Virtual Research: Former Chamberlain colleagues branch out
With 58 years of research between them, it didn’t take long for former Chamberlain Research employees Kevin Micklitz, Adam Jacobson, Jennifer Thelen, and Shawn Brady to branch out after company owner Sharon Chamberlain suddenly announced that she’d be closing her marketing research firm on Oct. 1.
Within 72 hours of Chamberlain’s news, the colleagues quickly assessed their passions, their fears, and the risks and potential rewards of striking out on their own. Having worked together for at least 12 years, they were well aware of the unique skills each could bring to a new mix. So on the day their former company closed, Sunseed Research, LLC took root.
Micklitz, managing partner, is the frontman, engaging clients and sharing information. Jacobson handles marketing and data management, and quickly established the new company’s name, which is based on the Golden Ratio, a 2,400-year-old design ratio and mathematical constant that he says embodies the company’s philosophy of combining art, science, and math into results. Thelen is the detail-oriented workhorse, and Brady handles the heavy lifting on IT, analytics, and infrastructure.
Sunseed is a virtual research company made possible by the changing face and pace of today’s online environment. “Physical location [in research] has become less and less important,” Micklitz explained, adding that one-way mirrors and focus group rooms are being trumped by virtual focus groups, and eight- to 12-week turnarounds are no longer practical in this instantaneous world. “People look for insights on a dime,” he said. “We’ve all trained ourselves to understand an issue, interpret it, design a strategy, and implement at the snap of a finger.”
While survey methods have changed industry-wide, cash flow management will be the company’s biggest challenge. Consequently, they’ll focus on larger projects – those generating $5,000 or more – and allow for some smaller jobs on an hourly basis. They don’t anticipate adding staff. “The most tempting thing to do is bring more people on,” Micklitz said. To help cover workload ebbs and flows, the partners are also contributing to a six-month cash reserve fund.
Sunseed will need about four projects in the field every month and three new customers each quarter to meet revenue expectations, according to Micklitz. “The lifetime value of any customer that we onboard will sustain our business.”
Competing for research dollars has reached a global scale, thanks to the Internet. “Just because we’re located here doesn’t mean the majority of our revenue will be derived from Madison,” he added. “We compete against the top players in the industry on a daily basis.” Sunseed has already landed two Fortune 500 accounts and is working on an international segmentation project for a Global 1,000 company. In all, 10 clients have been signed as of this writing.
The partners covered the cost of the necessary hardware and software, which, according to Micklitz, “approached six figures.” They also found online vendors to make their online collaborations possible. “That instant ability to connect [with each other] makes us wonder if we’ll ever have a brick-and-mortar place.”
Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here. If you are not already a subscriber to In Business magazine, be sure to sign up for our monthly print edition here.