Podcast Series

The Happy Market Research podcast publishes interviews with insight leaders on the last Tuesday of the month.

Ep. 137 – Stacey Walker – Adobe – The So What and Now What of Market Research

Today my guest is Stacey Walker, consumer insights leader here at Adobe. Adobe is the global leader in digital media and digital marketing solutions. Stacey has headed up insights for Netflix, Walmart, Visa and has taught at Columbia University in the Sociology Department.

Find Stacey Online:

LinkedIn


[00:44]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Stacey Walker, consumer insights leader here at Adobe. We’re actually privileged to be in Adobe’s office today, and I’m joined by William. Unfortunately, Chloe could not make it because she is being responsible and actually doing work. Thank you, Chloe. [Chloe: “No, I’m not.”] No, you’re not.

Adobe is the global leader in digital media and digital marketing solutions.  Additionally, Stacey has headed up insights for Netflix, Walmart, Visa and has taught at Columbia University in the Sociology Department.  Stacey, welcome to the Happy Market Research podcast.

[01:49]

I’m happy to be here.  Thanks for coming to Adobe.

[01:52]

So, I’d like to start with the signature question:  Tell us a little bit about your upbringing.

[01:58]

Sure.  Well, I grew up in a really diverse area culturally.  I grew up next to Queens, and it was a really different experience, I would think, than a lot of people have as they’re growing up.  I had friends from all different cultures, lots of first-generation people, who I went to school with. And that sort of spurred my interest in learning about different subcultures, cultures, and sort of kind of got me into sociology a little bit.

[02:40]

So, tell me a little bit about your parents.  What did they do?

[02:43]

My father was an insurance salesman, and my mother worked in real estate.  My father was also a double-E, so he was an electrical engineer by training.  And he LOVED to tinker with computers, just LOVED technology. We would have little tiny computers all over the house that he would just toy with.  So I think that also encouraged me to move into tech because he got me into programming a little bit.

[03:13]

Back in the days of Basic?  [laughter] So, your mom, was she a life-long real estate agent?  

[03:23]

Yeah, I mean on and off for, I would say, 20 years.

[03:27]

Yeah, I think it’s interesting that you bring up that your dad is an electrical engineer and sort of his tinkering with computers.  Computers were a lot more like cars back in those days, right? And, if you wanted to actually have a computer, you had to work on the computer, like literally physically do work on the computer.  My first – I’ll call it real job – was managing what’s called a wang system, which was basically a vacuum-cleaner type. Literally, there was a whole room that was twice as big as the room we’re in right now that was just the main frames and everything like that.  And one of the neat parts that I got to help with (I didn’t oversee it but help with) was the actual transition from that mainframe to the desktop, right? I think it was Windows 3.5 like the very first from DOS to Windows. And it was a really… just like roll up your sleeves and get stuff done – wild, wild West.  You know there was no internet so you had to use different magazines to figure out how to code stuff, right? It was a fun time.

[04:43]

Yeah, yeah, it was.

[04:45]

I think that probably one of my favorite parts of that was just this…  grabbing a magazine and digesting the content inside of it because you had to wait 30 days for the next issue to come out.  So, do you have any memorable experiences programming or working on the computers with your dad?

[05:06]

I just remember when I was 12, I got so excited ‘cause I was able to do a printout of a house design.  [laughter] It sounds so ridiculous right now ‘cause it was so simple but I was, you know, a kid and it was just exciting.

[05:23]

That’s a really big deal.  It’s been interesting, that as a starting point to today driving up here to Adobe in San Jose, using Google maps.  And, of course, I know the route inside and out, but the reason I use Google maps was to identify if there were any traffic pattern issues, right?  So you go from that to your point – it’s like very early stage application of technology. And now, all of a sudden, it’s completely inundated everything, literally, everything that I’m doing right now.  And you at Adobe, you guys have been a massive part of my life. In fact, more so than any other tech company outside of maybe Apple, which was my very first computer. My first professional business that I did in college was called Anchor Graphic Design, and I started it so that I could be able to pay off my Apple computer that I bought.  And I used Adobe Illustrator and eventually saved enough money for Adobe Photoshop. Once I paid it off, I quit doing the company and just played video games on it, I think. [laughter]

[06:36]

Well, it’s great to hear that you’re an adopter of our brands even back then.

[06:40]

Yeah, thank you.  But my broader point is really how this company has sustained through generational shifts, right, as being the leader in this space.  Not a lot of companies can say that.

[06:55]

Yeah, I would say that Adobe doesn’t sit still or rest on its laurels.  We really have changed as the world has changed. We see opportunities in different places like experience design now, really designing for customer experiences, and moving beyond that to marketing and marketing experiences.  So we’re kind of the experience company now.

[07:22]

Yeah, it’s a neat transformation, meanwhile still having the underpinnings of the tool set enabling other companies – like even Happy Market Research – through Audition and Photoshop and Premier and so on and so forth.

[07:38]

It’s really great to hear that.

[07:39]

So, and incidentally they didn’t pay me to do that nor did they give me free software.  In 2003, you were at Netflix. I remember 2003 really well; I remember Netflix at that point in time also.  There was a lot of buzz. You guys had a million users; that was just like this break-through moment. And then, at the same time, you really started seeing the phoenixes come out of the ashes of the dot com bust that had happened just a year or two earlier.  Can you talk to us just a little bit about why you joined Netflix in those days and what it was like working in the Valley?

[08:19]

Well, at that point, it was a huge opportunity and a great product.  You mentioned 2003… I still feel like I’m dating myself by saying this, but we were mailing DVDs at that point.  And some of the research that we did was on the mailers themselves and how to get people to not rip right through the entire mailer so that they can mail back the DVD.  But it was pretty heady times. We were a very scrappy team in marketing and also really rigorous at the same time. So, it was very focused on really understanding the customer, getting a sense of how the brand was performing, especially in relation to Blockbuster.

[09:12]

Totally, totally.

[09:14]

But always really metrics-driven and conservative in a good way with cash so that we could eventually realize that dream of becoming Netflix being available on the internet.  That was always Reed Hastings goal.

[09:35]

And, of course, absolutely one of the most difficult transitions ever that I’ve heard about and to navigate that as successfully as he did, especially with Blockbuster declining the acquisition opportunity.  He is probably top 3 for me. [laughter] It’s just epic. What an epic story! The point that you brought up just now about cash is really interesting for me. I’m exposed to a lot of start-ups, and they’re burning cash right now.  And it feels to me at a tangible level a lot I saw in 1989 and 2000 where people were a lot less concerned about burn rates and a lot more concerned about user acquisition. And I just wonder if you’re getting that type of feeling with being in the middle of the Silicon Valley.     

[10:37]

I’m not going to say that I have complete déjà vu, but I have a little bit of déjà vu right now, in part, because the “not” part is because it’s not completely based on eyeballs, which it was if you remember.

[10:54]

100%

[10:54]

Yes, I think user acquisition, monthly active views, those are all metrics now that companies focus on.  And they’re a little bit more tangible, a little bit more concrete than just getting eyeballs. But it still feels a little…

[11:15]

It feels a little frothy; I guess is how I’d put it.  [laughter]

[11:22]

Not exactly bubble territory, but it’s frothy.

[11:25]

Yeah, exactly.  Then, of course, we recently saw a change in the market, a little bit of a correction over the last few days.  And I think that’s been healthy, kind of seeing that – just not explosive growth. But it is interesting to me that you have companies that…  and I’m talking about not that are publicly traded but are really sort of at that early stage that are closing 10–20 million-dollar rounds. I’m sure they’re earning it but on a lot of faith that things are going to go great.  So run to cash. That’s it, right? Actually, it’s run to revenue; race to cash. That’s my mantra in start-up land. So, recently you did some volunteer work, trying to raise awareness of housing issues in San Mateo.

[12:20]

Yes, in San Mateo county.  It was a program put on by Joint Venture Silicon Valley with Adobe and myself and three other marketeers put together a program for the San Mateo Department of Housing to help them come up with a marketing strategy for second units.  Driving adoption of second units, which is a pretty big commitment if somebody is building on their property.

[12:50]

Can you talk a little bit about what you mean by that?  I think maybe most of the audience isn’t from the area, so…     

[12:55]

Sure.  So, here in Silicon Valley, we have a hugely disproportionate jobs-to-housing ratio.  We have a housing shortage. I’m trying to avoid saying that it’s a crisis because that’s language that sort of turns people’s brains off.

[13:14]

I think mathematically…  I just saw this statistic. I haven’t validated this statistic, but it’s like 3 to 50.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it’s a big… my eyebrows went up. [laughter]

[13:29]

Yeah, and it’s a tremendous problem for traffic, for people moving out of the area.  And it’s not great for communities. So that really struck a chord with me in terms of a passion project where I could help the community, get involved, and, hopefully, drive some people to build on the land that they own so that they can accommodate either family members or rentals or teachers who can’t afford to live in the area.

[14:09]

It’s a worthwhile cause.  There were three colleagues – is that correct? – that you partnered with?

[14:14]

Yeah.

[14:15]

And all Adobe employees?

[14:16]

They were all Adobe employees.

[14:18]

Does Adobe help sponsor your time or other materials in that or…?  

[14:22]

Yes, they do.  So, they have a very generous volunteering program.  You can volunteer some of your time. And the hours that you put in to community service, they will actually match donations for charities.  Adobe is a great place to work; so, if anyone is thinking about it, they should really consider it. It’s a great place to work.

[14:50]

We just did an interview (I think it’s publishing in about six weeks.) with the founder and CEO of Research for Good.  And they are a panel supplier that has a double-bottom-line approach to their business. And they actually started out with that as the thesis.  So, for every dollar of profit, 50 cents or 50%, is donated to a specific non-profit that is feeding the hungry. It’s a very worthwhile cause. And it was interesting in talking with her about the tension between balancing a mission-driven company against profit, right, and especially in the context of…  She’s not a billion-dollar company. They’re privately held; they’re in a highly competitive marketing research sample providers. It seems like it’s a decreasing asset, right? But yet, having said that, they’re doing well. I don’t have visibility on the books, but my point is that the communication, what I see in the market place is very positive.  And their claim is that “our employees and our customers get behind the fact that we’re a missions-driven organization and also, we deliver best-in-class quality etc., etc. So you CAN have both, right?

[16:10]

I believe that you can.  I believe that you can do well and also do good.

[16:14]

Right, well said.  So, we have a little game we want to play.  This is going to be an experiment. This might get cut if it blows up.  [laughter] So, in this kind of made-up narrative, you’ve got ten Stacey bucks and you get to invest in a marketing research technology that’s going to pay out in five years.  So, what is that? 2023, I guess? I’m going to hand you the list, and you’re going to tell me where you’re going to distribute your ten Stacey bucks.

[16:49]

  1.  You’re not going to set this up as a conjoint?  [laughter]

[16:54]

I just blew the mic.  OK. I thought about that, but I felt that it would be less… less exciting for the…

[17:00]

This is probably less time-consuming.

[17:02]

Maybe.  It’s going to be full factorial too.  Really exciting. Big data, social listening, traditional focus groups, survey tools, voice (that would be like Alexa, Google Home, etc.), blockchain technology, AR, VR, machine learning and AI (which, for some reason I put those together, right?) and then brand trackers.  So, you’re going to invest in a company with ten Stacey bucks, and these are your ten products. So, you’ve got the pen. And I’m super interested to see where you put your ten Stacey bucks.

[17:49]

This is a tough one.

[17:51]

You’re trying to maximize your outcome.  But also, you know, of course, you have the risk mitigation factor as well.

[17:59]

Wait, I’m a venture capitalist.  I might get fired, but I’m not putting my own dollars on the line.

[18:06]

You do get fired or you’re rehired somewhere else, just keep being promoted by accidentally being right.  One in forty.

[18:14]

Right, exactly.  I don’t have to have a great track record.  [laughter] OK, here we go.

[18:24]

I normally hate asking respondents to do zero sum questions.  It’s the highest dropout rate. So, anyway, I apologize about the poor survey design.  So, for the record Big Data got 0; social listening got 0; focus groups got 0; survey tools got 0; voice got a 4 – and that was the first one you wrote down, I think.     

[18:46]

It was.

[18:47]

Blockchain got 2; AR got 2 – and that was the last one that you wrote down.  And AI/machine learning got a 2. Talk to us. What was resonating with you?    

[18:59]

Well, it was a toss-up between voice and blockchain, two technologies that I see as really emerging, especially when you think about Amazon putting products out these days: hardware that can listen and respond, Google etc.  So I think that’s going to be pretty huge. Blockchain… I’m excited about blockchain. But I do feel like there’s a lot of investment that’s happening in it. I’m excited as a market researcher because it will eventually give us a real fidelity into who is taking surveys and doing research.  It’ll tie it all together. So I’m actually very excited about it, but I think maybe the opportunity is starting to crest and likewise with the other plays that I have there. AI/machine learning – I feel like that’s on its way up but also cresting. And virtual reality… I don’t know how I feel about it.  I would invest more in augmented reality. That’s where I see things going versus virtual reality.

[20:14]

Totally.

[20:15]

So, yeah, those are my ten-dollar plays.

[20:22]

Let’s piggyback on voice for a little bit ‘cause I’m super-passionate on this particular subject, especially relevant to market research, ‘cause I’m not seeing a lot of market researchers thinking about how they can help their customers navigate the data divide in a voice-only world, right?  So, we start moving more and more towards a or away from a traditional… Wherever I am I get exposed to something if somebody pays for it, right? So, if you’re wealthy enough to brand, you get to buy an endcap in the grocery store or whatever or a big billboard, or you can get on the front page of Google AdWords, Amazon search results, etc.  But in a voice-only world, the transaction is: me in the kitchen, “Alexa, buy paper towels.” That’s my favorite go-to example because I literally do that. But it’s something… buy something that I’m out of, and then Alexa fulfills that. And in that world, I think marketing research has an important job to do to help inform brands today before it’s too late, before they’re completely disrupted because of this massive change in the user journey…the user-consumption journey.  So, as you kind of work through where your bet was, what were you thinking? As I totally screwed up that question because I answered it before. [laughter] Market researchers don’t do this.

[22:03]

I believe that’s called leading the witness.  [laughter] What I was thinking is a few things.  We have technology now that allows video and audio capture, and I’m seeing that really come to the fore.  Just think about research, not necessarily about brands, but also about brands because video and audio is prevalent everywhere.  We also have technology that helps us analyze what we’re hearing. So I see this being the perfect moment to talk with people as if they’re people and not ask them to type and write in surveys but to respond in a more natural way.  So I see that emerging for doing studies but also how we interact to order products. It’s more of a natural way to get things done.

[23:16]

I love it.  You’re right because you start moving away from the 10-point scales.  And the way that we can do that is qualitative scale, right? And that’s exactly the point:  that we can process not just ten conversations, but we can process thousands of conversations and then make decisions as long as it takes out the conversations.  Super-powerful stuff. Well, I’ll let you know in five years how your Stacey bucks have evolved. [laughter] So, what is the function inside Adobe of market research?      

[23:56]

Ahh, market research helps the company make decisions.  We help inform whether or not products should stay in the market, come out of the market.  We help product marketeers with their positioning and messaging. We, of course, do run the business activities; so, we have more programmatic research as well that helps us understand the customer journey.  So, as they come to our website and visit us, who are they? What are they doing there? What’s their intent? How can we improve the website to help them? Once they sign up, we figure out where they’re coming from how their experience is going.  And then we have other touch points. Because we have a subscription model, we want to understand how people are doing as they leave us and if there’s something we can do to bring them back again. So we have programmatic research but we also have strategic research.  We do all kinds of research: qualitative, quantitative. And we’re embedded in a larger analytics team, which is really powerful because we can connect actions with “why?”

[25:18]

Talk to me a little bit about the larger team.  This isn’t the right way you guys frame it, I’m sure but sort of this data ecosystem.  Where does market research fit? Who’s inside of that sphere?

[25:31]

Inside of the data ecosystem’s sphere?

[25:34]

Does that make sense?  That’s silly. I didn’t mean it like that.  

[25:36]

[laughter]  So, that contains behavioral data – so actions that might have been taken in the product (product launches, etc.).  It contains data about website visits. It’s pretty much what you would expect from a digital company. The benefit of being collocated with an analytics team is that you get access to the data and you’re able to put everything together.

[26:14]

Got it.  So is the role of like UX sitting inside of market research or is that a different division?   

[26:20]

It’s actually a different division.  They are really pretty focused on understanding the product as it exists today:  user actions, and work flows, and generating ideas for building new products.

[26:37]

Is there overlap in the types of projects that are done between what I think of as traditional market research versus UX?  

[26:49]

Yeah, most certainly, and there are times when we work together.

[26:52]

Got it.  So there’s part bridges that are built.

[26:55]

Yeah, we are a very collaborative and highly matrixed organization.

[27:59]

You have to be.

[27:00]

Yep.  [laughter]  As most big companies, I think, are.  And so we work together: there are areas of expertise that they have, that we don’t have, and vice versa.

[27:12]

Totally.  How do you guys practically navigate that?  [laughter] Do you have an example of a project where there was some sort of collaboration?

[27:21]

It’s funny I don’t have…  The reason I chuckled a bit is because I don’t have a standard, pat answer for it.  Every project is different. There are meetings with a variety of stakeholders that come to them.  And we typically will hash out some kind of a project plan, based on that. But there’s no one right answer to that question.

[27:47]

So, in that sort of framework, how do you guys handle… (This is like super inside baseball) how do you guys handle corporate budgets?   

[27:56]

That is super inside baseball.  [laughter] Delicately. [laughter]  I mean we do touch base as teams to understand what the road maps look like, and we try to allocate accordingly… but, yeah, delicately.

[28:19]

Yeah, because you have to be agile, based on whatever the specific needs are at that point in time.  Interesting stuff right there. Market research has got a ton of buzz around blockchain. You talked about it a moment ago in your investment thesis.  [laughter

[28:39

I like that it’s a thesis now.  That sounds smar

[28:44]

I guarantee you everyone is going to be looking for this online.  We’re going to start a fund on Stacey bucks. Yeah, the new cryptocurrency.  But, as it relates with blockchain, are you seeing any very specific applications of it where you guys are paying for it or other brands are paying for it?

[29:01]

I’m not seeing it realize its potential right now, but I see the potential.  Obviously, in currency, it’s real, but in market research, I think it’s pretty nascent.

[29:17]

What is the tipping point or what do you think the tipping point is for blockchain when it becomes part of our consideration as researchers?  Is it specific just to the panel quality. The first company that actually introduces… (We’ll pick on Research Now.) If Research Now launches a new blockchain technology, is there a big differentiation there?     

[29:45

I think if a research panel company were to launch something like this, market researchers would be pretty excited about it.  So, when you said “tipping point,” I thought that there were a bunch of different things that could come into play, one of them being consumers’ willingness to put themselves out there and be identifiable and opting into that.  So, I think we’re at a point where that could happen. People are fairly identifiable now. So it’s just making it a bit more of a formal way of doing it.

[30:30]

And then making sure that the monetization model makes sense ‘cause that’s part of the choke point, right?   

[30:37]

Yeah, one of things that I would also be excited about is people actually selling their data.  We’re kind of getting it for free right now. I’m sure that you’ve heard the expression that “data is the new oil.”  Right? It’s just out there and go for it. But I think that is a more fair and more equitable model.

[31:00]

Yeah, I totally agree.  The problem is that the economics start changing obviously if we have to go to the pump versus the ground.  And that sort of starts for me thinking about where the big disruption is going to be inside of our space, right?  That is going to be for me the next three-year window: who brings blockchain to market? Because it will be disruptive.  And then also is the market going to be willing to pay for it? Because right now you might have an average cost per complete of, (I’m making this up; I have no idea what it is.) we’ll say, hypothetically, it’s $3, or $5.  I’m talking about if you go directly to the panel company that’s the cheapest. For GenPop. But in that world, I’m going to sell you my data my three bucks for a 15-minute survey? Probably not. I’m going to charge something for my time and then also the extrinsic value of all the stuff that is tethering to it, whatever that is.  

[32:03]

You know, considering the magnitude of the decisions that get made off of that data, I think having valid data is really crucial to organizations.

[32:15]

So your value there is trumping the cost ‘cause it’s still the tail wagging the dog. You mentioned Adobe is a great place to work, and you’ve worked at a number of other fantastic places.  In fact, Netflix, they produced one of the most famous HR decks. I don’t know if you ever read…

[32:36]

I have.

[32:37]

Yeah, of course, you did.  [laughter] So, when you think about – given your breadth of experience, especially in the Silicon Valley – what do you see as the characteristics of an all-star employee?

[32:49

Oh, well, I can name a few things.  Specific to market research but also more broadly:  broadly, somebody who is flexible and agile, can work through change (that’s really important in Silicon Valley), and, for market research, I will say that some of the best researchers I’ve hired have been excellent communicators.  I fundamentally believe that market research has a marketing problem sometimes. So it’s great to get these “ah-ha” moments but, if you can’t communicate them effectively, they fall flat. And so I look for people who have really, really good communication skills – verbally and visually.

[33:43]

Have you…  Do you have specific resources you use to help train market researchers on storytelling?   

[33:50]

We have internally at Adobe used Duarte for storytelling and data visualization.  And that’s been very helpful. A lot of the folks who come in… We have templated decks that they can use and start from, but it does take some training to get people up to speed.

[34:22]

When you think over the last few years, do you find that corporate researchers are bringing more of the research function in-house or moving it out to vendors, specialized vendors?

[34:40]

It’s a mix.  I’ve seen it go in both directions just like I’ve seen departments centralized and decentralized.  It really depends on what you’re trying to tackle. I’ve seen hybrid models that work as well. I’m not necessarily seeing a trend one way or another at least in Silicon Valley.  I think, historically, companies here have in that sort of scrappy way taken on work internally. But even companies that have professed, “Oh, we don’t use outside research” – I’ve eventually found out that they have used outside research.  It’s really about how you want to spend your time and how you want to spend your budget. We get value from using external resources. But what I find… Where they can’t bridge that last mile is really telling the story. They don’t spend time within our walls; I find they don’t know our issues quite deeply enough.  And that’s not to say that they can’t get better, but it’s really hard to keep apace of all the nuances and change that happen within an organization. So you do need somebody on the inside to bridge that gap and tell a story.

[36:14]

Do you have then partners who have desks here or some regular sequencing?

[36:24]

We do from some of our vendors.  And that goes so far, yeah. It’s still not going to get us to the last mile because they’re not in every conversation that they could be in.

[36:42]

Right, and the obvious point being that you have to have that research owned internally in order for it to have the impact on the organization to effect change.

[36:52]

And we would prefer to be the ones who are driving the change and not have an outside vendor do that.

[37:02]

Yeah, I mean it makes perfect sense. Are there any other gaps that you’re seeing?  If somebody’s listening to this podcast, for example, is there something you’d like, say, “Gosh, shout out, I really wish somebody would do this.  Fix blockchain or whatever.” [laughter]

[37:21]

Yeah, fix blockchain would be one.  More, more video analysis: that’s another one that we’re always on the lookout for; really showing the human side of things.  Those are some of the things that we look for ‘cause we’re awash in data. We need to be able to pull it together and show the human aspect.

[37:46]

I love that:  “awash in data.”  I mean that’s an exact depiction of it.  We’re drowning in the oil, right? It’s the formation of the oil.  And you guys are doing a lot of work on that too, right? The formation of the data and then taking it to that full life cycle of feedback from the user perspective.  

[38:03]

Yeah.  It’s not to say that we don’t generate insights from the data.  Of course, we do. But there’s a lot of information out there. We need ways to distill it and put a face on it.

[38:18]

My guest today has been Stacey Walker from Adobe, Head of Insights.  Thank you very much for joining me today.

[38:23]

Thank you.

[38:24]

Everyone else have a wonderful day.  And PLEASE as always we love your feedback.  Leave a comment and ratings on Apple iTunes. That enables other insights professionals like yourself to easily find valuable content like this.  Have a great day! Bye.

[38:42]

Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, I’ll be joined by Mark Ziontz, CEO of Automated Insights.  This is a great opportunity for you to be able to learn from a seasoned CEO how he applies his two decades to drive very fast, rapid, healthy growth in our industry.  Have a great day! Hope you can tune in.

Ep. 136 – Robert Porter – Research America – Why Talent Is Important in Market Research and Beyond

Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today, my guest is Robert Porter, CEO of Research America. Research America is a leading marketing research and consumer insights company, serving the likes of PWC, Little Caesar’s, and Wrangler.

FIND ROBERT ONLINE:

http://www.researchamericainc.com/

Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-porter-1271454/#experience-section

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

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


[0:00]

In today’s episode of Happy Market Research. we’re going to hear from Robert Porter, the CEO of Research America.  I’m going to tell you right now this is one of the most emotionally charged episodes that we have had on Happy Market Research and, honestly, across all the podcasts I have subscribed to.  So I hope that you will tune in; stay with the story. It’s got a great ending, but it’s a very interesting journey that this man has been on.

[00:30]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Robert Porter, CEO of Research America. Research America is a leading market research and consumer insights company, serving the likes of PWC, Little Caesars, and Wrangler. Robert, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.

[01:14]

Thank you for having me.

[01:16]

We’d like to start out with our signature question:  Tell us a little bit about your parents and how that’s affected your current career.  

[01:21]

So, interesting question.  So, a little bit different than most folks.  At three years old, my mother put me on a plane with my two sisters.  She went to one terminal; I went to the other. So, I was sent to Philadelphia.  She called her mother and said, “Hey, the kids are going there; I’m going to Spain.”  And that was the last I’ve seen my mother. I’ve seen her two other times. So that’s obviously had an impact on me for sure.  So not all impact that you get from your parents is always something that’s reinforcing or helpful or positive. Sometimes negative things help you as well.  So, I floated around the system for a while after leaving my grandmother’s because there were three kids (two sisters) and, as the boy, which one flew out the coop.  So I was gone. And I was in the system and went through different homes, went through a lot of things, both physical and emotional, and it taught me a lot. So there’s some positive as well.  I was in neighborhoods that had some wealth, education. And I was able to learn from different homes that I lived in from different parenting and different techniques how people succeeded. There’s really nothing that I could say that’s more motivation than having a parent tell you or a parent-type person, “Hey, you’re not going to amount to anything.  You’re not going to be a good parent. You should just be a good gym teacher. That’s all you can do.” There’s nothing that gives you more motivation than something like that. So the motivation that I got from growing up really came from those types of things, and how to overcome that, and how to be a better person than other people saw you. So that’s what I had. 

[02:55]

I love that – coming out of this catastrophic spot and then pivoting into the successful company that you subsequently built with Research America.  Now the CEO of a large company and then starting quite literally with nothing, not even a support network. Outside of that, was it just the motivation that enabled you to create that bridge to bootstrap yourself?  Were there other people that came along side you through that journey?

[03:23]

So at 21, I reconnected with my real father, who started an answering service.  And the answering service is really where I started my business when I was about 27 or 28.  And I bought that very small business from him and reconnected with him. And I bought it from him.  And my stepmother became a mother figure to me and is probably the greatest inspiration that I’ve had in my life.  So Joanne. So, I bought that business from them for, I think, around two-and-a-half million dollars and a loan pre-2008 because I was building the business really too large for me to ever buy it back.  It was just a one-site office. Well, I built it into about 15 sites, doing around sixteen million dollars and sold that business to a public company, a large public company. I could have retired at that time.  Instead, I was given Research America, which was a part of the call center business ‘cause all we did was data collection by telephone in 2014. And they left me with that business. They said, “Hey, we want no part of this.”  I said, “Great.” It gave me the opportunity to build out a market research company that was new and unique and did a lot of different things that other companies were unable to do both in field and full service, both in qualitative and quantitative, and with many proprietary products.  And some of the way I was able to do that is by 14 boutique businesses. So, we have 14 offices, around 300 employees currently, and one team. So we take these boutiques of boutiques, we put them together, and we’ve built a great business in just a five-year period. We’re actually four-and-a-half years right now, moving on to five years very soon in April.  

[05:14]   

We recently, I think last Thursday, posted an interview with a young lady, 17-year-old female Latino.  Her name is Gaby. She actually has grown up with her grandparents – so slightly different story. And she’s recently bootstrapped her own company with a couple of high school friends, selling different types of ethnic food in a mail order format.  It’s a pretty interesting business. But what I see that’s really the sort of commonality between the two of you (obviously, she’s super young) is this concept of “I can do it and WILL do it. Watch me!” You, obviously, made a ton of money through the one acquisition you did and then harvested that.  And then to roll the dice again inside of Research America… I think a lot of people would rather spend the rest of their life on a beach with some Mai Tais, right? Do you think that’s just inbred, given the background?

[06:17]

Ahh, no question.  First off, I was born with a certain gene that you’re going to have to have.  Jamin, I know you personally; you have that gene as well. It’s an entrepreneurial spirit.  You’re born with that. I mean that’s something that I got from my biological parents that I was just born with.  There’s no question. That’s Number 1: you have to have that. But, certainly, give me somebody who’s hungry and has a past and something, a chip on their shoulder, that any day…  And we know that these are the guys that really, really change the world and make things happen. So this is an advantage. I mean what I’ve spoken to you was really an advantage. Something that a lot of people that I know, they have a disadvantage because everything was given to them.  I wonder even with my own children, “Hey, are they going to have the hunger that’s necessary?” But there’s just no question… I had the opportunity to retire at that time, and I never even thought about it. I said, “Hey, I’ll retire when I’m dead.”

[07:11]

[laughter]  My grandmother is a hundred-and-two years old.  We just celebrated two weeks ago her birthday.   

[07:19]

Oh, congratulations!  That’s a big one!

[07:21]

It is a big one.  No kidding.

[07:22]

I hope that happens to me and everyone listening to this podcast.  

[07:26]

I hope so too.  I lived with her for a few summers when I was doing field work.  She lives in a really small, rural community. And she would literally…  she would stay up after I went to bed. And I would go to bed late as a teenage boy.  And then she would wake up at about 4 o’clock and make me breakfast and get me out of the door by 5 a.m.  And I asked her; I said, “Grandma, when do you sleep?” And she goes, “You sleep when you’re dead.” [laughter]  And I think that that, right… And her other quick, great quote was, “If you lay down too long… If I lay down too long, they’re going to start throwing dirt on me.”  [laughter] I think you’re right. It really isn’t about the money as much as it is about this constant need that I have in this case. And I think, intuiting on how you framed yourself, that you do as well.  To prove myself and almost middle-finger the rest of the world that, “Yeah, I can do it. I have done it. Yeah, I can do it, and I can do it again even better.” I don’t know what’s that about. Something definitely is wrong with me, but anyway there you go.  I hear ya, man.

[08:24]

So, money to me is just a way of keeping score.  And I think that you’ll find that amongst true entrepreneurs:  it’s really just a way of keeping score; it’s not a real necessity.  It’s like any other one of your numbers. You have to know your numbers at all times, and it’s just another number.   

[08:40]

So, what would you see as one of your largest challenges with Research America?

[08:44]  

So I’ll give you another story.  So the biggest challenge that I had was in 2016 in November; it was really solved by Rex Repass from REPASS Consulting, one of our main companies in full service in Cincinnati.  And I flew from his office to Miami to meet my son, and my daughter and my wife. (They were on a different airplane from our home in Philadelphia.) And I had met Rex just three times prior in person; so, this was the fourth meeting.  And we knew that we were totally aligned. We had only known each other for two months. And I had just bought business his weeks before. When I landed in Cincinnati, my phone blew up. And I found out that my wife had cardiac arrest, very severe due to multiple diseases and ailments.  She subsequently had hundreds of shocks; she was on life support – almost lost a limb. She was weeks in a coma, paralysis; waking up, rehab. So I had no way to run a business at this time, and I just bought five businesses that year, which was the largest. And two of them, Intellitrends and REPASS were in the last probably 90 days, both of them.  So, on Monday (this happened on a Friday, coming back from Cincinnati) I called everybody in our group meeting, had an emergency meeting with all of our sites. And I just said, “Hey, this is where we’re at.” I said, “Rex Repass is in charge of this company.” Some people had been with me for years. It was, to me, was the obvious decision even though I had met him just three times and had only bought his business two months prior.  And Rex took over the company. People were like, “Hey, who’s this guy?” Of course, they were shocked to learn what had happened to my wife, which has really become a great story. And she’s recovered and done phenomenally well. But the story here is – Wow! – during this time of hypergrowth… On November 4, 2016, I had this tragedy, and the company had to hold itself up on its own. And Rex was able to help that. So you have to have somebody who’s there to help and, fortunately, that had happened just a couple months prior.  My wife had slept through her birthday; she had slept through Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. We had to fly her five weeks later back to Penn where her doctors are – an emergency transport from Miami. It was a really crazy time; so, this was the time that was the biggest challenge for me. And I had a great support team with my company to allow me to do what I had to do for my family and for the wife and for my children so that the business would not fall apart. Certainly, my Number 2 and now president of my company, Rex Repass, is to thank for that.  We are completely aligned. He has helped me along with my CFO, who is one of my best friends from high school, Mark Schoenberg. So I have a good support team and now some vice presidents and many directors, who I count on every day. Basically, it’s one team that I was developing that was able to keep this afloat during such a challenging time in my life.

[12:23]

There’s a tremendous amount of complexity in that narrative.  The thing that stands out to me is (1) – just doing that level of M&A:  massive, massive amount of focus is needed to pull that off successfully.  And then to go through a personal trauma right in the middle of it… The fact that you guys were able to keep it together is amazing.  But, having only met with Rex three times and then to entrust him with the whole enchilada, that’s a massive capacity for trust that you exhibited, right?   

[13:03]

It’s like the guy who meets his wife and knew right away, “Hey, this is the person.  This is it.” Sort of no different than that. When it came, I knew that this was the person right away.  And when I left Cincinnati that day on my way to that tragic time, I knew that I had found my person to build this company with.   

[13:30]

Has that been a skill or characteristic that you have, obviously, sort of a high EQ in identifying people that are high capacity and also on your team, right, because he could…  there are a million different problems that could have happened there, and they didn’t, obviously. Like is that a skill that you’ve developed, or is it just coming natural out of your background?   

[13:49]

I think it’s definitely a skill that I’ve developed in what I’ve been doing, but it’s got to be a skill that you have, whether it’s innate or you’ve learned it.  Talent is the Number 1 thing that everybody needs. So, if you ask me, “Hey, what do you need for an all-star employee?” The most obvious is talent. And, if you don’t realize that talent is the most important thing, you shouldn’t be in charge of a business because that’s what drives the entire machine always.    

[14:24]

The other part of that though is your optimism that he would be able to not just take the ball but score a touchdown, right?  And that comes really from YOU initially.

[14:33]

Yeah, I think so, but really it all boils down to building a team; in our case, what we call one team and making sure that you have the right folks on board.  But, without that, there is no business, and that shouldn’t be something that I’m teaching anyone on this podcast; it’s something that everyone should know for sure.

[14:56]

I love the one team framework.  Let’s segway in, as you already have, to the characteristics of an all-star employee.

[15:02]   

So, I won’t give you talent [laughter] from right off the list.  If you don’t know that, again you got to get out of the game. Number 1 thing for me is drive, and that’s manifested by hunger or self-motivation.  I need somebody who thinks out-of-the-box like an entrepreneur would. And here’s a funny one: how about obedience in a way or the ability to understand that rapid expansion really needs someone to make those decisions.  So, after thinking out-of-the-box and coming up with your own decisions and being listened to eventually, if you’re in hypergrowth, quick decisions have to be made, and you have to accept those decisions as an employee. And you need employees that will listen to you and work with what you ask them to do once you listen to them.  So you need to listen to them; they need to be open and give you ideas, but they have to be willing to say, “Hey, the decision has been made. I’m going to make it happen.” That’s really very important, and people don’t realize that, hey, it’s not just thinking out-of-the-box, ideas, and having the drive to do it; it’s being able to listen and do what you’re asked to do.  Two-out-of-three is not good here. You need to have all three to be an all-star employee: the ability to listen, the ability to think out-of-the-box, and you must be hungry or self-motivated.

[16:37]

I have an interesting story, kind of piggy-backing on that out of that, out of my personal experience.  I hired an area manager out of Asia, and they had an aggressive sales growth target when he was brought on board.  So the team, of course, was complaining though his answer simply was, “Our job is not to ask ‘why’ but to ask ‘how’.”  And that created this great series of productive conversations that led to very specific tactics that allowed them to reverse engineer the growth trajectory and then, ultimately, hit it.  So, you’re absolutely right. That mentality of ownership and the ability to just kind of do it as opposed to not is paramount. But I do want to kind of pivot back to this one team that you talked about.  So you have this rubric of what an all-star employee looks like and, obviously, your team conforms with that. After doing that many acquisitions, was there a pretty difficult process to align the team or cull the team so that they were completely aligned against one culture?

[17:42]

So, when you acquire different businesses and you put them together as one, you have owners and managers that are used to running their own fiefdom the way that they always wanted, that they always did.  If you’re doing different things, sometimes it’s hard to get everybody to agree, to work as one organism – one operating organism. And, getting people to do that, you have to make sure that they’re aligned with your core values.  We have core values, and we believe that we’ve instilled those in everybody to work with one another. And that allows them to sort of give up that private fiefdom and work with everybody as a team. And, when people start to do it, they really enjoy it, and they say, “Hey, I’m so glad to be part of this bigger, better team, doing different things.  And I don’t know everything, and I have so many people to learn from. But, as long as they’re aligned with your core values / your pillars, then you’re going to have a great company.

[18:46]

So, you’ve been in the market research space for quite a while. What are you seeing now as a macrotrend?

[18:51]

I don’t know if I’ve been in the business for quite a while; I’ve only been in the business for four-and-three quarters years.  So, I started sort of learning this, but I was learning from experts as I was looking at different businesses. I was going and talking to other owners constantly so that they could teach me, going to conventions and learning everything, getting a crash course in five years.  So, there are a lot of things that are changing and evolving in the market research field: artificial intelligence, reduced budgets – which is something that we have to, from supply side, have to work with all the time – and new technologies coming in, and DIYs. So these are the macrotrends in the space, and we have to work with them.  So, if we say, “Hey, qual and quant. They’re both great. But we to do both of them, and they’re better together. Full service and field service: Hey, they’re great separately, but they’re better together.” So those are important things. Same thing with artificial intelligence and using those products: those are better together with traditional research products when you’re using AI to moderate or AI to develop panel based on past information to build panel answers versus traditional methods.  You got to do them both. That’s the thing sort of… DIY is becoming something that is so important. Again, part of what we do, it’s better together. You can use a full-service market research company, and you can do as much or as little as you want but, as a researcher, it’s my job to put those things together and say, “Hey, do as much or as little as you’d like. We’re going to help you either way. So, if you have your innovation center that you have internally and, as long as your research is not unbiased, we want to work with you.  We want to figure out, “Hey, what can we do to help you?” We’re not large enough. And some of these businesses that are losing amazing amounts of revenue in this business. We’re growing in a business that, certainly, on a revenue standpoint, seems to be shrinking. I’ve always been in businesses that have grown in a shrinking market. That’s my story; I’m sticking to it.

[21:28]

What are you seeing as one of the keys to your success for Research America?  And then, are you drawing on your expertise coming from outside of the industry and bringing it into research?   

[21:41]

Yeah.  First off, there’s an obvious answer here.  And again, you have to drive growth and profitability.  You have to increase your conversion. You have to increase the leads that you bring in.  And you have to increase your product service offerings. So, this should be new to no one that’s making the kinds of decisions that I am.  They’re the same for everybody. So, what’s unique to our company and what I’ve brought in? I really brought in the same core values that I brought into… from my other business.  And I think that that was the secret sauce, and I don’t think it should be a secret for anyone. Our core values are: integrity matters; relentless curiosity, which is really necessary in marketing research (that was the one that was added new); certainly, the one team that we talked about before; and really, we can’t grow and succeed without a sense of urgency from everybody.  And these four core values are values that we spoke about with our leaders to make sure that they were aligned with them, and they agreed, and they aligned with market research. And integrity is very important in market research. Relentless curiosity is extremely important in building a good company. One team and a sense of urgency is so important.

[23:08]

Yeah, I think it’s brilliant.  I wish I would have talked to you before Focus Vision.   [laughter] Honestly, the one team pillar is very, very powerful and succinct.  I really like the centralization of decision-making but then also sort of how it’s a group effort as opposed to one person, you know, top-down whatever.  I really like that framing as an additional add-on to core values. I think we take that for granted in a lot of cases as just part of the value system in order to see the other one succeed.  Like you said, integrity or urgency or relentless curiosity, but calling it out, it really puts it in a special place and identifies it as critical.

[23:52]

There’s no question.  I often sign emails to team members “One Team.”  So, we’ll be talking about something, and there’ll be a group of us from diverse companies and  backgrounds in marking research. And I’ll remind them about that core principle: “One Team.” We’re always talking about it; almost every meeting that I have, that’s brought up.

[24:16]

Does it have reach to the customer as well?  

[24:18]

Oh, there’s no question.  So, one team to them means security to their data.  It means we have people working together instead of outsourcing that to a bunch of people.  We have everything internally working as one team to make sure the time when we have so much legislation regulation that we’re able to have a secure data and make sure that one team is working on all of their work instead of outsourcing it all over the place, whether it’s field or full service.  So, I think it’s invaluable.

[24:53]

Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about your business.  What are you guys offering right now that’s getting a lot of traction in the market place?

[25:00]

Well, right now we’re developing a company, based on the boutique of boutiques.  So, basically, I’ve bought 14 or 15 boutique businesses. I’ve put them together into 14 offices.  They do different things, whether it’s recruiting, or data science, or qualitative moderating, quantitative. We own three focus group facilities – soon to be four, two of Test Kitchens lab and sensory rooms.  So we’re doing so many different things. This boutique of boutiques is very helpful to our clients; being a one-stop shop, as I just discussed, is very important. We have cutting-edge techniques that we use, both in a proprietary form and then also on non-proprietary, where we’re using some of the innovative folks in our industry who are working with AI and video and some of these things and social scraping to be able to help our clients.  Data security has been a huge push to us in the last year because we know that a lot of companies have not been careful with the data – as really the climate with viruses and with data theft and the things that happened in the last election and the sharing and passing around data between multiple companies – as we have. We think that data security is here to stay, and it really… If it’s not on your front burner, you better move it up. Data security is very, very important.    

[26:40]

My guest today has been Robert Porter, CEO of Research America.  Robert, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[26:46]

Thank you.  I really appreciate your having me, and thank you for anyone who has listened this long to my story.  Hope it was inspirational and, appreciate being on.

[26:55]

The honor was all of ours.  Thank you very much for your full disclosure.  I do think that we tend to make everything really happy [laughter] incorrectly so.  In many cases, there are struggles and difficulties that we face at varying levels at different times in our lives.

[27:12]    

Jamin, this is a happy story.  It has a happy ending, and it has…  I’m a happy guy with a happy family. Just because it takes you…  there’s a few slips along with bumps and bruises… doesn’t mean it’s not a happy ending.  This is a happy story. This is the happiest story as you could ever hear.

[27:32]

Love it.  Robert, thank you very much.  Everyone listening. Thank you very much for your attention during this time.  As always, we love your feedback. Please be sure to leave some comments on Apple iTunes, and those ratings continue to drive our adoption.  Have a great rest of your day.

[27:55]

Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, we’ll be talking with Stacey Walker on-site at Adobe.  This is my absolute favorite episode so far. We actually have her go through a card sort of trending technologies and have a few other fun games that we’re playing.  Hope you’ll tune in.

Ep. 135 – Sima Vasa – Paradigm Sample – The Importance Of Continuous Learning In Market Research And In Life

Today my guest is Sima Vasa, founder of Paradigm Sample, Chairperson of SampleCon, and founder of Infinity Squared Ventures. Additionally, Sima has recently started Data Gurus, a leading market research podcast.

FIND SIMA ONLINE:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/simavasa/

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:50]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Sima Vasa, founder of Paradigm Sample, Chairperson of SampleCon, and founder of Infinity Squared Ventures. Additionally, Sima has recently started Data Gurus, a leading market research podcast. Sima, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast.

[01:37]

Thank you for having me.  I’m excited to be here.

[01:40]

It’s an honor to have a fellow podcaster participating.  Podcasting, as I found out once I embarked on this journey in August of this year, is not widely known about in the market research space.  Has that been something you found with your journey?

[02:00]

Yeah, definitely.  It’s funny I started it probably about a year ago around about, and early days I remember when I launched, it was kind of like “Oh, that sounds a little crazy.  Why are you doing that?” And now as people like yourself and other people have entered the market, it feels like people… It’s getting some more traction. And I think there’s a lot of podcasting going on outside of market research.  That influences the acceptability in our industry as well.

[02:31]

Yeah, totally.  How long have you been consuming podcasts?

[02:35]

Probably, to be honest, I consume podcasts so much more after I started Data Gurus.

Prior to that, I was probably listening to the NPR podcast – you know casually, not on a regular basis.  

[02:49]   

Yeah, totally.  For me, it was a transition from audiobooks into consumption of podcasts, which just gave me a much higher targeted set of content.  Yeah, which I loved and still do actually. It’s kind of a fun journey. Well, anyway, why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background:  your parents, how that has impacted your career into market research.

[03:15]

So, my parents are first generation from India here.  They came here when I wasn’t even born. I was born here.  And they really had the traditional immigrant kind of values and affects in terms of working really, really hard, prioritizing education and the responsibilities of family and duty.  I think all of that feeds into who I am today. But I also had a sudden tragedy very early on in my life with my parents, in that my dad died when I was very young. So I had to get out there and work at such a young age to kind of help support the family.

[03:55]

If you don’t mind sharing about what age was that where you started contributing to the family’s livelihood.

[04:02]

About 13.  

[04:04]

Do you think that that… you know the entrepreneurial spirit sort of was bred in you at that point in time?  When did you decide that you’re comfortable stepping out and starting a company?

[04:17]

Yeah, definitely, I think the seeds were planted at that time, just given the circumstances that we were left with.  I kind of in my own mind said, “Gosh, I never want to be in this place again.” I watched my dad struggle to keep jobs in large corporations.  And after he passed away, my mom really didn’t have an income. So I swore to myself that I would never be left in that position. And that really drove me to continue to work really hard and then take eventually the leap of faith to start my own company.   

[04:54]

Yeah, my parents had some real rough times, financially.  I was very blessed to have them, obviously, in my life. But along that journey, one of the things that I recognized was I needed to be able to make money just to have spending money.  So then I didn’t know what an entrepreneur was. (I didn’t even know if that word existed. I’m kind of that old.) I started these little side hustles and then it transcended into this kind of like getting a job at age 15 and driving illegally just to be able to get to it.  [laughter]

[05:34]

I know I rode my bike for like miles to go to the McDonald’s to go work and babysitting jobs.  My sister and I had a lawn cutting business. So, I do think it kind of builds that early foundation for having the resilience to make money and rely on yourself to do it.        

[05:54]

And then also know that you…  this confidence I think feeds into that life experience that, in fact, you can do it.  

[06:05]  

I completely agree with you.  It’s all about trusting yourself essentially that you can do it if you set your mind to it.   

[06:12]

So you’ve been in the workforce, obviously, since a very early age.   Can you talk to us a little bit about your exposure to market research and what actually brought you into this space from a career perspective.

[06:29]

Yeah, sure.  So, I graduated and the tech boom was happening.  I graduated with a market degree with a focus with international business.  And I knew I wanted to work somewhere in the tech sector. I lived on the east coast and decided that California was too far and set my eyes on Dell computers.  I actually interviewed there, got an offer, but also at the same time interviewed with a company called IntelliQuest, which was acquired by Millward Brown down in Austin, Texas.  And I got an offer there. And I decided to take that job because I thought, instead of having a view of just one company, the job that I got at IntelliQuest was really looking at the entire sector and being able to do syndicated tracking for the PC and laptop market.  That was it: I kind of just grew up in the market research industry from there on.

[07:28]

I remember IntelliQuest actually.  They were a BIG player in our space back in the 90s.  I had forgotten that they had been acquired by ahh… that they had been acquired period.  Weren’t they based out of the Silicon Valley?

[07:47]

They were based in Austin, Texas.

[07:49]

It was Austin.  OK, I knew you’d said that but…  They must have had some presence there.  But anyway, I had a few friends that worked in the Bay Area or lived in the Bay Area, I should say, that worked for them back then.  But, anyway.

[08:02]

Obviously, there were a lot of clients in the Bay Area too since it was focused on tech.

[08:06]   

So, you moved from that dot.com transaction that happened before the bust though, right?

[08:16]

That’s right.  Yeah, so I was there in the early 90s, and I promised my family that I wouldn’t grow roots in Texas.  I just wanted to see if I could move to a city where I didn’t know anybody and really establish myself.  It was a great experience: I actually ended up meeting my husband there. And we both decided to move to New York City after Austin.  And I ended up working at IBM in their research and strategy department.

[08:46]

My friends and family don’t necessarily love me saying this, but I still think New York City is the best city in the [laughs]. I absolutely love it!  

[08:54]

Are you going to break out on Hamilton now, Jamin?

[08:56]

Oh, my gosh, yeah!  I tried to move there in 2003 and, unfortunately, there’s just a series of events that prevented that.  Yeah, such a great city. And, so anyway, you moved there. You’ve been very active from a career perspective as an advisor, Blink Insights, Mobile Marketing Research Association and now, most recently, Chairman of SampleCon.  Can you talk to me a little bit about what you get out of that? Like what the motivation is?

[09:37]

Yeah, I think at the core of it I really do like collaborating and working with other people.  I think that’s part of the joy in work, is the people you get to interact with and, ultimately, what groups of people can contribute and accomplish together.  And so it’s satisfying to be able to move the needle and see how… For example, on SampleCon, we can move the industry together and be able to collaborate and communicate on hot topics and try to resolve some of those issues.  So, that’s really the core of it. It’s something that I’m passionate about. Obviously, I get paid for many of the roles that I take, but it is a form of giving back and giving time to different projects and issues. I’ve certainly had the benefit of people advising me, and so it’s something that I like to do as well.    

[10:32]

What are you seeing as some of the hot topics that are coming out of the sampling world?   

[10:39]

There has been so much buzz about blockchain; you can’t really get away from that topic.  I think there’s a lot of interesting initiatives around trying to get all the stake holders aligned in the research value chain, if you will, from the end client to the research agencies to the sample providers.  So, really taking it down to a very basic level and saying, “Look, at the end of the day, you want to keep respondents engaged; you want to care about their experience.” To do that, you have to understand their experience.  Go backwards and balance the research objectives and designs to actually ensure that from happening. And, obviously, there are other things at play where clients are getting other sources of data because of the… I’m not going to say that right [tries to say “digitization”] because of the digital… all this access to information that clients have.  There’s a question about the growth or the health of online survey data collection. Those are just to name a few; there’s many more.

[11:53]

Yeah, of course.  So, blockchain is super interesting for me right now.  I’m reading a lot about it, been exposed to it. In a large way, most recently in February at the IIEX Conference in Atlanta, one thing that really struck me was, unlike online data collection where it was really clear there was a competitor, which was traditional methodologies in data collection – I have not (and I’m sure it’s just my intellectual capacity) I have not been able to connect:  Is blockchain just a technology or is it actually going to be a technology that companies like yours adopts, which is to say basically a better panel management system or is it actually going to be a competitive set to the existing sample framework?

[12:59]

Yeah, it’s interesting.  I’d look at it in a couple different ways.  To be honest, I haven’t totally figured it out either.  We continue to evaluate and talk to different companies in the industry.  I think from the back-end perspective, there’s certainly a lot of efficiency in terms of ensuring that there’s not duplication in the data sets, given the fact that the respondent can’t answer surveys multiple times.  So there’s less kind of fraud in the system as it relates to blockchain. In terms of the user experience, what I see is that, if you can store data that a user responds to at any given time, they don’t have to waste their time again to answer the same questions again.  They can monetize those responses and gain some benefit from it. I think that’s kind of where I am right now in terms of at least the benefit for a respondent. I think, as an industry, we always hear about a panelist being (I don’t know what the latest number is) maybe six panels at any given time.  So on the back end, you can clearly see the benefit because that duplication will be relieved. I believe that’s the case. Again, this is my knowledge, thus far… I’m not an expert in blockchain, but from what I can gather.

[14:36]

Yeah, that’s exactly my view on it.  And when I talk to leaders in the space – like yourself – one of two things happen:  either they frame it, “Is it a better, improving overall quality?”, which is something we’ve seen.  There’s been a couple of different programs and solutions that have entered our space that have tried to address that.  So, is it better there or is it this whole new thing? I just really struggle with understanding: when the technology is adopted, what’s the consumption like?  What’s that dollar? Where’s the dollar coming from? Is it a new dollar or is it coming from an existing, budgeted dollar that was going to be spent with – pick the sample company, right?     

[15:26]

Yeah, I think that’s a very fair question.  I think it gets interesting when you start layering in the passive data from the blockchain.  Again, the challenge there and/or opportunity is: you know we already have passive data access, and clients are still struggling on what to do with all that data.  So, at the end of the day, it sounds fantastic that you can get all this information about a consumer respondent; there are so many other things beyond that that we have to figure out once we have access to that data.

[16:03]

Yeah, this is exactly the point, right?  Because you and I have been using… I’ve been using transactional and behavioral data for twenty years.  I mean there’s no… [laughter] It’s not like, “Wow, now I can do this!” Maybe the benefit then really with blockchain winds up being the overall efficiency gained because you have an existing…  You know the problem is always taking disparate data sources and combining them in a meaningful way in context of time and budget. So maybe that’s the benefit that drives the overall adoption of blockchain, in which case…  Obviously, it feels like it’s just a technology enabler similar to the internet, but not this new thing, similar to online surveys.

[16:52]

Yeah, I would agree.  It feels like that. I think that it’s going to make us work smarter, be more efficient.  I don’t see this as a net new, if you will, in terms of our industry.

[17:07]

So, let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about what’s keeping the lights on:  Paradigm Sample. Why did you start that company? What was the market gap that you sought to fill?

[17:21]

So, I lived the market gap.  I actually was at IBM. And we were buying millions and millions of dollars of sample, and we ran into a major data quality issue with a tracking study.  And we started picking it apart and really looking at it. I think it was the first time that we went beyond the research agency and actually had sample companies come in because the discrepancy of the data was so big that we really had to get to the source or the root cause of it.  And we realized quickly that there was really no transparency. It was the wild, wild West. We couldn’t get a sense of confidence around what we were buying. And it made me realize there is a big gap here in the sense that the way to operate, and the way to consult, and the way to help clients is really to partner with them and to be able to provide the best solutions to a client, and know what you’re buying and know what you are selling.  It sounds so basic, but that experience was about six months of time, talking to multiple sample companies and really realizing that… You know the sample companies at that time were really about eyeballs and numbers; there wasn’t a research-driven lens to sampling. At least that was my experience at IBM. I don’t mean to cast that doubt for the whole industry at the time, but that was our experience at IBM.

[18:59]

Yeah, right, and I get that.  I think that’s fairly ubiquitous across the board then and, in many cases, even now.  The end consumer of the insights, which is obviously the brands, are largely blind to the panelists, right?  This sort of interesting journey that data goes through, and it’s always been like that, which, of course, you’re aware of.  Thinking about in-mall intercepts, there was so much fraud in that space. I know that because I did in-mall intercepts. [laughter]  I got to see and manage that first hand. The only way you could root that out going to in-mall intercepts… And for those who don’t know in-mall intercepts are the people with clipboards and paper-based surveys.  (Now they have tablets.) They would literally intercept people in malls, and malls were things that we had before Amazon. So, playing it kind of backwards now, for us that data quality had to be addressed by the manager at the mall floor, right?  It could not be addressed too far upstream. Whether it’s the research supplier or the brand, that ship had already sailed, right? You can’t go back into the field; the money had already been spent, whatever. So, the executive needed decisions. So it makes sense then that you saw that as a market opportunity.  Do you think that brands, not brands per se, but all of us even anybody in insights is going to then experience further removal from the respondent with the adoption of marketplaces, sample marketplaces?     

[20:57]   

That’s a good question.  Potentially, potentially.  It just depends on the culture of research within a brand organization, right?  I did an interview with a woman at P&G, and she said she actually extends all her timelines for her projects because she goes row by row to look at the quality of the data because they’re making decisions about products that are going to be designed in the future.  I think other companies, they want it fast and they want it cheap. It’s not about sourcing or quality of the panels; it’s how quickly they can get that information and at what cost. So I really do think it depends on the culture orientation of the brands in terms of how they embrace research – and, fundamentally, how they look at data.

[21:52]

We’re seeing a lot of tools enter the marketplace – my gosh, I want to say for the last three years – that are leveraging machine learning in AI to create qualitative scale opportunities, which are unearthing, making it more apparent that there are some data quality issues that still persist in the sampling space.  Are you seeing qualitative as a growing segment in the sampling space?

[22:27]

I do, definitely.  It’s funny ‘cause It’s a little bit of a paradox.  As we have access to more and more data, the qualitative piece plays even more of an important role because I think it brings that data to life.  So from a sample or panel company, we’re definitely seeing more and more needs around supporting qualitative research, whether it’s video or if it’s communities.  I think that qualitative piece brings the customer alive within an organization, and so I can understand why that’s happening.

[23:05]

Yeah, for sure.  The scale side of it is interesting too.  I don’t know that there is (again this is just my lack of visibility), I don’t know that there is a specialized, qualitative panel in the marketplace.

[23:20]

I don’t know either.  I don’t think there is.  I think right now the way that it’s handled is that …  And every client is different. So they have certain needs and, depending on what role you play in the industry and the type of panel you have and panelists in terms of what they want to do, you kind of recruit across multiple panels to meet that qualitative need.  I don’t think there is a qualitative panel per se.  Honestly, it’s probably the focus group facilities that have all these lists of people who participate in focus groups.  

[23:57]

Yeah, that’s true.  Maybe a company like Schlesinger or others that might have that sort of niche, niche opportunity.  Infinity Squared Ventures – tell us a little bit about that and what your impetus was for starting it.

[24:11]

After founding Paradigm and growing and building some technology, I really realized – and even through my experience when I was at the NPD group – I really love the early stages of a company and helping accelerate innovation, entrepreneurship and so, starting that was just a platform to help other entrepreneurs, other business leaders, kind of help them with the growth of their business from all aspects of operations:  either it’s helping with product concepts, product development to potentially helping them figure out… I think every P&L has a story, and so, “What is the story of your P&L and where do you want that story to be?” … and help kind of peel back the onion.

[24:59]

Podcasts are growing, right?  We talked about that at the beginning, and it got a lot of runway.  I was early in the web sharing space. And then, of course, CEO of FocusVision, I got a big indoctrination on video conferencing, etc.  Webinars, they continue to be the number-one way that we communicate inside of our industry to our constituents, whether it’s brands or each other, I guess.  But what’s interesting about podcasts… I’m feeling like there will be a shift away from the traditional webinar to podcasts, right? There’s a lot of benefits: the evergreen nature of podcasts and then also the niche (brand, sorry) communities you can develop, being two really obvious ones.  And that was really for me one of the reasons I decided to start the podcast. For you, what was that reason why and then how has it evolved over the last year?

[26:12]

So, in all honesty, it started doing it because you hear from everybody to increase your brand in the industry.  You should be writing a blog and you should be producing content. I started writing… I’m like there is no way I’m going to be able to sustain this.  You call it early. I’m going to start writing like one or two blogs and I’ll be done. But what I love is people, and I love talking to people. And so I decided to start a podcast.  That was kind of the early reasons as to why I started, and now to me I feel like there is so much change going on in the industry that it’s a platform to at least share with our industry what different players are doing and kind of building a story and, hopefully, for everybody who can’t get to a conference, they can get bits and pieces through the podcast and understand what’s happening by the different talks and interviews that I do.  

[27:09]

Yeah, totally.  I see in my world view in the next…  As soon as 2019, I’d be surprised if major conferences like TMRE and IIEX and whatever don’t have – SMR, etc.- a podcast on site, whether it’s exhibitors or speakers are being interviewed.  

[27:37]

I totally agree with you because you just get so much more mileage out of the content from that conference.

[27:42]

Totally, and it adds free value to the community.  You think about I was able to hear Beth Comstock at TMRE.  It was a fantastic, motivational speech. My audience I think would really enjoy hearing it.  It would be great to be able to port that content, or a portion of it, into a podcast format, right?, for general consumption.  And what’s interesting is this whole subscribe option, right? So you can either one-and-done or, if you really like the content of the show over time and want to add it to your regular consumption.  It’s a really neat opt-in/opt-out mechanism.

[28:24]

And you know what else is really cool is that the people…  You know that in companies not everybody gets to go to the show.  So this breaks down hierarchy as well and function. Anybody who wants to invest in themselves, who wants to know about the industry can listen and know potentially more than others who are not investing in themselves and learning about the industry.  So I really like that element. I feel like everybody is empowered to learn.

[28:50]

Totally.  It’s so powerful.

[28:53]

And actually, I sure, Jamin, you’ve thought about this.  There are so many creative ways that you could change this up, right?  You could have a co-host one time; you could do a series. There’s so many different options you can think through as it relates to keep it creative and fun as well.    

[29:10]

Yeah, and you know you listen to some of the older podcasts (and I mean absolutely no disrespect), but they have not adopted some of the newer approaches.  So it is two people sitting around talking about sports but really the content is about, or their venue is supposed to be talking about data handling or whatever it is, which is again very early stage as opposed to on point, clear CTAs, and then really driving the human interest element of things.  I’m not saying that that’s a bad role; in fact, I even subscribe to one just ‘cause I like to listen to the two guys talk. That’s weird. But, anyway, you get the point. Yeah, it’s definitely an evolution.

[29:49]

I loved the interview that you did with the woman last week, the high school student.

[27:54]   

Oh, Gaby.  Wasn’t that great?

[29:55]

In fact, I’ll tell you my daughter and I (my daughter’s in high school) were listening.  And I said, “Would you do an interview like that?” She’s like, “She’s really nervous.”

I go, “But she’s so good.”  Yeah, it was great; it was nice.  We could both listen to it.

[30:08]

Gosh, thank you for that!  That was my favorite interview.  You’ve got a seventeen-year-old, who’s raised by her grandparents in one of the poorest zip codes in America, and she’s starting a business.  You know what I mean? It’s just so powerful.

[30:26]

It really is.  It’s powerful. It’s also like you feel like there’s hope.  You feel like, you know, there’s good stuff happening.

[30:33]

I am going to be honest:  I have not bought her box yet.  I am going to do that today. Thanks for the reminder.  I need to do that. Anyway, so…

[30:43]

I’m going to buy one.

[30:43]

[laughter]  Let’s do that, you and I together.  Oh, my gosh, what a miss! Anyways, maybe we should do that as like a holiday gift.

[30:52]

Holiday gift, yeah.  That’s a good idea.  

[30:55]

Totally, and we could co-promote our podcasts.

[30:57]

Yeah, I like that.  We’ll follow up on that.

[31:00]

Yeah, definitely follow up on that.  You’re a very successful founder, CEO, advisor.  What is one of the secrets that you employ that drives growth, profitability or success of your company?

[31:16]

Learning, invested learning.  Stay fresh. You never arrive; you’re always on a journey.  Listen to people, all points of views. Don’t assume you know the answer.  I think you got to measure what you want to manage. You can’t hope and dream and pray.  You kind of have to say, “OK, this is what I want to do,” and again measure it accordingly.

Those are some of the things that come to mind.

[31:43]

Yeah, that’s a really good one.  I want to dive in on the “listen” part.  Do you have any specific examples, either good or bad, where maybe you’ve had a personal experience or connection to that?  

[31:55]

Yeah, it’s funny ‘cause when you look back in your career, you kind of see a different version of yourself.  And I recall many times when my manager, my boss would give me feedback, and I wasn’t open to it. I really wasn’t.  And now, looking back, I was like, “Wow! They were really trying to help me. Like that was really good feedback I got.”  And I just wasn’t open to listening. So now, fast forward, when employees give me feedback and I’m not necessarily crazy about hearing it, I really try to stay open to it because they’re trying to give me information that a lot of times you don’t want to hear ‘cause you got ten other million things on your plate.  But it’s valuable to that person and, hence, it has to be valuable to the company.

[32:44]

Yeah, totally.  I mean one – there’s humility injected, but the second part of it is the validation, right?  Because a lot of times we’ll behave, or I’ll behave… I mean don’t hear what I’m not saying…  But I’m not behaving the best way I could, right? So I might be short with an employee or, just because I’m under pressure.  Now I’m justifying it. See I always default to the “why,” but the problem is that I just need to shut up and acknowledge that and then think about how I can change or adapt if it’s appropriate.

[33:19]

Exactly, yeah.  And I always say from a customer point of view or a partner point of view, it is amazing when they give you critical feedback because they have the option to defect from you and not say anything.  So those are golden nuggets that they’re giving you a second chance to improve and to partner. So I’m grateful when clients speak up and talk and are critical. And the great feedback is good too, but it’s that stuff that’s hard to listen to that’s really valuable.

[33:58]

Yeah, when the employee provides that, it’s a lot like…  Listening to you talk, it kind of reminds me of that… Ron Franscella gave me a piece of advice very early in my career, which is when a customer starts negotiating, they’re buying.  And so, it is the same thing, right: it’s a buy-in conversation. So what do you see as three characteristics of an all-star employee?

[34:22]

So one is…  I believe in this notion that you have to continuously learn.  It’s not a manager’s or boss’s job to ensure that you’re learning.  It’s basically investing in yourself to continue on the journey of learning.  I do think a lot of things is mindset. I love that book Growth Mindset versus the fixed mindset.  I so believe in that growth mindset, which encompasses the learning, which encompasses the attitude, right, the perspective of being realistic but still optimistic.  And I think just working hard – there’s nothing wrong with working hard

[35:05]

OK, I think the word “work” has been trumped over the last decade by this term “hustle.”  

[35:14]

OK, [laughs] yes.  

[35:16]

And I hate the word “hustle.”  I use it sometimes, but I hate the word “hustle” because it’s like tangibly different for me.

[35:26]

Well, “hustle” almost feels like…  It doesn’t feel like you’re really… like that grit is there.  It’s like, “I’m trying to get by. I’m trying to make a buck.” At least, that’s what comes to mind for me.   

[35:37]

Totally, totally.  It has a completely different connotation whereas “work” is something…  And it also feels sales-zy, to your point, “Make a buck.” But “#work” I mean, [laughter] I mean it’s about the basic stuff.  My late grandfather gave me this piece of advice right when I first got a professional job. He said, “Jamin, the most important thing for you is that you always beat your boss into work and you never leave before he leaves.”  [laughs] It’s just like super basic stuff, but anyways that’s my rant on work. Thanks for bringing that up.

[36:21]

You know I think working hard is underrated.  I mean I’m not saying that you have to work around the clock, 24 hours a day, but it builds really strong character.    

[36:32]

Yeah, it totally does.  And, along side that, it brings this point that we addressed with your 13-year-old self.  It brings the confidence that you can do it. If you don’t have to put your shoulder to the plow and get the work done, you don’t know that you can do it.  And so that’s always… That’s just a naggy sort of piece in the back of your mind: something that will hold you back or help you cave, give you an excuse to cave when the times get tough.

[37:04]

So true.  

[37:05]

Like we’re going to be OK, no matter what happens.  You know what I’m saying? You and I are going to be OK.  

[37:10]

We’ll figure it out.  

[37:11]

Totally, ‘cause I know how to mow lawns.  I swear to God I’m really good at that, right?  You know what I mean? And I know how to walk around my block and knock on doors until they’re so tired of seeing me they pay me to mow their lawn.  Alright, so you work with all different types of companies. What are you seeing as a macro-trend in our insights space?

[37:33]

So, I think this was an Aha-moment for me a couple weeks ago.  It might sound silly, but we as an industry have been so much on the defense about making sure we’re adding value and we’re storytelling, with automation, with artificial intelligence, the amount of time our industry puts toward putting research together has shifted dramatically.  All of a sudden, we’re like, “Oh, wait, we can actually analyze data; we can create the insights.” Simultaneously, what I’m realizing is that there’s a whole other workflow that’s happening in brands. And that is in the analytic space. And the brands are building these different organizations within their company where insights isn’t necessarily being included.  And I think that has a huge factor on our industry. I don’t have an answer for it, but it feels as if bets are being placed in those different departments or divisions in brand companies. And insights, as researchers and companies that provide insight, you have to figure out how to get to the table there.

[38:49]

Answering that question is massively important.  It’s just so… And I like your workflow connection because that’s exactly what’s happened, right?  As technology continues to bring automation and time-savings and lowering cost to how people do their job, you see UX departments or product managers employing various types of…  even free survey tools or other tools (it doesn’t have to be surveys, right?) or just using Webex to conduct IDIs. And it’s completely usurping the traditional insights function inside of the organization.

[39:39]

I was going to say, personality-wise, there’s not a ton of extroverts in our industry that will pound on the table and say, “Wait a second.  Let’s try to figure this out.” So we have to think through that. And how do we ensure that that value of the customer and owning that process doesn’t go away.     

[40:02]

Were you able to listen to the interview I did with Lori Iventosch at GoDaddy?

[40:10]

I listened to some of it.  

[40:11]

So, this subject came up in that interview.  At least, I think it made it in the interview; maybe it didn’t post.  Market research and UX do sit beside each other inside of the organization, right.  But what’s interesting is I think more commonly in the brands I’ve been exposed to, UX or data scientists are sitting outside of the market research function, which is a whole other layer that should be addressed because then you start thinking…  because both are doing the same stuff. They’re doing different stuff but there is definitely some overlap in that venn diagram. I think it’s exciting for us when you see a company like Qualtrics filing their IPO. The reason that they’re getting the valuations and growth is because they’ve stepped out of the traditional market research total addressable market.  So that’s just broadly creating a ton of opportunities that we just simply as an industry have not been exposed to. How is Data Gurus offering value to market researchers right now?

[41:25]

I think it is providing different aspects and perspectives on the data ecosystem.  You can hear about what a research director at Microsoft… What are some of the challenges they might have… or P&G…  and understand their world to understanding the perspective of a CMO, right? We keep talking about we got to get to the C-Suite.  Well, what’s their day like? And how does research fit into it? You layer that on with new technologies. How is AI impacting the industry?  How’s the sample industry changing and shifting? Blockchain. It’s really… My goal is to provide a platform of learning and ask questions that I want to know and, hopefully, other people want to know as well.     

[42:19]

I love that.  So, in a lot of ways, what you are doing is curating the viewpoints of brands and agencies and then bringing those together for a more fulsome conversation.  

[42:29]

Yes, yes.  I like the way you said that.

[42:32]

My guest today has been Sima Vasa, founder or Paradigm Sample and host of Data Gurus podcast.  Sima, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[42:41]

Thank you so much, Jamin.  I loved it, and I can’t wait to have you on Data Gurus.

[42:44]

I can’t wait too.  

[42:48]

Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, Robert Porter, CEO of Research America breaks down how he overcame significant personal adversity and provides us all on the perspective of positivity and gratitude that you’ll find refreshing and impactful.  Hope you tune in.

Ep. 134 – Baillie Buchanan – Research For Good – How to Give Back Through Market Research and Grow

Today, my guest, Baillie Buchanan, is the Co-Founder and CRO of Research For Good, an online sample company with a mission to provide reliable, high-quality respondents for market research while at the same time ending childhood deaths from hunger and malnutrition globally.

FIND BAILLIE ONLINE:

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

Social Media: @happymrxp

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[00:55]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Baillie Buchanan, CRO of Research for Good. Research for Good is a sample and fieldworks solutions provider dedicated to delivering high quality data in 13 countries. They’re unique in the industry in that they also make a corporate donation to charities for every survey that is completed. Prior to founding Research for Good, Baillie has spent over a decade in the marketing research industry. Baillie, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.   

[01:56]

Thanks so much for having me, Jamin.

[01:58]

You know our signature question is tell us what your parents did and how that’s affected your career.  

[02:04]

I love this question.  I had to do a little bit of self-reflection.  It made me think. So, my parents both grew up and started their careers outside of the U.S.  My mom is from Scotland and worked as part of the administrative staff at NATO headquarters in Belgium before meeting my dad and moving with my father to Canada and then eventually to the U.S. where she finished her career working for travel agencies focused on international travel.  And my dad’s career started in Canada. He specialized in international finance throughout his career, met my mom in Belgium, moved several more times, including all of us as a family moved to Holland for a year when I was a child. And then we finally settled in Seattle, and he finished his career in treasury for the Savers, also known as Value Village Organization.  Interestingly, that company is a for-profit organization, working as a fund-raising engine for non-profits, which is a business philosophy not unlike that which I’m running now. So, looking back, I can say certainly having a two-career, parent household had a lot of impact on me as well as moving a few times, especially internationally. And their guidance, it really led me to become quite independent at an early age, learn how to be adaptable to new situations and new people, which I think drives a real desire to understand people and really an almost perverse compulsion to push myself outside of my comfort zone.  I just can’t stop doing it. [laughs]

[03:45]

I love that.  And there’s a lot to unpack here.  The 13 countries that you’re currently serving…  It sounds like, given your background of starting outside of the U.S., and then really mom NATO, coming in from Canada, etc….  All of that helped inform probably a global view as opposed to more of a national U.S., North America centric, or U.K. centric or wherever most of us have spent our early years.    

[04:16]

Yeah, absolutely, it has really colored my perception.  We traveled a lot when I was young as well, having family that lives in countries outside of the U.S.  It does definitely color the lens by which you look at both what’s happening here domestically and what’s happening outside of our borders.      

[04:36]   

So, is part of that lens the discrepancy in the quality of life based on geography?

[04:45]

Yeah, that’s a good question.  I think so. I’m always open to…  I’m always trying to life hack, right, and figure out what’s best.  Where’s the best place to be? Where should we be positioning ourselves?  Actually, as a company, we have several teams that are international. And so, we work as a virtually run company.  And that has been an interesting perspective and kind of brings together that kind of global perspective on things.       

[05:27]

I think the…  So, tell me a little about some of the…  You know you’ve got this – I’ll call it a double bottom line.  (I’m not sure if that’s completely accurate.) But you have, obviously…  You’re a for-profit entity, correct?

[05:41]

We are, yes, for profit.

[05:43]

So you have a fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders, but then at the same time you also have an element of your net profits that are going to support social good, right?  So, in that framework, tell us a little bit about how you are making a difference as a company. Are you donating to a specific organization or set of organizations?

[06:08]

So, we have a one-for-one model where for every survey that one of our respondents completes, they receive a personal reward and then, on top of that, we make a donation to our charity partner.  And, for the last several years, we’ve had just one charity partner and that’s Action Against Hunger. They’re a global organization working to solve the problem of hunger globally, and they look at hunger very holistically.  So it’s not just feeding someone, but it’s looking at education and infrastructure and clean water. So beyond just emergency relief and famine relief, they’re looking at hunger very broadly and doing a lot of really great work.  So we’re pleased to be partnered with them; we’re partnering again with them next year. So, all of our donations go to that organization. And what’s unique about the way we’ve structured it is that this is baked into the DNA of our company from day 1 from survey complete number 1. We have always made a donation with every complete.  Even before we were profitable as a company, we were making these donations. So it’s really fundamental to the DNA and the value system of how we built the business.

[07:30]

I just tweeted yesterday, “Karma always wins.”  And I believe I’m living proof of that in some aspects – both positive and negative.  [laughter] I have seen where people are minded beyond just the bottom line, that those corporations tend to do better in the long haul, right?  The tension though is always how do I manage those shareholder expectations. And I like how you’re doing it very systematically where just have a one-to-one ratio.  And that’s just the non-negotiable. But part of my question I guess is really why hunger. Now hunger is a material problem; I’m not trying to demean it. But there’s lots of different charities that you could be looking at.  Did you have some experience with that or views into that early on?

[08:33]

It is a problem that has been close to our hearts.  And the reason we chose hunger is that… We’re a four-founder team and all of us have young kids.  (Some of them are older now as the business has grown.) We looked at what were we driven to make better in the world.  And the thought of children anywhere going hungry was gut-wrenching to us. And so we sought out a charitable partner who was working on that core issue.  And we wanted to choose a partner that was being very smart about the work that they were doing, responsible with the money they were taking on and using and spending that in a way that we felt that we could get behind.  It’s always been a passion choice for us. Although this year we did open… So, we worked with Action Against Hunger for several years. This year we allowed the industry to vote. We thought it may be time to… You know we’ve done a lot of good for that organization.  Maybe we can share what we’re doing with other organizations working on other problems because there are so many. But, actually, through the voting process, the industry spoke and told us that they loved our partnership with Action Against Hunger. So we were really happy to make the decision to stick with them again for another year.  So that’s super exciting. And I think that it has had a couple of maybe some unintended benefits: it’s a cause that everyone can get behind; so, both our customers and our clients as well as the respondents can all kind of rally behind what we’re doing, and it’s a real call to action that resonates with everyone.

[10:35]

Yeah, I like that a lot.  Personally, so I’m a member of the board of directors for a local Boys and Girls Club.  We have 19 chapters in the central valley of California. This goes back years – like 2007 when I joined originally.  Through the interview process, I was taking a walk around one of the clubs, and the young woman who was giving me the tour said…  She was very sharp, and I knew she was paid minimum wage, which kind of surprised me. There was just like delta between what her capacity was and what her compensation was.  And I asked her why she was working in the job. Not in a bad way, you know what I mean, but was it a higher calling or what? And she goes… When she did her first tour walking around and she saw some kids in the back of the campus where the after-school program was happening and so she went back there and kind of pseudo was going to reprimand them and when she kind of uncovered what they were doing, they were literally trying to get food for dinner out of the trash cans.  For her this, as you said, this gut-wrenching point of reference where “Wow, there’s this massive need here that is worthy of some hard work and sacrifice for us.” For her personally. Obviously, as a society, we need to pay attention to that. I think it’s – to your point – not a politically contentious issue at all, and it is certainly one that… If you can address hunger, you start addressing a lot of other issues. So it’s almost this meta topic I think in a lot of ways.      

[12:26]

Absolutely, and it’s a solvable problem too.  You know there’s the global goals initiative, which says that hunger is a solvable problem and a problem that can be solved in our lifetime.  So there are great organizations working toward really solving that problem because, as you said, it can solve a lot of other problems too. If you’re not hunger, you can further your education.  You can go to school, pay better attention in school, further yourself, you know, rise out of other situations that are unfavorable. Really, it’s the root of a lot that can be better about the world today.

[13:09]

Yeah, exactly.  You open up a lot of doors when you get those…  (It’s been a while since I’ve said the word. Milo, is that right?  The hierarchy of needs. Maslow, Maslow – the hierarchy of needs, right?)  The benefit is just multifaceted at the human level even down to how parents can feel about their parenting skills, right?…  ability to be able to provide. And that has a whole subsequent warm glow or halo effect over self-confidence inside of the home and etc. etc.  Important issue. It’s encouraging to see you guys pioneer this – I’ll again call it double bottom line approach. Do you feel like it functions as a hindrance in some ways though?  Being competitive in the market place or do you feel like it actually maybe goes the other way and is – because you have this social good element – it functions as opening more doors or what have you.

[14:20]

Yeah, I think it’s certainly a balance, but we find that it has more of a positive effect than perhaps a negative effect of taking funds and donating them to a charity versus reinvesting them in the business.  For example, when we started the company and started to grow, we realized very quickly that in order to sustain a model of being able to allocate funds towards donations, we had to build a platform for our sampling that was highly scalable and super-efficient so that we could sustain that model through our growth.  The technology that we’ve had to put in place and build has been home grown with this model in mind to be scalable and allow us the ability to be uber-efficient. And we have to be uber-efficient in everything that we’re doing. There’s no room for waste in our organization. So, that’s one impact. Additionally, it’s been good at keeping us very in touch with the human element of sampling.  I think, especially as you start to move beyond panel and into the real-time sampling and the recruiting of respondents through multivariant sources, you move away from seeing the respondent as a human and into the realm of this… (hate calling it a commodity, but it’s a transaction, right?) But, because there’s such a human element to what we’re doing, we’ve had to really stay laser-focused on the respondent and their engagement, and valuing the respondent so that they continue to participate in market research surveys because, without their participation, none of this is possible.  None of the donations that we’re making is possible and, obviously, the clients don’t get the insights that they need. And it has always been, and continues to be, really a motivator for us as a founding team and everyone who works with us. It’s great to come to work every day and work for a corporation and drive revenue and grow a company and that’s great. But, when there’s this additional value-add of a cause that’s greater than the corporate organization, it gives that little extra boost to the motivation to just drive excellence every day and make sure… It makes coming to work feel good and means something more than just your paycheck at the end of the day.   

[17:26]

100%.  This whole social good narrative is, I believe, going to continue to be an important differentiator for companies.  In our space, we’ve been a little bit slow to adopt. Are you seeing other companies start picking up on this theme, granted not at a dollar-per-dollar basis but maybe in some other aspects?   

[17:56]

We’ve certainly seen…  I think it’s not unusual for a sample or panel company to offer respondents the opportunity to donate their incentives.  Several other companies have that type of model. I think what’s unique in our model and I’m not aware of anyone else doing is that we don’t actually ask the respondent to make that donation or make the choice to give up what is theirs to the cause.  They get their full reward. A full incentive is paid to the respondent or shared with the respondent, and we’re making that donation from our end of the transaction. And I think that’s unique. And I think the industry is a little bit at a crisis point around respondent participation and really getting back to respecting the respondents as human beings with lives and valuable time.  And this is a model that, in our opinion, values that respondent transaction just that much more. We’re not asking them to give up anything. The donation piece is a value-add to their participation with us.

[19:15]

Yeah, respondents are not renewable resources.  There’s a ton of data that illustrates that. After a few bad experiences, you’re going to lose that respondent for their in perpetuity, and back-filling is just tough.  [laughter] Bad model. I would say that, in general, I think that research companies or panel companies, more specifically, are becoming more aware of the cost. And that’s why you do see such a non-linear increase in price based on length of interview.  But it’s an interesting model that you have My hunch – and I don’t have the data – but my hunch is that increased buy-in with employees; increased attention to operating margin, that is, efficiency; and then increased buy-in from respondents probably drives a very favorable outcome for you inside of the market.  And me, personally, whenever I see a press release of a partnership with you and somebody else, I literally would take the time to process that as opposed to go, “Oh, another press release,” right? And the reason why is I’m a little bit envious (This is the truth.) I’m a little bit envious of that partnership, right, because I feel like there’s this halo of good that is associated with your partnership network.  And I DO believe that has material impact on what you guys are doing in the space.

[20:54]

Yeah, absolutely.  One of our favorite things to do is at the end of the month we send emails out to all of our clients that specifically outline the impact that our work together that month had.  So, at a client level, we can say because we ran x number of projects together, we donated x amount of meals or amount of money. And we get to share that back with our clients. The response from the clients is very positive, but it also just feels great to us that we get to share back with the corporate researchers the social good that they’re doing as well.  Just by choosing us to be their partner – all other things being equal in service levels and data quality in everything else – there is a little bit of an extra feel-good factor there that I HOPE our clients enjoy from working with us.

[22:01]

Yeah, absolutely.  So, let’s shift gears a little bit and dive into your background.  We started with your parents, international-based experience. You know you had Peanut Labs on your resume, which is really impressive.  But what were you doing before Peanut Labs?

[22:16]   

So, I started my career at GMI before it was part of Lightspeed.  I started right at the bottom: sales assistant and kind of worked my way up.  I actually had the opportunity to be transferred to… (I was working in Seattle.)  … had the opportunity to be transferred to their London office for a year to start up the inside sales function over there.  So I did that for a year, and then when I decided that it was time to come back, that’s when I made the jump over to Peanut Labs.     

[22:52]

And then from Peanut Labs, of course, you had a successful transition.  You guys were acquired, correct?

[23:04]

Yes.  So Peanut Labs was acquired by Research Now.  I had been working in business development, a little bit of marketing, and really focus on educating the market place about what was then a new platform for sampling in social media.  Peanut Labs was all social media sampling at that time. So, we were really helping researchers to understand that way of recruiting and engaging respondents and kind of educating them that this was a methodology that had merit, could be representative, and wasn’t just a fad.  That was a bit of an uphill battle, but eight or more years later wherever we are now, it’s kind of standard operating procedure. So that’s been a fun evolution to be part of.

[23:53]

Of course, about two billion people now on social media.  It’s definitely going to be around for a while.

[24:01]

Yes, it’s no passing fad. [laughs]

[24:04]

So, what was the impetus moving out of that corporate successful environment and then starting your own company?

[24:11]

So, I think that what we loved about Peanut Labs was driving the growth and the entrepreneurial spirit of a young and small organization.  So, it became pretty clear when the transaction with Research Now went through that that wouldn’t necessarily be the case, that there wouldn’t be that opportunity to be as entrepreneurial within that larger organization.  Wanting to continue building and growing an early-stage company, we were actually inspired by the ideas of a friend in the industry who was using donations to non-profit organizations and I think church groups as well as a way to recruit for in-person focus groups.  So we decided to kind of repurpose that idea, take a slightly different approach and apply that to online quantitative sample. And that’s how we got to our methodology.

[25:12]

I like that, but there’s a big bridge between understanding what the methodology is and then just like stepping into the abyss of entrepreneurship, right?  [laughter] …especially when you have a tech-heavy offering, which I imagine you did in the early days. What was one of the biggest challenges you and your team faced in starting Research for Good?

[25:39]

Ah, where do I begin?  I think growing a sample company is an interesting challenge because it’s very much a chicken-and-egg problem where you can’t drive respondent growth, access to respondents without having survey inventory.  And you can’t have survey inventory without having a pool of available respondents. So how do you grow the two simultaneously in a way that, you know? A researcher wants to come to you and say, “I need a thousand of this type of person.”  And you got to deliver. As you’re growing, these needs are not always exactly lined up with each other, so it’s a big challenge to try to figure out how to deliver and how to grow both of those pieces at the same time. It’s a huge challenge; it continues to be a challenge.  We are continually rocking back and forth on that seesaw: respondent growth and demand growth.

[26:51]

Yeah, the utilization of the respondents or the panelists, you know…  You got to have enough inventory for them to participate in so that you maintain the engagement, of course, and you maintain the income.  

[27:06]

Right.  Yeah, a sample buyer doesn’t want to buy a portion of the completes from you, generally.  So you’ve got to be able to deliver full projects to continue to engage with the clients as well and the researchers who just need to get their project done.   

[27:25]

Then in those early days, going forward with the unique double-bottom line company has its own fundraising challenges I would imagine; I’ve never gone through that.  

[27:36]

Yes, so we primarily have bootstrapped the company.  It hasn’t been as much of a fundraising challenge for us because we’ve grown the company in a way that we, you know…  Talk about uber-efficiency: we’re not only making donations but we’re reinvesting in our own business to fund our own growth.

[28:00]

I love that.  It’s so rare. You know we did the same thing in Decipher.  It’s so rare for entrepreneurs to start at that level, mentality-wise.  I don’t know if it’s always doable by the way. So, if you can find a path to not having an outside investor from Day 1, you’ll save yourself a lot of headache down the road and maintain a lot of autonomy in terms of how YOU want to spend the net profits that you hopefully achieve one day.

[28:30]

Right, yep.

[28:33]

So as a successful founder, driving a very unique company in a highly competitive market, what do you see as one of the secrets that drives either growth, profitability, or success?  

[28:48]

I think for us…  We talked a lot about the mission.  That is truly the core of what makes this business work.  The mission is the core tenant of our company; it’s the rallying cry; it’s the driving force; and it’s what drives each person in the organization to pursue excellence.  There’s no room for mediocrity when we’re trying to do what we’re doing. So, that starts at the top with our four-founder team. We make strategic decisions together; we live and die by those decisions together.  It’s not to say that sometimes, you know… It gets a bit messy. We don’t always come up with the right answer the first time. But, by keeping the mission at the forefront of everything we do, it drives all of us.  It keeps us on the right path forward. And I think that’s so crucial in maintaining a core focus as a business because it’s so easy… (And we’re guilty of this ourselves.) …it’s so easy to get distracted by, you know, shiny-object syndrome and what’s this great idea over here.  And there are SO many great ideas, and we want to be able to do them all but, by maintaining this focus on mission and efficiency and excellence, we have had to drive and deep dive onto what we do well and do it exceptionally well to continue that forward momentum.

[30:24]

So, as your business has been growing, of course you’ve been adding head count, what do you see as three characteristics for an all-start employee?

[30:33]   

Yeah, I love this question because I’ve obviously been a listener of your podcast as well and there are definitely some themes you see emerging and that are kind of getting repeated because they’re just so important.  So I would say that for our organization – I love alliteration – so we talk about a good employee is someone who is humble, hungry, and high energy. And it’s the unique combination of all three that I think is actually a rare find and a rare gem.  The energy of each member of the team impacts the whole team. Similar to what Dyna at Survata mentioned in one of your recent episodes, its all about a positive attitude and a willingness to just make stuff happen whether it’s technically your job or not.  We look for people who are hungry for growth opportunities: that could be simply they just want to drive, drive, drive on their job or they’re hungry to learn a new skill or anything that an employee is proactive about working on to always be improving. And a humble attitude – and what I mean by humble is someone who is willing to learn, willing to bring forth ideas even when they may be canned or won’t be implemented or we have to shelf them for later or we have to poke holes in it to see if it’s the right ideas for us at the right time; someone who is willing to kind of change with the ever pivoting needs of a small nimble organization and who doesn’t have ego about it.  So humble, hungry, and high-energy that’s kind of the trio that I think makes a rock-start employee.

[32:26]

I love that you really nailed it in terms of to the Dyna interview talking about the energy vampire, right?  That’s the opposite of what we want; we want the people that are injecting energy in the meetings on Monday morning when they come in.  Gosh, that humble piece: that is a consistent element in almost every single one of the interviews said in different words, of course; the ability to have a strong point of view or an idea, be able to bring it to the table, and then let other people pick it apart and not feel like you have to defend it.  Being willing to be wrong either wholly or partly and then reembrace whatever is left is just a critical part throughout the organization.

[33:19]

And I think a fallacy in some organizations, looking from the outside in, is that all the ideas come from the top, and I think that that’s absolutely not the case.  Maybe the initial idea came from the top, and that’s what initiated the business. But the day-to-day ideas that come from the people directly liaising with the clients, directly on the ground floor doing the work are some of the best ideas to continue to grow and scale that business.  Team members who are willing to bring forth ideas is (And sometimes it’s like pulling teeth.) but that’s key. The other thing too, especially energy when you were talking about that just now, reminded me that we’re running an organization that’s primarily virtual. All of us founders work from home, and we have remote employees, and so bringing that energy to the table in a remote environment is that much more difficult and that much more important when I compare that to previous jobs where I’ve worked in an office environment with other team members.  The ability to maintain high energy, enthusiasm, open lines of communication through email and Slack and Zoom video calls is so key to building a culture in a remote workforce.

[35:01]

An entirely remote workforce is super interesting.  There’s lots of challenges with having remote employees.  I’ve managed quite a few obviously. At FocusVision, 13 offices globally and then, of course, we had remote workers as well.  How have you dealt with the accountability element associated with the remote employee?

[35:30]

That’s a great question.  We’re very metrics-focused and goal-oriented in the way that we manage the team.  So, to the extent possible, everything is managed to goal outcomes. And we, having a founder mentality that we’ve hired adults, and we expect you to do your job; we can see that you’re doing your job by hitting your goals and, if that’s not happening, then there are issues that will be addressed.  Maintaining visibility and metrics… Now we’re not asking people for timesheets and things like that. In our environment, it’s: get your job done whatever time of day that may be or however many hours that means you put in that day and less the next day or whatnot. We’re not micromanaging it, but I think when you set expected goals and productivity outcomes and then measure against those to make sure they’re being hit, you can ensure that you are getting the work product you need out of a team even though you’re not sitting next to them in the office.  But it is certainly a challenge.

[36:48]

And the nice part about that too is you’re able to get a sense of velocity so you can understand what that person is capable of and then reward accordingly and then also monitor how they’re improving.  So, getting down to the other point that you had made about innovation really needs to happen from within as opposed to top down, that is so 100% accurate, right? So, I think about gross margin: the improvement on operational efficiency is…   It can be done by “I’m going to fire 10% of staff.” Clearly, that’s a possibility. But another way of tackling that is to put the challenge out there to the organization and have internal innovation competitions and identify “Hey, if I get my work formatted in this different format, then it’ll save me whatever, two hours per project.”  When you multiply that three projects a week, all of a sudden, you’ve got a material savings, right? I think this metric-focused, goal-oriented approach has short-term and long-term benefits for managing employees. And, obviously, it’s a discipline that I think most organizations that I’ve been exposed to don’t have. Hard to implement, of course, and keep, but once it’s in place, seems like it’d be a very, very powerful tool.     

[38:14]

Yeah.  I would not claim to be perfect at it.  We have to challenge ourselves to continue to stay this razor-focused, but the benefits pay off.  And we’ve actually had the experience of our team members and our project managers taking this mentality and applying it to our clients’ projects and actually going to clients and saying, “If you changed operationally the way you run this tracker, over time it could make the sampling for this project x amount more efficient and save you significant amount of money in your sampling costs.”  And that’s huge value-add for a client for a fieldwork partner to say, “If you thought about your survey in this slightly different way, we could save you money.” That’s huge and that’s because that’s the mentality within our organization that then they naturally apply to looking at all aspects of the business.

[39:20]

Yeah, it’s interesting how the mission just continues to inform every part of the work delivery.  So, what is Research for Good offering right now that is finding purchase among your customers?

[39:31]

Ooh, excellent question.  So, our customer, for the most part, is a market research firm or agency.  And our specialty is two-fold: it’s number one – sampling the human component of data collection and two – it’s fieldwork, ensuring that projects run and are optimized to meet budgets and timeframes and deliver that actionable data that is so necessary.  The value that this adds is that it frees up our clients, the true research and insights professionals, to spend more time delivering what brings value to their clients – the brands. And that’s the insights, the answers to the business problem and, ultimately, driving revenue for that brand or client as Kristi Zuhlke mentioned from Knowledge Hound in her talk.  At the end of the day, what researchers need to do is really start to tie the insights that they’re delivering to revenue growth and the bottom line of the organization to become not just an expense-line item but actually a value-add. And I think that’s so important. So where we excel and our wheelhouse is that middle part, that delivery engine so that our clients can spend less time thinking about, “Where am I going to get the next 300 people I need for this project?” and “Is it going to close on time?” and “Are my quotas filling appropriately?” and on and on and on.  We take care of all of that so that they can think about the true insights and deliver that value.

[41:14]

So, very much white glove, customer-centric delivery.  

[41:17]

Yeah.

[41:17]

My guest today has been Baillie Buchanan, CRO of Research for Good.  Baillie, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast.  

[41:24]

Thank you.  It’s been my pleasure.  

[41:28]

Next time on the Happy Market Research Podcast, Sima Vasa, entrepreneur, advisor, accelerator, investor, and podcast hostess with the mostest.  Tune in. It’s going to be awesome.

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

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

FIND JOHN ONLINE:

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:01:08]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted. Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Interesting. Then what brought you out of Greece?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Right, but if they make the right choice.

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

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

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

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

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You had a company before you started Pollfish, correct?

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Correct, yes.

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

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

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

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Right.

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

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

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What was one of your key takeaways in starting Pollfish?

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From the previous business?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Got it.

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

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

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

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

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I agree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[00:38:33]

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

[00:38:40]

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

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

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

FIND KARENE ONLINE:

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

Twitter: @ShineyInsights

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:44]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is KaRene Smith, the owner of Shine Insight. Founded this year, Shine Insight was created to address the challenges corporate researchers face by offering an alternative to the traditional market research agency model, operating, scaling and delivering results. Prior to founding Shine Insight, KaRene has worked in marketing and account leadership for some of the world’s top agencies including Directions Research, Kantar and Burke. KaRene, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[1:37]

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

[1:43]

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

[2:02]

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

[3:25]

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

[3:33]

Ha!

[3:34]

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

[3:39]

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

[4:21]

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

[4:39]

Yes.

[4:40]

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

[5:00]

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

[5:10]

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

[5:27]

Yeah.

[5:28]

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

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

[6:09]

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

[6:43]

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

[6:49]

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

[7:46]

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

[7:58]

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

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

[9:28]

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

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

[9:53]

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

[10:23]

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

[10:26]

Aha. Yes, budgets in general…

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

[11:12]

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

[12:52]

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

[13:37]

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

[14:04]

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

[15:17]

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

[15:38]

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

[17:40]

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

[18:00]

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

[18:49]

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

[19:04]

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

[19:50]

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

[20:49]

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

[21:55]

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

[22:20]

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

[22:23]

Ah…

[22:34]

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

[22:33]

At it, girl!

[22:34]

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

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

[23:04]

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

[23:08]

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

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

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

[24:34]

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

[24:41]

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

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

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

[25:21]

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

[25:45]

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

[26:40]

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

[26:58]

Yes.

[26:59]

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

[27:03]

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

[27:27]

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

[27:33]

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

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

[28:56]

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

[30:02]

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

[31:44]

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

[32:17]

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

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

[33:41]

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

[33:51]

Ha!

[33:52]

Was that at IAEX?

[33:53]

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

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

[35:01]

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

[35:52]

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

[36:55]

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

[37:11]

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

[38:43]

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

[38:47]

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

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

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

[40:20]

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

[40:56]

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

[41:19]

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

[41:30]

Yeah, yeah, I agree.

[41:33]

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

[41:53]

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

[42:23]

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

[42:27]

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

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

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

[44:08]

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

[44:23]

The Happy Market Research podcast, of course! Ha!

[44:29]

Ha! I love you! Thank you for that!

[44:30]

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

[45:26]

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

[46:18]

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

[47:21]

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

[47:23]

Thanks, Jamin.

Ep. 131 – Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy

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

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

FIND RUDY ONLINE:

https://www.dapresy.com/

Twitter: @rudynadilo

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:47]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another major market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Rudy Nadilo, President of Dapresy. Dapresy is partners with today’s top companies to help them create state-of-the-art infographics that brings your data to life. Prior to working at Dapresy, Rudy has had extensive experience in some of today’s top marketing research agencies. Rudy, thanks very much for being on the show today.

[01:36]

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

[01:39]

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

[01:51]

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

[03:36]

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

[03:54]

Oh, absolutely.  

[03:56]

So, I mean photography…

[03:58]

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

[05:19]  

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

[06:09]

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

[06:12]

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

[06: 35]

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

[09:25]  

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

[09:51]

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

[09:55]

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

[10:00]

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

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

[11:05]

Correct, correct.

[11:08]

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

[11:20]

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

[12:26]

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

[12:53]

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

[14:22]

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

[14:35]

Exactly.

[14:36]

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

[15:25]

No, no, keep going.

[15:27]   

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

[15:41]

2013.

[15:44]

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

[15:49]

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

[20:57]

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

[22:06]

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

[25:09]

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

[26:14]

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

[28:11]

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

[28:49]  

That’s pretty funny.

[28:50]

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

[29:11]

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

[31:21]

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

[31:36]

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

[33:46]

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

[34:11]

Absolutely.  

[34:12]

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

[34:20]   

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

[35:29]

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

[36:12]

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

[37:56]

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

[38:05]

Jamin, this was great.  Thank you so much.

[38:13]

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

Ep. 130 – Tim Peacock, COO of Affectiva

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

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

FIND TIM ONLINE:

https://www.affectiva.com/

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:46]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Tim Peacock, COO of Affectiva. Affectiva spun out of MIT and is the pioneer of emotion AI. Prior to joining Affectiva, Tim has had extensive experience in all areas of technology from startups to large organizations. Tim, thanks very much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[01:35]

Hi, great to be here.

[01:37]

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

[01:46]

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

[03:43]

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

[04:59]

There you go, there you go.

[05:02]

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

[05:06]

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

[05:25]

It’s like the opposite.  

[05:26]

As the donut story definitely shows.  

[05:30]

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

[06:05]

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

[06:35]

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

[06:46]

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

[07:37]

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

[08:06]

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

[11:14]

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

[11:52]

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

[11:56]

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

[12:08]

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

[14:25]

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

[14:59]

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

[15:51]

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

[15:56]

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

[16:13]

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

[16:20]

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

[17:02]   

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

[17:28]

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

[18:06]

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

[18:09]

Yeah, absolutely.   

[18:11]

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

[18:30]

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

[21:28]

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

[22:54]

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

[24:34]

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

[24:41]  

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

[25:46]

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

[26:11]

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

[27:24]

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

[27:36]

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

[29:35]

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

[29:51]

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

[30:44]

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

[31:01]   

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

[31:05]

Yeah, you can use as many as you want.  

[31:09]

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

[34:15]

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

[34:25]

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

[36:11]

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

[36:26]

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

[36:59]

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

[37:17]

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

[039:13]

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

[39:33]

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

[40:21]

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

[41:13]

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

[42:04]

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

[42:10]

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

[45:40]

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

[45:58]

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

[47:27]

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

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

[48:16]

It’s my pleasure.  Happy to do it.

[48:24]

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

Ep. 129 – Gaby Villa, High School Entrepreneur

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

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[00:26]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted. Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil, and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast. Today my guest is Gaby Villa, a student at the Patiño School of Entrepreneurship. Patiño developed entrepreneurial skills through a project-based curriculum. Gaby, thank you are much for being on the Happy Market Research podcast today.

[01:10]

Thank you for having me.

[01:11]

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

[01:17]

That’s very cool. I’m excited.

[01:19]

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

[01:25]

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

[01:47]

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

[02:09]

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

[02:18]

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

[02:23]

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

[02:27]

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

[02:42]

I went to actually Hoover High.

[02:44]

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

[02:49]

Patriots.

[02:50]

Patriot, patriots. Why the change to Patiño?

[02:54]

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

[03:04]

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

[03:12]

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

[03:48]

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

[03:53]

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

[04:01]

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

[04:19]

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

[04:48]

Did you have any friends that you transferred with?

[04:51]

I had one or two, yeah.

[04:53]

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

[04:56]

Yes, pretty much, yeah.

[04:58]

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

[05:06]

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

[05:20]

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

[05:34]

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

[6:30]

Which one did you pick?

[06:31]

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

[06:37]

Got it. And are you using WordPress or…?

[06:41]

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

[06:50]

OK, what’s the code 9?

[06:51]

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

[06:55]

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

[07:09]

I’m seventeen.

[07:10]

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

[07:14]

Senior.

[07:14]

So this is this is your last year.

[07:15]

Yes.

[07:16]

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

[07:24]

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

[07:36]

And then your senior year…

[07:37]

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

[07:46]

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

[07:55]

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

[08:08]

All in high school.

[08:09]

All in high school.

[08:10]

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

[08:23]

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

[08:27]

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

[08:34]

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

[09:19]

So where are you buying the snacks?

[09:23]

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

[09:35]

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

[09:38]

Yes.

[09:39]

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

[09:41]

No, not today. Sorry.

[09:45]

Oh, that’s cold-blooded. [Laughter]

[09:47]

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

[09:51]

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

[10:13]

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

[10:19]

How are you marketing it?

[10:21]

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

[10:46]

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

[10:51]

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

[11:03]

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

[11:15]

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

[11:25]

Awesome!

[11:26]

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

[11:44]

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

[11:51]

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

[11:57]

No Pinterest?

[12:00]

No, we haven’t looked into that yet.

[12:03]

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

[13:43]

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

[14:10]

Totally.

[14:10]

…so that we can target that audience as well.

[14:13]

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

[15:29]

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

[15:37]

Because the price points are low enough?

[15:38]

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

[16:13]

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

[16:56]

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

[17:30]

Thanks, and Instagram?

[17:32]

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

[18:00]

Have you tried using SnapChat at all?

[18:06]

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

[18:27]

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

[19:11]

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

[19:21]

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

[19:44]

Everybody does.

[19:46]

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

[19:54]

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

[20:13]

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

[20:18]

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

[20:45]

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

[20:57]

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

[20:59]

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

[21:29]

Wow.

[21:30]

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

[21:38]

For like Patiño or like high school in general?

[21:42]

For Patiño, sure. Yes, for Patiño.

[21:44]

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

[22:32]

A hundred percent.

[22:33]

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

[22:52]

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

[22:59]

Yes, exactly.

[23:00]

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

[23:20]

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

[23:37]

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

[23:47]

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

[24:07]

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

[24:11]

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

[24:44]

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

[24:46]

Yes.

[24:46]

Where?

[24:47]

I haven’t actually looked into yet but…

[24:50]

Where do you want to go?

[24:51]

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

[24:59]

In?

[25:00]

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

[25:05]

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

[25:12]

Ah, thank you.

[25:12]

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

[25:15]

Thank you.

[25:16]

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

[25:24]

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

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

[25:36]

Cultacks. Cultacks. Got it.

[25:40]

www.cultacks.com

[25:51]

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

[26:00]

Thank you for having me.

[26:01]

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

[26:35]

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

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

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

FIND JESSICA ONLINE:

https://msu.edu/

Twitter: @MSUSpartanFan77

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

FIND US ONLINE:

www.happymr.com

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

Twitter: @happymrxp

Instagram: @happymrxp

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


[00:30]

Over the last decade the market research industry has been disrupted.  Our largest agencies are struggling to keep up as their customers turn to newer, faster and cheaper data sources. Now we are on the edge of yet another market shift. Now is the time for us to reassert ourselves as the rudder of the brands we love. Thank you for tuning in to the Happy Market Research Podcast where we are charting the path for the future of market researchers and businesses. Hi, I’m Jamin Brazil and you’re listening to the Happy Market Research Podcast.  Today my guest is Jessica Richards, the Program Director for the Marketing Research Program at Michigan State University. Michigan State is one of the top market research universities. Jessica, thank you very much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.

[01:13]

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

[01:20]

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

[01:45]

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

[03:10]

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

[04:20]  

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

[04:22]

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

[05:28]

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

[05:59]

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

[06:13]

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

[11:29]

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

[11:38]

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

[11:43]

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

[12:19]

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

[12:47]

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

[13:06]

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

[14:48]

Congratulations!  That’s a big deal.  

[14:52]

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

[15:58]

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

[16:44]

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

[17:36]

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

[18:17]

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

[20:36]

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

[21:04]

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

[22:12]

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

[22:31]

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

[23:53]

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

[24:28]

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

[26:26]

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

[26:35]

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

[28:15]

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

[28:18]

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

[28:53]

Holy crap!  That’s amazing!        

[28:59]

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

[30:09]

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

[30:59]

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

[31:32]

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

[32:18]

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

[32:30]

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

[32:37]

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

[32:46]

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