For those that aren’t well-versed in the world of market research, this is how it tends to go: “You would decide what you want to do, write a brief for the likes of Nielsen or Kantar, Ipsos Mori, TNS who respond to that brief. They would say this costs £15,000 and takes two months and you get back a lovely branded report so sit tight until then.”

This is according to founder and CEO of market research startup Attest, Jeremy King. A geneticist by training, King has always worked with big data in some form, but it was only once he started working for McKinsey that he became “constantly shocked with how businesses use data.”

© Attest

“While I was at McKinsey I saw every business, no matter which sector they were in, which vertical, which function or seniority, everyone wanted to know more about customers. They wanted to test ads, get feedback, trial prototypes, iterate ideas faster, test copy they were using in online stores, pre-release products in the market and A/B test them. If you want to test something it took far too long, it was too expensive, you couldn’t do it.”

What Attest aims to do is bring a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) approach to market research, giving businesses live access to a pool of respondents to conduct market research in real-time.

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“Every company wants to be more data driven, more customer centric, more fact based, more insight driven. But this process, because it is so expensive, is so long, that by the time you get the results back it is out of date. More than a day is sort of inexcusable,” says King.

The platform

The Attest platform is extremely simple, with results coming back in bar charts, with either the number of respondents or a percentage. The results can be parsed by demographics. At the top you are shown the date range and number of completed responses.

I built a question during my visit at their shared WeWork office space in Old Street using the step-by-step tool. You ask a question and customise it by selecting if it is multiple choice, yes/no, detailed response etcetera. You then set who you want to target out of 1.3 million possible active users. This number drops as you customise your target audience. It took me roughly thirty seconds to ask a simple question but you can build more complex, multiple question surveys.

One nice feature is the ability to review and follow up your research. If you want to revisit a question or survey you can ask another question to the same sample that responded before for deeper insight, or “find lookalikes” for a new sample.

You can then watch the results as they come in starting with the first respondent. You can download the results to an Excel or feed it into your downstream analytics or BI tools and share with colleagues. Attest only charges per completed response, at a flat rate of £0.25 per response.

Respondents

One of the key differentiators for Attest is accessing the sort of respondents that brands want to hear from. Namely: younger, affluent people.

“The dark secret of the industry is that most research comes from two places: people that love doing surveys and are happy to do it in terrible conditions, or people that have a lot of spare time on their hands," says King.

"But if you are Fever Tree, or Waitrose or Ocado or British Airways, or any of the more premium brands, you focus on segments that don’t have a lot of time on their hands. So it is not very useful to you. They are very aware of that and until now they haven’t had a choice.”

Attest sources respondents by advertising to them and relying on word of mouth recruitment from existing members. It incentivised respondents with good old-fashioned cash and by building a simple interface that allows for surveys to be completed “in two minutes in a coffee queue, five minutes on a bus, half an hour on your commute,” says King.

“Our entire business is built around the respondents and the ability to get the higher value respondents, the more affluent and more valuable people that don’t tend to do research.”

The tech

The attest platform is built using Java and Scala on the open-source PostgreSQL database. King says they use a micro-services approach and that the transaction engine is the “secret sauce.”

He says the key for the platform is: “Customising the targeting on the way in and showing it only to the selected people and feeding the results back, in real time so that companies can react in real time. That’s the really tricky part.”

The man behind the tech is COO Tony Hunter, who used to build equity derivative trading systems at Morgan Stanley. Jeremy King says Attest needs to be: “Kind of London Stock Exchange meets Amazon. It’s the London Stock Exchange bit that is really valuable for us, that is the tech that our investors invested in.”

Fever Tree case study

Alex Rees, head of growth at Attest, says that one of its early customers, premium tonic water brand Fever Tree, uses the platform to pre-screen adverts.

This came after the company had a “face-palm” moment when customer feedback said one advert looked like it was for beer. “It’s a great tool to pass your adverts by your audience before you spend loads of money,” says Rees. “Media costs are only going one way at the moment, especially with the things that are proven to work like Facebook and PPC costs becoming more competitive than ever.”

Other early customers include Deliveroo and Just Giving.

Data

Attest takes data governance very seriously. They use a fairly standard multi-layered SSL encryption to ensure that all data - which is anonymised - is always transferred and stored securely and in accordance with the Market Research Society (MRS) code of conduct. Attest runs on secure AWS servers based in the EU.

Funding

Attest raised £1m in seed funding in October 2015 from Episode 1.

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