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These Brothers Just Sold Their Market Research Startup To The World's Largest Student-Run Company

PUBLISHED ON FEB 20, 2018 @ 11:53 AM | FORBES: UNDER 30

User research for companies can be time-consuming and lead to low-quality feedback from the study’s participants. Two brothers have worked to improve the consumer user experience (UX) and marketing research for Millennials and Gen Z, leading to their startup being acquired by the world’s largest student-run agency.

Riley Soward was a senior in high school when he participated in a consumer research interview.

“I found the experience to be genuinely uncomfortable,” Soward said.

He was placed in a drab, small room with a one-way mirror to his right. Product managers were observing the interview from behind the glass. His interviewer, a man in his 40s, drilled the high school senior with a barrage of questions. The interview quickly turned into an interrogation. By the end of the interview, Riley was exhausted and unhappy. He left the room disappointed, as he felt there was a better way in getting his feedback about the company’s product.

Riley shared his frustrations with his older brother, Stephen. Stephen, then a junior at the University of Michigan, had never gone through a market research interview. After hearing Riley’s story, he never wanted to either. Yet, the two realized that UX & marketing research could be conducted in an improved fashion. With companies depending on honest and genuine feedback about their products, they cannot afford to have a consumer research process that negatively impacts participants as it’s being conducted. The brothers saw this unaddressed problem persisting in consumer research.

Their solution was Campus Insights.

Campus Insights is a student-run “Gen Z and Millennial UX & marketing research” startup. The startup specializes in improving the consumer research process by offering video interviews that are moderated by students, for companies. Initially, the two founders ran around their respective colleges (Riley, at the time a freshman at Boston College, and Stephen, a junior at Michigan) conducting video camera interviews by hand.

They then moved on from that to conducting interviews over Skype and Google Hangouts. Some would be one-on-one about a product. Others were a group interview concerning a particular service. The Campus Insights team aimed to moderate anywhere from five to twenty interviews for each client they worked with. The startup focused on delivering clear, actionable insights through sleek presentations and a concise highlight reel of their findings.

The startup’s efforts were paying off as it continued to deliver value to its clients and became a leading Gen Z and Millennial consumer research firm. The most inspiring fact about Campus Insights was that Riley and Stephen continued to manage the startup’s rapid growth primarily as students. Juggling college and entrepreneurship for the two was not easy. Late nights, missed classes, and forgotten extracurriculars started to take its toll on the two and their fellow team members. Yet, Campus Insights persisted. The lack of concrete obligations as college students allowe

d them to focus their time on the startup. Being in college allowed them to target their core demographic, Gen Z and Millennials. Also, having access to alumni as mentors and advisors for their startup was invaluable. Riley and Stephen found college was a great opportunity to take risk in building their consumer research firm.

Their risk paid off as Campus Insights was acquired earlier this year by Harvard Student Agencies (HSA).

HSA was the perfect acquirer of Campus Insight in the Soward brothers’ eyes. The Harvard-based firm was the largest student-run company in the world. The brothers knew that they wanted Campus Insights to continue being student-run. Their startup being acquired by HSA guaranteed that particular outcome. Another reason was they saw a strong synergy between HSA and Campus Insights. HSA has fifteen separate agencies under it, any of which Campus Insights can collaborate with to enhance its product offering to potential clients. The last key reason for Campus Insights’ acquisition by HSA was the latter’s strong international presence. By leveraging HSA’s foreign brand, Campus Insights could expand its offering to international firms as well.

Pleased with the acquisition of their startup, the two brothers are looking towards a bright future. Stephen will be joining an enterprise software company in a product insights management role. He’ll use his experience gained from Campus Insights to help make more customer-concentric products and experiences. Riley will be working on transitioning the Campus Insights team to HSA, and is starting to explore new startup opportunities. His time building Campus Insights has convinced him of his love of building teams at early-stage startups.

The Soward brothers have managed to evolve traditional consumer product and service research through Campus Insights. Under Harvard Student Agencies, the student-run Campus Insights will continue to make a greater impact on Millennial and Gen Z UX and market research.

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