IIeX North America 2019 Podcast Series

IIeX NA 2019 Conference Series – Rick Kelly – Fuel Cycle

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 Rick Kelly, Senior Vice President of Product & Research at Fuel Cycle.

Contact Rick Online:


Fuel Cycle


Rick Kelly, Fuel Cycle, Senior Leader at that company.  This is the second interview we did with Fuel Cycle. As I already mentioned, Fuel Cycle is a research, cloud-based platform that has their own set of qualitative and quantitative solutions integrated directly into it as well as they’ve plugged in some other tools.  Interesting fact: Rick Kelly and I have picked grapes in the same fields; I think there might have been a decade in between. But it was really funny talking with somebody with a very similar cultural point of view, having a very similar upbringing. Hope you enjoy this episode.  It was a lot of fun for me.


Hey, everybody.  I am here with Rick Kelly, Fuel Cycle.  Rick, thanks for joining me on the Happy Market Research Podcast today.  


I am thrilled to be here.


I promise you you’re not more excited than I am.  


OK, that’s going to be a tough competition, but I’ll let you have it for now.  Let’s see how this goes.


So, Day 1, you’re my very first interview.  So I’m going to do some special promotion around this particular episode.  Fuel Cycle, tell me what is going on there.


I mean there’s a lot of things going on.  So, obviously, we have a big background in research communities.


So, actually, let’s back up.  When did you guys start?


So, Fuel Cycle’s been around for 12 years now.  We were formerly known as

Passenger, and we branded it about three years ago to Fuel Cycle.  So, we’ve been around, known for our research communities. And then, over the past little while, we’ve launched like a product exchange where we integrate with a bunch of different partners and everything as well and really been repositioning ourselves as a market research cloud, centered around our research communities, with the idea being that we can integrate with just about any other technology provider in the research space and link that to the research communities and run just about any type of project you’d like.  


Got it, cool.  Give me an example of your favorite project you guys have worked on.


You know what?  There’s lots of really cool ones, but here’s a great example.  We just launched a feature called FC Live. And what we can do is we can do UX-testing on mobile devices.  So a research respondent can take a prototype that’s sent to him by a researcher, share that screen on the phone, capture the entire screen and walk-through experience whether it’s a online shopping experience or a new app or something like that.  All that video is captured and then it’s transcribed by Voxpopme and available for analysis in a few hours. So it’s really taken the idea of remote usability, testing and putting it on steroids.


That’s really cool.  So, how many companies are you guys connected to?          


So, right now we have about 100 clients, just got to a 100.  When I started five years ago, there were about 13.


Yeah, ‘cause I remember you guys way back when.  And then the rebrand, of course, I think, was absolutely brilliant.  Was the rationale like it was just an aged brand or did you feel like it was a strategic pivot?  And, if so, from what to what?


Yeah, so I think there was a new team there.  There were no more founders left in the organization.  And we kind of wanted to re-establish what it meant to be us in the marketplace.  And also, Passenger felt like a very passive brand, and none of us are passive people.  And so, Fuel Cycle just kind of denoted energy and kind of enthusiasm for what we were doing in general.


Now, I am from Fresno, California, and you are from, as it turns out, which is hilarious, Visalia, California, which is our neighbor.   


Yeah, about 40 minutes down the road.  


Yeah, that’s right.  I will say that Visalia has the coolest downtown of any Central Valley.


That’s true.  It’s very, very cool.  


Totally, totally.  So, tell me a little bit about your journey.  How in the world did you wind up in market research?


No idea, really.  I think that’s the same as everyone.  But I grew up on a farm in central California.  I left and didn’t go back for 15 years. So, when I graduated high school, I went to college in Idaho; I lived in Ireland for a couple years; I lived in Utah.  And after I finished grad school at Utah State, I ended up working in market research. And it’s really due to the recession. I had a job to go overseas and teach English.  And a few weeks before I was due to graduate, the company I was going to work for went under. And somebody introduced me to Bob Faison, who’s now at Dynata. I got hired pretty quickly.  


That’s awesome.  


So, that’s how I got into market research.


That’s so funny.  These two country bumpkins that wind up in technology, market research.


Yeah, exactly.


That is so funny, how the world works.  Yeah, totally. Yeah, I grew up picking grapes and the whole… turning trays and pruning.    


I’m sure we worked on some of the same vineyards.


It’s so funny.  So, what’s next for you guys?  You pivoted away from a passive brand, really community-oriented, or panel community, that’s what I meant by that.  Do you guys have your own panel assets?


We don’t.  Nothing proprietary today.  So nothing to announce there, but we continue to focus really on the unique value the community provides.  So, something like some really in-depth qualitative research things that we can do because we have private communities that you just can’t do with a general access panel.  So, while we do a lot of quantitative work – in fact, about 60% of the work done on our platform today is quantitative – we continue to emphasize some of the qualitative things like they mentioned:  the UX-testing, video, photos, things that are really, really different than just standard discussion boards and surveys.


Who’s your ideal customer?  Do they sit inside of a brand?  An agency?


So, there’s two types.  Really, at the end of the day, end-customers, large enterprises are really our sweet spot, probably your Fortune 1000, something along those lines.  We do work with a lot of resellers who resell our platform and provide services along side it too.


What kind of terms of trade?  What does that look like with you guys?  How do you monetize the relationship? I don’t mean that like gouge them.  How do you people engage…


What’s our business model?


Yeah, thank you.


So, we’re software as a service.  So, it’s SaaS. So, we do business in annual license plus.  So, minimum 12-month contracts, and many of them are multi-year.  And that’s kind of the primary business model overall.   


Got it.  So, market research has gone through a lot of transition in the last five years.  A lot.




The introduction of block chain and crypto-currency has entered into the space.  AI, of course, research automation, probably the number 1 buzz word I’ve heard as of late, even though it’s been around for a while.  In fact, I would argue that Decipher, the company I started, was actually just a research automation play as opposed to an online survey play, right?     


Yeah, in retrospect, it’s all automation.  


Right, totally, right.  It’s just by getting to the data, the insights faster.  So, what do you see, looking forward to the next five years, where’s your bets?  What are you seeing as going to be trending?


I think where we’re going to continue to place a lot of bets is really around analyzing a lot of unstructured data at scale. So, collecting unstructured insights, being able to process and give those things meaning will continue to be important.  So that really is an automation and an AI play because those are things you can do at scale with artificial intelligence. And also I think we’re going to see like a resurgence in the importance of user experience to research respondents. I think having easy-to-use tools and easy-to-use survey of platforms to participate in ends up being very, very important in the long run too and really affects data quality.       


That’s awesome.  You guys think you’re going to continue to play exclusively in the tool space or do you think you’re going to branch out and actually create your own panel?  The reason I bring it up is because there’s been a… I mean our entire careers you’ve heard about data quality, but it does seem like there’s been a big change.  TMR, the group scientists at Proctor & Gamble, MRMW two weeks ago she gave a presentation, claiming that a significant proportion – I might be misquoting it but I believe it was around 30% – of completes on some studies that they analyzed were determined as fraud.  Are you seeing that as problem that you might be able to solve in the context of where you’re sitting in the data ecosystem?


Yeah, that’s an interesting question.  Like I said, we have nothing to announce today, but ultimately like our value to our clients is dependent on the fidelity of data that we’re providing to them.  And so, where we feel like we can have an impact, if we can impact the quality and fidelity, then that’s something that we’re going to invest time and effort into.     


Understood.  Great, fantastic.  Rick with Fuel Cycle has been my guest on Happy Market Research Podcast.


Very happy to be here.  


Thanks so much.  Hey, listen, before I let you go, what do you think about the show? I know we’re just getting started.    


Well, I think it’s fantastic.  I love being in Austin. Over in Atlanta, I’m really glad they moved it here.  It’s a great city: lots of good energy and everything too. And it’s great to see all these tech companies out here – just explosion in this space.


Just over 1,200 this year, which, I think, almost a couple hundred more than last year in attendees, which is fantastic.  The exhibitor hall is completely packed to the gills even into the overflow areas. To your point, there’s a lot of good energy here.


When Qualtrics gets acquired for 8 billion dollars, I think that makes a lot of entrepreneurs think, “Hey, there’s something in this kind of customer data space.”  And I think we’ll see a lot more in the future.


They are the tail that is wagging the dog of market research right now.




Yeah, absolutely.  Alright, thanks for joining me.  


Thanks a lot, Jamin.