Interview with Leslie Townsend – President and Founder, Kinesis Survey Technologies

online panelsBrief Background of Leslie Townsend:

Leslie has been a part of the MR industry as well as the wireless industry since 1979. She began her career conducting market research and engineering studies for cellular radio operators, as part of their application to the FCC for licensing. From there, she continued to consult with and provide market research services to the mobile industry. In 2001, she and Kinesis co-founder/CTO Juha Vehnia began collaborating at Codetoys N.A., which focused upon developing and providing mobile games in the early days of the industry. In 2003, they joined forces with their third partner/co-founder Steve Lavine to start Kinesis – and bring the first comprehensive mobile services platform to the MR industry.

Online MR: What is your definition of Entrepreneurship?

Leslie Townsend: Entrepreneurship starts with a vision. For the Kinesis founders, we had some experience with mobile games, which were primarily trivia-based at the time, and could see the potential for mobile technology to solve some long-standing problems in MR, particularly tracking of purchases and consumption of impulse items using mobile diaries. Items such as candy, cigarettes, and soft drinks have never been tracked well in market research, and there have always been groups that underreported.

We believed back then – which has certainly proven true since – that mobile technology would become vital within the MR industry for immediate, flexible and highly reliable feedback gathering.

Kinesis started with camera phone ethnographies in 2003, which were largely used to solicit information from teens – which were highly enthusiastic about early projects and in some instances begging to be a part of them — and it all, began there.

Online MR: What roadblocks you overcame in your journey to establish Kinesis as a force to reckon with?

Leslie Townsend: For many years, being the sole mobile market research solution, a key roadblock for Kinesis was that we were the only vendor out there pitching mobile solutions, and as a small vendor, we had a small voice.

We saw a significant shift when the iPhone was introduced, and that became a pivotal time for us. I think a secondary challenge was not to be seen as solely a mobile solution – we have always had the perspective that our solutions needed to be fully multi-mode, because the majority of projects and online respondents would continue to come from desktop devices for many years.

Online MR: What is NEW at Kinesis for the year 2012?

Leslie Townsend: The momentum has definitely picked up. Kinesis is looking forward to an expanded presence in both the European and Asian regions this year. We plan to stay focused upon our existing product line, but expand regionally. And what is not new is our initiative to routinely evaluate and implement cutting-edge, market-leading technologies. That will never change – our goal to provide the future-proof market research platform.

Online MR: With so many players now in the survey tool business –How are you carving a niche for your company?

Leslie Townsend: I wouldn’t want to be offering a survey-only solution in this market. Kinesis is differentiating itself by providing a comprehensive product suite that supports a wide array of market research industry needs – including panels and communities – any of which can support respondents on any device/browser of their choosing. Smartphone and feature phones, desktops and laptops, tablets and iPad – Kinesis offers complete device flexibility and with unprecedented consistency.

In the current economic environment, most MR firms are looking for solutions that can support a variety of needs – web and mobile, qual and quant, panels and communities. Kinesis’ niche is that we support all of these needs and devices, and we do it better than anyone else.

Online MR: What changes have you seen in the survey technology business in the recent decade?

Leslie Townsend: Support for mobile devices, of course! I think we’ve seen the rise and perhaps the peak for online survey-taking, with online technologies supplementing huge portions of the CATI world, and now potentially being brought down by their own success.

We have too many surveys being launched, and too few respondents who continue to be interested in taking them. This is happening at a time when data collection via social media, communities, etc. is reshaping the landscape.

Our industry is reaching a peak of what it can do with survey-based data collection. I believe surveys will actually become shorter and simpler to better accommodate respondents using mobile devices. This means methodologies will simplify as well, but what we gather behind-the-scenes may increase. We will probably collect less data at any one time, but collect it more often. Market research will start to look more like data mining.

Traditional methodologies will still exist, but newer technologies will supplement much of the demand for qualitative research, the manner in which CSAT is conducted, and many other aspects of our industry. We’re seeing a significant pickup in diaries – simply because of the potential for data collection at the point of purchase/consumption.

Online MR: Is there any specific types of clients you would like to target in coming years?

Leslie Townsend: Kinesis has stayed focused on market research firms since the beginning, and that will not change. We do have some larger enterprise clients, but we plan to continue to focus at the high end of the market because our solutions and technologies provide deep research functionality and value.

Online MR: What major challenges do you foresee in this business?

Leslie Townsend: Very rapidly shifting business models. Great financial investments being made in our industry – yet not all of these will survive and greater impact from regulation in the area of privacy and data security.

But I also see huge opportunities as emerging markets come online.

Online MR: What type of Research & Development you are doing at Kinesis?

Leslie Townsend: I feel that Kinesis has already done much of the R&D that is needed today, and that we are solidly positioned as a “future-proof” platform. For instance, we did our first geo-location study in 2007.

We have evolving plans around location capture, but for many applications the technology is simply not ready, and the privacy regulation is evolving quite rapidly. We’ve also already incorporated social media into our panel offering, so that panel companies can very rapidly – within a matter of hours – deploy communities based upon specific attributes in their panels. We will continue to focus more on this area as well.

Where will we go from here? Kinesis recently added our own social media component within our applications – to give voice to our user base.

Our clients can submit their feature requests, comment on the feature requests of others, and vote on submissions directly within the user interface. We’re letting our customers drive R&D alongside our own development team, basically.

Online MR: How much market penetration you have vis-à-vis Asia Pacific? What regions you are planning to expand in the coming few years?

Leslie Townsend: Kinesis does not have a significant presence in Asia yet, but we do have many clients in the region. We anticipate continued expansion in the region, both directly and through partnerships, this year and beyond.

Online MR: Your take on the current BUZZ word – ‘DIY surveys’.

Leslie Townsend: I’ve never liked the term, but regardless of what you call it, most of the development in our segment of the industry is focused upon the DIY model, and it continues to increase in size. It is where I see the primary focus being among the majority of software vendors in the industry, but the key focus at Kinesis is on MR companies.

Online MR: What is your mantra for building an efficient team at Kinesis?

Leslie Townsend: Control is an illusion; hyper-vigilance is all we have.

Online MR: What is your definition of ‘Success’?

Leslie Townsend: In business, success is measured by a sense of satisfaction. To achieve that sense of satisfaction, a continual re-adjustment/fine-tuning of the vision and the parameters to achieve it are required, and sometimes an adjustment of expectations.

The key achievements of Kinesis over these nine years have given me a deep sense of satisfaction but that can only be sustained if clients and coworkers feel the same way. The imagination of the Kinesis team must align with the perception of others. Thankfully, so far, they do – and therefore Kinesis is thriving and poised for continued success.

Online PanelsLeslie’s co-ordinates are mentioned below:

8140 North MoPac

Building 1, Suite 120

Austin, TX 78759, USA

phone: 512 590 8300

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