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The CEO Series: A Discussion with Andrew Reid of Vision Critcal

I'm going to be doing a periodic series of interviews with CEOs of firms that I believe are playing a significant role in transforming the industry. To start that series off, today I have Andrew Reid, Founder and President of Vision Critical.

I don’t know about you, but I find an awful lot of value in talking to folks that are making a real impact in the market research industry and achieving business success while doing it. I’m lucky to have the time and access to make that happen; most folks don’t have the luxury of a chatting with people they actually want to talk to as a big part of how they make their living, so I feel it’s only fair that I share as much of those conversations as possible with you, too.

If you have not been tuning in to Radio NewMR each week, that is where Ray Poynter, Andrew Jeavons, Sue York and I broadcast our conversations with industry movers and shakers. It’s a fun and information packed 30 minutes each week and we’ve had some great guests on like Eric Salama (Chair and CEO of Kantar Group), Pat Molloy (CSO of Confirmit) and other industry leaders. You should check the interviews out!

My problem is that sometimes 15 minutes isn’t enough and it can be challenging to align schedules with some of the folks I’d like to talk with. So, with that in mind I’m going to be doing a periodic series of interviews with CEOs of firms that I believe are playing a significant role in transforming the industry. To start that series off, today I have  Andrew Reid, Founder and President of Vision Critical.

I’ve known Andrew and his team since the early days of Vision Critical;  I launched Rockhopper Research at about the same time and our firms were frequently looking for opportunities to collaborate on projects. What stood out to me then and is still true today is that Andrew and his team never seemed satisfied with being a “me too” firm; they were always pushing the envelope in terms of the functionality, usability, and ROI of research tools. The company has changed a lot over the years and grown into one of the major firms in our industry but I think that passion for innovation and redefining what market research  can do (and maybe even what it is!) is still a core value.

Here is my interview with Andrew. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did conducting it.

LM: Thanks for agreeing to the interview Andrew! Let’s start with an easy one. You recently sponsored the Insight Innovation Competition; what attracted you to that event?

AR: We have always viewed ourselves as change agents in the Industry. Technology is what underpins everything we do at VC and as a result, we’ve managed to stay ahead of the game through our innovative products and offerings. We believe that there are many newcomers who have exciting ideas and early stage technologies that might have a huge impact on this industry.  It seemed like a natural fit to be a part of this initiative.

LM: On the IIC competition, what was your major take away from the competitors? Who or what concept stood out the most for you personally?

AR: There were many cool innovations and some have big upside potential from my perspective. I was very interested in utilizing Twitter to recruit both gen pop and hard to reach segments.

LM: Vision Critical has always been on the forefront of innovation in the market research space; how did that become a core cultural value and what do you do to help maintain that focus within the organization?

AR: When I kicked this business off in 2000 I came at it from a technology angle. Since then we have cherished and re-enforced the need to have many different perspectives and skill sets at VC. We don’t just tackle our tech innovations from a programmer or researcher perspective. We have dynamic mix of people and we do our best to allow many different cultures to maintain and sustain. Our R&D teams have quarterly hack-a-thons (they stay up for 24 hours and work on fun projects) and they use a very different operating strategy than our other groups in the company. Maintaining unique work cultures that are connected to our vision is core to our success.

LM: In the early days of the company, Vision Critical was positioned as a tech provider only; obviously that has changed. How has the company transformed itself over the years and what has driven those changes?

AR: That’s a great question. I think that we’ve been an opportunistic company and that in the early days when we only provided technology we clearly saw an opportunity for enabling services. Today we rarely take on a services engagement that isn’t directly connected to one of our technology platforms. We are always striving to build technology that requires minimal services but the reality is that some services can’t be bottled and we want to give our clients the flexibility to embrace our technologies at the level that best suits their individual needs and resources.

LM: You’ve recently made several significant announcements, including your new mobile approach and being the first company to bring MROCs to Russia. That seems to indicate that you think the dual trends of communities and mobile, especially in BRIC, will be a driving force of future growth. Is that accurate? How do you see Vision Critical evolving in response to those trends?

AR: We connect brands to their customers and that customer base has evolved its behavior so we need to go to where their customers are. Mobile and Facebook are where people are spending large amounts of their time so it’s important that we make it easy for them connect with their customers. Mobile for MROCS offers a unique advantage in that all interactions are stored in a database and directly linked to each panelist so the surveys can be short. The other obvious advantage is GEO-location based research which will be another big game changer in the industry.

LM: It seems most of your competitors are moving into the EFM space and are incorporating social media analytics into their suite of services as part of that shift. What’s your take on that?

AR: We’ve been running EFM projects for over 3 years and we recently launched our own Customer Experience Management platform. I’m not at all surprised to see many vendors move into this already crowded space. I think it will be interesting to see what this space will look like in a few years as technology continues to play a major role in transforming large brands abilities to get smarter about how they collect, analyze, and distribute feedback. We have a very scalable research platform so EFM was a natural extension for us that involved layering in the social web, user management hierarchies and slick new reporting functions. Vision Critical is focused on solutions that power continuous customer engagement. MROCS, tracking initiatives and EFM all fit into that category and we intend to bring some new approaches to the market with each of those offerings.

LM: How do you keep the company focused on the twin priorities of sustaining growth of your existing product/service suite and innovation that may actually disrupt some of your additional lines of business?

AR: We focus on a mixture of listening to our clients, watching out for emerging trends in other industries that may be applicable to ours, and keeping an eye on our competitors. We also recognize the need to be constantly evolving and innovating our capabilities. It’s important to recognize and find ways to embrace disruptive innovation. Ignoring these trends is the worst thing you can do.

LM: Thanks Andrew; this has been great. I know you have a lot on your plate so we’ll end this here. Best of luck on continued success in 2012! 

AR: Thank you Lenny, and same to you!

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