How Askable landed major clients and 5000 users within seven months of launching without any external funding


Askable co-founders John Goleby, Andreas Zhou, and Vivien Chang. Source: Supplied.

Brisbane market research startup Askable has only been around for seven months, but it’s already looking at taking a chunk of the “archaic” $2.2 billion Australian market research industry after landing some big-name clients.

Since being founded in mid-February, the startup has already worked with the likes of Woolworths, CBS Interactive, Deloitte and Canstar; built a user base of 5000 research participants; and employed a team of 10, all while being self-funded.

So how did Askable see such growth while still in its infancy?

Co-founders Andreas Zhou and John Goleby say the key was identifying what is a critical pain point for countless companies: the prohibitive price and time taken to run market research and user experience testing.

Billed by Zhou as “the Uber for user testing”, Askable helps companies find, book and pay people for focus groups and user testing through an on-demand sharing economy model.

Participants can make between $50-$100 an hour, and Goleby says the startup is working towards having participants arrive at a company’s front door within 15 minutes of a test being requested.

It’s an offering that fills an existing gap in the market for affordable and quick user testing, a pain point Goleby and Zhou identified from founding 10-year old digital marketing agency Orange Digital, where Goleby still works. Another employee of the agency, Vivien Chang, is Askable’s third co-founder.

“I started Askable after working 10 years in digital marketing because it [user testing] was painful. Really painful,” Zhou tells StartupSmart.

“The options were use a market research company … and get extorted on fees, or do it myself. So basically it was either too expensive, or too time consuming,” he says.

Goleby agrees with Zhou, adding that that the time and cost associated with user testing “is still ridiculous” and “archaic”.

Disrupting an “archaic” industry

The Askable founders quickly found it was a problem experienced by other companies, including American media company CBS interactive, which “identified with that pain point massively” according to Zhou.

As a result, CBS Interactive has already booked two rounds of user testing through the Askable platform.

Goleby and Zhou say this client relationship, as well as relationships with Woolworths, Canstar and Deloitte, came about from them being genuine and direct — a trait that the co-founders say more startups should adopt.

“We approached them [CBS] directly — if we had this problem as an agency [at Orange Digital] we thought this must be a problem for other people,” Zhou says.

Goleby says being genuine about the services your startup offers and establishing meaningful conversations will get you further than a flashy slide deck and well-polished pitch.

“We aren’t trying to pretend to be a massive operation — genuineness seems to go a lot further than highly polished communications,” Goleby says, adding that startups should “start a conversation rather than trying to seal the deal” by “keeping it light, and keeping it short”.

“Our approach so far has been to be genuine with our direct approach — we are not pretend to be doing stuff that we aren’t, and we are up front with what value we think we can offer,” Zhou adds.

While Zhou says approaching big-name companies with your product can be daunting, he says “something that shouldn’t be overlooked is that a lot of these companies want to help local startups”.

“Clients like Woolies were really excited to support local Australian startups,” he says. 

“People would be surprised just how willing some of these bigger companies would be to support Australian startups.” 

Making revenue “from day one”

This support from high-profile clients has led to enquiries from the likes of MYOB, Coles, Envato, 99 Designs, and, Zhou says, and has allowed Askable to had “made revenue from day one”.

This instant revenue-flow, coupled with the founders ability to leverage the skills and databases from their established digital marketing agency, meant they didn’t need to secure any external funding for the startup — a model they hope to continue in the future.

“We are going to try and bootstrap as much as possible for as long as possible,” says Zhou, who adds that the company may consider taking external funding when it ventures overseas.

For Zhou and Goleby, having a bootstrapped startup means equity is kept in the startup family.

“We’d prefer to keep equity between us and the team that are on the project — that’s our number one priority,” Goleby says. 

“We want to build a place where our time can thrive and be rewarded for their efforts. Having no external funding means having more equity to give to the team.”

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4 years ago

I am curious as to how participants can make $50 to $100 per hour, when the website states “Pay one simple amount per participant”, with those amounts being either $49 or $75 per participant. Are the sessions less than an hour, or are there incentives added on top?