FEATURE13 June 2011

A trader’s life

Features

Bo Mattsson has gone from trading securities with Swedbank to trading survey sample with Cint. Everyone has an opinion – and his company aims to convince them to sell it.

That he ended up in this position would probably have surprised the younger Mattsson who, fresh from school in 1985, got a job trading derivatives. He eventually wound up at Swedbank, a large retail bank in Sweden, where he worked with a colleague to rebuild a security brokerage.

“We created a culture where we traded everything,” he says. “Whether it was equity or bond, we quoted prices in everything, to competitors, to clients, to far-off investment banks, whatever – we wanted everybody to be our friend.”

That ethos, the desire to befriend as many companies as possible, also lies within Cint. The firm has grown by establishing partnerships with panel owners rather then owning its own panel assets, and sees its role as providing the infrastructure to connect buyers and sellers of respondent access.

Early steps
Trading sample is ultimately not so different from trading derivatives, bonds and equities. But the route Mattsson took to get there was circuitous.

The Cint that was born in 1999 is very different from the one operating today. After leaving Swedbank and building (and later selling) the net brokerage firm Eurotrade, Mattsson’s vision was of creating a review comparison site – similar to a price comparison site – where people could share their experiences of different products and services.

“There was no way that I was going to own a consultancy… The brains leave the office in the afternoon; it’s hard to scale and the product is in the hands of your employees”

“Obviously, we needed a business model,” he says, “but I was so naive I thought, ‘Hell, we cannot sell advertising space on this.” Mattsson worried that an ad for Nokia phones against reviews of Nokia phones would seed distrust in the mind of the site user. Instead it was decided that Cint would be sold as a “targeting machine”.

“We could create extremely well-targeted samples,” says Mattsson. “You could target down to the 24-year-old woman that yesterday bought herself a child-seat for her car, because she had gone online to write a review on it. So the idea was we were going to take that to the clients – whether market research agencies or end-clients, we didn’t much care.”

That initial plan was far from a roaring success. “We were able to get maybe five clients,” Mattsson recalls. Most potential buyers at that time, he says, viewed the idea of information taken from the internet with suspicion.

From there, Cint began to evolve into much more of a traditional research agency, finding that it was possible to make money from the internet data by adding a consultancy layer on top. But Mattsson – who had hired in an executive to run the business from its inception – disliked the way the business was heading.

It was in 2003, when Cint’s manager made a request to hire ten new consultants, that Mattsson called time on the strategy and joined the management team. “There was no way that I was going to own a consultancy,” he says. “Not that I don’t like consultants, but being the owner of a consultancy is seldom a good thing. The brains leave the office in the afternoon; it’s hard to scale and the product is in the hands of your employees.”

Trade skills
In looking around at where to go next, Mattsson saw the birth of the panel-providing business. Cint had struggled to sell its own targeted samples but new companies like Greenfield Online and Ciao were showing potential, Mattsson thought. “I said to myself, ‘If I’ve ever seen a commodity then this has to be it’ – access to consumers to answer any kind of survey.

“And so I thought about the next logical step, which is, if you have a commodity, how should you trade it? Well, you should trade it in an exchange-panel environment where you route orders from clients to suppliers, then just settle and clear. So that was kind of the start of things,” says Mattsson, “and in the beginning of 2005 we had the Cint Panel Exchange (CPX) up and running.”

Cint’s success has been in recognising what many of the research agencies who rushed to build their own online panels didn’t – that panels can be a bad investment. Not that they are not useful, but they cost a lot to recruit and maintain, and making them profitable means making sure they are being fully utilised – no easy task when clients have so many competing panels to pick and choose from.

“We want to connect everyone who has a question, large or small, to anyone wanting to give his or her opinion”

Through the CPX – which provides access to more than five million panellists across 40 countries – buyers are able to acquire sample from multiple panels, with a percentage of the cost going to whichever company ‘owns’ the respondent. In this way companies can generate additional revenue from their panel when they are not being used to run their own client-specific projects.

Cint’s partners are, by and large, research agencies or big internet media sites who have built their own panels, or have used Cint’s panel management tools to do so. Panel firms who own numerous panels and make their money by selling direct access to their respondents are reluctant to join the exchange, Mattsson says. “That doesn’t make sense to me because we could probably, together, make more money and raise their return on investment.”

But Mattsson doesn’t seem the sort to dwell on such missed opportunities. He’s excited about a new approach the company is currently testing in the US and Sweden that he hopes will increase the number of panellists within CPX – particularly those consumers who usually shun survey invites.

Local ties
Cint Direct Revenue is targeted at the smaller, more local end of the scale and aims to encourage organisations likes schools, sports teams, churches and other non-profits to build their own panels of members and supporters who can help raise money for the organisation by participating in surveys.

Mattsson’s hope is that the company has hit on a way to make it worthwhile for people to take surveys when otherwise they might refuse to do so, and that the idea will quickly spread within communities.

“What we’ve seen in Sweden, for the local youth clubs that have signed up, is that a dad involved in the local ice-hockey team, say, might also sit on the board of some small charity, so the charity will sign up to build its own panel and so on,” Mattsson says.

It’s still early days for the idea, with only 100 or so panels having been built, but Cint Direct Revenue more than anything perfectly encapsulates Mattsson’s ambition for Cint. “We want to connect everyone who has a question, large or small, to anyone wanting to give his or her opinion.”

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