Fast Company

The Insta-Focus Group: GutCheck's DIY Market Research

You have a product in mind. You think people would pay money for it, but you're not sure. You need to ask your potential customers, perhaps get them to play with a prototype. This is market research, of course, and it is time-consuming and expensive. But the Internet has put people at our fingertips. Getting access to them is supposed to be easier and cheaper.

This is the insight behind GutCheck, a startup which bills itself as a do-it-yourself market research company. GutCheck puts companies directly in touch with their target markets via online chats.

GutCheck specializes in qualitative, as opposed to quantitative, research. It's not for questions where you need a lot of data to get statistically significant information. Want an ideal price point? You should be querying thousands of people, and SurveyMonkey is your best bet if you want to do it on the cheap.

But say you want more specialized, anecdotal insight into why consumers make their choices. What led them to find that new logo off-putting, or that tagline disingenuous? This is where you want to talk to a human being, or a handful of them, rather than crunch data. And that is where GutCheck sees an opportunity.

A traditional qualitative focus panel could easily run you more than $10,000 and take weeks to execute. Bringing about 10 people to your company, paying for their travel, paying for a moderator--it all adds up. GutCheck can reduce costs to $40 for a half-hour session with a participant (buy chats in bulk for a discount). If you want a sample of 10, you've reduced your spend by at least $9,600, crucial savings if you're bootstrapping a startup.

The site lets you build a set of questions you want to ask of a participant. When you're ready to interview, a widget pops up, and you set the age range, gender, income, geography, marital status, employment, education, and ethnicity of your target consumer. GutCheck's partners have a database of 3.5 million web denizens who like to pick up a quick buck online by answering questions. They're all seriously vetted, says GutCheck CEO Matt Warta, and available almost instantly. "On average we get people in about four minutes," Warta tells Fast Company.

Click to push survey questions and related media (a new logo, or print ad, say) to your participant. Then sit back and witness a mind at work, wrestling with why he or she likes or doesn't like it. The chat log is saved for you to share within your company.

The idea for GutCheck was born in a meeting between Warta and a friend a year and a half ago; the site entered private beta a few months ago, drummed up $2 million in venture capital in October, and finally opened up to all comers around Thanksgiving. Ten percent of those who participated in the free beta testing have converted to being paid customers, says Warta. It's planning a big marketing push for January.

Qualitative research is a $5 billion business already, Warta points out. Not only does she think she can grab a fair slice of that, but "by reducing price and hassle, we think we can bring new participants to the market"--much as SurveyMonkey did with cheap, DIY quantitative research. Your focus groups may never look the same, or cost the same, again.

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