How Qualie bagged international clients, including Google, and raised $1 million to boot


Qualie co-founders Ainslie Williams and Rob Marjenberg. Source: Supplied.

With no marketing and very little media coverage, market research startup Qualie has bagged Google as a client and accidentally attracted users in the UK. Now, it’s raised $1 million in seed funding as it cashes in on a global demand from companies to know what their customers are thinking.

Founded in 2016 by Ainslie Williams, Rob Marjenberg, Steve Ford and Adir Shiffman, Qualie uses video to combine qualitative and quantitative survey research, in a bid to give companies more compelling, accessible and accurate data.

The startup captures individual consumer insights on video, using a survey process designed to be both robust and engaging.

Then, additional survey participants watch the videos and choose which opinions best reflect their own.

It means the videos and viewpoints that resonate with the largest number of people can be shown to the corporate clients, offering a compelling, easy to digest and genuinely representative view of how their customers feel and what they want.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Williams says the startup has made the research process 80% faster and 50% cheaper, while providing a sample size nine times the size of what would typically be used.

The process also stops what Williams says is a “classic scenario” in the market research world, where one senior staff member will hear one comment in one focus group, and cling onto it.

“That becomes the gospel of the company.”

The $1 million in funding comes from a slew of high-profile, high-net-worth individuals, including CSIRO chair Simon McKeon, lawyer Michael Borsky and McKinsey and Company’s Mehrdad Baghai.

Tony Ward, former chief of Survey Monkey, former head of Dropbox in Australia, and current president of Xero in the Americas, has also come on board as an investor.

“It’s not going away”

Williams was actually spurred to launch Qualie when she was working in market research and attended a conference where Ward was speaking.

At the time, he was chief of Survey Monkey, which was a disruptor in the space.

“He got a fairly frosty reception,” Williams recalls

“That was a pivotal moment for me.”

Williams realised there was disruption happening outside of the industry she was in, and she wanted to get involved, “because it’s not going away”, she says.

Having already worked in the industry for 15 years, she knew the sector, and the issues within it, intimately. She found the attitude towards Ward, frankly, quite confronting.

“I thought, ‘that’s not how I feel, I’m excited by what he’s saying’,” she says.

“We’re just starting”

Although she doesn’t reveal revenue figures, Williams says Qualie has been “growing steadily”.

She points to the startup’s healthy client list, which includes both the federal and state governments, as well as Energy Australia, Citi and King Software — the company behind Candy Crush.

Google has also signed on as an early client.

So far, Qualie has secured all of its customers with very little marketing or media coverage, Williams says.

“All of our growth has been inbound and organic referrals,” she adds.

“We’ve got some very prestigious brands in the mix for such an early-stage company.”

While she admits the founding team has been “quite crap at putting ourselves out there”, she explains the startup is still running on a very lean team.

“We haven’t actually had the ability to do much else but build software and service clients,” she says.

“With a small team, there are only so many plates you can have spinning in the air at once.”

This latest funding will partly be put towards changing this. The co-founders are planning on bolstering the team, so they can get stuck into research and development again.

“More staff will alleviate myself and Rob to be able to focus more fully on the software itself and the product,” she says.

“We’ve been sitting on a lot of things that we want to be able to do but have just had to get the basics done … it feels like we’re just starting to be honest.”

Born in Australia

Now, Qualie is looking to new markets.

Already, it has a small footprint in the UK, which has also come about completely organically.

“People found us. I don’t know how,” Williams says.

“We entertained that because we thought it was important early on to prove global appetite.”

Globally, the market research industry is worth about $44 billion a year, and the UK and the US are the two biggest markets, she explains.

So, in the short-to-medium term, the startup will focus on its Aussie clients and build some strong metrics around use of the platform. Then it will make a concerted push into the UK.

“The US is the bigger beast, and will probably come after that,” she says.

After that, the world is Qualie’s oyster, she says.

“We’re a global product, we just happen to be born in Australia.”

Get your pitch on point

Although Williams admits she hasn’t necessarily got it figured out yet herself, her biggest piece of advice for other startups is to nail their elevator pitch.

This is especially pertinent when, like Qualie, you’re a complex business in a space that many people aren’t particularly familiar with.

“There’s no comparison point,” she says.

“We’re basically a better version of survey software.”

Equally, being from a non-technical background, she says it’s important to be able to talk about your business to any type of investor comfortably.

“Lean into that space, because it’s learnable,” she says.

“Although they don’t expect you to be the CTO, there’s an expectation that you understand how the technology comes together,” she adds.

“In retrospect, If I had leaned into the tech stack earlier, I feel like I would have been in a better position to contribute to those kinds of discussions.”

NOW READ: Eleven things startups can do to get their pitch deck on point

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