By David P. Mead
Editor's note: This article was first published in ColoradoBiz magazine earlier this year.
Recently I spoke with John Williamson, CEO of Golden-based Qualvu, which has introduced disruptive innovation to the world of consumer focus groups, surveys and qualitative consumer market research. Qualvu was recognized as a 2010 Colorado Company to Watch.
Q: How did you decide to get into the business?
A: Every Fortune 1000 consumer-focused company in the world uses qualitative research extensively. The industry offered interesting opportunities for a startup: the chance to disrupt a market largely untouched by web-based innovation, to introduce self-serve methods, and importantly to make qualitative research accessible to thousands of companies beyond the Fortune 1000.
Qualvu, founded in early 2008, pioneered a breakthrough online experience for conducting web-based consumer feedback, allowing businesses to take their qualitative research online without losing the face-to-face connections crucial to understanding customers. By connecting companies with their customers around the globe via webcams, flip cams and even consumers' smart phones, Qualvu delivers more compelling and actionable business intelligence than focus groups, and because of cost efficiencies, it's available to any business. We call it "finding your truth" - and it's a really empowering Do-It-Yourself experience.
Q: How do you compete and achieve differentiation?
A: Qualvu was first to market with an innovative process that allows any user with an Internet connection - either PC or video mobile phone - to provide video-based feedback at the press of a button. Clients realize speed, cost and global reach advantages. Our clients can set up projects at any time day or night, and gain access to their consumers at home, at work, while shopping, or anywhere they interact with the client's products. Over the past 3 years, we have developed a proprietary process and technology to convert the data to highlight reels of key insights as well as online video reports too.
Q: What have been your biggest challenges?
A: We have constantly fine-tuned every aspect of the experience - from a self-serve project portal, to finding better participants, to delivering online reports within hours complete with video highlight reels of the most relevant and compelling consumer feedback, to creating completely searchable video. Every day is a new breakthrough in our refinement.
Our biggest challenge is getting the word out! We're just now starting to really pop on the industry radar, as we've attracted a who's who of clients, such as Chrysler, Procter & Gamble, eBay, Yahoo!, T-Mobile, Disney, Adidas, Pfizer, just to name a few. We'll start expanding our penetration beyond these larger companies as people begin to realize we're a site for any business that needs deep insights to make better decisions.
Q: What are the keys to continued growth over the next 5-10 years?
A: Relentless innovation to keep our technical and process advantages. A lot of that has to do with enabling breakthroughs in data mining video content, so our clients can increase the value of every project over time as they consolidate and re-assess consumer video data, trends, and insights. The beauty is that the more you use Qualvu, the better it gets.
Q: How do you maintain the culture and still build the management team required to grow?
A: We find great people and promote from within. We find smart, creative people who have a positive attitude and a strong work ethic who want to be a part of what Qualvu is accomplishing. One of our mantras to every new hire is, "Welcome to Qualvu. You'll do the best work of your career here." People see career paths because Qualvu is a meritocracy. We try to reward effort, talent, initiative, and values.
Q: How do global factors influence your growth?
A: Anyone with an Internet connection around the world can provide information vital to our clients' products and services. Certainly given the economic conditions globally the past couple of years, more brands are trying to do more research with less - and that's helped Qualvu gain traction more quickly I believe, as these types of conditions have the tendency to spawn new models that break through because buyers are more open to innovation to solve their business problems.
We opened an office in Dublin this year to expand our global reach. Dublin is accessible, has a multi-national workforce, and is cost efficient. Interestingly more money is spent on qualitative research today in Europe than in the US, and we intend to support our global client base with expansion to other markets too.