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The CEO Series: Interview With Janet Kosloff of InCrowd

Janet Kosloff, the CEO of InCrowd is presenting at the upcoming PMRG Annual Conference and anyone who is lucky enough to be attending is in for a treat. Janet, is smart, savvy, and visionary and will deliver an immense amount of impactful information to the audience.

I first became aware of InCrowd last year at the TDMR event in Chicago, and then had the pleasure of meeting more of their team at the Market Research in the Mobile World conference in Atlanta. I was impressed by their vision of using mobile crowdsourcing as an effective means of delivering timely and cost effective insights to the healthcare industry. The combination of vertical focus and expertize with innovative technology is a potent combination, and it’s been great to see them grow rapidly as a result of their hard work in developing a compelling value proposition.

Janet Kosloff, the CEO of InCrowd is presenting at the upcoming PMRG Annual Conference and anyone who is lucky enough to be attending is in for a treat. Janet, is smart, savvy, and visionary and will deliver an immense amount of impactful information to the audience. Since I will not be able to attend the conference because I’ll be at ARF re:Think, I asked Janet if we could do an interview as a “prelude” to her PMRG talk. Janet was game and here is the result. I think it’s a powerful example of entrepreneurial success, innovation, and disruption to the status quo and I hope we can all be inspired by the example of Janet and her team. This is is one crowd I certainly think we all need to be in if possible.

LFM: Thanks for taking the time to chat Janet! I became familiar with InCrowd last year via your participation in the Tech Driven MR and Market Research in the Mobile World events, but I’m betting many folks don’t know who you are. Can you give our readers the “elevator pitch”?

JK: Sure, thanks Lenny!  InCrowd has developed an on-demand market research platform that connects the life science industry directly to their target market of pre-qualified health care professionals (MD’s, RN’s, patient’s, MCO’s, etc.), providing immediate market feedback.  We think the ability to get feedback directly from physicians (and other HCP’s) within hours of a product launch and initial detailing, or to get immediate feedback on new data being released, or to better understand a business development opportunity is a game changer for our clients.  Imagine bringing the voice of the customer directly into your conversation at will – that’s what InCrowd brings to the table.

LFM: You recently completed your first funding round and are now investing in new human capital and growth initiatives. How has it been starting up a new business in this environment? What have you learned and what would you do a bit differently?   

JK: There is a thirst for innovation in our industry right now especially with regard to platform and mobile technologies, so it’s been a terrific time to launch our business.  We’ve had a very positive reaction from both potential clients and the investment community, allowing us to get up a head of steam going into 2012.

In terms of learnings, when Diane and I started the business about a year and a half ago, we thought we’d be able to bootstrap completely.  We quickly realized though, that if we wanted to move as quickly as we needed to, we’d have to raise money from outside investors.  This process was difficult and time consuming.  It took away from the time and energy we wanted to spend developing our product and bringing in clients.  Yet now that we are on the other side (at least for the moment), it feels like it was an important exercise in flushing out all the elements required to be successful.  Without this outside pressure we might not have pushed ourselves to delve into all of the forward-looking details the way we needed to for investors to be comfortable. We now know that we’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s.

LFM: So, the investment process was a bit of a crucible experience, huh? What advice would you pass on to others regarding the process?

JK: You need to be realistic at the beginning and understand what you want to be as a company, and what your capital requirements will be.  If you go after outside capital you need to come to terms with the fact that whoever is leading that charge will spend at least 50% of their time for an extended period of time on this task.  With limited resources in a small company this is a huge commitment.

Plan on this process taking the better part of a year from initial introductions to money in the bank.  There will be many ups and downs.  Make sure your company is progressing down the path that you’ve detailed for potential investors.  If not, you will immediately lose credibility.

For first time CEO’s like me, I would recommend focusing on angels who understand your business for the first round (after friends and family, of course).  These folks, at least in our case, have provided a great deal of mentoring and important guidance that would have been much more difficult to learn in a VC funded environment.

LFM: I love the fact that you’ve chosen a B2B focus vs. consumer, but why did you decide to focus on healthcare initially? It seems to me that the InCrowd model could be deployed across many verticals very successfully.

JK: Collectively, the founding team (Diane Hayes, Kathleen Poulos and I) has over 60 years experience in healthcare.  Kathleen and I began our careers as RN’s and moved quickly (after getting advanced degrees) into the business side of healthcare. Diane is a PhD Epidemiologist who has led NIH clinical trials, a technology assessment firm and has experience creating clinician communities.  So it was natural for us to want to focus in the healthcare vertical – it’s what we know.

The Life Science industry as a whole is very data intensive, and as you know, is a huge consumer of market research.  So we knew it was a big market.  All three of us had spent the better part of the last decade (or two) working with market researchers in Life Science firms and know this industry very well.  It is a very complex and specialized industry so deep domain expertise goes a long way in building a product offering that will hit the mark and resonate with this client base.

The idea for the company came out of my experiences as a sales VP for a traditional market research firm specializing in serving Life Science clients.  I would frequently get calls from my clients with an urgent need for data.  These needs were generally very specific and well defined (reaction to a news story or a competitive issue, or info needed to quickly vet a business development opportunity) and could be answered in one or two well-crafted questions, or what we call microsurveys.  Clients often needed the data by end of the day, or next day at the latest.  The problem was that it is nearly impossible for traditional research companies to handle those types of requests; the process and pricing structure just don’t lend itself to that type of work.

I knew there had to be a way to meet these needs using technology as the backbone, so that’s what we set out to do.

LFM:  You’re presenting at the PMRG annual conference; can you give me a “sneak peek” at the topic and presentation?

JK: We are presenting a case study with Vertex Pharmaceuticals about how they used InCrowd’s on-demand platform to inform the launch of Incevik (treatment for Hep C), monitor the early progress of the launch, and now how they’re using the platform to keep their fingers directly on the pulse of their prescribers.   This let’s them identify and head off any situations developing in the market before they become problematic.

We’re expanding our work with Vertex to include the Cystic Fibrosis market, as they have just launched another very exiting drug, Kalydeco.  Vertex is a terrific company – they were our first client and have been a wonderful partner in helping us to refine our offering.  They are innovative, creative and forward thinking!

LFM: What are some examples of how clients are using InCrowd  vs more traditional research techniques? Also, have you gotten any feedback on where you fit within the MR wheelhouse on the client side?

JK: On-demand research requires a different mindset than what we call wait-for-it or traditional research.  With InCrowd, clients can react very quickly to issues that are developing in the moment, or that keep you from moving forward until you can get market input.

For example, breaking news impacting your company, reaction to new data presented at an industry conference, or unexpected issues that arise are all situations where you want immediate market feedback.

We have also found that our clients are using InCrowd to get market feedback while developing questionnaires for more in-depth surveys, or understanding what prescribers are doing or hearing from reps days after launch, or bringing the voice of the customer into a strategy session where you can float hypothesis and get actual data to refute or support them.  These are things that just couldn’t be done before.

Our clients see InCrowd as a new and powerful tool in their bag.  They also recognize that it is not a replacement in many cases for more detailed and rigorous market research exercises.

LFM: What is next for you? Will you be extending your model to other verticals or incorporating new enhancements into the platform?

JK: We are constantly improving, refining and enhancing our platform and service.  I expect that we will never stop doing so.  We plan to stay in the healthcare vertical exclusively for the foreseeable future but we do have some very exciting extensions to our platform that are in the works – closely guarded secrets, but I will keep you posted as they are rolled out!

LFM: Last week Peanut Labs launched a conceptually similar offering that is consumer focused, which I would take as good news for you. Are you seeing other offerings that are similar to InCrowd and what are you learning from them?

JK: We see other companies moving toward DIY and other real time data collection technologies and I do think this is a good thing.  As you mention, we see this primarily in the consumer vertical.  We learn as much as possible from the approaches of others, but try to push the envelope beyond what we are seeing in the marketplace.

We see ourselves as differentiated on several levels from most of what is available currently.  First, we focus on developing client centric custom crowds of health care providers, so the questions asked are going to the respondents that our clients most want to hear from.

Second, we sit in the space between technology and service.  While our technology does the heavy lifting in terms of data collection, we have professional market researchers working with our clients on an as needed basis to assist with question development and data analysis.

LFM: Your respondent population is health care professionals, a notoriously difficult group to engage. What feedback are you getting from them and how are you keeping them plugged in and happy?

JK: Yes, HCP’s are a very difficult group to both recruit and engage.  We treat this aspect of our company as a business within our business.  Our panel is entirely opt-in and we collect an extensive amount of data on each member.  This allows our clients to slice and dice the respondent pool based on their specific need on a question-by-question basis.

We flip the screening process on it’s head by only inviting those respondents who we know will qualify for a microsurvey as they are prescreened before the question arrives on their phone or desktop.  This eliminates a respondent completing a long screener and then being terminated, which is a major frustration of research respondents.

There are many other aspects of recruitment and panel management that we have in place to keep our community happy, active and engaged, but we see this as our secret sauce, so I will leave it at that!

LFM: Stepping back from your focus on healthcare a bit, how do you see offerings like InCrowd impacting the broader market research industry and what changes do you expect to see as a result of emerging techniques like mobile crowdsourcing?  

I see offerings such as InCrowds’ to be extremely disruptive to the market research industry as we know it.  Once a company has experienced the impact of information on-demand, it’s hard to go back to wait-for-it data in many circumstances, which is by nature retrospective.

Of course, that’s our view of the world, which is why we are so excited about our business and what it could mean to the future of market research!

LFM: Ok, last question Janet. Healthcare is obviously a huge market for research; what trends within the healthcare space have you most excited overall and how do you think they may impact other verticals?

JK: For healthcare in general, I see use of e-health in monitoring, tracking and diagnosing patients really coming of age.  With mobile technologies more recently in the mix, I think this as an area of tremendous growth in the next 10 years.

In terms of market research, I think there is a real thirst for innovation by our clients in this space.  Not only for inventive methodologies but also for new technologies that help clients get closer to the moments when decisions are made, that speed up the uptake of that information and automate more of the analytical process.

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