German SurveyCircle Helps Startups & Researchers For Market Research And Academic Purposes

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The survey platform is based on mutual support and helps people get larger sample sizes for online surveys and experiments. A ranking mechanism called Smart Rank® ensures that people who give the most help will also receive the most help. We spoke to SurveyCircle's CEO Jonas Johé about the platform and use cases for startups:

How would you describe SurveyCircle in a few words?

SurveyCircle is an international research platform that enables students, researchers, and startups to find participants for their online surveys, both for academic purposes and for market research purposes. The website is based on mutual support: the more often you take part in other people’s studies, the more people will take part in your study.

What inspired you to create the survey platform? When did you discover the need for it?

I discovered the need for a platform like SurveyCircle when I was writing my Master’s thesis at the University of Mannheim. I conducted an online experiment with several experimental conditions and needed a whole lot of participants for that. At some point, I realized that finding participants can be difficult, especially when you want your sample size to be both large and heterogeneous in composition.
I knew I was not the only person in need of survey participants. And I thought that there should be a website that brings researchers together in a way that they can reliably achieve larger sample sizes by supporting each other. When a research website is based on mutual support, everyone who wants to get participants for their own study must participate in other people’s studies in return. That’s what mutual support is all about.

The usefulness of such a website for students, researchers and businesses was obvious to me. But apart from the usefulness itself, I also got hooked on the idea that mutual support can act as the driving force of a modern research platform.

What’s unique about SurveyCircle and what’s the market gap you want to fill?

The special thing about SurveyCircle is that you don’t buy your survey participants, as is the case with commercial panels, but rather you support each other to achieve a larger sample size. This approach is specifically aimed at people who want meaningful research findings, but do not fall into the target group for expensive market research panels. These include, for example, undergraduate and Ph.D. students, but also prospective founders and startups.

Overall, about 4,500 studies have been posted on SurveyCircle so far. And more than 100,000 study participations took place through the platform already. This proves that there is a clear need for a platform like SurveyCircle.

What I also like about SurveyCircle is the fact that it gives people of all backgrounds a chance to experience and support hundreds of exciting research projects by participating in them. Up until now, most ongoing research studies were not visible to anyone outside of the academic community. With our platform, research projects can finally get more attention in public – people have to simply visit our website and find out.

You’ve built a ranking mechanism called “digital mind for helpfulness” – why did you establish it and how does this system work?

I wanted to make sure that people who give the most help on SurveyCircle will also receive the most help. And that’s why we developed our point-based ranking system, the Survey Ranking, and our self-regulating incentive mechanism Smart Rank®. These two technologies together ensure that each user has a natural incentive to take part in surveys of those users who have already helped others a lot.

In concrete terms, this means: the more you take part in other people’s studies, the more reward points you earn, and with that, the higher up your survey climbs in the Survey Ranking. Now, our incentive mechanism kicks in – the higher up your study is in the Survey Ranking, the greater the incentive for others gets to take part – simply because participation in better-ranked studies earns you more points than participation in poorly ranked studies.

We call Smart Rank® a “digital mind for helpfulness” because the sum of the reward points you have earned by taking part in studies reflects the degree of helpfulness that you have shown on SurveyCircle.

In what ways does SurveyCircle support innovation across sectors?

SurveyCircle can be an important resource for students and academic staff but also for prospective founders and startups. Empirical studies are one factor contributing to not only scientific growth but also to economic development. At universities, SurveyCircle is being recognized more and more as a tool that can help produce more meaningful research results. Of course, academic research results often foster economic development in the long run, but that’s not necessarily a primary goal of academic research projects.

When we look at how founders and startups use SurveyCircle for market research purposes, we see that the platform can support innovation in a much more direct way: Many founders and startups create surveys or A/B tests to find out what people think of a new business or product idea. When they lack access to a big enough, and unbiased, audience for their studies, SurveyCircle comes into play and can provide access to a much larger crowd.

Are you using your services internally? How does that affect the viewpoints of the development team?

In fact, we just recently used SurveyCircle for one of our own market research projects. It helped us a lot, and it was also fun to see that we can use our own platform as a tool to refine the platform itself. But what affects our viewpoints, even more, is user feedback. It helps us tremendously in identifying areas where we can improve the usability or add new features.

Why should people opt for your solution over a competitor’s? What makes SurveyCircle stand out from the crowd?

SurveyCircle’s great advantage lies in the combination of a transparent ranking system with a point-based incentive mechanism. This is what makes the platform fair and easy to use. And most importantly, this is what makes the platform work. As far as we can see, none of our competitors have developed a similarly fair and effective system to recruit participants based on mutual support.

What sets SurveyCircle apart from other platforms, too, is the fact that we set up a quality assurance system at an early stage and are constantly developing it further. It helps us identify users who are attempting to deceive SurveyCircle’s fair system at the expense of other users.

What about internationalization?

Currently, SurveyCircle is available in 17 countries. There’s a high chance that we will add more countries to the list over time.

What is the biggest challenge that the company has faced and what were your biggest learning points?

The biggest challenge currently is to make SurveyCircle even better-known to founders, startups, students, and doctoral candidates on an international scale.

A major learning point is that even if you have a good product, and even if your customers love your product, you still need to constantly invest in marketing and sales to attract new customers. In our daily lives, we hear a lot about things going “viral”, but you have to be aware that only a tiny portion of all new products will go viral. So, no matter how good your product is, you should assume you will be spending money on marketing and sales for a long time, especially when you’re planning to go international with your product.

What’s next for SurveyCircle?

In order for us to operate and develop SurveyCircle in the long term, we will, of course, have to generate income at some point. This will be an important and necessary step in the coming years. Our goal is to continue offering many of the platform’s features free of charge going forward. In the framework of a freemium model, we will then offer premium features in addition to the free ones.

You’re based in Germany, a country that has continuously been working on improving the ecosystem for startups in recent years. What’s one thing that still needs to be worked on?

My impression is that the level of support you get within the startup ecosystem depends less on Germany as a country, but more on the city or region in which your startup is located. SurveyCircle, for instance, is a Mannheim-based startup in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. I am quite happy with the municipal and regional ecosystem there.

What I would wish for at a government level, is a less complicated tax treatment for small startups in their first years of business. Also, I think that properly accounting the social insurance contributions of employees, interns, and working students is way more complicated than it should be for young startups.

What’s one piece of advice you can give to fellow founders for their startup?

One piece of advice would be: once you’ve thought your business idea through and founded your startup, stay optimistic that it will work out in the end. This really helps in keeping up your good spirits. And even if you get negative feedback every once in a while, this should not be a reason to immediately doubt your overall concept.



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