Toluna CEO Frederic-Charles Petit turned his interest in consumer research into a leader in the survey technology industry
Often times when someone takes an interest in a particular subject, he or she will find a way to make it a hobby.
Well, Frederic-Charles Petit took his interest in consumer research and surveys a step further; rather than make a hobby out it, Frederic-Charles Petit is one such example. He took his interest in consumer research and surveys a step further, rather than simply making a hobby out of it, he created a full-fledged business. Petit introduced the concept of an online social voting community, where consumers can engage with one and other, post polls and questions and more. This community, Toluna.com, is now the world’s largest social voting community and empowers Toluna to engage with consumers for survey research in real-time, as they are on-site. Toluna.com is a research ecosystem that helps brands and consumers connect in real-time. Fifteen years later, Toluna is now an industry-leading provider of online research and survey technology.
Petit initially came up with the idea when he was thinking about online surveys and while conducting some consumer research realized the process was very one-sided. Customers give feedback and then all of a sudden a product that they might have participated in a survey about comes to market and they have no idea how they got from the survey to market. Petit realized the consumer survey and research process could be done better.
Petit’s idea was to put something together that is more along the lines of a social voting community using a social media-inspired website where individuals may post comments, questions and discuss various topics in real time. While other research companies send out emails asking people to participate in a survey, Toluna has people online in real time participating and discussing surveys with one another in real time, directly.
“Initially, what I was interested in was consumer feedback,” Petit said. “The perception I had at the time was that the Internet – at the time there was no such thing as social media – would change the interaction between brand and consumer and how the consumer voiced their opinion. That was really (where) the interest (came) from.”
When Petit founded Toluna, he was a one-man operation. Now Toluna is an 800-person corporation. The growth was born from his realization that an industry like this one could not be single market focused. Petit started the company in France, but with survey respondents all over the globe, Toluna started putting offices up across the world; the expansion went into the UK and Petit acquired a company in Israel that’s essential Toluna’s technology hub.
To make the jump from one employees to 15, to 20 to eventually 800, Petit had a couple of initiatives in mind; to build a truly savvy and international team and bring in people that are better than him.
“You shouldn’t recruit people that are as good as you are in every aspect of what you do when you’re a one-man band,” Petit said. “The decision was to really attract people who were better in every aspect of what we were doing, doing so enables me to trust their work implicitly. Further, I leverage their thinking more broadly.”
As a result, Toluna has the consumer research and survey market cornered, and a wealth of talented employees to keep the business running smoothly. However, that’s not enough for Petit and his team however; Toluna is always looking to improve.
To continue it’s growth, Toluna plans to do what put it ahead of the curve in the first place: invest in technology along with research and development as well as innovating new products and new ways of getting research professionals the data they need faster than it has in the past.
“The market research industry is kind of being flipped on its head at this point as most are,” Petit said. “Technology has made it really imperative for companies to deliver quickly and at very low cost. One of the things we have done to date, and we’re thankful that we have is invested ahead of the curve.”
Back in 2000 when Petit understood that Toluna was not necessarily a service organization fully, it really needed to be reliant on technology. That was a decision he made long ago and it’s one that still stands today.
The CEO sees digitalization not only as the wave of the future for all industries, but also because if he and his team are going to suggest it to others, Toluna better have a grasp of it as well
“You can’t continue doing things the way you were doing them in the 20th century in the 21st century,” he said. “You can’t advise clients on digital strategies where yourself, you’re not digitalizing your own industry or your own practice.
Petit has his sights set on the digitalization of market research as a means to keep Toluna moving forward. “I think if we continue doing the same things that we’ve been doing as an industry for the last 50 years, we would not be an industry in 10 years from now. I not saying the large organizations will disappear; just that the sense of urgency and embracing technology and the digital age, applied to our own industry, is what makes us drive the company forward.”