You mentioned at the beginning of the conversation that you’ve had a couple failures, I think this is a really interesting topic for those who are either currently starting or have started or are thinking about starting a technology company or any company for that matter, how did you deal with that failure?

[00:14:59]

You know what, I’m a person who walks around with a glass half full. My perspective is, if you don’t try, you don’t get, so it’s OK to fail as long as you keep trying and you’ve exhausted all efforts. We have two businesses that Greg and I ran besides the three sample companies that we’ve launched and one business was in 2006, and it dealt with putting audio tours onto iPods, so that you could go to Paris and walk around the city with your iPod and go to different stops and hear a professional tour guide giving you information. Of course, this was before the iPhone, this was before GPS, and even before apps could be installed. So talk about being too early, GPS apps, location based services would all allow you to walk around with your iPhone and then the iPhone knows you’re standing under the Eiffel Tower and could actually start giving you a history lesson, so that business was just too early. We accepted the idea that it was just going to be difficult to scale, we kind of just shelved it. We had another business that in 2006 that we also were launching that dealt with online file storage, so think of the time, DropBox, and Box. net, and other online file storage solutions that were being built on top of Amazon’s S3 Storage Solution, we had investors tell us that we were crazy, that online file storage was dead, that it was never going to happen, that people weren’t going to trust storing files in the cloud, and yet we launched a business called File123, specifically to do that, and we missed the mark, we were right there at the time of DropBox and all of these other services, they were all in their infancy at the same time as us and the lesson that we had was that we built too big of a product. The product had too many features, we spent too much time in development, and the challenge was that it wasn’t what a lot of people call today a minimum viable product. It was a big giant cruise ship, and it was much harder to turn and pivot once we got client feedback on the solution, and so that was a big learning experience for us and we shelved that product. Luckily there was a business that came long called NeatReceipts [ph]

and NeatReceipts was a solution where you buy a scanner and you scanned your receipts into NeatReceipts and it produces expense reports for you. They actually wanted and online file storage platform, and they actually did buy the business from us, it wasn’t a billion dollar outcome of DropBox but at least it was better than just keeping the software on the shelf.

[00:17:39]

That’s the truth of it. That’s – it’s satisfying no matter what the exit, right. You’re right in terms of a multibillion dollar transaction would be taking on the helicopter ride, I’m still waiting.

[00:17:50]

That would have been a little bit better, yeah.

[00:17:54]

What three pieces of advice would you give CEOs of startups based on your experiences?

[00:18:02]

Well, having been what I’ve been through, with different relationships with investors across the first two sampling companies, I lean very heavily towards building more traditional businesses that have visibility around cash flow and client bases and can generate revenue, from the beginning. Well, I understand that some businesses are such a big concept that you have to go raise money, and you have to race against the competition in order to win. That’s not really something that appeals to me. So when I talked to young entrepreneurs about their business, I’m always trying to figure out if there’s a way that they can build their business, so lean and find clients that want to pay for the services so that they don’t have to raise money. So that one day, they can- if they want to raise money, then they can do it at their own terms because they’re already cash flow positive and profitable. So I don’t know what the three pieces of advice are specifically, but I try to guide young entrepreneurs that I talk to, into being realistic. Sometimes they come to me with financial projections, one, two and three years and they have this new idea for a business, they’ve maybe never launched a business before and in year two they’re going to be doing 30 million in revenue, and I just tell them to go back to the drawing board, think smaller, if not realistic, most businesses won’t do 30 million in their second year-

[00:19:26]

Or a million?

[00:19:27]

Or a million. And so, and the problem is that they base it in the amount of money that they have to raise, they based how many people they have to hire around that $30 million. And then what happens is, if they go raise money, they’re chasing cash burn and now you have a ticking time bomb. And if your investors don’t like your progress, then they’re going to oust you from your own business. And that happens time and time again, it even happened to us at uSell. We built a phenomenal business. That business was scaling very rapidly, from zero dollars in revenue, just me and Greg in the first year, to 50 million in annual revenue and 200 plus employees after five years. But surprisingly, the investors didn’t like the business. And by all accounts, it was one of the fastest growing companies in most of their portfolios, but they didn’t like it because they didn’t like the valuations of other sampling businesses at the time, and we had no control over that. You know, a big advice that I do give entrepreneurs who do raise money is, is around managing expectations and very carefully managing expectations of investors. It’s a different part of the job, than just running the business and knowing, oh I’m a sampling expert. I understand sampling and sampling platforms, better than anyone else. I’m not the greatest at managing investor expectations. That’s not my core competency. And it’s good to know, your strengths.

[00:20:51]

Yes, I’m with you a 100 percent on that. I think it goes to sort of the difference between institutional investor mentality, which is oftentimes more cautious, as opposed to the entrepreneurial. Which I mean, anybody that’s cautious as an entrepreneur is not an entrepreneur. At the end of the day, you just have to be almost data impervious, right, to step out and start something new.

[00:21:16]

Blind optimism.

[00:21:16]

Right. Yes. Well said Sir. Exactly right, blind optimism. I equate it to being, like a goalie in soccer. You have to literally believe that every time somebody is approaching to shoot, that there’s no way in hell they’re going to be able to score on you, right? And even though you’ve just been scored on three other times, it’s just like impossible. You just have to have that brain space. Blockchains coming up a lot, right? Especially in your space. Are you seeing that impacting Innovate MR?

[00:21:49]

I don’t think there’s any impact on the sampling industry yet, and I think a lot of companies are trying to discern, if it’s something real that we have to pay attention to. We joke internally here that every 12 to 18 months, there’s a new catchphrase that we’re all paying attention to. Maybe it was mobile a couple of years ago, many years ago it was AI, then now it’s blockchain. I know of a couple of companies, that are investing in different ways that blockchain can be used within the sampling industry. Either, to maintain better transparency and visibility or better pricing or to enhance quality, really understanding the nuances of buyers in this space. I’m still not yet seeing exactly where blockchain provides real value and so, I would say that we’re paying attention, but we’re not doing anything yet.

[00:22:50]

There’s so much hype around blockchain from just the automation of systems, the shortcuts there but then also, the other part of it is around the security or the comfort, that somebody is who they say they are. Like is there an opportunity for blockchain, to create improved quality of respondents?

[00:23:10]

Well, this kind of goes back to, what true sample was doing many years ago. Which is try to score panelists and provide peace of mind, to research sample buyers. The struggle there was that many of the biggest sample companies, if a billion dollars is spent in sampling the year across the industry, a majority of that call it 75% is probably represented by the big sample companies. And so if they don’t jump on board with a solution, then it becomes hard to provide kind of end to end value or, thorough value. So would sample companies being willing to put transactions into a public ledger or, a shared ledger? And those transactions were about who this panelist is, maybe without some PII, not exactly sure how PII would work with regards to that. But, are they willing to put transactional data and say, this is panelists Id, this is my panelists Id, One, two, three, four, and here’s the information about them. And then, another company B can do the same. And there could be comparisons so that everyone is- we’re trying to get to a point where, a panel can actually be scored. And say, you know what, I have a confidence because I can query the blockchain to know, that these panelists are more valuable than others, or more real than others or more transparent or consistent. But beyond that, I’m not exactly sure. I know that there are other people that have ideas, around pricing models and buying and selling of panelists within the blockchain. But I think on this one, with having had businesses like my podcast tour company or my online file storage business, or even various things we did at uSell, we were leading trends with regards to building mobile panels at the time, and the industry wasn’t ready for it. In this case, I’d rather be a fast follower. Let the market figure that out. Let other people figure that out. That’s not my core business. And if someone presents a solution that provides value to my business and to my clients, then we would love to explore it.

[00:25:30]

What is Innovate MR offering right now, that can add value to brands in market research companies?

[00:25:36]

Our primary client base, our market research agencies, they could be brands, corporations that have a research department. Innovate MR, is not a market research company. We’re a data collection and samplings solutions company. Businesses come to us to either help them program and host their surveys, but primarily to find audiences around the globe, to fill various needs. Whether it’s consumer or be with audiences, that’s our full service business, but what we’ve done with the platform that we recently released, which is called Pegasus. The goal of Pegasus is, to help brands and agencies get faster answers. And so in the same way that you can log onto Google AdWords, you can log onto Facebook ad manager or a twitter or other ads based solutions and you can log on and say, I’m looking for 18 to 34 men and women who live in California and let’s just say on Facebook like Starbucks. In the same way on Pegasus, clients can log on and do the same thing. Say I’m looking for, this demographic in this geographic with this psychographic attributes, and I want those people to take my survey. And how many people can you get me within what time frame, and much will it cost. And that’s the primary function of Pegasus today, but Pegasus is just the foundation of what could be Innovate MR in the future. If you want to build solutions that deliver faster insights to corporations, then the starting foundation of that platform has to be the delivery of audience sample, people that will actually provide those faster answers. Owning proprietary panels and then having a platform on top of it to deliver those panelists to surveys, is the first phase. The second phase of Innovate, is figuring out solutions that provide value to corporations, that can deliver on that thesis of faster answers.

[00:27:31]

What set you apart, from the other sample providers, is it Pegasus?

[00:27:37]

Well, Pegasus is definitely one of the key differentiators of the business. And having built, I’ve personally built and Pegasus was primarily built out of my concepts of where DIY sampling can go. I built seven or eight different sampling platforms, over 20 years. And so like we were saying earlier, when you build something and you screw it up, the next time you build it, you do it better, but then you screw something up. And so I think with Pegasus, we’ve really built a solution that solves a lot of the problems of the past and provides great value. So that’s a key differentiator. But I think that experience, there aren’t many founders or CEO’s in the sampling industry that have done it three times. And I have been doing it for 20 years. So if you look at the leaders in the sampling industry today, there’s probably only one other company whose leaders have been doing it equally, as long as us. So I think that experience and know how, is what is delivering success for our clients. Whether it’s through Pegasus, some threats are before full service sampling. Getting the job done, really comes down to experience and know how.

[00:28:45]

So are you seeing that as really buckled the trust factor, as one of the big drivers for the marketplace?

[00:28:52]

In order to provide good value and good quality, we can’t be the cheapest, and we don’t want to be the cheapest. There are solutions out there that are perfectly cheap, and you can go there and you get what you pay for, but I can’t provide the handholding that client’s needs at the lowest price. I also can’t build and buy the highest quality panels if I’m also the cheapest, but not the most expensive. Innovate is kind of a mid priced sampling company. We are aggressively creating proprietary panels, and that has a cost. If you’re business that’s just brokering or reselling other people’s panels, then that’s just an arbitrage play where you can make pennies on the dollar, and kind of buy and resell someone else’s panel asset. But we’re building this panel site called, Point Club. It’s actually on its second version. We call it internally Point club Two panel. But we’re inventing right now, and developing a third version of it, Point Club three point out. That really takes user experience to the next level. I think we all know that surveys are not easy, they’re not necessarily fun either. And while we like to think that people take surveys just to give their opinion, that’s really not the case when it comes to online sampling and online panels. People are doing it for rewards. Now, if you’re a frequent flyer of Delta and they send you a survey over email, and they want your opinion about a recent flight, yes, you’re going to do, you’re going to provide that survey because you believe in that brand and you want to provide feedback, to make the brand better and you don’t need a reward for it. But when you’re doing anonymous surveys for corporations and research agencies around the world, it’s all about the reward. And so, we’re building a great panel site. We can only control the experience before someone takes the survey and after they take a survey. And in order to create that great experience, it costs money. And when we do that and invest that money, it creates a better panel asset. And when we create a better panel asset, we believe that it provides better quality and better value, for our clients.

[00:31:03]

Yes. I feel like there’s tension right now in the market between the automated sample deployment piece, which largely blinds the ultimate consumer, the insights, data quality in favor of CPI versus what you’re describing, which is a higher, probably a higher level of service, much higher level of service and presumably higher level of quality in the sample, given that you’re paying more on the incentive side.

[00:31:29]

Yes, absolutely. And I don’t know if there’s even tension. I mean, I’m a huge believer in automating between different samples supply sources, at least on our team recently launched a blog series called, The dirty little Secrets Of Sampling. But the secret of sampling was always that, you would go to sample company A and they would then in order to facilitate enough sample and fill the quotas of the client, they would have to go to traffic company B, C, D and E, in order to get enough traffic screened, in order to find those audiences. And that was in the old days of sampling that was done over email. Email traffic company B and say, hey, can you deliver me 100 completes? I can only pay you a buck 50, that’s my budget. And they deliver traffic through your system, off to your client’s survey. Now, that whole process has been automated. I think nowadays clients are more concerned with- most clients are concerned with getting their quotas filled, at a reasonable price, on time and to a level of quality that they feel comfortable with. So of course, we always try to use our proprietary panel first. We’re investing in it and aggressively building it. But any sampling company that tells you that they don’t use partner traffic to help fill quotas, is not being truthful because I know everyone in the space and they all do it. And all we’ve done with automation is by streamline the delivery. And streamlining delivery, has actually meant that we can bring our prices down for our clients. So there’s been a benefit to clients, by automating delivery of traffic. And then, how each sampling company screens that traffic and provides layers of quality, before delivering that person into a survey. Is the nuance that allows a client to think, believe that you’re delivering quality.

[00:33:37]

Yes. One of the trends I’m seeing, with especially startups that have been in place for the last maybe 24 months, if visible in the last 12, is that they have their proprietary panel, right? So it’s like they’ll have a million people in the US. You launch your project through their system, their people take the survey or participate in the exercise or session or whatever it is, right? But in a lot of times, that’s happening in a faster time frame than in what would be necessary in traditional surveys. Are you seeing this as a channel strategy partnering with these types of companies, or is this not even a trend, that I’ve incorrectly recognized? Shouldn’t be the first time, by the way.

[00:34:18]

I am seeing a lot of businesses pop up that have different use cases, whether it’s polls or surveys or different types of chat solutions, that on this site they say that they have millions of access to millions of panelists. And the first thing I think of is that, they’re probably buying panelists from companies like mine or other marketplaces that exist, in order to find those audiences. So the evolution of creating automation around the delivery of panelists, whether it’s a marketplace or it’s a sample company like mine selling access to a panel, it means that businesses can create new and unique solutions on top of that foundation, but then sometimes they promote the panel as though it’s their own. And I tend to think that, a lot of those businesses are accessing third party sample, through automated sources.

[00:35:12]

My guest today has been Matt Dusig, Co founder and Managing Director at Innovate MR. Matt, thank you very much for your time today.

Ep. 114 – Alex Gelman, CEO of mTAB

Today, my guest is Alex Gelman, CEO of mTAB. mTAB has a platform for integrating and analyzing data so that brands make the most informed business decisions. Prior to founding mTAB, Alex worked as business consult at McKinsey and KKR.

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FIND ALEX GELMAN ONLINE:

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alex-gelman-2373034

Twitter: @Alex_Gelman

mTAB: https://www.mtab.com/


[00:00:00]

Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today, my guest is Alex Gelman, CEO of mTAB. MTAB has a platform for integrating and analyzing data, so that brands make the most informed business decisions. Prior to founding mTAB, Alex worked as a business consultant at McKinsey and KKR. Alex, thanks very much for being on the podcast.

[00:00:24]

Thank you so much for having me, Jamin. It’s great to be here.

[00:00:27]

So I don’t think a lot of people in the industry know much about you. I thought it would make sense to maybe look kind of at your early days. Could you tell us a little bit about your parents, and how they affected your career?

[00:00:39]

Sure. So my parents are immigrants from the former Soviet Union. They immigrated to the–to the States, and as good Soviets, they were both engineers by background. In the US, my mom was an engineer at a hospital, a plumbing and HVAC engineer, and at nights and weekends was a real estate agent, and my dad built houses. He had a small construction company where we lived, and with his bare hands and a–and a few workers, did house renovations and built houses with his bare hands.

[00:01:13]

It’s interesting–and so the entrepreneur elements of how–sort of your DNA, I guess, clearly started from them as an example.

[00:01:23]

Oh, absolutely. So hard work was always–was very much the immigrant mentality, and very much the American dream. I mean, they came over with nothing, worked hard, and were able to provide my family, my brother and I, a very lovely middle-class life. And so hard work was always drilled into us, and then math. Like very good executives, they had a clear KPI and it was one KPI and that tracked, and that KPI was our math scores. So I was–my brother and I were always pushed to have great math scores. And here’s a–here’s a–one little anecdote that you will–you’ll appreciate. They used to drive around–they used to put me and my brother in the backseat of the car, and drive to not particularly–I grew up in Long Island, right outside of New York City, and they would drive to not particularly nice areas in New York, or not very high-income, and tell us, “Would you like to live here?” And my brother and I would say, “No, no, we don’t want to live there,” and they’d say, “Well, this is where you live if you don’t do well in school.” And then they would drive–I’m not making this up–and they would drive then to, you know, the north shore of Long Island past the mansions, and say, “Would you like to live here?” And we would say, “Yes, we want to live there,” and they’d say “Well, this is where you live if you do do well in school.” And so math and hard work were always drilled into us, and now my brother runs a quantitative hedge fund and I’m the CEO of a data analysis company, so I guess it worked.

[00:02:50]

That’s so funny. My best friend is from Romania. His mother moved him and herself here when he was in seventh grade. The culture–he didn’t actually speak any English at that particular point in time, and then moving right at that middle school period, which is such an inflection point for, you know, everybody, but, you know, for him, even more so, he has that exact same mentality in terms of his work ethic, and how he has really bootstrapped–like 100% of bootstrapped his life. And, I mean, this year, he’s going to make–I can’t tell you how much, but he’s going to make a lot more money than I’m going to make, how’s that? And it’s just predicated on his work ethic. I’m hearing a lot of narrative nowadays around how the Internet has created clear access or opportunity for everyone across–and getting rid of really the socioeconomic opportunity that has traditionally existed for wealthy kids, or kids of wealthy parents, because it was a lot–in those days, it was a lot of, you know, who my parents knew, that basically got me into that job. And now, because of the Internet and having direct access to markets, it’s–you know, you’re seeing a lot of hustle coming out of kids who don’t have very much or nothing, except maybe a cell phone and Internet access.

[00:04:14]

Yeah, that–I agree with that. Look, there’s a lot of luck, too. I was lucky to have been born a white male in the United States. I was lucky to have been born with two parents who valued education and loved us. So there’s an element of–you know, you can’t deny the element of luck, but yes, the value of hard work and hustle was absolutely driven in to us at a young age, and I think today’s world makes it possible that if you do work hard, you really could–in a–in a place like the US, you could really achieve whatever you want.

[00:04:51]

For sure. So McKinsey, KKR, big deals. How did you wind up in those large consulting organizations?

[00:05:00]

So coming out of college, I knew I wanted to go to a–work at a large consulting firm, largely because I viewed my 20s as more education. So I wasn’t really looking for a job, I was looking for business boot camp. I knew I wanted to go run a business some day, and I just thought, you know, my 20s is the time to learn. Quite frankly, with both of those jobs, and I’m not going to go back and tell them this now, but, you know, they could’ve paid me nothing and I still would’ve taken them. It was just a fortunate coincidence that they paid me, largely because I was going there to learn, as I viewed my 20s as a launching pad for the rest of my career. So my first job, McKinsey, was, I just wanted to learn Business 101. I went to Dartmouth where I was a philosopher major, and economics double, but, you know, liberal arts major, didn’t know anything, and so I went to McKinsey to learn Business 101, and there I really learned the value of how to talk to the C-suite. It’s something that consultants are excellent at that market researchers actually could really learn from consultants. And then I went to KKR to learn how to talk to investors and boards and capital owners, which is a very different language than talking to the C-suite. And so those first years were really formative, and I was very fortunate to have some of the best business education in the world.

[00:06:30]

So then how did you wind up in marketing research?

[00:06:33]

So honestly, luck, random. So after KKR, I went to business school at Stanford and I started a–essentially a small private equity fund. It’s called a search fund, is the concept. But essentially what I did is I knew I wanted to run a company, but I didn’t have any good ideas on a company to start. So I figured, “Gosh, there’s some probably really great companies that are out there that are already being run, and I would love to scale them and take them to the next level, and so let’s go and buy these companies and grow them as opposed to start something from scratch.” The problem was I didn’t have the money to go buy a company. So I made a deal with essentially five of my professors and then 20 of their wealthy friends, and the deal was as follows: why don’t you guys pay me a little bit of a salary, not a lot, just enough for me to live and eat indoors, and I will go travel around America for two years, and I’m going to look for a really good company to buy. And if we find a company that we all like, you guys put up the money to buy the business, and I’m going to move there and become CEO. I was not necessarily looking at market research. I was looking at lots of different businesses. They had lots of–we had various characteristics of businesses we were looking at, and I really love data and analytics businesses, but honestly I stumbled upon mTAB, fell in love with the business, fell in love with the industry, and said, “This is it. This is the one.” And so the investors put up the money, we bought the business in May 2015, and I moved from New York to southern California, and I’m still here, three years later.

[00:08:17]

Not exactly in line with our normal conversation, but what would you see–you know, going through that process, what was like the plan B if mTAB–like, was there–was there another business that you thought, “Eh, this–if mTAB doesn’t work out, this is next in line”?

[00:08:34]

So I was towards the end of my search process. There were actually a couple of other businesses that we looked at before mTAB, and we walked away because they weren’t–for whatever reason, we decided that they weren’t the right business for us. There was no plan B after mTAB, actually. We were–we were on our last dollars, when we were working with mTAB, and I don’t know, I guess I would’ve either gotten a job, or tried something else entrepreneurial. I doubt I would’ve gotten a job. I–the entrepreneurial bug had bit me, and I was pretty set on starting something or buying something.

[00:09:12]

I–the few interactions that you and I have had inside of the industry over the last few years, I would–I would concur, from a character perspective. A CEO is a CEO, you just can’t help it.

[00:09:22]

I don’t think I’d make a very good employee. I feel bad, because I have very different expectations of my–of my teammates, but I don’t–I–Lord help the person that I have to work for, so.

[00:09:38]

Let’s talk a little bit about mTAB. What is the core offering, the value prop? And who is your target customer?

[00:09:45]

So we help market researchers analyze, visualize, warehouse their mark–all of their data. Within large Fortune 500 companies, we act as the single source of truth for the market research or consumer insights departments. We also work directly with large market research firms, as well as small market research firms, but really our target audience is the big global enterprise dealing with lots of disparate market research data, and needing a way to get their hands around it.

[00:10:20]

This goes back a few years, about six, but I was helping Visa, I was on a small committee, working with the CMO at the time, on their data strategy. And through the discovery process, I identified that they had 13 NPS studies going on simultaneously, and the end result of that was, I mean, obviously, costly, but more impactfully was that you’re getting variance on the data by data source, and because there wasn’t this complete view of–or single source of truth, it was creating confusion in terms of, you know, what companies–what the company should actually do. Is that–is that a good example of a company that should’ve used you at that point in time?

[00:11:11]

Oh my goodness, that’s a perfect example, and you can come work for us as a–as a head of marketing, if this podcast–if this podcast thing doesn’t work out for you, Jamin. I mean, that’s spot-on. So when we were doing diligence on mTAB, I’m a–I’m a pretty diligent person, and we met with about 60 customers before doing the acquisition. And when I asked, “Why do you use mTAB?” and I kept asking “Why do you use mTAB?” to customers, and they–and here was the modal response, which is: The data is always right. Before mTAB, there’s spreadsheets sitting on 13 different computers, and you know the intern last year did something with the variables, but you forgot what exactly it was, and the Japan file is sitting over there and it’s not connecting to the Argentina file for this reason, and it’s a disaster, and nobody trusts the numbers. Once it goes into mTAB, it is–it is fact, and so–that’s what folks need, they need the single source of truth. They can’t have SPSS and Excel files on different people’s desktops and sitting in different data vendors’ proprietary tools. So what we do is we suck up all of that data, all the regional data and all the trended data, and all the different studies from data vendors, and we put it into one easy-to-use tool, so that there’s no debate about what the numbers are. And you can move onto the more interesting things like analysis and insights and storytelling, which is what market researchers ought to be doing.

[00:12:47]

So the–so there’s a couple things I want to piggyback on. I don’t want to lose sight of the importance of story, but before I get there, I viscerally connect to that. I know that, you know, as a primary researcher even back in the ’90s, we would conduct research, and then you would wind up with–you know, you’d of course do a bunch of analytics on that data, and if you have multiple analysts going through it, or even yourself and then some time passes, and you go back to reference, “Oh, which one is my–is the correct SPSS file?” or whatever data format you’re using at the time, it can get–confusing is an understatement, and there’s a lot of rework and even risk associated with using the incorrect or not-final data file.

[00:13:30]

Oh, absolutely. And we make sure that–that’s one of the services we provide, is that once a file goes up into mTAB, that’s it, that’s the final file. Which is why we are so rigorous about doing lots of process checks here, is we have to have 100% accuracy, because once it’s in mTAB, it has to be right, because that’s the value proposition that we’re selling to our clients.

[00:13:51]

The other part that you talked about is the story. I’ve heard this a lot lately, most recently by Rozhie [ph] of LinkedIn, and then Edwin Wong of Buzzfeed, story trumps numbers. Not in the way that–you have to have the numbers, and the numbers have to be right, nobody’s saying anything different. But the way that the people connect with the–the people being inside of the organization–connect with those numbers isn’t through a pie chart, it is through a narrative that is being built out in the organization, and that the more compelling that story, the more the organization is willing to adopt it and then make the necessary changes. Are you seeing in your customers these types of trends?

[00:14:35]

Absolutely. That’s why they–that’s why they come to us, is they don’t want to spend any more time mucking around with the data. They realize that that is something they should outsource to somebody else. They should outsource the merging together of data files, and they should be the ones focused on building out the story. And so when our customers interact with our software, they already–they–in an interactive dashboard, they press a few buttons, they export it to PowerPoint–they have a native PowerPoint–and they just build onto that story right away. And so when you look at–when you read something like the Grit Report, and you look at the amount of time that market researchers are spending cleaning, shaping data, and building PowerPoint slides, it is crazy. It’s crazy. They need to be thinking and developing new experiments and syndicating the story, writing the story and then syndicating it out throughout the organization, not mucking with data and building PowerPoint slides. And unfortunately too many market researchers are still doing that, because they don’t have a good grasp on the data, because they’re using outdated tools and methods.

[00:15:45]

That’s so funny. I’m really believing that that’s such an important message for market researchers to hear right now, and that is historically we have spent between 80 and 90% of our time simply doing research logistics, and now we’re at the stage where we need to be inverting that, and spending maybe 20% of the time or less on the logistics, and a lot more in the added value and uncovering the why, and then the–and then helping the client develop that story that is compelling, and that can be adopted inside of the organization.

[00:16:19]

Well, just [INAUDIBLE] table stakes now. It’s just table stakes, and the tools are just making it easier and easier that the C-suite doesn’t want to hear, “Oh, we spent a lot of time on logistics.” They just want to know the answer.

[00:16:32]

Exactly. So what three lessons did you learn as a management consultant that helped you–are helping you with the strategy of mTAB?

[00:16:41]

So it’s funny that you asked the question that way, because as a management consultant, I’ve been [INAUDIBLE] to create buckets, and typically I create buckets of threes, so my team always makes fun of me, because I always say, “There’s three things here.” So what three lessons did I learn? Well, you know, this is one that I thought about–it’s interesting you ask that question, because I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the last three years, because when I was a management consultant, we’d often come into companies, and we’d–there’d always be–there would often be comments of, “That’s not a new answer. Why’d they hire McKinsey? Why’d they hire Bain or BCG? They should’ve just asked us. You know, we knew that answer,” and internal departments, very often the market research department, would get frustrated that management hired these consultants to come in for millions of dollars to give them the answer that the market research department already had. And they thought, “Oh, you know, this is–this is–this is just garbage and nonsense that they’re hiring the consultants.” And, you know, I actually feel bad for the researchers, because they’re kind of right. They’re–they had the data all along, they had the answer all along, but they weren’t being listened to. So I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about, “What did we do–what did I do as a management consultant, what did we do at McKinsey, that we can take some of that and infuse it into the mTAB product, to empower market researchers to have a seat at the boardroom table, just the way the consultants do?” So there were–there are three things that I think that consultants do really well that market researchers can learn from, and that we’ve tried to take and infuse into the mTAB product. So number one, storytelling. So we talked a little bit about this, but I think it really is worth mentioning again. Consultants don’t just come in and say, “Here’s your data.” They come in, and they say, what was the situation, what’s the complication, what’s the resolution? Typical structure of a story. And they give an answer. So they don’t just deliver a 180-page deck that’s full of data and says, what are all the respondents said, and every variable by every single cut. They pull a select slide, and they build out and they tell a story. Number two, they’re hypothesis-driven. So I find that too many market researchers boil the ocean. And by that I mean, they get a data file, and they go, “What does the data file say?” Consultants who are hired at obscene rates for 10-week periods don’t have time to do that. So instead they come in and they say, “Here’s a hypothesis I have, and here’s what I’m going to test,” and they still go about it in a–in a scientific way. They run a–they have a hypothesis, and they test it, and if they–if the hypothesis fails, they’ll reject it, and they’ll take a new one, but they don’t boil the ocean and say, “What does the data say?” but they run tests. And the third thing I think that consultants do really well that market researchers can learn from is they break down silos. When you go and you hire a Bain or a BCG or a McKinsey, they’re flying around the entire organization. You know, they have access to all the data, and they have access to every department, whereas market researchers, I’m still surprised by how siloed they are, and even within the market research department, you have one person that’s doing–working with syndicated research data one, and another one is working with syndicated research data two, and a third one that’s working with proprietary data, and when you ask them, “Well, how are you looking at your–the cohesive set of knowledge?” they go, “Well, that’s not my job. I’m only the Cantor data person, or the GFK data person, or the Qualtrics expert. I don’t look at the cohesive set of knowledge.” And so I think market researchers are doing themselves a disservice. So what we’ve done is try to infuse some of that value that consultants bring into the mTAB product to empower market researchers to be really internal consultants within their organizations. So all of the hard work that is the table stakes that we talked about before, we take that off of clients’ hands. We have a–we have an analysis and insights department that will bring together lots of different data sets from across time and across geography and across different data vendors. We’ll put it into one tool, we’ll visualize it, and we’ll do it across all of the departments and all the sets of data, so that a market researcher can come in and just say, “What do we know about X?” and see the answer across the entire suite of knowledge, and then instantly, at their fingertips, be able to export a PowerPoint slide that’s already designed for them. That really is the power of what we’re trying–what we’re trying to do here, which is really empower the market researcher, because they are–they’re such an important and critical voice within the org–within these larger organizations, and it’s a voice that I think has gone a little bit quiet as there’s louder people out there shouting, but it’s often that quiet knowledgeable voice that has the right answer. So it’s our goal to empower the market researcher to raise their voice and be heard throughout their organization.

[00:21:54]

It’s a lot of context that’s missing from primary market research that you’re providing the customer. So when I think about all the projects that I’ve done, the thousands that–and that’s just because I’m old–that I’ve done, most of the time, I am dealing with, to your point, a siloed dataset from which I then think come up with, derive, and answer. But you’re absolutely right–God, it’s true, the millions of dollars I’ve paid consultants to answer questions for me, and they’ve only polled 60 industry experts or what have you, as opposed to the thousands that you might see in a normal study, and they’re coming up with meaningful–and the way that they’re doing that is this triangulation of context, where the business is right now, and then the primary research. So it is the case that they’re incorporating this syndicated data, but they’re also doing–adding the storytelling and qualitative elements on top of it. And I think you’re absolutely right, there’s a ton that we can learn as researchers to help uncover and address the why, and really make impact inside of the organization as opposed to being more in this defensive role that I think a lot of researchers find themselves today, where they’re trying to be the protectors of the methodology.

[00:23:14]

Our goal is to empower researchers to go on the offense. Our most impressive clients, what they’ll do is suck in various forms of syndicated data, and not just one set, but two or three sets, so that they’re the experts. There’s so many market researchers I ask, and I say, “How are you analyzing and double-checking the data from your market research provider?” And they go, “Oh, I ask them for cuts of the data.” And they’ll wait a week for a cut of the data from their syndicated data provider. That’s crazy. You have to–you have to have your hands around the data. So our best clients, they’ll suck in data from three different market researchers, then they’ll link that data set to their front-end survey, whatever they use, let’s say Qualtrics, and then they’ll pull in their proprietary data, just as you said, and overlay that, and then they’ll have a view of, “OK, with all of the data we have, let’s triangulate from the syndicated data to our own proprietary data to our sales and marketing data, what’s actually happening.” And those are the most impressive market researchers I see, and they–we have some of those as our clients, and those are the ones I’m most impressed by.

[00:24:20]

So I always end the interview with an opportunity for you to either inform the audience on something that you’ve got, like an offering that you have, that you’re particularly excited about, or, you know, some other key insight. So what is it that mTAB has to offer right now that can add value to brands?

[00:24:38]

I think we talked a bit about that.

[00:24:40]

I think you might be right.

[00:24:43]

I think–I think–I think we talked a bit about that, but I think that two of the more–the bigger things that we’re working on right now, we’re really spending a lot of time on our data visualization platform. We’re trying to make it easier and easier and easier for people to get to the numbers. But in a way, they still have the feeling that the data is accurate, and they can still work with complex data. There’s too many visualization platforms out there that A, are just not suited for market research, or B, just dumb it down too much, and aren’t really sophisticated enough to deal with 22 geographies and 10 years of history and four different data vendors. So we’re building on an incredibly sophisticated data visualization platform that still is incredibly intuitive to use. That’s one of the things we’re most excited about, and on the back end side we’re building out more and more connectors to this front-end survey tools. So whether you’re using a Qualtrics or a Decipher or a Confirmit or SurveyMonkey or just have raw SPSS files, we don’t care. We want you to be able to plug in all of your sources of data and get it into your data warehouse so you can operate from that single source of truth.

[00:25:57]

Interesting. My guest today has been Alex Gelman, CEO of mTAB. Alex, thank you so much for joining me today.

[00:26:03]

Thank you, Jamin.

[00:26:05]

Have a great day, and thank you, everybody who’s listening. How are the levels? Testing, testing, testing. Yeah? Are we recording? Hi. I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today, my guest is Alex Gelman, CEO of mTAB. MTAB has a platform for integrating and analyzing data, so that brands make the most informed business decisions. Prior to founding mTAB, Alex worked as a business consultant for McKinsey and KKR. Shit. There are–today, my guest is Alex Gelman, CEO of mTAB. MTAB has a platform for integrating and analyzing data, so that brands make the most informed business decisions. Prior to founding mTAB, Alex worked as a business consultant at McKinsey and KRR. Alex, thanks for being on the podcast today. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listen-