FEATURE5 April 2019

Q&A with Barrie Brien, chief executive, Strat7

Data analytics Features M&A People UK

Private equity firm Horizon Capital has acquired data and analytics agencies ResearchBods and Bonamy Finch to form strategy group Strat7. Research Live caught up with chief executive Barrie Brien to find out more.

Barrie Brien

What was the background to the move – how did Strat7 come about?

I’d known the companies for a number of years – I was non-exec chair at Bonamy Finch and I knew the Research Bods guys as well. ResearchBods does a lot of data collection and customer insight and its clients were asking for more analytical insights into the data they’re collecting, and Bonamy Finch was happy to help in that area. Bonamy Finch was producing insight from the data analytics work it was doing, with more clients looking for activation of strategic insight.

Together they realised that there’s such a client demand for how to go from data collection to data enhancement. It’s not just about big data, it’s about having the right data, analytics, and a data strategy to make proper data-driven decisions, whether they’re business decisions about pricing or marketing decisions about what markets to go into, or branding or optimisation.

That was the sort of genesis of it. Talking to both teams and Michael Fisher who’s launching LiFE, the data enhancement offer; we’ve joined forces because we could see that this need is not going to diminish over the next five years – it’s only going to increase.

So Bonamy Finch and ResearchBods were already working together?

Yes. I first introduced them last spring, and they were starting to work with each other – referring clients to each other and seeing how they could share tools and methodologies.

Tell me a bit more about LiFE, which is launching as part of Strat7 – what does it do?

Rather than analysing survey data, LiFE will be pulling together data on about 95% of UK households and individuals and building up data points on them. There’s so much data you can buy in – whether it’s from the likes of Experian, cookie data, overlaying that with data from DVLA, electoral register data – and it’s using that data to enhance other information and data sources, such as transactional data, to understand the customer journey. Michael Fisher has been doing some of that for over a year as part of Bonamy Finch but he’s now officially launching it.

Horizon Capital has provided the investment – how will it be involved?

On a day-to-day basis, very little. It will be led by the management team of myself, the CFO that’s coming on board, and the managing directors of Bonamy Finch and ResearchBods: Jonathan Clough, Robin Hilton, Leigh Morris and Paul Carney. We’ll be running it on a day-to-day basis and then we’ll have a monthly board meeting with Horizon to give updates on how plans are progressing and how to accelerate growth from an investment perspective.

We are looking at another startup outside the UK that we can’t announce yet – hopefully [we will be able to] in the next four weeks. It’s a company hugely experienced in strategic advisory services to clients. There’ll be that type of startup investment as well as acquisitions – that’s where Horizon really will help us with growing the business, not just from an investment perspective but also from an M&A perspective.

What types of companies will you be looking to invest in or acquire?

Between Bonamy Finch and ResearchBods, we’re very strong on the data collection and data and insight analytics side, so it will be more in the strategic services – brand strategy, marketing strategy, customer engagement, customer analytics and performance marketing – using data to drive better business decisions and better strategic decisions. On that strategy side is where we will start to fill out a bit more.

What approach will you take in terms of how you work with clients?

We’re still very much individual businesses. We’ve already got a few clients that are working with two out of the three businesses. We’d ultimately love to see clients working with all three parts but that’s not always going to happen. So it’s about looking at the challenges and opportunities for the client and then what’s right from our central team, and how we’re going to service and look after that client. So it will be a real mixture. As a company, we are very much using the ‘one team, one company’ mantra, so it’s just about wrapping ourselves round those client opportunities.

How will existing clients be affected?

It’s absolutely business as usual for today’s clients but then looking at how we help them with their other needs as and when. For example, one client has already said they want to look at their community panel. They were originally one of Bonamy Finch’s clients and we’ve introduced them to ResearchBods – so it definitely broadens out the breadth of services we can offer our clients.

How have you made sure that staff are on board with this?

The management team are going to be co-owners of the business going forward, so we’re all shareholders, but more importantly, I truly believe in the culture of each of the businesses. It’s not about pushing companies and integrating them from a cultural perspective, it’s about valuing the expertise and specialisms in each of the businesses.

Why ‘Strat7’?

Finding a name is a difficult thing for businesses! The name’s either been filed at Companies House, or a website or an email address has been taken. The company vision is around providing better business decisions for our clients, and in today’s world consumers are creating more data through their behaviour, online journeys, what they’re sharing or their transactional data – they’re doing that seven days a week. The idea for a client to have one strategy day annually just makes no sense – we believe clients need to be reacting to that seven days a week. So Strat7 fell out of that.

What’s your biggest priority right now?

Going out to see all of our clients and talking to them about the breadth of services that we now have as Strat7, rather than just as the individual companies. We have a list of over 100 clients. We’ve got a very strong client base in Sweden, like Ikea, Volvo, H&M and Klarna, so talking to them about the community panels, for example, that we can now provide. Going to our clients and explaining what the Strat7 offer is – that’s probably our number one priority. Number two is doing that internally, and thirdly is looking at how we complete more of the gaps in the offer around investment, whether it’s organic or acquisitive.