Q: Terence, you spent your whole life in the market research industry (or as now they call it the insights industry), can you share with readers what the market research industry does?
The Market Research Industry is a subset of the broader Marketing world. Essentially every company strategy around product, messaging or pricing generally should come from an informed understanding of the target market. Companies in our sector deliver that understanding using a systematic method of research. Historically it was always called “Market Research” because it highlighted the process around gaining this understanding. However, a shift to calling it “Insights” highlights the value proposition in our space. OpinionRoute’s role is in the data collection and fraud prevention phase in quantitative research. We support Research companies directly with our technology and service.
Q: After 10+ years working for a variety of companies in the market research industry, you ended up starting your business in the space. What prompted you to become an entrepreneur and how did you come up with the idea of OpinionRoute?
For years, I’ve held leadership positions with the biggest data collection companies in the industry. That gave me a front-row seat to a transition in our world toward automation. This transition can be bumpy in a people-based business like ours. While all of the advances have brought value to our industry, it also opened the door to a lot of new problems, particularly big ones around fraud. Since the clients didn’t really understand why all of this “bad data” was starting to show up consistently, I really felt like research firms needed help in fighting the threats to the data, but also to help them evolve and take advantage of the “new world”. So, when I began the firm in 2013, that was our operating concept and it’s very surreal and fun to see how that concept became so alive through our organization and offering.
Q: One of the most fascinating things about your story is moving to Cleveland with absolutely no connections here. Why did you decide to start OpinionRoute in Cleveland and what was the biggest adjustment coming from New York to Ohio?
First off, I felt that I couldn’t make a proper effort on my startup idea unless we reduced our personal overhead and gave myself some runway. The NY/NJ market is amazing, but you pay for it in so many ways. It didn’t feel conducive to founding a startup there. So, my wife, Heather, and I started brainstorming on new markets for us to consider and Cleveland became a top option almost immediately. I know it’s hard to believe if you’re from here, but for someone like me, this is almost a too-good-to-be-true situation. It’s a great community that feels like a small town. But it’s also full of big city features like the sports, food and culture. From a business context, OpinionRoute has really flourished here and I wouldn’t trade our employees here for anything.
Our family’s transition to settling into Northeast Ohio took longer than I expected. I hadn’t considered before we moved how Cleveland residents generally grew up here. So many families in our community have multi-generational ties. That left us feeling like outsiders for a while. I sort of took for granted in New York how common it was for people to move around. So, while our bumpy introduction was real, it’s also ancient history because we feel like we’re part of the fabric now. In fact, I hope down the road all of my kids find a way to come back “home” to Cleveland after college so we can make this the base for our Family Tree.
Q: How has the pandemic affected both your business and workforce?
Our business is one that can transition to work from home pretty seamlessly. It made sense for me to make that call to close our offices early in March. For our people, I think that provided “one less thing” to worry about as this whole situation unfolded and they measured the impact on their lives. I’ve tried hard to keep in our people foremost on my mind this whole time. The best thing I felt I could do is make sure that everyone in our company knew that family over work was a norm and an expectation.
On the business side, while it hasn’t been easy, our decision in 2019 to invest in technology products turned out to be wise. Just before the virus hit the US, we rolled out a new technology solution named CleanID, which has quickly distinguished itself as the best device-based fraud prevention solution in survey research. During the pandemic we have sold many subscription deals around this product that we’ll be announcing in coming weeks. This has been a huge boost for us through this wild time.
Q: What keeps you busy on the weekends?
My kids are really in the sweet spot for a lot of things as they range in age from 8-16 years old. It may sound sappy, but I always told my wife since we got married that I wanted to be the Dad that coached my kids’ teams. When we lived throughout the NYC area, I really never got the chance to do that at all because the awful commutes kept me from getting home at any reasonable time. I could never commit to anything outside of work. The move to Cleveland has activated that aspect of my life in a big way. Since we’ve moved here, I’ve been able to coach all 4 of my kids in sports across CYO and the local Upward basketball league. By doing this, I’ve met some of the greatest guys I’ve known- other Dads who are equally committed to their kids. It’s just another proof point that we made the right call by moving here.