NEXT 2019 Podcast Series

NEXT 2019 Conference Series – Ray Fischer – Aha! Online Research

Welcome to the 2019 NEXT Conference Series. Recorded live in Chicago, this series is bringing interviews straight to you from exhibitors and speakers at this year’s event. In this interview, host Jamin Brazil interviews Ray Fischer, CEO and Founding Partner of Aha! Online Research.

Find Ray Online:




Aha! is the name of the company.  We are live at the Insights Association’s NEXT Conference 2019 in Chicago.  We are winding up Day 2. What time do you take off


I take off just after this interview.  I’m going to head down to the train station, do the old school Amtrak back to Detroit.  It’s going to be awesome.


Oh, that’s right.  Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.  


Yeah, yeah.  I take the train, get some work done, get to watch a little “Billions” on the way back.


How long does that take?


It’s about four and a half hours.


OK.  That’s not bad.


I lose an hour going back.  I go from the Central to the East time zone.  It’s a little bit longer that way, but it’s a nice, comfortable, great way to go back, you know, Detroit to Chicago.     


Totally.  You don’t have like all the drama with air flight.  


It is so simple.  It’s incredible. I mean they don’t even check ID’s going on, which is weird to me, but…


I know.  It is old school.


It’s that simple.  It’s old school. It feels like a throw-back, 45, 50 years ago.  


Yeah, it does, it does.  I remember the old days of air traffic prior to 9/11.  It’s like show up. Anybody who’s at the gate…


Right, the train is kind of like that now, but I will tell you they haven’t changed the cars in 45 or 50 years.  A little dated, but it is kind of a cool, romantic sort of way to travel back and forth, when it’s not too far.


Is it packed?


It is usually pretty full, you know, because there’s a lot of, again, Detroiters coming to Chicago and back and forth, a lot of transplants both ways. 


Yep, totally.  So a highlight of the show?


Highlight of the show.  I saw a couple of really good talks.  I’d say the first highlight though… When I go to these shows, they become so fun.  When I look back five or six years ago when we were just launching, I didn’t know anybody at the shows.  So, it was basically me and my two partners, standing at our booth talking to each other, telling stories, trying to make it look like we’re having fruitful conversations at selling something.  Now, I can go to the shows (we didn’t exhibit at this one), I’m just walking around; I see people like you; I see people like a lot of friends, vendors, prospects, clients, etc. I make new friends.  It’s just a really, really fun way to immerse yourself more in the industry but, again, as time goes on, it just becomes kind of a community of friends.      


ROI on shows.  That’s interesting, right?  I think about that a lot. Like how do I maximize my return on… It’s expensive:  it’s $10,000; by the time you’re done, it’s $10,000. You’ve got a couple staff, and that doesn’t include the hard costs of time and money going into it.       


No doubt, no doubt.  


So, what do you think about that?  Do you guys do much exhibiting?  


You know, we do.  We do about four conferences a year where we exhibit and I speak at several as well.  So those definitely help ‘cause when you have the exhibit and the speaking engagement, as you know, that’s kind of a double whammy, double power-packed punch.  You know where you got the ability to talk to people who come by your booth after they saw it. So you really max out, especially if you get an earlier time slot.  If you’re the last guy on the last day, you don’t really get to maximize that. And the ROI: usually it’s like a couple of projects and you’re good to go. Smaller projects you’ve covered your investment but, again, as time has gone on and I’ve gotten more and more clients, I can walk around this and it saves me from having to make 20 flights to different cities to see these people.  Set stuff up, go meet with them, etc., and they’re all here in one place. This venue is great; the hotel’s cool; great location, obviously, Chicago; it’s sunny today. It’s absolute perfect.         


Yeah, no, today’s like a perfect Chicago day.  


And to answer more directly your question about the highlights of the show, couple great speeches.  All of them were really smart. I think of this like a high-end conference: very smart people, a lot of client-and-supplier combination speeches, which are great.  I saw one yesterday that was with a Burke, an IBM person, two super smart people. Joelle was the Burke person; I don’t remember who the IBM partner was in that. But the speech was about Artificial Intelligence, AI.  There’s a lot of acronyms flying around today. AI stuff: fascinating to hear the perspective of IBM talking about it. They’ve got Watson; they’ve got amazing stuff. And Burke has been a practitioner and user, probably more on the quant side of things, or in the larger scale data sets.  But the fascinating thing I heard – and you and I have talked about this quite a bit – is that it’s one of things where it’s emerging and we’re trying to apply it. But it’s not the end-all answer at this point in time. And the IBM person actually said you have to look at Artificial Intelligence right now as a baby.  It’s truly a baby. It’s really going to be a great, grown-up human being soon, but it truly is very much in its nascent state. It’s young. It doesn’t have the answers. It can’t write the report for you as a human would, which I love to hear. And that’s something that you and I have talked about before especially on the qual side of things.  Human data takes a human touch, and we’re small data too for the most part. 




It’s not thousands of people, saying thousands and thousands of things and having millions and millions of words to draw from.  So, while it does apply obviously to that to help sort data, you know on our side, we still need that human touch. That was really good.  And then I just saw a really good speech about innovation and rapid product development with Thor Ernstsson from Alpha, and Vivek Bedi from Northwestern Mutual Life.  Really engaging. They’re both really good speakers, and they had a tremendous rapport. You tell they’ve worked together and they’re friends. And they had a couple of funny jokes about going out and drinking and whatnot.     


Isn’t it nice when you…?  It’s such a relationship business.  It really is. And kind of getting back to my question about the ROI, the benefit of having a booth is it creates an anchor point for people to be able to connect with you.  And once you have those relationships established, it’s gets harder and harder to justify it because, to you earlier point, you just call them up and say, “Hey, are you going to be at the show?”  And they say, “Yes” or whatever. And then boom, you know what I mean? You schedule that stuff out accordingly.  


And their stuff was great.  So, they were engaging and everything, but it was a very easy presentation.  They weren’t just running charts at us. They almost turned it into a TED talk.  So, it was really much more like half a dozen slides and some nice storytelling.  


That was it.


Yeah, it’s a good lesson for me and really anybody in how to deliver in a 30-minute format at a show like this where you just kind of tell a story.  Have some great visual things to support it; make it a little bit more interesting from that standpoint. But to be able to just tell stories about how you’ve done project work or come to some successes with big organization stuff and innovation and rapidly getting to market and innovating quickly.  It was very cool. Those were two of the better ones. All of them were good that I did see, though. And I had some good dinners here too, so.


Well, now, did you buy or were you treated?   


I bought one night, and I was treated last night.  


Nice.  Who was it?


It was Focus Forward, Kim Harrison, Dave Pataki.  We were out at Maple & Ash, so a plug for Maple & Ash.  Fantastic restaurant. Have you been there?




Seriously, probably the best restaurant in town.


We went to a pizza place.  So, next event you’re going to go to?


Next event:  good question.  I know there is one in August, the CX.  I think Mark Michelson has his CX Talks here, and I’m going to speak at that one.    




That’s here in Chicago.


What are you speaking on?


I am going to talk about customer experience.  He’s got these like TED-Talk, 10-minute slots, which is going to be super fun.  So, you’re basically going to have a couple slides that might be somewhat visual support, but it’s going to be a quick storytelling thing.  It should be really high energy, quick hits, main message in a storytelling kind of way. So I’m excited to do that. Mark’s a good buddy, and I know of yours too. 


Yeah, yeah.


It’s just fun to support his organization and his go forward stuff.  And he did approve my speech. So we’re good.  


Safe travels home.


I appreciate that.  


Everybody else who’s listening, I hope you have a fantastic rest of your day.  Insights Association, thank you so much for hosting the Happy Market Research Podcast on site at this year’s NEXT conference.  Congratulations to everybody who was speaking and the winners of the startup competition. It was SightX, by the way.  


Oh, nice.  


I know I got …  I was really sad.


Tim Lawton, nice.


But that’s OK.  I’ll come back stronger; I always do. Have a wonderful rest of your day.


Good stuff. Thanks, Jamin.