I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours! SocialCrunch turns consumer curiosity into marketing insight gold

By Michael Carney , written on August 9, 2013

From The News Desk

It’s amazing what you can get someone to reveal in exchange for a little insight about friends. This is the central premise behind Chicago’s gamified big data startup SocialCrunch. The one-year-old company, which is part of Techstars Chicago’s summer accelerator class, asks consumers to reveal their personal preferences – Coke or Pepsi? Paper or plastic? Boxers or Briefs? Missionary position or doggy style? – in exchange for the same information about their friends and perfect strangers. All data is anonymized when presented back to the user, but nonetheless, it still gets the voyeuristic and competitive juices flowing.

"Identity doesn’t really matter to us," SocialCrunch co-founder Alex Griffiths says. "We're interested in trends."

Obviously, that’s what anyone in their shoes would say. We’re just a bunch of faceless data points compiled into nameless dossiers. For a company that exists to find out our deepest and darkest secrets, it’s funny that it doesn’t really want to know who we are. Anyway, I digress... At least users can skip questions that they prefer not to answer.

Griffiths and his SocialCrunch co-founder Jock McEwan are hoping to create what they dub, the “behavior graph” – a comprehensive web of consumer behavior data that can be sold, both to consumers themselves and more importantly to marketers.

SocialCrunch is limited to engaging with consumers through its website, But the product roadmap calls for a publisher widget that can be hosted on third-party sites and a mobile app. The company is building more than a Q&A platform, however, a Quora for kink and personal taste. Underlying this veneer is a sophisticated machine learning system that determines which question to ask next to keep the user engaged and happily answering questions. There’s also a backend required to crunch the collected data and deliver meaningful conclusions on consumer behavior to both consumers and the company’s marketing partners.

Across the product portfolio, the company plans to add functionality allowing consumers to pose questions to their group of friends and community at large. Think of it as a massive digital version of the party games “Never Have I Ever (aka, I Have Never)” or “Truth or Dare.” It’s not hard to see the viral potential.

The product is starting to catch on among both consumers and marketers. SocialCrunch has seen a 20 percent signup conversion for visitors to its site, according to Griffiths, and once a user signs up she or he answers an average of 77 questions in a 12-minute session. The company has also entered into several paid consulting contracts with marketing agencies looking to do research among specific demographics like millennials or moms. The strategy is a classically Chicago one, in that the startup is keen on demonstrating early revenue and market acceptance of its product.

“The size of the consulting deals isn’t as important as that they exist at all,” Griffiths says. “It’s very difficult to raise funding for a pure B2C [business to consumer] product in Chicago or one that hasn’t shown at least some revenue potential.” Elsewhere, such as in Silicon Valley or New York, it’s more often about scaling users and engagement, long before monetization becomes a point of focus. In that way, Chicago's startup scene is a throwback to an earlier age of business.

High-level consumer trends research is one of a few potential monetization strategies for SocialCrunch. Others include offering what Griffiths describes as a “brand alignment tool,” through which companies can evaluate their employees’ understanding of and alignment with their core customer. Finally, the startup is considering a white label product that can be licensed for a fee.

Unlike its TechStars classmate FindIt, SocialCrunch has no plans to leave Chicago. The company has six full-time employees and has little difficulty hiring locally, according to Griffiths, a transplanted Brit (as is McEwan) who has been involved in the growing Chicago startup scene since its nascent pre-Groupon days.

SocialCrunch has raised $500,000 to date, including $118,000 through the Techstars program and additional funding from multiple angel investors such as AKTA Web Studio founder John Roa. The company has also added former child-founder of MuggleNet Emerson Spartz as an advisor.

SocialCrunch is three weeks from its TechStars graduation. The program has been an invaluable one, Griffiths says, for its ability to refine the company’s roadmap. He adds:

My sense is that many companies come into a program like this with little understanding of the problem they’re trying to solve or all that’s going to be involved. We weren’t one of them. We came in with a good idea of the roadmap, which at the time had maybe 30 steps on it. What has changed significantly in the last two months is the order of events. We were focused on ‘these three steps over there,’ with the idea that we’d get to the rest of it later. But now, we have a much clearer idea of what’s most important, and where to focus our time and attention.
There’s no shortage of demand for consumer insights, but Griffiths and McEwan will be competing against traditional market research firms for dollars and market share. There are also other startups with analogous data sales strategies, although their methods of collecting it vary slightly. The best example may be Los Angeles-based Ranker, which crowdsources lists along the lines of “The 10 Best _____ in history,” and similar pop culture questions. It’s also similar to the mission of Hunch (acquired by eBay) which set out to create a taste graph of user affinity to various websites, items, and topics.

On the consumer front, it’s difficult to name another direct competitor, but there are dozens of online quiz and survey products – just Google “social survey [or quiz] app” for a sense of the market. Even if SocialCrunch can amass a large and engaged audience today, it will be faced with a constant battle to stay top of mind.

For those looking to play along at home, I’m a male college Graduate. My astrological sign is Gemini, my relationship status is engaged, and I was born in the year of the pig. Consider that my anonymous “identity.” Add in that I like ketchup, not mustard, drink my coffee with cream and sugar, and wear boxer briefs and I quickly become a target for Heintz, Starbucks, and Hanes. Of course, none of that is my objective in “playing” SocialCrunch, as its founders describe it. The real incentive is to learn how I stack up against the average Joe and to get a sense of just how depraved my friends are. Bring on the data!