Is there any way to reduce the great distance that currently exists between professional market research services and startups?

Research Rally Barcelona 2018 at Barcelona Activa

It was a while since I wrote an article, and this is because I only write when I have the feeling that I have seen things from another point of view or learned something. And that’s what happened to me the other day in the ESOMAR Research Rally Barcelona 2018, held at the headquarters of Barcelona Activa (Spain). I left with the batteries charged and eager to do things.

The event consisted in bringing together 6 startups with market researchers who, through a one-day marathon session, had to solve the challenge, through market research, of the startup with which each one had decided to pair.
Beyond the stimulation of the practical and participatory nature of the event, and the presence of researchers from different countries, what I found most inspiring was the contact with startups. And to see a possible way to have a relevant and viable relationship with startups at the level of market research.
Contact with startups is always stimulating for me, probably because the entrepreneurial profile of startups is usually young people, very educated, without any prejudices or complexes, very launched and wanting to eat the world.

But he said that, in addition, I ended the event with a positive and hopeful feeling about the relationship between traditional market research and the always ground-breaking, or as we now like to say, disruptive startups.

On a previous occasion it was not like that. That time I had gone to give a talk about market research to students of a master’s degree in entrepreneurship in startups. But, that time my conclusions were quite hopeless, since preparing the talk I discovered that startups did not hire market research, but they did it themselves, without any kind of expert tutelage, using the Lean Startup system, which we can summarize as: Launches and implements your intuition (since the cost of doing it for a mobile application is usually nil) and the market will tell you if you’re on the right track or not. ¿Investigación de mercados en startups, spin-offs y empresas innovadoras y de base tecnológica (EBTs)?

On the contrary, this time I discovered a way to present market research in an attractive and affordable way for startups. Not only affordable at the cost level, which is the main problem that these tend to have in order not to hire research, but also at the level of time spent and the involvement of the startup itself in the process, elements that for them seem absolutely essentials.

How to do it?:
1) Do not go with the budget ahead. Not only do they not usually have a line assigned to market research, but they also do not like to interact with people who simply maintain a consultative and commercial relationship with them. They look for partners that feel part of the project at a much deeper level than we usually establish with the companies we usually advise. We must become part of the project.

Gemma Prenafeta (@SharifyApp founder), Victoria Scarpato (Freelance qualitative market researcher) and Tugba Ankay (Brand and Business Insights Manager – Europe & Africa at Brown-Forman)

On the other hand, in order to reduce the initial costs, we could «bet» on the startup, as do the business angels (investors who provide financing and / or experience to the startups in order to obtain a future profit), and receive our economic retribution a posteriori, via shares of stock of the startup or receiving a percentage of the future income of the startup.

2) Distribute the research tasks. Where I really noticed that market researchers provided invaluable help to startups, it was at the moment of helping them to propose research, that is, to help them discover the relevant question, the problem, the challenge they had to solve through market research. And, secondly, logically, raise the questions correctly.

Simplification and clarification of the problem and alternative hypotheses

But the fieldwork, existing as they exist, free platforms (from the well-known SurveyMonkey for quantitative surveys, to Skype for interviews or qualitative groups) is perhaps something that can be left, in part, in the hands of the startup. The researcher would only supervise part of the fieldwork and then, logically, help them in interpreting the results. I see the risk, but I think you can try.

3) To diminish importance to the sample size: the clients to which we are accustomed to treat from the professional markets research, always demand to us high indices of confidence of the data. But how many times have we had the feeling that our clients cared more about covering their backs (having a report that supports their decision making) than not learning new things or rethinking the foundations of their business model? However, for startup drivers, the confidence index does not seem to worry them that much. They use research simply as another indicator, but they pay much more attention to their intuition and their way of seeing their company than to the results. The results inspire them, they do not determine their strategies.

Finally, the contact with the startups gave me another learning, but this time, in relation to the way to face the challenges. Something we can apply in our day-to-day work: not give things too many laps, launch and try ideas, accepting a certain index of uncertainty, and then, we will make changes if necessary. It seems a good way to reinvent yourself every day, do not you think?