It’s not everyday 3 people from the same small town in Slovakia start a company in San Diego, but that’s exactly how it happened for Rasto and his team at GroupSolver. We sat down with the CEO to talk about market research, how an NPR story gave him the idea, and their work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
For more information on GroupSolver visit https://groupsolver.com/.
What is GroupSolver?
Sometimes I struggle to describe it because it can be so many different things, but for the foreseeable future, GroupSolver is the smart way for companies to do customer research. We’re helping businesses understand their customers deeper and making it so easy they can do it everyday.
How does GroupSolver fit into the customer research market?
The limitation we see in the marketplace is that companies have basically two options for customer research: online surveys, which only work well for multiple choice answers and which people hate, and focused groups, which are more effective but really expensive.
What we’ve done with GroupSolver is figure out how to take the best of the two approaches. We take free text input (written answers) from many individuals, put it into plain English, and organize it in a manner so that it reads as a story. We also take that story and assign it statistics – think support levels and confidence intervals – so that businesses get the best of both worlds. They can read the story and quickly see how statistically valid it is.
Is there a story behind GroupSolver?
So what we’re doing essentially is taking crowdsourcing concepts and applying them to surveys and focus groups. The original idea was to solve big problems by crowdsourcing and that stemmed from something I heard on NPR.
I remember hearing a story about one of those global warming summits with thousands of people gathering in Brazil to discuss and solve global warming. However, they weren’t able to solve anything because everyone had their own agenda and the group just didn’t know how to communicate. So the end of the meeting comes and there are thousands of pages of documents and no solution. I thought, “I bet that if we grab a bunch of people off the street and ask them what the world should do, we would get a better answer… we would get closer to a consensus. Let’s find a way to make this work and have people reach an agreement more easily.” This was the original idea, crowdsourcing solutions to problems in a new and much more intuitive way, and we just translated that into crowd sourcing customer research.
You mentioned that people hate surveys and those that do them are often the angriest and not necessarily representing the whole population. How is the GroupSolver experience different from the traditional survey model?
The big difference is that we don’t put people through answering pages and pages of multiple choice questions. Let’s say a client asks a question such as, “how can we improve our product?” You invite the people whose opinions you want to a GroupSolver project and they just get to write; there is no pre-set structure. As a person starts writing his/her thoughts and opinions, other people working on the project get to see those ideas as well (everything is anonymous). Then that person can just go, “hey I like that idea,” and then drag it into their own response.
As more people are writing their ideas and reading each other’s and dragging those into their solution, people begin to collaborate and create connections between different answers. Those connections will eventually lead to a consensus and take a form of a “story” that our client will get to read. Because we have created a system where good ideas win and bad ideas fall behind, it is not about the “volume” of the angry voice that matters, but rather about the merit of the idea itself.
Do you have evidence or research that GroupSolver works and is more effective than traditional methods?
We’re in the process of building case studies, but we do have anecdotal evidence. One of our early clients wanted feedback on her business concept, and after 80 people over 3 days participated she discovered that her potential customers were looking for different content than she originally anticipated. As a result, she adjusted her strategy and is building a slightly different business.
How do you get people to participate?
There are two ways. First, some clients have a list of customers they want to hear from and we just invite the people already on the list. However, usually we receive requests from businesses that want feedback from a specific demographic. We have agreements with companies that maintain large numbers of respondent profiles, so we can access people in whatever demographic the client needs and bring them to their project.
You touched on this a little earlier, but tell me a bit more about the history and evolution of GroupSolver.
Perhaps we didn’t start out focusing specifically on customer research, but it was always something that was going to be part of what we did. It just became apparent very quickly that this was the biggest area of need and opportunity for us.
Looking broadly at what we’re doing I’d say we’re facilitating efficient feedback and learning process for companies, and we’ve been marching in that direction since the beginning. Again, we just decided to focus on market research because of the opportunity and because we knew we couldn’t do everything all at once.
What has been your biggest or proudest milestone to date?
It’d have to be receiving a $100,000 Grand Challenge Explorations grant by the [Bill and Melinda] Gates Foundation to solve a customer research problem for the developing world. In this case the client is an NGO and the customers are farmers from developing countries. One of our projects through this grant is with an organization in Mexico that delivers better farming practices to poor farmers around the world. We are reaching out to individual farmers on their behalf to find out what is working right now, what they can do better and what the farmers need to be more successful.
To do this we use basic mobile technology, SMS, to reach out to farmers and then translating that input into our system, and then we use that information to create a crowd sourced solution to those problems. So now instead of rich countries just trying to help poorer farmers, we can have those impoverished farmers tell those countries how they can do better.
What has been your biggest challenge?
For both me and my brother Maros – who is my co-founder and probably the smartest guy I know – it’s being first time entrepreneurs. I came from a more “academic” world of management consulting and while I spent a lot of time solving important problems, I always knew I wanted to try and do something creative and important in the greater scheme of things. Starting this business was like starting a new career in a lot of ways, which was a challenge.
… and I have to give a big shout out to my wife Aarti and to my two boys Oliver and Simon. They have been awesome in this process and have created a tremendous support system, and as a result I get to do what I love on a daily basis.
How has EvoNexus helped GroupSolver?
I can’t say enough good things. Being here in EvoNexus and having mentors and graduates that have walked in our shoes and are willing to help us out is incredible. It’s the kind of education I needed.
I’m already infinitely better at running a small startup after only 4 months just by being in the space and getting to know the network of people involved with EvoNexus. The entire experience has been invaluable and I feel like I can’t even quantify it. It’s definitely one of a kind in San Diego and beyond.
For more information on GroupSolver visit https://groupsolver.com/.