TYLG-SimaVasa
Sima Vasa

Feb 15, 2021

 

Episode Summary

2020 was quite a challenging year. The coronavirus outbreak changed the world. It reshaped our everyday life and had a significant impact on the global economy. Industrial sectors of all kinds are trying to adapt to the current situation. 

In this episode of Through Your Looking Glass, host Patrick Comer talks with co-founder of Paradigm Sample and Senior Advisor at Oberon Securities, Sima Vasa about what happened in the sample industry during the year and how 2020 shaped the trends in the market research space. The two also discuss what is different with 2020 compared to previous years.

Sima emphasizes the importance of research, especially today, when companies need to learn more about their users and customers in order to survive in the market. Changes are quick, and businesses need to follow the needs of customers. They also talk about how their customers have adopted technology at a faster pace.

Sima also talks about her professional transition from investment banking and answers the question about how the market research industry appears from her perspective. The two also mention platforms that are coming into the market research space, pointing out the differences between SaaS and tech enabled services. 

Guest-At-A-Glance

Name: Sima Vasa

What she does: Sima is a Senior Advisor at Oberon Securities, which is a middle-market investment banking firm. She is also a co-founder of Paradigm Sample and a host of her own Data Gurus Podcast, and also the former chair of SampleCon.

Key Quote: “Research is a hot topic, it continues to come up, democratization of insights. So it’s not just research, but getting insights to a broader audience in a faster way. It’s the currency that management teams can talk about, but it can’t be stale. It’s gotta be quick.”

Key Insights

  • During 2020, companies have acknowledged the importance of research. The current epidemic situation makes businesses realize the only way to find out what consumers and customers are thinking about is to ask them a question. Despite certain concerns regarding the future of survey-based research, this year has shown there’s no substitute for it, on a broad scale.
  • Sima says people are resilient. If they can’t use a familiar method, they try to reinvent it, to find a substitute. This year, for instance, researchers had to rely on technology to approach the customers. Many were concerned about how those researches would look like and many companies were not prepared for digital acceleration.
  • So many platforms are coming into the market research space. Sima, however, wonders if they are true SaaS platforms or if they are tech enabled services? What these platforms can do depends on the client’s ability to run the research responsibly.

Episode Highlights

2020 — Year When Doing the Research and Doing It Fast Really Matters
Sima notes that she sees a deeper appreciation for research this year. The coronavirus outbreak has changed our everyday routine and made us adapt to the current situation. Therefore, companies need to find out as much as possible about customers’ intentions and needs during the pandemic.

However, things are changing rapidly, and there is no other way to find out what customers and consumers think about, but to ask them a question. But, is it possible to do survey-based research under these circumstances? Does survey-based research belong to the past? According to the guest, this year has shown there’s no substitute for it. For the past twelve months doing efficient research is what really mattered.

We Are All in This Together
We live in a time of a constant change. No one knows what will happen next, so researchers react according to the situation. The interesting part is, now researchers are in the same situation as consumers. No one could avoid the situation we are in. Researchers understand why customers behave the way they do. Therefore, the questions that researchers ask are more empathetic. ”I think there’s a lot more empathy around the questions we’re asking and because we can all relate to so much of what we’re asking about.” says Sima.

The Adoption of Technology
During 2020, companies began to adopt technology faster. Businesses have recognized the importance of an online appearance, especially in the e-commerce industry. However, customers weren’t the only ones who recognized the benefits of using technology – researchers did too.

Asked if she has seen a change in her view of researchers and how they’re approaching technology, Sima said: “Yeah. A hundred percent. It’s interesting. We did a survey among mid-market, CEOs. And one of the biggest, not regrets, but concerns was that they were not prepared for the digital acceleration. And I think that’s no different in research, right? People had to quickly adapt to being able to ask questions.”

“People are resilient. And so, if we can’t do the traditional in-person focus groups, people have come up with great methodologies to substitute, to be able to really understand consumers, in an intimate way, in-depth way.”
The Transition Into Investment Banking
Apart from being a senior advisor at Oberon Securities, Sima is co-founder of Paradigm Sample.

About the transition into investment banking, the guest stated: “I know a lot of people, and I thought I got my MBA in finance many years ago and I said, why not? Why not try something new where I can still leverage my knowledge and my experience in the industry but look at it from a different perspective. And the other thing. I did not think about this before. I didn’t. But what I’ve learned in the last two years is that, as being a founder of a company and an operator, that empathy with the person across the table is so crucial.”

The conversation continues, and Sima talks about the research space from an investment banking perspective.

“What I’ve learned is that in research, we’ve seen so many agile platforms that are coming into the space. They’re popping up all over the place. They’re gaining investment. The real question becomes, are they true SaaS platforms or are they tech enabled services? And, I’ve seen a flavor of a full range of what these platforms do, as it relates to applying services to make sure there is stickiness to their platform.”
SaaS Platforms VS Tech-Enabled Services
The question appears: “Do we have a lot of the pure play SaaS or are there more platforms that are more tech enabled services that are trying to get to that point of view?”

“I think it’s a mix of both. I think there’s still a heavy amount of services for a lot of these companies, just to create that stickiness it’s new, right? It’s still relatively new. People are trying to figure it out, both if the companies that are building these platforms are in the market, but also for the clients.”

Read the transcript »

Through Your Looking Glass
Episode 2
Sima Vasa, Senior Advisor at Oberon Securities, co-founder of Paradigm Sample, Host of Data Gurus Podcast

Sima Vasa: [00:00:00] I’m always talking about, you gotta work  harder, you gotta work smarter, you gotta fight for everything you want.  That  can be a  little daunting at times. If a decision’s made, I will celebrate it, but I will always say, how could you have done it differently? Just really thinking through how would you do things differently and what do you think the pros and cons of that might be?

[00:00:52] Patrick Comer: [00:00:52] Welcome. My name is Patrick Comer. I’m the founder and CEO of Lucid. And on this episode of Through Your Looking Glass, I’m talking with Sima Vasa. She is the Senior Advisor of Oberon Securities, which is a middle market investment banking firm. Sima is also the Co-founder of Paradigm Sample and host of her own Data Gurus Podcast, and also the former chair of SampleCon. And if I’m really honest, I’m nervous because she knows far more about hosting podcasts than I probably ever will. So, welcome Sima to our little show.

[00:01:24] Sima Vasa: [00:01:24] Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here.

[00:01:26] Patrick Comer: [00:01:26] Sima, you’ve been a serial entrepreneur and obviously an expert within the market research and analytics space for over two decades. So,  I was doing my own count recently. I think we’ve been doing it both for almost 20 years now. So, God bless us for sticking with it.

[00:01:40] But, one of the things I want to ask about is what you’ve seen shaping our industry this particular year. It’s been a remarkable year, a challenging year for everyone and we’ve talked about significant trends over the past  years coming into  2020. But how has 2020 shaped those trends and what do you see happening in the market research space that may be different than in years past?

[00:01:59] Sima Vasa: [00:01:59] That’s a great question. I think what we’ve seen is almost a deeper appreciation for research this year. We’ve never been through this type of experience before and really, the only way to understand what consumers are thinking about, customers are thinking about is to ask them the questions to understand it’s almost like a rebirth of research. coming into this year, people were so worried about the future of survey-based research. When you have social analytics, you have big data, you have other forms of data collection. There was a real concern about what’s the viability of survey based research. And what I’ve seen this year is there’s no substitute at a broad scale to understand what’s going on in consumers’ minds and what are their intentions? What are they thinking? And, we’ve seen that just with COVID-19, but also on the political landscape, it’s just understanding where people are. And I think it’s very basic, I think it’s a validation of the need to understand consumers and by asking them the questions.

[00:03:05] Patrick Comer: [00:03:05] Definitely. This year, all of our customers suddenly need to learn more about their customers and users  very quickly because everything was changing so rapidly. So it was a year when suddenly doing the research, doing the survey, and doing it fast really mattered.

[00:03:17] Sima Vasa: [00:03:17] A hundred percent and I’m sure you could relate to this. It felt like every week was a year, right?  And we’re not done. Okay. Now you can go to the grocery store. Oh no. Now you cannot. Every week it felt like we were all as consumers and people doing things differently based on what we learned. It’s pretty significant now . I feel like we’re going back to the early days of COVID because of the rise in the virus. So it’s interesting how we all shift and I think the other part that’s really interesting is that as researchers we’re asking the questions of consumers, but we’re also going through it.

[00:03:49] So I think there’s a lot more empathy around the questions we’re asking and because we can all relate to so much of what we’re asking about.

[00:03:57] Patrick Comer: [00:03:57] It’s been one of more profound experiences, especially over the past six months as I’ve connected with our customers and our users on a global basis. No one has escaped the impact of this virus on their lives. And so it’s a very communal challenge. It’s a global challenge that we’re all facing together as it were.

[00:04:14] Sima Vasa: [00:04:14] We’re gonna look back at this and we have so much to learn, now, but when we look back, I think we’ll learn so much more about our society and how, we all reacted to this.

[00:04:22] Patrick Comer: [00:04:22] One thing we noticed here at Lucid is how quickly our customers started to adopt technology at a faster pace. And I think this is a trend that we’ve seen, obviously, on the e-commerce side, so in the most recent numbers of how quickly the adoption curve sale on online shopping has happened, the change in volumes for Black Friday or the week or month of Black Friday that we’re having as it.

[00:04:45] Yeah, and Cyber Monday, as well. Sima, have you seen a change in your view of researchers, how they’re approaching technology, given the adoption of not only online or programmatic technologies, but also the change in terms of their ability to do say focus groups are qualitative?

[00:05:00] Sima Vasa: [00:05:00] Yeah. A hundred percent. It’s interesting. We did a survey among mid-market CEOs and one of the biggest, not regrets, but concerns was that they were not prepared for the digital acceleration. And I think that’s no different in research, right? People had to quickly adapt to being able to ask questions, like we said, every week it felt like a year and to be able to do that quickly, engage consumers, make decisions. It’s definitely, accelerated the need for that. and to your point about qualitative research, the good thing is we’re resilient, right?

[00:05:33] People are resilient. And so if we can’t do the traditional in-person focus groups, people have come up with great methodologies to substitute, to be able to really understand consumers, in an intimate way in-depth way.

[00:05:46] Patrick Comer: [00:05:46] I wanna switch gears, Sima. I’ve known you for years in your role, mainly with Paradigm Sample, but in the past, say two years, and you probably know the timescale better than that. You’ve really changed your perspective into investment banking with Oberon Securities. So I’d love to learn about:  A) how you made that choice or what that transition was like? And then B) what does that role entail? What are you looking for these days is different or how have things evolve for you?

[00:06:08] Sima Vasa: [00:06:08] Yeah, thank you for asking that I’ve always had this philosophy about my career, that early in your career, you just focus on moving up. You get the bigger job and it’s just what you’re supposed to do. At least that’s the mindset that I had.  Agree.  I thought I was supposed to move up the ladder until I built a new one.

[00:06:25] Exactly. So, the thing , I would say the last 10 to 15 years, really focused on was challenging myself, was learning, was to be intellectually curious and really tried to stay true to that premise and put that in the forefront. Going back to your question about why investment banking, I’d built a career in research analytics.

[00:06:46] I know a lot of people, And I thought I got my MBA in Finance, many years ago and I said, why not? Why not try something new where I can still leverage my knowledge and my experience in the industry, but look at it from a different perspective. And the other thing, I did not think about this before I did it  but what I’ve learned in the last two years is that as being a founder of a company and an operator, that empathy with the person across the table is so crucial. Patrick, you have scars. It is painful, and you can’t really articulate. It’s like parenting, you can’t really articulate how hard it truly is.

[00:07:25] And so I feel really grateful that I can look at it from that perspective and help clients meet their business objectives, whether it’s raising capital, helping them sell their company, helping other companies buy other companies that I think is, a really unique perspective I’ve come to enjoy as I do investment banking.

[00:07:44] Patrick Comer: [00:07:44] So, from that investment banking perspective, what have you learned about how the research space or now as many are calling it, especially myself, the ResTech space looks like. How does that feel as compared to some of your other advisor peers that may be more focused on other industries?

[00:07:59] Sima Vasa: [00:07:59] It’s interesting. It’s a very black and white story in many respects, as it relates to valuation, either your numbers show the story or they don’t in terms of valuation. And what I’ve learned is that in research, we’ve seen so many agile platforms that are coming into the space, they’re popping up all over the place. They’re gaining investment. The real question becomes, are they true SAS platforms or are they tech enabled services? And, I’ve seen a flavor of a full range of what these platforms do. As it relates to, apply services to make sure that their stickiness to their platform. And a lot of it has to do with the maturity of the client on the other side. Do they really want the help or are they empowered? Or do they know enough to be able to run the research responsibly?

[00:08:50] Patrick Comer: [00:08:50] So how would you coin it now? Do we have a lot of the pure play SAS or is there more platforms that are more tech enabled services that are trying to get to that point of view? How do you see that evolving right now?

[00:09:01] Sima Vasa: [00:09:01] Oh, that’s a good question. I think it’s a mix of both. I think there’s still a heavy amount of services for a lot of these companies just to create that stickiness. It’s new, right? it’s still relatively new. People are trying to figure it out if the companies that are building these platforms are in the market, but also for the clients. We’re shifting their world in terms of how they can access research in a really fast, quick manner. Listen, I think the desire is that everybody wants a pure SAS platform, if they’re going in and getting capital and ultimately have an exit plan. I’m not a hundred percent sure it’s always going to be that way. It just depends on, the maturity of the client on the other end and how much they’re willing to do on their own . Does DIY really exist? I think in some use cases a hundred percent, but it depends on what type of research people are actually doing.

[00:09:46] Patrick Comer: [00:09:46] It makes perfect sense. We have that same evolution at Lucid. We launched our marketplace platform the year we went into business. But in terms of it becoming the dominant revenue driver, it took years for that to occur. And it wasn’t necessarily because the technology wasn’t ready.

[00:10:04] It was because the ecosystem around us wasn’t ready. And that’s one of the probably biggest lessons I’ve learned in launching Lucid and servicing the ecosystem with a marketplace business model for the first time is that I have had to be extraordinarily patient  with everyone around, the company to really understand the impact of the organization, what this is, what the value add is going to be for things like programmatic and things like It’s accelerated dramatically in the past two years.

[00:10:35] I used to think of it as we’re pushing that rock uphill over and over again, like sand. And in the past two years suddenly, customers are saying yes to technology faster and faster, and in the past nine months, since COVID started, at much faster accelerated rate. It’s really been surprising the time to yes it’s really shrunk in the past nine months. But I think you’re absolutely right. I think a lot of founders underestimate the operating challenge that their customers are going to have in order to adopt their technology in the first place.

[00:11:05] Sima Vasa: [00:11:05] Yeah, especially on the brand side. you could do a reseller model potentially, Where you have essentially the services to support the platform play. But when you go to the brands, when you go to the enterprise clients, I think it’s a little bit harder.

[00:11:18] Patrick Comer: [00:11:18] Yep. So when you’re looking at the financials, the numbers of companies, which numbers, which rules do you use in order to judge that value or that difference between SAS and tech enabled services? What are you looking for there?

[00:11:30] Sima Vasa: [00:11:30] First of all, it’s retention of clients, right? Is it platform sticky? Growth rate, year over year growth. Obviously there’s a little bit of acception to COVID, but you’re still not the critical factor where your software, your platform is not getting terminated or put on hold, it’s still a critical platform, right?

[00:11:49] But you might not accelerate the sales, during the time of COVID, profitability, gross margin, right? If you’re truly SAS platform, that margin should be really strong. Customer concentration is a big one and I think people underestimate that. You don’t want to be dictated by one major customer. And you and I know, you need that one customer to anchor around to grow your business,

[00:12:09] Patrick Comer: [00:12:09] To get it started, to get it moving.

[00:12:10] And

[00:12:11] Sima Vasa: [00:12:11] you’re so happy. And then all of a sudden you’re like, wait a second. We need to diversify quickly here. So, that’s a big one and I can’t say I’m surprised, but it’s an important one.

[00:12:21] Everybody I don’t think fully understands, as an acquirer, or even investor the loss of that one customer could be a major damage to the business. So those are some of the general things. You look at the management team, you look at is this the team that’s going to, if you’re looking for investment, are they going to go?

[00:12:37] I’ve said this before, like the darkest of darkest days, will they be able to still persevere and pivot and make it through, So it’s a bunch of different things like that qualitatively in terms of, they intrinsic how the company and the management team operates, but then obviously the numbers have to actually support that.

[00:12:56] Patrick Comer: [00:12:56] So if you were to give advice to founders or entrepreneurs in our space on how to present themselves that you haven’t seen. What do you wish people were bringing to the table that they’re not bringing table to the day? Because the way I look at it is our rest tech space is relatively new to the concept of going out and raising capital at the scale required to build these businesses. At the same time, we’re also relatively new in terms of what I’d call M&A for  expansion versus M&A for, I would say something like EBITDA or to that degree. So my question is what is missing and what do you think people knew more about in order to get these deals done?

[00:13:35] Sima Vasa: [00:13:35] That’s a great question. I think first and foremost, you got to know who you are, right? And just to have a really honest conversation, understanding o f what’s the core competency of my company? That question about SAS versus tech enabled services is a big one and really understanding how you define that.

[00:13:51] And sometimes people say it, but it doesn’t translate into the financials. And I think we see that all too often. I would say that to me, that is the biggest thing. The other thing is not everybody,  needs to be this type of company, right?

[00:14:05] I’ve talked to many founder CEOs who are perfectly happy with, traditional market research. They might use tech tools to fuel their business. But perfectly happy with, healthy growth, good margin. And I think that’s the other thing we need to be really careful about because it’s not one or the other, it just depends on where you want to play.

[00:14:25] Patrick Comer: [00:14:25] And so what types of opportunities are you looking for? Is it everything in this space or is there a particular things that are more exciting than others in terms of the types of deals that you’re looking to participate in?

[00:14:34] Sima Vasa: [00:14:34] Oh, that’s a good question. Yeah. Healthy companies are always good. They’re easier to raise money for and to sell. I’m attracted to all types of it. Doesn’t have to be necessarily just one type of company If I believe in your company and I believe in your product and your vision, I’m interested and then financial support it. Not everything has to be tech enabled.

[00:14:54] Patrick Comer: [00:14:54] Fair enough. One thing. We’ve also talked about, Sima, is how ResTech and other technologies are transforming or changing the market research industry to begin with. And question comes down to if all these DIY and SAS platforms are trying to enable the democratization of research. One, are these new users going to be able to do quality research? And then two, what is the role? And for what I call the traditional researcher, how do they fit into the model as well? Because you’ve got this conflict between, what I call an established research acumen and then, onboarding a large set of users who are far less experienced and far less aware of the challenges of research as it were.

[00:15:39] Sima Vasa: [00:15:39] Yeah, we talked about this. I was thinking about that earlier today and first and foremost, I don’t believe in slowing down progress. So this notion of democratization of insights is the future. It’s going to happen. It’s happening,

[00:15:53] There’s a need that this research is filling, right? People are embracing it. And what is that? The need for agile quick insights to fuel product innovation, to fuel ad testing, all the different use cases that you and I are familiar with. So that’s first and foremost, I think as the traditional researcher, they can play a vital role here. Embrace the change and be able to almost evangelize best practices of research, either to a brand, within their research agency, but it is instead of standing 10 feet away from it and saying, “Oh, let’s wait and see.” I really encourage people to get involved. And let’s put the best practices together.

[00:16:33] Let’s create data literacy. Let’s be responsible in the use of these platforms and ensure that people are getting the right value out of the research. So I think there’s a huge opportunity for traditional researchers and I wouldn’t even call them traditional researchers. I would say people who understand research and our prep sound practitioners because traditional almost sounds negative.

[00:16:54] It’s research practitioners who can apply their rigor, their understanding of what constitutes good research and combining that with the technologies. We’re seeing companies that are hiring research practitioners that validate the research platform and understand, almost their safeguards in terms of what people are allowed to do.

[00:17:16] Patrick Comer: [00:17:16] It’s almost like we’re giving this tremendous tool to a lot of hands. And the question is, does the tool actually create the insights or the data, that is actually a value of high quality. Then, I guess the real question becomes, has the tool itself built in those safeguards, those capabilities or not? And how do you judge that from afar? Or do you even know what questions to ask? If you’re a DIY user of is this of high research quality or not?

[00:17:40] Sima Vasa: [00:17:40] Yes , and then also when you talk about responsibility, I think people who are using that data, if they’re feeding it up , the marketing chain or executive management, group. Those people should be also questioning the validity of the results. So it’s not just any one party that’s responsible, that to say that this research is good or bad. A company brand, people should be understanding what is the basis of this research to make sure that it sound quality research.

[00:18:05] Patrick Comer: [00:18:05] That’s one of the big questions. How will the quality of research change as technology becomes so much embedded in the entire process? And I think a lot of the error of data collection will shrink over time. Because these are the things that we’ve seen in other industries, financial services being one as that industry came online and programmatic and automated, the error rate in that scenario, transaction is shrunk dramatically over time. I predict a similar outcome within the research space. It’s just going to take time for that to play itself out.

[00:18:38] Sima Vasa: [00:18:38] Agreed. I mean, listen, there’s also, yes, we’re enabling survey-based research in a quick manner, but there’s a bunch of other tools that are integrated to that, right? That helped with quality, that helped with  automation and less human interaction. And I think that’s tremendous value as well.

[00:18:52] So to your point of better quality. Of course , if we don’t have human beings having to touch different parts of the value chain and we automate a lot of that, the good news is if we really like to analyze data, you can spend more time doing that.

[00:19:07] Yup.

[00:19:07] Patrick Comer: [00:19:07] Well, in your role as investment bankers specifically, how does this concept of ResTech play into how you approach the market? What is the reason it may be important for your work?

[00:19:18] Sima Vasa: [00:19:18] I think it validates the industry in many ways. Because you can point to other industries and say, “Look, we’re at the cusp of maybe what ad tech did and martech. And now we’re at research tech” So I think it gives people something that’s relatable to point to and saying that this is now the next evolution of this industry.

[00:19:37] And in many ways, the conversations are easier. I think we’ve all joked about when you tell people what you do and you’re like, wait, what do you do? It’s just like market research. That’s it. Just quick we’re done.  But this gives it a better definition, a carve out if you will, in terms of what does that really mean to the financial community? I’m sure you’ve had conversations to try to explain it. And I think this is good. It’s going to help in terms of the financial community.

[00:20:04] Patrick Comer: [00:20:04] Well, what I saw for years, starting with ad tech is there are all these stories and articles and even charts saying this industry is growing at a tremendous growth rate, hundreds of percent per year, early on in particular. Even though advertising globally was growing at 6 to 7% a year. This specific digital, programmatic, particularly aspect of advertising was growing very fast and, therefore, it got investment in attention. Same thing started happening with  marketing technology, same storyline. And I remember specifically in raising the Lucid Series B in 2017, we raised $60 million. The challenge is that all of the industry data coming out around market research in aggregate was showing a very similar growth rate, 6 to 7%.

[00:20:55] And we had not yet carved out this fast growing technology, first SAS enabled subset that was growing at 50 to 200% growth rate per year. And so it’s hard for an investor to make that leap regardless of what industry it is.  This is the ability to move past the investor point of view or even any outsider to the industry, to move away from, what is this to what specifically do you do, within the context of ResTech, within an ecosystem or a landscape? That’s why I personally get excited about that because I’m trying to remove friction to growth. If that makes any sense. That’s the way I see the value removing friction to the conversation.

[00:21:35] Sima Vasa: [00:21:35] Yeah.  I think as an investor, you do look at the global reports that are coming out of the major industry associations and say, “Wait a second, how does this”? And in fact, particularly last year, I remember that, overall I think traditional research was a slight decline. and you looked at the new things similar to what we were just talking about, and that’s where the growth actually came from.

[00:21:54] And so it is important. I think that the challenge or an opportunity is how does the industry embrace all of it? For a point in time, we gave up a lot of pieces of the research pi, we set customer experience it’s not traditional market research. And we took things away because we said it didn’t fit our mold. And I just hope that this doesn’t happen to this industry because this is a healthy part of the industry that help shaping and defining the future of research.

[00:22:20] Patrick Comer: [00:22:20] So it’s almost reclaiming what we actually do here. I would put customer experience right into ResTech,

[00:22:26] Sima Vasa: [00:22:26] right?

[00:22:26] Yeah. I totally agree with you.

[00:22:29] Patrick Comer: [00:22:29] There’s no reason it should be excluded.

[00:22:30] Sima Vasa: [00:22:30] Yeah. And it was excluded because it was too simple.  That was the history behind it. And now you look at it, customer experience, customer satisfaction is still, considered research, but those are valuable components of understanding consumers.

[00:22:43] Why not? Why not include it?

[00:22:45] Patrick Comer: [00:22:45] Now you have so many ResTech platforms that are asking one, two, three question surveys.

[00:22:49] Sima Vasa: [00:22:49] Correct.

[00:22:50] Patrick Comer: [00:22:50] That’s their business model, right? It was just as simple as CX or as simple as CSAT, you had now have almost some versions of custom research that are as expedient. So what does that does that mean to all of it?

[00:23:00] Sima Vasa: [00:23:00] And I will also say it doesn’t mean  the strategic research all has to be done on NATO platform. Like, there’s use cases for different types of research and that traditional, I’m going to try not to say traditional, the strategic research plays a big part in the role of what we do as well. So that’s not to be forgotten as well.

[00:23:22] Patrick Comer: [00:23:22] Maybe the word is tenured. I like the word tenured because it demands experience and understanding. But, it doesn’t mean you’re traditional per se. Anyway, just throwing out there. Maybe we can make that a thing, “tenured researchers”. Let’s create something right now, Sima. Let’s do it.

[00:23:34]Sima Vasa: [00:23:34] there’s some value there. The consulting companies are competing for that research now, right? It has tremendous value.

[00:23:40] Patrick Comer: [00:23:40] Absolutely. And we’ve seen the research capabilities from the consulting firms expand. We’ve seen the consulting capabilities on the research companies expand as well.

[00:23:49] Sima Vasa: [00:23:49] Completely. I see it all the time and that’s encouraging. But again, it forces change and I like change. So it’s okay for me. But there’s other people who don’t.

[00:23:57] Patrick Comer: [00:23:57] I think it’s also change will  drive interest, drive investment drive multiples. We’ve seen multiples across the board continue to improve in the past year, which is counterintuitive to the overall global economic environment, but it’s been a remarkable year for multiples.

[00:24:11] I see a bright future for companies that are playing in this space.

[00:24:15] Sima Vasa: [00:24:15] I agree. And I think data, if you just look at the word data, it’s a hot, word. It’s the future we’re collecting and throwing off as consumers, tons of information. And there are a lot of investors who are interested in getting into the space and we’re seeing people ask us more and more about it. So I think it’s all positive. Whether it’s survey based research or not, it’s all good stuff. It’s a halo effect for this industry.

[00:24:37] Patrick Comer: [00:24:37] So two questions around being a podcast host. One is, any words of advice for me? This is episode three or four in our, process here. So you’ve done many, many more. You have a lot more stamina experience. So any words of advice for a relative newbie?

[00:24:52] Sima Vasa: [00:24:52] One piece of advice I’d say is have your own metric of what success is for your episodes. Mine was, did I learn something new? That was it. For me  it’s valuable time spent for connecting with a guest and learning something about our industry. And then I’d say enjoy the process, which is really hard. Patrick, I have to tell you before a podcast, it’s ‘Ugh, do I want to do this or not? Do I want it?’ And then I get on the podcast and I’m done. I’m like, I’m so glad I did that. That was great. It was fantastic. But it’s just mentally getting over that hurdle.

[00:25:25] Patrick Comer: [00:25:25] Yeah, gotta get over the hump and get into it.

[00:25:26] Sima Vasa: [00:25:26] Yeah, exactly. You kind of have that little pit in your stomach. You’re like, Oh, I hope I asked good question.  all the same stuff that we’re all saying in our heads.

[00:25:34] Patrick Comer: [00:25:34] I’m feeling it right now.

[00:25:36]Sima Vasa: [00:25:36] You’re doing great.

[00:25:37] Patrick Comer: [00:25:37] Thank you. I appreciate that from an expert. A tenured professional On the same podcast, you’ve been doing a regular podcast now especially during this COVID timeframe What are the key trends you’re seeing as you’re coming into 21?

[00:25:49] What are you hearing people talk about that’s different than it was maybe a year ago ?  What are the things that you’re learning that you want to share?

[00:25:57] Sima Vasa: [00:25:57] Agile research is a hot topic. It continues to come up demarketization of insights. So it’s not just research, but getting insights to a broader audience in a faster way. It’s the currency, that management teams can talk about, but it can’t be stale. It’s gotta be quick and how do you get that? So it’s visualization. It’s being able to get that delivered in a broad scale. If you really think about it, it’s shocking that we still do PowerPoint.

[00:26:21] Patrick Comer: [00:26:21] And a lot of it. A lot of slides.

[00:26:23] Sima Vasa: [00:26:23] That’s just a side note like  it’s amazing that’s still happening

[00:26:26] Patrick Comer: [00:26:26] Researchers delivering PowerPoint presentations as the output of insights for their projects.

[00:26:31] Sima Vasa: [00:26:31] Yes. I think the other piece is quality. It continues to be central. and consumer privacy continues to be central topic and we’ve seen, some models where consumers take ownership of their data and they get to, dictate, play, if you will. so I’m curious to see how that works out, but I’m seeing more and more of those companies pop up and, I think it’s cool. You get to control, monetize your own data. As a consumer, that seems interesting. So we’ll see how it goes.

[00:27:02] Patrick Comer: [00:27:02] We have Andrew Yang talking about it. And using California Privacy Law in order to actually activate it. So it’s more than just an idea for technology. There’s actually, the legal capacity to do something, which is interesting.

[00:27:14] We’ll definitely see how that plays out over time. And I love the phrase you had before, which is the speed of insights is the currency for management teams or for business decision makers. And that’s interesting because I think a lot of researchers, historically would’ve said the depth and value of the insights would be the currency, versus the speed of it.

[00:27:32] Sima Vasa: [00:27:32] Look, if you’re going to do a research study to help you define your five-year strategic plan, you could take some time there, right? You’re not going to build your street, correct? People are driving hard. They’re making decisions. They have to get that insight quickly and everybody’s got to work off the same page. So the speed of that insights is critical.

[00:27:52] Patrick Comer: [00:27:52] Totally agree. And we’re seeing that be the key driver of growth for a lot of the ResTech or, agile customers that we have is speed, they turn over surveys very, very quickly. Switching gears to my same last three questions, which are not about professional questions, but the last three.  The first one is, what was your first job and how was that experience or what lessons do you pull from it that you still use today?

[00:28:21] Sima Vasa: [00:28:21] Do you include babysitting or no?

[00:28:23] Patrick Comer: [00:28:23] That’s up to you. You can define it as you see fit, right?

[00:28:27] Sima Vasa: [00:28:27] Yeah, I did a lot of odd jobs before I was officially allowed to work and get a paycheck.

[00:28:32] Patrick Comer: [00:28:32] What were you doing?

[00:28:33] Sima Vasa: [00:28:33] I was babysitting, my sister and I had a lawn mowing business. We used to cut the neighborhood lawns. And I had an art teacher who needed help cleaning our art room. So I helped clean our art room. I just helped her with different errands around the house.

[00:28:46] And then my first official paying job, where I took a paycheck was I worked at McDonald’s. and I was so excited that I got promoted to drive through. I was like, “this is my spot”. I learned  a lot. I’ve always said to my kids, if you’re  not afraid of working hard, life will be fine. If you don’t fear working hard, you’re going to be fine.

[00:29:06] Patrick Comer: [00:29:06] Yeah, you do it. One of my first jobs was pizza delivery.

[00:29:10] So,  I feel you on working for those big consumer brands and I did that for three summers in a row, just delivering pizza, all paid for education.

[00:29:20]Sima Vasa: [00:29:20]  After McDonald’s I actually, expanded my, capabilities to waitressing through college. That was so much fun. Cause I always loved meeting new people and it’s a quick way to make some good tips.

[00:29:32] Patrick Comer: [00:29:32] Nothing wrong with that. Yeah. Love me some tips.

[00:29:34] Sima Vasa: [00:29:34] Yeah. you’re right. Exactly.

[00:29:36] Patrick Comer: [00:29:36] I’ll switch to the next question which is around feedback, professional feedback, or it doesn’t have to be professional. But what’s the best bit of hard feedback that you’ve ever received?

[00:29:44] Sima Vasa: [00:29:44] It’s tough. I think I’m impatient. I want things done sooner versus later.  I’ve learned, this is probably earlier. I’ve definitely tempered down that, but, you can’t go fast enough. We got to keep moving. We got to keep going. Why is it taking so long and just having some empathy to realize not everybody has that same vibe to get there faster, quicker or sooner. So that’s probably a big one.

[00:30:07] Patrick Comer: [00:30:07] Was there a key moment when someone said “Sima you’re being impatient” or is there a particular person that you remember, like this was the moment that you figured that it resonated with you?

[00:30:16] Sima Vasa: [00:30:16] I’ve actually had the feedback a couple of times.

[00:30:18] Patrick Comer: [00:30:18] The best feedback., you get it more than once.

[00:30:20] Sima Vasa: [00:30:20] I’m being honest. I’m not going to say I’m a perfectionist. That’s really the feedback I get . But the thing that I look at, not making excuses, is I think that’s where innovation comes from too. So it’s like a double-edged sword a bit, right? I get so passionate about something. I just want to see it. I don’t want to wait. But I’m learning, I’m still learning that.

[00:30:39] Patrick Comer: [00:30:39] It’s a hard lesson. I think, as an entrepreneur, you’re natively impatient, because you want to see the future today. Whatever future thare is you want to and you want to make it happen. So there’s an action around it that’s required from you. I’ve definitely pushed people too hard, too fast because I wanted to see the outcome now versus when it was the right time for it.  At the same time if you didn’t have that energy, nothing would happen.

[00:31:02] Sima Vasa: [00:31:02] Yeah. the other thing is when you get “there”, you already have 10 more ideas and the team looks at you. ‘wait, we just got here.’ Just tempering it down, celebrate  that moment. You can relate to that.

[00:31:16] Patrick Comer: [00:31:16] As I was saying  earlier, the enforced patience of starting a platform with a brand new business  model that just didn’t exist in the ecosystem before around a marketplace, I had assumed that the adoption curve would be very fast. And the adoption curve was not very fast.

[00:31:33] We got one customer the first year, a second customer the second year, the third and fourth, the third, and then build from there. And it was really hard to let that be the reality, that it was so hard to have that patience.

[00:31:48] So I appreciate it. It’s decade in now. What’s wild today is that if you go back to the original kind of Lucid formation documents and, some of the plans, we’re now just getting to some of the ideas that we started with. It’s because  maturity of the ecosystem is now getting to the place where it might be reasonable to do some things. Which is exciting, but it’s taken long time.

[00:32:10] Sima Vasa: [00:32:10] I totally get it.

[00:32:11] Patrick Comer: [00:32:11] The final question of these is, what’s the most important thing you learned from your mother?

[00:32:16] Sima Vasa: [00:32:16] My mom’s a fighter. She’s a fighter. Yep. She’s resilient. . We did not have an easy childhood and she supported three girls,  as a widow and she continues even through COVID right now, We went to visit her and sat outside and, she continues to work out every day to socialize, to maintain some sanity.

[00:32:34] So I would say, persistence  She actually said the most important thing is your mental stamina. And she would give us different things that we’d have to do, to be able to be mentally strong. And I think that’s the thing that I’ve learned the most from her.

[00:32:49] Patrick Comer: [00:32:49] You feel like you represent that same fighting attitude? That same persistence?

[00:32:52] Sima Vasa: [00:32:52] Yeah, for sure. To a point that it’s annoying,

[00:32:55] Patrick Comer: [00:32:55] How was it annoying?

[00:32:57] Sima Vasa: [00:32:57] I’m raising two girls, I’m always talking about, you gotta work  harder, you gotta work smarter, you gotta fight for everything you want.  That  can be a  little daunting at times. If a decision’s made, I will celebrate it, but I will always say, how could you have done it differently?

[00:33:13] What  approach  would you have done? Just really thinking through how would you do things differently and what do you think the pros and cons of that might be . Hopefully they have the right tools when they leave the house.

Patrick Comer: Sima, this has been marvelous. I opened the floor to you, whether you want to add anything or ask me a question. You ask questions all the time on these. So if there’s anything else you want to bring up, I’m happy to address.

[00:33:34] Sima Vasa: What’s your hardest feedback that you’ve gotten, a critical  feedback you’ve gotten ?

[00:33:38] Patrick Comer: [00:33:38] There’s like a litany of critical feedback. I’ll talk about my first bit of critical feedback. Before I entered the professional environment. I was in theater.

[00:33:48] Sima Vasa: [00:33:48] I think I knew that.

[00:33:49] Patrick Comer: [00:33:49] I built scenery. I did some off Broadway directing, no acting per se, but, onstage. And, my first professional gig was a startup in New York, in the late nineties for the  .com bubble. There were two big bits of feedback. One is my wardrobe was a mess. I just didn’t have the clothes to be professional in New York in 1998.

[00:34:12] My CEO boss actually, sent me to get some suits at that time. I actually paid for my wardrobe, which is a weird kind of critical feedback ’cause it was just one of those moments where I just didn’t have the money or the wardrobe to be involved.

[00:34:25] But, more than a year in, feedback he gave me was that he said, you walk around this office like you own the place and you’re not the CEO, you’re like an analyst for me. You’re pissing people off because you act like you’re the boss of things when you’re not.

[00:34:41] Sima Vasa: [00:34:41] I love that.

[00:34:42] Patrick Comer: [00:34:42] I wasn’t sure exactly how to change necessarily, but it made me aware that how I conduct myself every day with everyone around me as impactful and they read that perceptions. And I just wasn’t aware that was even going on, per se. But I could go on and on. I’ve had many moments of critical feedback in my career.

[00:35:01] Sima Vasa: [00:35:01] I have a question you choose to keep it or not. but the question is this cry for diversity in our industry. And, how do you see yourself playing an active role to advocate for diversity?

[00:35:14] Patrick Comer: [00:35:14] I don’t see it just as an industry phenomenon. I see that there’s a responsibility, particularly given that Lucid is such a New Orleans based company. So when we look at the demographics of the parish of New Orleans, it’s a majority minority city.

[00:35:32] And then we look at the demographics of not just Lucid, but most of the professional environments in this town, it’s majority white. If I’d just be very clear. And so, how do we change that over time? How do we actually, move the needle significantly, not just gradually, and as becoming particularly acute  for me and other technology startups in Louisiana? Because, part of the dream of the startup is employees have equity and that equity turns into fantastic upside down the road. And so if you think about it, it’s not just the job and the career it’s who gets all the prize money,

[00:36:10] Who gets the opportunity? It could be small dollars in terms of paying off a car loan, up to paying off a house. People used to say around, I think it was Facebook, how many millionaires are we going to create? Well, how many diverse millionaires are we going to create? Because those are the leaders that are going to be able to reinvest in a very different way than I would be able to invest. That becomes unequivocally important. What I’ve seen, especially since this summer, not only has Lucid started to accelerate the change within our own domain, what I’ve really noticed is that our employee base and our teams are more active, meaning they’re holding us accountable to achieving results. So it’s not just allowing Lucid to say we’re going to do something. They meet with us and hold us accountable to it.

[00:36:57] The employees do. And that’s something I really appreciate because in a business it’s relatively simple to not have diversity, maybe one of your things you’re focused on today because there’s all these other fires that are happening right now, and diversity teams to be a medium and long-term work versus today work in the life of a business.

[00:37:15] And I’ve also been particularly impressed with our EMEA London-based team, who not only activated on diversity equity inclusion, but started the core group, based out of London to work on it, within our market research industry. They’re leaders and movers in that particular mission and I couldn’t be prouder of that.

[00:37:34] Sima Vasa: [00:37:34] That’s awesome. And I’m seeing that. I think the term is stakeholder capitalism, right? Where you represent the employees’ desires  and wants for doing something good in the world. And so I think the younger generation is holding people accountable, leaders accountable to doing what you say you’re going to do.

[00:37:50] And that definitely attracts talent, retains talent to say there’s a higher purpose here of good that we’re doing. Obviously it’s still business, it’s capitalism, but there’s a societal responsibility as well. which I think is really refreshing. It’s great.

[00:38:05] Patrick Comer: [00:38:05] Word. It is good. Anything else, Sima?

[00:38:09] Sima Vasa: [00:38:09] That’s it . Thank you.

 

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