Surveys have long been used by marketing teams and other business decision-makers to learn how customers tick. But they can be costly to put together, hard to run at scale, and, at the end of the day, are only as credible as the data that gets put into them. Today, a London startup called Attest, which has built a cloud-based, no-code, big-data solution that it believes provides an answer to those challenges, is announcing $60 million in growth funding, in the wake of record business growth in the last couple of years.
Jeremy King, the company's CEO and co-founder, says that its machine learning-based approach is gaining traction against the many incumbent players in the field of online market research -- there are hundreds of them ranging from Kantar and SurveyMonkey through to Qualtrics and many more -- because it provides faster and more accurate results.
"The dark secret is that most online research has been very low quality," he said in an interview, noting that if you took the same brief to five traditional market research organizations, you'd likely get five different sets of responses, not unlike taking one building brief to five architects. Attest's ambition is to move away from that and build a much more consistent, and thus reliable, framework for market research.
"We are trying to make it as good as we can get it. It's still not perfect but at least we are trying, and most online research frankly doesn’t try at all," King said. He also described the company's methodology as "suicidally transparent." It's a pitch that indeed does sound pretty honest, and yet it seems to have struck a chord with a lot of big names. Its customer list includes Microsoft, Santander, Walgreens/Boots, Klarna, Brew Dr. Kombucha, Fabletics, eToro and Publicis, among others.
The investment is coming from returning investor NEA and Kismet, along with other unnamed backers, and Attest said that it brings the total it has raised to date to $85 million. Other investors in the company have included Oxford Capital and Episode 1 (which co-led a $3.1 million round in 2019).
Attest is not disclosing its valuation, but PitchBook data reveals that it was just under $273 million post-money in August of this year, when this latest round appears to have actually closed.
As you might expect from a startup working in the world of data, Attest has some pretty compelling data points of its own.
The startup has built out a massive database that is aggregated from hundreds of individual panels, user groups and more, altogether totaling 110 million consumers across 49 countries. Its promise is that any user (no tech expertise required) can create a survey within minutes to target any segment of users that it wants out of that bigger pool and will get responses back in 24 hours if not sooner.
Within those results, Attest guarantees the data in terms of response numbers and integrity using a complex set of algorithms as part of what King described as a 15-step process that starts with formulating questions, sourcing audiences, processing the data and providing it in visualizations that are useful to the person doing the research. It's priced on a freemium model, where those on paid tiers basically buy credits that are used based on one credit equalling one response per question. These credits work out to ranging in price between 40 cents and 60 cents.
King said that Attest does not rely on paying users, nor placing surveys in access gates, nor building campaigns that run on social media and are built on asking questions that are indirectly mapped on to your demographic (the dreaded "Which 1980s Brat Packer are you?"). These, King says, are gateways to low-quality data, since people usually only click on them to get them out of the way. Instead, it relies on those algorithms, which in part are designed to figure out which kinds of audiences are most useful and receptive to answering the questions you are asking. That being said, those building questions can also opt to work with actual humans at Attest if they need help figuring out useful questions.
Surveys and the bigger topic of "consumer engagement" have been something of a hot-button issue in the last several years, not least because of the roles that they potentially play in areas like data collection and how that data ultimately might be tied to a particular user. Some believe that Facebook, as well as other social media companies that have built their business models on engagement, have a lot to answer for in how they build experiences and tweak algorithms to surface more engaging content, irrespective of the quality or nature of the media in question.
King says that what Attest does is a big step removed from all of that. Although full of complexity and technology at the back end, at the front end they are more old school and direct, aimed at figuring out, for example, whether Bertolli olive oil should finally come clean and admit it's not Italian, but in fact Spanish in origin.
In what is estimated to be an $80 billion market, as data becomes more of a support -- and in some cases a replacement for -- basic intuition in business decision-making, King said the company has seen a growing demand for more surveying on its platform, and that is why investors are interested, too.
"Today’s investment underscores our commitment to Attest and our belief in their stellar team and innovative technology, which is revolutionising access to high-quality consumer insights for brands around the world at such an exciting scale," said Colin Bryant, a partner at NEA, in a statement. “In the current climate, the need to tap into consumer behavior has never been higher, and we’ve seen how Attest has facilitated growth for brands across the pandemic. We foresee the demand for consumer data only getting stronger.”
"Attest is on a trajectory to overtake all incumbents in the market research space and has its eyes firmly on the largest prizes," added Asheque Shams, general partner at Kismet. "We are a startup investment firm with a mission to help fast-growing tech companies reach their greatest potential, so we are immensely excited to partner with Jeremy and team.”