EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Christopher Kahler, CEO Qriously

Qriously was the only data company to predict the Labour surge in the last election, a story that Wired picked up and was one of their best-trafficked stories of the year. Company CEO Chris Kahler explains what happens next.

kahlerWelcome to the Mob76 Outlook audience, Mr Kahler. Tell us more about your company.

We are a research platform to understand and predict human behaviour in real-time, in particular with event-based predictions such as political elections.

The main alternative to our approach is to use traditional polling which is becoming increasingly inaccurate (as evidenced by the recent spate of hilariously wrong predictions).

We are in a state of political tumult and we think accurate polling is an important feedback mechanism for a government to function properly. This applies to readers ‘in tech’ and beyond.

What is currently happening in the world that makes Qriously relevant?

Ummm, the world is totally fucked. Russia, Putin, Trump, China… Name it! It feels like no one knows really what’s going on.

Right now it’s quiet, but the mid-terms in the US next year will be huge and we might be lulled into a false sense of security with Germany. Populism is threatening the EU.

Can’t argue with that summation. So what needs to be done?

Polling is broken but the need for it hasn’t diminished. That means something needs to be done about it if governments want to know what citizens really think.

Research and polling methodology has seen extremely little innovation since the invention of the first online panel. In particular, research methods have barely taken advantage of smartphones although it’s the most universal medium of information creation and communication of all time.

How, specifically, is Qriously helping to solve this problem?

Without diving into too much detail and giving away too much to our competitors, Qriously has developed a methodology that produces more accurate results and up to 10x faster than traditional methods.

The main problem our methodology is solving is that of sample bias: traditional landlines/panels capture an increasingly skewed subset of the population. Our method captures random people in random apps, making them more likely to random people.

So, it’s a mobile-first product?

Yes. We’ve developed a research methodology that replaces ads with surveys in smartphone apps. Instead of building a panel, we use machine learning to create representative samples in real-time.

Sounds simple enough, but describe it to somebody who knows nothing about technology.

Do you know those pesky banner ads you see in some smartphone apps and games? Qriously replaces those with surveys on smartphones that you can answer if you want to.

Because so many people have smartphones nowadays, we can get better data than other methods which use landlines (who has those nowadays anyway?) or online panels which are groups of people that are paid to answer surveys.

The Brexit decision, which you predicted, is making people nervous. Do you intend to stay based in London?

At the moment, yes, we plan to stay in London. Looking at how much work goes into predicting an election or referendum outcome, predicting something much more complicated like the political future of the UK is truly in the realm of pure speculation – we’re not that good yet!

We originally came to London because of access to capital, talent, and a diverse set of markets (important for young startups experimenting with business models). At the moment, those continue to be compelling reasons for us and many other startups to stay. Of these, however, talent is the main concern.

So how did you get this point and where did you start?

In 2010 my co-founders and I built a few simple consumer-facing apps for fun, just to see what would happen. In 2010 many apps weren’t designed really well and searching for apps didn’t work very well (it’s still nowhere near as good as web search).

So we discovered that if you built well-designed apps and gave them really boring descriptive names, you got tons of downloads (in our case, more than 30 million across all the titles we released).

We wanted to find a way to monetise those apps and began experimenting with display ads. However, we didn’t like the way those ads looked in our apps so we decided to do the only logical thing which was to build our own native ad unit. Once we had the unit, we began tinkering with other modes of engagement such as simple questions.

We were blown away by the response rates and once we did some basic data validation we knew this was something special, that we had stumbled across a new way of gathering data that wasn’t possible before. We also had our own user base to test out the technology and iterate quickly.

How much traction in the market do you have?

* Hundreds of clients across a range of industries, including government organisations, hedge funds, and brands.

* Hundreds of millions of answers

* Millions in revenue

Finally, Chris, you’re clearly good at predicting what other people are going to do? What’s next for Qriously?

Up until this point we’ve been busy getting the methodology right and building the technical infrastructure. That’s largely completed so the next area for us to focus on is opening up the predictive power of the data to everyone so we’re building a self-serve platform. We can’t say too much at this point, but we’re really excited to see what happens you open access to the opinions of >1b people all over the world.

That was awesome, Chris Kahler, thanks for sharing your story.

My pleasure, thanks for having me.

FIVE SUMMER GIFTS #2: Sennheiser PXC 480 noise-cancelling headphones

In an increasingly noisy world, the Sennheiser PXC 480 cuts out the cacophony and is also very easy on the eye.

sennheiser

The PXC 480 is the ideal travelling companion.

There was once a time when I travelled and I was all ears. Wide-eyed, enthusiastic, ready for any conversation with any person, but then ageing and Sennheiser changed my life.

While the end of youth tends to silence the noise that preceded it, modern-day travelling needs to be treated with auditory caution. Noise-cancelling headphones are the technology that helps the regular traveller to cope with the background noise.

When flying, it tells your adjacent passenger that you have absolutely no wish to talk to them, as well as cutting out the thud of engines. With the PXC 480, the drowned-out sound experience is better than ever before.

I’ve used the company’s noise-cancelling products for the past decade after a friend in the HiFi business steered me away from Bose, convinced that Sennheiser was the better option. I’ve never had cause to doubt that particular recommendation.

The PXC 480 is my best experience to date. In an age where ear buds are the flavour of the day, especially attractive when trying to sleep on a flight, headphones face a challenge, but the design is now more compact and comfortable.

Deep ear pads and a lot of padding around the headband as well as being extremely light mean that the PXC 480 rests comfortably on the neck before use and even more so when put to use around the head.

Battery life is also impressive. At 50 hours, that’s a lot of flights. Moreover, that sinking feeling when you realise that the battery is flat and you have no spare batteries, is less likely to happen.

At $299 in the US and £259 in the UK, the price point is fair and the PXC 480 will last for years. What are you waiting for?

EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Deepankar Rustagi, Founder VConnect

VConnect Founder Deepankar Rustagi explains why Africa is the place to be and why African SMEs are the future of the continent’s prosperity.

VConnect

Welcome to Mob76 Outlook, Deepankar. Tell us about VConnect.

We are based in Lagos, Nigeria and we want to be the leading player in Anglophone countries with high internet penetration in Africa. The market is there. According to NBS, the market for online demand-in service-businesses will be $3.6 billion by 2020.

We are playing a critical role in the growth of African SMEs and transforming the way service sector businesses engage with their customers.

To many people, Africa is the so-called Dark Continent, but what’s really happening there right now?

The economic challenges faced by Africa (its dependence on oil, and the non-existence of the middle class) are not hidden from anyone. Providing growth to SMEs in the service sector will append a more dependable stream of revenue.

What is your company doing to help?

We want to transform local SMEs into emerging brands in Africa. More than 75% of SMEs in Africa do not survive the second year of operations. Access to market is one of the major challenges faced by these SMEs.

VConnect is a platform for finding local service professionals and allows users to search for and connect with service businesses to access reliable and affordable services.

We enable businesses to acquire and, more importantly, retain customers by making them more accessible online. Businesses need to take just three easy steps: register on VConnect, respond to enquiries from potential customers and engage to transact.

Our platform is unique as it is easy enough for the SMEs in Africa to promote themselves online using their mobile phones. We help them create their business profile and generate and manage leads for their products and services.

Why did you set up the company?

I grew up in Lagos and have spent more than 18 years here. After engineering work brought me back to Lagos, I noticed the difficulty people faced in finding businesses and how difficult it was for businesses to market themselves and reach their customers. That’s when we decided to start VConnect.

How much traction does VConnect have?

* 1.5 Million monthly users

* 2,000 SMEs actively engage with customers every day

* 15,000 connections made every day(no. of times users get in touch with businesses)

* 75% are mobile users (both businesses and users)

Who are your major competitors?

They are Connect Nigeria, Finelib, Businesslist.ng, Jiji.ng and Olx

Why are you better and different from these other players?

We are an SME tech company, changing the way businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa acquire and engage with customers. We enable businesses to not just generate leads and acquire new customers but also, to retain them, whereas our competitors only enable the business to be listed on their platforms.

As for users, unlike our competitors, we don’t just provide contact information of service professionals but understand users’ requirement and connect them with multiple reliable service professionals for them to get maximum value for their money.

How much funding have you received to this point?

$US5.5 million

Tell us about your founders and team

We are a single founder company and our team consists of 57 people. I founded the company in March, 2011 and have since worked with my team as the CEO, overseeing product development, management, and engagement. During this course, I’ve also completed a Venture Capital program from Haas School of Business, Berkeley and an entrepreneurship course from Stanford SEED, West Africa.

Our core team encompasses of product management, business development, sales, operations, finance, digital marketing and brand/category management all run from our base office in Lagos.

Our CTO is a seasoned programmer with 14 years of experience and has been a part of VConnect since its inception. Our product and marketing heads both have more than eight years of experience in defining the growth path for startups in Asian countries.

Very interesting, Deepaankar, thanks for sharing your story with our audience.

My pleasure, thanks for inviting, me.

FIVE SUMMER GIFTS #1: STM Judge Laptop Brief 15″

STM’s durable and good-looking laptop bag is perfect for commuting, travelling and even a wet festival.

STMIs the STM Judge laptop any good? It’s never easy to find a laptop bag that fits perfectly. Whether it’s too many pockets, wrong shape/colour or non-personal-brand-representing, it’s a struggle.

While I’ve often looked at the high-end, burnished leather from an extortionately expensive Italian designer type of product whenever I have that long-desired ‘result, to date I’ve put up with cheap, black cases that make me look like a lower-manager with an ugly wife and difficult children.

However, please be introduced to the Judge Laptop Brief 15” that I have been roadtesting these past two weeks (and in the colour of the associated image above). And when I mean roadtested, I mean a wet festival in Cornwall when I had no other bag to hand.

First thing is that it doesn’t have too many pockets, that is a very good thing. A strap and a handle, an outside pocket and a couple inside, that is also very good. It can hold a MacBook, charger, newspaper, notebook, phone charger and a paperback without any bulge.

It’s also light. Leather laptop bags when full can be a pain, as if a hot plate has been placed on top of the sciatica and for somebody who has back troubles, a travelling nightmare. Fortunately, the STM Judge passes with ye olde flying colours in this respect.

It has also has ‘SlingTech™’ protection not only pads out the Judge it also suspends it away from the edges of the pack keeping it isolated from the impact zone. I’ll take the retailer’s word for it on this.

Finally, and most pertinently in these increasingly turbulent economic times, the price point at $99 in the US or £64.95 in the UK is reasonable. As would be expected, it can be purchased from the richest man in the world’s site here.

A decent product that should last a decent amount of time. I liked it.

Is your business ready for GDPR deadline?… Thought not.

Amido launches new Readiness Assessment service as organisations fear impending GDPR deadline

gdpr

The clock is ticking for GDPR.

With less than 12 months to go until the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force across the EU, a third of UK organisations fear they will not be compliant in time.

Independent technical consultancy Amido has launched a new service to tackle these concerns, with its tailored GDPR Readiness Assessment that mitigates the risks of the most significant regulation changes affecting customer data.

Strengthening privacy in an ever-changing technology landscape, GDPR will unify data privacy across all EU member states through tighter restrictions on personal information, enforcing appropriate consent, as well as further improving clarity in terms individual rights.

However, with tough fines for non-compliance of up to either 4% global revenue or 20 million Euros, organisations are becoming increasingly concerned with the impending deadline.

Amido’s Readiness Assessment is designed to help organisations evaluate high risk areas that need immediate attention including business activity, current technology, governance and process, as well as any existing GDPR plans and ongoing digital transformation projects.

“One critical element of GDPR is the identification and management of customers, as well as their privacy preferences. Our new readiness assessment will help organisations to manage a consent profile and to tie that into their customer’s identity, ensuring they are ready for GDPR,” said Chris Gray, Technical Director of Amido.

As experts in Identity and Access Management, Amido have worked with the likes of ASOS, Channel 4, global financial services organisations and public-sector bodies to ensure their technology utilises and protects customer data. The new readiness assessment service will be integral in supporting organisations striving to be ahead of the game with just ten months to go until the GDPR comes into effect.

Amido is ranked 12th in The Sunday Times Lloyds SME Export Track 100 league table, the UK’s top 100 SMEs with the fastest-growing international sales.