IIeX North America 2019 Podcast Series

IIeX NA 2019 Conference Series – David Wolfe – Inguo

Welcome to the 2019 IIEX North America Conference Series. Recorded live in Austin, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews David Wolfe, Prinicipal at Inguo.

Contact David Online:




David Wolfe.  Inguo is the name of the company.  They’re an NEC spin-out of the AI laboratories at NEC Corporation in Japan.  David’s got a really interesting background, including Olympic-level wrestling in the United States for those of you who are fans of that.  We don’t actually dive into it, but it was certainly worth mentioning. I thought that was fascinating seeing that kind of background and then coming into market research.  They have AI-empowered insights discovery tool. It’s the first of its kind in the data science industry; it’s got a ton of automation and value that it can bring. They’re very early in their inception, and I think it’s a great time if you’re looking for AI-empowered insights and discovery that you’d take advantage of at least picking up the phone and having a conversation with David.  Enjoy.


My guest today is David Wolfe, principal of Inguo.


So, I started my career after grad school in international policy.  So my original background is linguistics, cultural anthropology, and international policies.  So, I have an M.A. in international policy from the Monterey Institute, now known as the Middlebury Institute.  I worked for a firm in Washington, D.C., focusing on the Kashmir dispute where I was working with India and Pakistan, but basically trying to give a voice to the people of Kashmir because they are just basically innocent by-standers caught in the middle of nothing.  But I will leave it at that ‘cause that’s a touchy subject and don’t want to scare people away.


I hear you.  I think that’s great.  That’s an interesting…  There are a couple of things there that are really interesting there for me.  One is that you’re talking about adding voice to a subset of the population that doesn’t have voice, which in a lot of ways is the fundamental core tenet of market research.  So it’s about uncovering the hidden truth, sometimes the ugly truth, so that brands can better deliver on their customer promise.


That’s correct, 100%.

So, I also in my studies studied mass communications, but mass communications from a critical theory point of view.  So looking at things like for urban planning and information cities and how we can utilize technology to make us better as a society. But not looking at societies as a “one size fit all” because we are a big, diverse world.  So how we can utilize this to ingratiate each other without imposing our culture or someone else’s culture whatever on someone else but meeting in the middle and finding understand, which I think market research now is really trying to do that and find the humanity within market research.  And so, that was what drew me into this.


At a macro-level brands are doing the same thing.  So, this is what I find so interesting, and I’ve said this before:  It used to be the case of brands were who they said they were and now they are who their customer says they are.  So this paradigm shift that happened when Facebook started really… And now it’s at scale inside of our world, and everybody is aware of it.  And so, if you’re going to outperform the indices, your peer group, as an organization, the question is really how good are employing and activating insights inside of your decision-making.  So you’ve GOT to be empathetic towards what the customer’s needs are in order to win in today’s marketplace.


That’s right, that’s right.  So you really need to understand the humanity level, rather than just seeing someone as a number or as a consumer, as a dollar sign, or a yen or something like that, understanding who they are because we are sentient beings.  So, therefore, we have personalities; we have needs; we have wants; we have pain points; we have dislikes; we have likes. And so, that’s primarily what we’re doing with Inguo is trying to get to that causal analysis of it.


So, the other part that’s interesting to that is…  We used to get marketed to in the context of TV, which is to say a generalized point of view from a brand and value prop, which in a lot of ways is way less effective than a generalized ad towards a specific segment of a narrower segment of the population.  And now brands are even, and have been, serving up custom communication to the individual. I’m not just talking about retargeting – that’s obvious. But even down to like… They’re not freaking us out. The Target example and others where there are sort of these iconic moments where Target knew that the daughter was pregnant before the parents.  That kind of stuff. This is really the day for market research to shine, and I do believe that we, as an industry, are doing a good job of that. I’m interested in your company. So tell me exactly what it is that you guys do.        


So, Inguo is a…  We’re on a long and winding road right now.  So, Inguo is a causal analysis and discovery tool that is AI-driven, and we are born out of the NEC innovation labs, meaning NEC corporation out of Japan.  And so, I’ve been fortunate enough and blessed that NEC is looking to me to be the principal to spin this out. In the next week or so, we will be a Delaware corp.  We are going into the Startup New York Program; we’re hoping to collaborate with NYU. There’s a lot of moving pieces, but we’re getting there. Where our name comes from?  Because people will be like, “Inguo. What does that mean?” because everyone wants to brand and be cool and come up. It actually has a meaning: “In” is Japanese for “cause,” and “guo” is “effect” in Chinese, and we are a Chinese-Japanese collaboration at developing this new AI technology for cause and discovery.         


Which is like a mind-blower at a cultural level.  


That is correct.  And I am an East Asian Studies “expert,” whatever people want to put there.  And my main thesis when I was in graduate school was cultural and historical reconciliation between China, Japan, and the Koreas.  So for me, when I was approached by NEC to take on this project to help with the spin-out, I loved it because it was everything that I wanted to do in an international affairs forum, but now I’m getting to do it at a real practical level and see the collaboration and people working together and bringing societies closer together who have been driven apart by historical differences.    


Got it.  That’s so powerful.  And it’s so interesting too listening to your story arc with your story about Congress and then unheard or invisible people groups, bubbling that context up and then now sort of this reconciliation point of view is super interesting for NEC to be birthing.


Yeah, yeah.  So, with NEC, obviously the target-focus for the Inguo tool is the market research industry, but when they approached me and they showed me what the AI could do, I’m obviously looking through an urban-planning, public-planning lens; so, I saw so many multi-facets and also with the market industry actually taking notice and recognition and really wanting to participate in this, whereas before they just basically wanted to sell, sell, sell without recognizing who that audience was.    


Yeah, it’s all about just Share Wallet or whatever.


Like we’re getting beyond birth of cool, which makes me very happy.


Totally.  So, who’s your ideal customer?


My ideal customer is your market research firm who is working with, let’s say, pharmaceuticals, who is working with advertising firms, who is either on the qualitative or quantitative side and that is the practical nature of where Inguo is focused upon right now.  And from my side, my own personal loves and my own personal desires, I’m looking at places like UNVP or Save the Children or even the New York Metro System, which is a hot mess all the time in finding out ways to better utilize it. And this tool can give them a better understanding on how to make public policy decisions.  


If somebody wants to get in contact with you, how would they do that?


They can reach me at David.Wolfe; that’s Wolfe with an “e.”  So, David.Wolfe@inguo.app.  I know the “.app” can be confusing but when it was first being conceived, that was what they chose because the other…


Everything else was taken.


Everything else was taken because “Inguo” is actually a term in China for a food.  So someone with Alibaba just basically bought up all the .com’s and things like that.  So, I think we have an in on getting .io because I don’t want people to think we’re an app because we’re not.  We’re a software. But Inguo.app is also our website. You can go there and find our case studies and understand what we’re doing.  And you can even upload your data; test out our tool. You can get a hold of me; you can collaborate with my team; they are more than willing to work with you for free as a collaborator and new adapter.  And you can we what we can do, and we can monetize your “why’s.”


Perfect.  David, thanks for much for being on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.


Thank you so much, Jamin.


It’s an absolute honor.  We’ll include all that information in the show notes.  As always, if you would do me a kindness, screen capture this particular episode.  Share it on your social media. Take time to give us a rating on the platform you listen to it on.  It makes all the difference in the world and is a great way to show honor to the people that have been taking time out of their day to share their insights with you.  I hope you all have a fantastic day.


Thank you so much.  You’re far more than Marc Maron.