At the risk of deviating somewhat from the tone of our previous communications, we wanted this update to be candid yet analytical on one hand, straight-forward yet synoptic on the other.
And here is why:
Let’s not beat about the bush: if we waited this long to publish this update, it is because we were, candidly, busy treading this phase of our project most carefully. And because every day that went by comforted in knowing that we, as project managers, had not strayed from our trajectory.
Navigating the treacherous waters of an emerging industry which, by definition, has yet to identify its beacons and draw up its charts can be, well, nerve racking. In fact, my two cents on the matter is that it’s not just us, as VETRI. More likely, as an industry, we are entering a new phase of growth where every blockchain project out there and still alive is simply having to do just that: Tread carefully.
The way we see it and the reason for it is twofold:
Firstly, until perhaps recently, it has been a much talked about criticism of the industry that most blockchain project have, thus far, failed to convince as to how they plan to transition from a white paper, or a broad and ambitious vision, to markets, and from markets to sustainable business models.
VETRI, admittedly, was no notable exception. Except, perhaps, for one thing. One differentiating element, which, at the time, two years ago, was nothing short of penalising for the project. And it is to be found in use case number I, which addresses the Research and Survey markets. Needless to say we got rather close to being ridiculed at the time.
In spite of recent ROI’s in this segment, the Paying Survey business is hardly a sexy business. For one, most people reading this do not relate to the very individuals who, by regularly dedicate time to this activity, make this business possible.
“Sexy”. Yes, that was the word being used then. If it is not sexy now, it certainly was not then. Two years ago, some of our peers were selling “AI stacking for IOT data” and “beyond zero- knowledge proof solutions” and promising riches that we, as VETRI, could not possibly substantiate. I vividly remember the time when, just as we were announcing our first milestone on our roadmap (our current product) and how it vividly contrasted with our peers´ own, blindingly “sexy” minimum viable product. One that was expected to be released contemporaneously to ours.
Please do not understand me wrong. We are not declaring victory over anything or anyone. Simply, we are expressing a sigh of relief at the thought that part of “go-to-market” strategy actually involves a relevant, existing market rather than a relevant, hypothetical one.
But proceeding in a slow fashion doesn’t quite sum up to proceeding with caution. That’s why we added a dash of methodology into the mix. The way we went about it is simply by deconstructing the best we could the industry we were about to help disrupt, as the theory went. But how? And starting with what?
´The market research industry – from VETRI’s economic perspective´
Friendly reminder: VETRI’s economic perspective, and to a large degree blockchain’s, is one where market participants, from suppliers to consumers and from enablers to disablers, are seen and analysed through the unforgivable, dissecting lens of the value chain. Put differently: in any given market, are participants adding, releasing value, or quite the contrary, are they capturing or consuming value?
When it comes to the research and survey market, we have distinguished three main market categories, that encompasses three different kinds of companies:
- By far the dominant category, made up of global, mostly listed companies (approx. 10), characterised primarily by the attributes of today’s incumbents: plateauing growth, inflexible cost base, decreasing EBITA, eroding market share. These companies, until recently and still today to a certain extent, operate on the same traditional model that existed when they were founded, one relying heavily on “proprietary” pools of respondents, often acquired and maintained at great costs and for a specific purpose, target, or segment (see prior posts). Decades of market dominance (+50% of global market), disproportionate operational cost base and sluggish growth have all been reflected in their stock prices of late.
That said, as market leaders they still command premium pricing, as their perceived added value remains relatively high. Added value, as expected, consists in a large part of intangibles, as trusted brands often able to provide corporate and governmental clients with independent sophisticated, highly reliable surveys displaying decades of accumulated know-how and techniques.
- Parallel to this market, and since their inception, niche players have been flourishing around the world, and have increasingly occupied the space where economies of scale was not available: sector specific or jurisdiction specific research, or better yet, both overlapping. Think political, medial, genomic research for instance. Essentially, they operate on similar model as the traditional giants in category I, just on a smaller scale and on a pricing structure that is quite different. More pertinently, both category I and II have suffered the consequences of significantly inflated variable costs as a direct result of GDPR implementation.
- Last but not least, the “new kids” on the block: mostly VC funded companies operating on a business model that social networks and their affiliates gave birth to. Contrastingly to the two types described above, they operate on a lean and mean structure, driven by technology and the huge scalability potential it generates. Instead of dedicating operational costs to maintain of proprietary pools, they rely on partners for respondent acquisition (defined as anyone with a user base or sustained eyes balls, from Instagram influencers to media content to software providers). Often recruited from the GAFA’s, highly skilled developers apply their well-honed skills to the point that in just a few years, these players became leaders in their own rights, eroding huge chunks of market shares from the big 10 and putting pressure on pricing. Their rapid growth and profitability attracted significant funding as well, as did the GAFA’s.
Important to note that companies in this category are not in the business of crafting surveys, but simply aggregate them and provide targeted audiences for anyone with a survey to fill, for a fee that serves to remunerate both themselves and their partners. This model is indeed still struggling to implement a coherent rewards system for respondents.
So in which case(s) can VETRI and projects like it help or even disrupt? ALL OF THE ABOVE. For category I VETRI can bring down costs of acquiring, maintaining, verifying respondents by up to 90%. All the while increasing reliability. Furthermore, as remunerated surveys are increasingly becoming the only game in town, VETRI provides the payment infrastructure. Last but not least, new revenue models are becoming possible (on that I cannot say much more.)
For the second category, benefits brought on by VETRI are the same, more or less, with more of an impact on the overall business. That being said, the upside that is most relevant for this category of players resides in the fact that VETRI will greatly facilitate the acquisition of new kinds of target users, and thereby come closer to representing real demographics.
For the third category, VETRI is mostly yet another amplifier, albeit a potential very important one, as well a cost-effective payment system.
It is no surprise then that in the last 6 weeks since we completed our pilot, every door we knocked on of every leader of every category got flung wide open, and fast. Except for one. The response there was even better, they told us we were a real threat to their business and needed to coordinate response. But that’s all we got: traction like I’ve never seen in almost 20 years spent in M&A and in Private Equity. That, and, two draft agreements received from desired partners hours before this was published.
Our goal before year end is to crystallise a consortium of 3-5 founding members and to co-develop VETRI SURVEY & RESEARCH 2.0 jointly with them. To represent all categories, even category III, and of course to hedge our bets in case some drop out or don’t adhere to our terms.
As you may have gathered, along with the utility and the project that we intend to co-develop with our Founding Partners will come at least two overarching conditions, essential to both token economics and the growth of user base.
- User on-boarding, at no costs, needed and wanted by members of the consortium for panel maintenance and verifications.
- Sustained and growing acquisition of VLD ‘s to fund members’ transition to users’ reward system.
Needless to say the potential complexities, sensitivities and potential implications, contractually and economically, can make one’s head spin. Unless we proceed in tranches and with bite size scopes of agreement, in manageable markets. For these very pragmatic reasons, expect upcoming agreement to happen progressively and first be limited in scope, in space and in time.
Furthermore, better safe than sorry is my response to the level of transparency we will, at times, able to afford with our community, particularly with respect to on going negotiations on strategic alliances, etc. Without being presumptuous, when faced with industry resistance, keeping one’s powder dry appears as a wise course of actions. Blockchain and its applications is a disruptive technology. As we very much intend to succeed, we very much intend to contribute to what some market actors will perceive as disruptive. And VETRI also needs to gear up for some headwinds at times. But if the positive progress that we have recently witnessed keeps its pace, we should be embarking on an exciting 2020. After all, what’s not to love about VETRI?