After you graduated from WHU in 2015, you went straight on to found PollPool – how did you come up with the idea?
During our final semester at WHU, we had a hard time finding enough participants for a survey we conducted for a case study. We were surprised by how much time, effort, and money (by means of vouchers) students put into finding the right respondents; mostly without success – the entire process was ridiculously inefficient.
Flooded by emails from classmates asking us to participate in their surveys, we realized that the same issue must be troubling students all over Germany and in other countries. We figured that by connecting these people, everyone would benefit equally from not only access to enough respondents, but also the diverse backgrounds that everyone brings to the table – the idea of PollPool was born.
What is PollPool and how does it work?
The concept of PollPool is built on a simple sharing-economy approach: Users publish their surveys on our platform and choose their target group. In order to receive responses, users must then participate in other surveys themselves in exchange. By assigning each survey with a “PollCoin” price – a currency we use to standardize the length of research projects – we ensure that users get rewarded with own research respondents for the time they take for filling out others.
PollPool therefore is an efficient solution for one of the most significant challenges students face when working on their theses: Finding enough research respondents quickly and without financial costs.
Who are your clients and how do they benefit from PollPool?
PollPool is a cost-free alternative to common research panels and therefore targets cost-sensitive researchers. Most of our users are students working on case studies and theses, professors and PhD students conducting empirical research, and start-ups in need of quantitative market intelligence.
What was the most challenging part of setting up PollPool?
One key challenge right at the beginning of developing PollPool was to listen to our clients carefully enough. After conceptualizing and developing the platform during our final semester at WHU, we went live with a product that didn’t show the expected traction. We unsuccessfully tried competing with established players in the online survey market instead of focusing on our identified niche; providing needed survey respondents at no financial cost. It took us quite some time and frustration to acknowledge that we had to realign our service. Only after relaunching our platform with a leaner, more focused service offering, did we see the strong growth and foundation of today’s success.
"The biggest reward is the thrill of identifying an issue, tackling it with a self-developed approach, and seeing it either fail or succeed in real life."
What was the most rewarding part of setting up PollPool?
Founding a start-up is rewarding in itself, but of course “the firsts” such as the first user, first survey completion and first revenue were all very rewarding milestones. Following the initial market entry phase, we started to close more sophisticated partnerships with academic institutions and research institutes. The entire process of cold calling, negotiating, and deal closing for your own company is something quite special and memorable.
More generally, the biggest reward is the thrill of identifying an issue, tackling it with a self-developed approach, and seeing it either fail or succeed in real life. Whether this is about the product, tech-design, UX, or partnerships doesn’t really matter in the end as you always end up learning something.
In which ways did studying at WHU help you realize your first idea of creating PollPool into an actual business?
Part of WHU’s core teaching is to look at every aspect of life with an entrepreneurial mindset. Living in Vallendar for three years, one can’t help but adapt – at least partially – to this mindset. The classes and case studies obviously played their part in acquiring the necessary basic skillset, but the schools’ campus life and people were the most significant factors.
The unique aspect about WHU really is its environment that strongly encourages and assists students who seek to found new ventures. Both peers and professors are highly supportive by providing you with feedback on your initial idea, helping you with the design of the product or service, and eventually developing a strategy to launch in the market.
"The unique aspect about WHU is its environment that strongly encourages and assists students who seek to found new ventures."
What are your plans (with or without PollPool) going forward?
We are currently in an exciting stage where we are shifting our efforts towards building strong partnerships within the academic and private market research sector. We collaborate with a wide range of organizations – from research institutes, consulting firms, to career platforms – to increase our user base and widen our service offering. Another focus lies on the international expansion of our service. Originally limited to the German-speaking market, our international user base is now growing particularly fast and we want to drive this expansion further.
What three pieces of advice would you give students who are interested in founding their own business?
1) Don’t necessarily attempt to disrupt an entire industry. Sometimes, the most-promising ideas are those that are strongly positioned in a niche. You might not be founding the next Facebook – but your venture may over time grow into a champion in its own market.
2) Consider all funding sources, and don’t forget that external funding right at the beginning comes at a price – you will give away equity and find yourself chased by investors.
3) It’s not solely about growing exponentially. Steady organic growth can help you to develop the product, strategy and reputation of your business more sustainably – you might end up with a much more resilient company.