“We will see consumers speaking to us more through videos, images and open text”: Interview with Streetbees CEO Tugce Bulut

Do you ever wonder why people really choose your product or service? It might not actually be your snazzy website or sales pitch. It could be because visiting your shop made the customer feel nostalgic, or because they overheard someone on the bus mention your company. There are millions of possibilities, and Tugce Bulut, founder and CEO of Streetbees, is on a mission to find out all of them.

Streetbees is a ‘next gen’ market research startup that lets real people record by video, photo and text the reasoning behind their decisions, to bring rich insights for companies. Its creator Tugce Bulut (who we recently included in our TOP 50: Europe’s most influential women in the startup and venture capital space list) has grown a community of 3.4 million users – or ‘bees’ – across 189 countries, and is backed by renowned investors and entrepreneurs. Sounds interesting? Then read on! 

Hello Tugce! Thank you for joining us, we are excited about diving into your story and finding out more about Streetbees. To start off, could you tell us how the idea came to you? 

As a consultant, I helped the world’s largest companies launch new products in developing markets. But one issue kept cropping up; we couldn’t find data that we trusted, because existing market research solutions simply weren’t good enough. All the data was based on claimed behaviour, and collected long after the moment of choice. This situation didn’t make sense. 

So, in 2015, I started Streetbees to create a solution that would collect real stories from people around the world, including photo and video content – revealing how people behave, and why.

We heard you talking about ‘conversational research’ and ‘unstructured data’ before. Could you tell us more about how Streetbees collects feedback from the bees? 

At Streetbees, we put our bees at the heart of everything we do – we want them to have full control over their data, and let them share as much or as little as possible, in their own words. We’ve built an incredible level of trust with our users – and that’s something Streetbees will never compromise. 

In the age of WhatsApp and Instagram, people are used to sharing content – but unlike these platforms, Streetbees isn’t public. It takes away the pressure of creating an idealised view of people’s lives – allowing them to post the genuine, raw and unfiltered moments. 

How do you then analyse all this data into useful insights for companies? 

Streetbees uses natural language processing on unstructured data gathered – photos, videos and open text – to find what people want and what really matters to them. Deep neural networks are then used to cluster similar demand choices together – free from human bias – and can pick up growth opportunities and consumption trends that were previously unavailable. 

As Streetbees is accessible on the smartphone of the ‘bees’, this allows for a kind of unfiltered and real-time honesty about the products and service they’re consuming. What else makes Streetbees unique from other market research platforms out there? 

Streetbees is expanding the scope in what’s possible in the research and insights space – no longer do companies have to choose between quantitative and qualitative data, because of our technology they can have both at the same time. 

On top of this, we’re able to move much faster than our competitors – our response to the COVID-19 pandemic is one example. As a technology startup, we’re able to adapt and innovate at a rate traditional research companies struggle with. 

You have already 3 million ‘bees’ giving their feedback in 189 countries! How do you incentivise signing up, and what kind of feedback do you get from your bees about why they stay? 

Streetbees is a marketplace and our value is both to the client and the consumer. The primary reason why our bees engage is because they enjoy sharing moments and stories from their lives through the app. When we ask them to share a story that takes a bit of their time or effort, then we have a fair pay policy and we pay the equivalent of a living wage for their time in any given country. 

With so much data coming in, how do you make sure the ‘bees’ have control of what they share? 

The beauty of open text questions is that our bees can choose how much to write – we don’t put any limits or requirements on these answers. The control is always in their hands, and this isn’t going to change. 

Digitalisation of market research and consumer insights isn’t a new process – but obviously the current situation in the world has made the need for fully digitalised and real-time consumer intelligence very obvious. Therefore, we’re going to see an acceleration in the coming years, particularly in the following three areas:
  1. Increased emphasis on foresight rather than just data collection/gathering. There is so much data out there – no one is suffering from lack of data right now. It’s the insights and analytics where the tech is needed, by using automation and smart technologies to make sense of that data that’s coming from so many sources. Some of that has already started – but we’re going to increasingly see machines doing a lot of the heavy lifting – it won’t replace the job of insights professionals, but their role will focus more on providing recommendations from those insights and helping the organisation to execute them.
  2. Complete digitalisation of data collection. Surveys will become a thing of the past – it was already a dying form of research but this will be sped up. Face to face/door to door surveys will disappear. We will see consumers speaking to us more through videos, images and open text – in line with the way they consume media today.
  3. Full automation of the entire research process. If we want people to talk to us in their own words, it’s going to require automation in how we ask the questions. Natural language understanding (NLU) is getting closer to near real-time capabilities – imagine a conversation where the NLU can understand what people are saying and adapt the questions in response. This help us get deeper and deeper and uncover the unconscious thoughts of consumers.

Finally, how has the current pandemic affected Streetbees, and do you have any advice for startups in the same sector on how to stay afloat? 

While many startups have been struggling with the past few months, Streetbees has been in a very unique position thanks to our ability to adapt and our overall business model.

As we have bees all around the world, we wanted to know how the pandemic is impacting their lives and psychological well being. From this grew our COVID-19 Human Impact Tracker which is already being used by a number of the world’s biggest consumer brands – and we’ve been able to provide free access to a number of nonprofits and government organisations including Amnesty International, the NHS, and London Mayor’s Office.

My advice is to always keep your eye on the opportunities and what COULD happen, not just what IS happening. Even in times of crisis or slump, remember that the next big win is always just around the corner.