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The CEO Series: Interview with Vivek Bhaskaran of Survey Analytics

The shift to “socialized research” is certainly intriguing and quickly growing. In addition, Vivek’s views on what this means long term for the research industry are pretty darn provocative. So overall I think you'll find a lot of interesting points in the interview.

Last year during the Insight Innovation Competition social polling app PollBob was one of the finalists. Their vision of a mobile app that combines elements of social networking, gamification, and mobile polling preceded many of the other firms that have started down that path since then. Although PollBob did not win the IIC, like many of the competing companies it gave them exposure to a variety of connections and opportunities they may not have otherwise had. As a case in point, today the news broke that QuestionPro (one of the Survey Analytics family of research products) has acquired PollBob.

Julie Ballard of Silicon Bayou News has details here. Here is an excerpt:

PollBob has been acquired by QuestionPro, an online market research firm based out of Seattle. New Orleans-based PollBob was co-founded by our very own Zach Kupperman along with Ben Jacobson in 2010. Jacobson will now join the QuestionPro team and Kupperman has left the company.

PollBob specializes in online and Survey Analytics, with a user base of around 350,000. It’s a real-time, on the go polling system that lets you quickly survey friends and discover opinions. The company made its own acquisition recently by purchasing Mister Poll earlier in the year. PollBob is rumored to have received six-figures in seed funding from unknown angel investors.

There is a growing market for online polling, especially through mobile apps. This acquisition will help expand PollBob into Android and Windows markets in addition to the already available app for iOS.

Vivek had reached out to me to let me know this deal was happening and I suggested that an interview would be appropriate and of interest to GreenBook Blog readers since the shift to “socialized research”  is certainly an intriguing and quickly growing approach. In addition, Vivek’s views on what this means long term for the research industry are pretty darn provocative, so overall I think find a lot of interesting points in the interview.

We conducted this interview via email yesterday.  Here it is.

LM: Thanks for making the time to chat Vivek; I hear you’ve been busy! So, I understand you have some news to share about a new addition to the Survey Analytics family; what can you tell us?

VB: First off – I want to correct something; QuestionPro and Survey Analytics are separate companies. They have common ownership, but they serve diverse markets and different business trajectories. In this case, QuestionPro – our flagship, low-cost online survey business has acquired PollBob – A social polling company out of NOLA. It’s run by an amazing couple of entrepreneurs: Ben and Zach and they’ve built a very compelling polling tool that we can bring to scale.

LM: Pollbob was one of the runners up in the Insights Innovation Competition last year and certainly were interesting due to their social polling focus which seems to have been a harbinger of other offerings such as Wayin. Was it that social model that appealed to you or something else?

VB: There were 3 key things that attracted us to PollBob :

 a)      The space – The social polling and insight space has not been explored as much. Yes, a few folks like Vizu have come and gone in the space , but we think this is the right time for social insights to come up to the ranks of “traditional” market research. We had some very interesting ideas to implement in this space and PollBob had already done a bunch of things that we thought we should do so it made obvious and easy sense to combine.

b)      Mobile – PollBob has done an amazing job in capturing the mobile space also – needless to say – Mobile and Social almost go hand-in-hand and they recognized this early on. The PollBob iPhone App lets you create and deploy polls on the fly and get results in real-time. This was another big motivating factor for this transaction. As you know Lenny, I am a big fan of mobile and this falls in line with our overall mobile strategy as well.

c)       Talent – I know for a fact that it takes amazing vision to develop a product in this space. A LOT of people have ideas – very few can execute. Both Ben and Zach have executed very well and brought a product to market.

LM: You’ve also been working on other social research platforms such as IdeaScale, Badge Farm, and Second Prism. First, why the focus on social integration? Second, where is Pollbob going to fit into those products as well as within the broader Survey Analytics platform?

VB: Yes – we are working on a number of products in the social + business layer. The social polling model is frankly not new. A lot of the other tools out there are mere hobbies or fly-by-night. We are here to stay with the social polling model with QuestionPro. We’ve done extensive internal testing and beta customers have asked us repeatedly for a low-cost solution in this space. This is a case of where we are listening to our customers as well as innovating from a technology standpoint at the same time.

Great question on PollBob fitting in. For the first few months, PollBob will operate as an independent entity within the business. We will then expose all of PollBob features and the ability to conduct not only polls, but also longitudinal surveys through the PollBob eco-system. QuestionPro users will be able to deploy polls seamlessly from their accounts to all PollBob users as well as PollBob users will be able to use QuestionPro for their surveying and form needs.

LM: Looking ahead 2-3 years, where do you think research will be in respect to mobile-centric social media?       

VB: I have been bullish about mobile research as you know for quite some time. I know a few traditional MR companies like Kantar have embraced mobile as a platform and invested very heavily in it. A few others like IPSOS have placed smaller bets and are waiting around the sidelines, and then a few others are skeptical and are waiting for the clients to issue a mobile research RFP.  I actually think mobile will help shift the focus from recall based research models to what I call “active listening” – simply because it’s actually possible now. QR Codes on prescription drug labels not only give you instant research capabilities, but also gives researchers instant context. If you think about it 20-30% of traditional research is about context; the age-old demographics and psychographics. I think in a couple of years mobile / social will have these elements built into it and the focus will really be in big-data analytics. My guesstimate would be that the research focus will be very closely linked to data-science rather than data-collection!

LM: That is an interesting take; I hadn’t heard it put that way before but I think I agree. So, that said what does that mean for software providers like you? Where will you fit in that value chain?

VB: As a tech company we are focused on tools and technology. We’re good at it because that’s all we focus on. We don’t tell clients what kinds of surveys need to be created, we don’t even stop clients from running 350+ question surveys. Our goal is to innovate around the latest ideas and push the envelope in terms of where and how insights can be gathered using a variety of methods like mobile, social, unstructured or structured. So, to answer your point we plan on leveraging our scale to bring technology solutions to the marketplace that can redefine how insight can be collected. In short we want to help companies “Listen” across mediums, across channels and do this at scale.

LM: Will you be integrating PollBob with SurveySwipe or Second Prism to deliver a more seamless mobile experience or will be isolated to QuestionPro?

VB: Of course. We will be integrating this will all our other properties and tools. Our strategy is around vertically focused excellence and integration where its useful to the customers. For example: we have already integrated our Mobile and Tablet data collection platforms (SurveySwipe, SurveyPocket) with SecondPrism. PollBob integration with SecondPrism is a no-brainer and will be part of the roadmap.

LM: So what’s next for you guys? You keep up a steady pace of new product launches and are always on the forefront of adding scalability to new techniques; what are you setting your sights on next?

VB: At this time I am personally very focused on Data-Visualization. With the advent of Big-Data and data-science being the next frontier, we have been very hard at work on re-imagining what data-visualization is all about. We’ve stepped back and seen the amazing adoption of InfoGraphics for example; why are they so popular? The fundamentals are that when data is put in context, they are visually appealing. To that end, we will be launching SecondPrism as a Next Gen Data Viz tool that is squarely aimed at the tablet / smartphone space. Look, we’ve been sharing data using power-point for over 10+ years; don’t you think all of us deserve a better way to interact with data? I think so.

There are a few formidable competitors in this space (Tableau, RoamBI, Domo) but that has never stopped us from innovating. We’ve already come up with some amazing interactions and will keep pushing the limits;  that’s our job!

LM: That sound very exciting. OK, shameless plug time: how can folks find out more about SecondPrism?

VB: I’ll be launching SecondPrism through a webinar on Sept 18 –

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