‘As part of our ongoing effort to improve our services, we invite you to participate in a survey at the end of this call.” Such automated messages, as well as smiling staff with clipboards asking us for “just five minutes of your time”, are enough to send most of us running to the hills.
But what if there was a way to offer feedback on goods and services with a few simple taps on your smartphone, in your own time, with no need to interact with a live or automated customer service agent?
And what if, instead of a free dessert with your next meal, your feedback is rewarded with actual money?
Such was the vision behind TaskSpotting, the UAE’s first business-focused crowd sourcing app, launched last year by Karim Aly and Dirk Stevens after completing their MBAs at Insead in Abu Dhabi.
Launched in July of last year, the app offers users a series of “missions” to perform at selected retail outlets – including asking about local offers, answering a few questions or taking a picture of a display item – and getting rewarded with credits that can be turned into cash.
The idea for TaskSpotting was born out of frustrations with traditional methods of gathering market intelligence in the UAE and the wider region.
“The pattern we saw was the same for a large corporation with deep pockets or for a start-up bootstrapping and trying to stay afloat – namely that market intelligence feedback data is really, really difficult to get,” says Mr Aly, who has previously worked with both types of company.
“Not only that, the data that was available was questionable at best, very expensive and very slow, so these were frustrations for me from a professional perspective.”
Mr Aly’s solution to the problem? Outsourcing it to the crowd.
“While we were at Insead, we started to see how crowdsourcing has really taken off on a peer-to-peer level, and started wondering about how we could leverage this enormous power that the crowd has to create value for businesses.”
While sites like Kickstarter have been part of the mainstream in the US and the other markets for years, TaskSpotting was initially greeted with scepticism upon its launch last year, given the relative novelty of crowdsourcing enterprises.
But the app’s user base has grown steadily, as word spread of the possibilities of earning extra cash for completing simple surveys on customer experience.
“At this stage we’re pretty comfortable and the mindset is shifting,” says Mr Aly.
“Once people started using the app and started getting rewarded for doing so it grew in popularity, and we’ve been growing organically since then.”
“Last year The National ran an article about a husband and wife who went out and performed two dozen missions one weekend and collectively earned over Dh1,000. At that point we saw a huge spike in downloads and usage and the scepticism dissipated.”
The app now has more than 40,000 regular users, who are regularly called upon by big- name brands including Mars, Unilever, Ikea and Estée Lauder to give feedback on consumer products and services.
Typical users of the app include stay-at-home mothers and housewives, as well as airline cabin crews and other shift workers who will complete missions to earn a little extra money during their down time.
“There’s a large base of students that use the service regularly, as well as a subset of highly educated professionals between 30 to 40, who are really keen and who aren’t shy about sharing their opinions,” says Mr Aly.
The company has developed a series of algorithms to prevent people gaming the app, but is keen to keep the user feedback and responses as authentic as possible.
“Brands have sometimes been concerned about getting negative feedback that they believe reflects poorly on them,” says Mr Aly.
“Our response is that if the feedback is authentic, it gives them the opportunity to react in a positive way by getting proper information and taking action.”
While consumer packaged goods manufacturers like Mars and Unilever are the biggest users of the app, TaskSpotting has also been used by the likes of automotive companies, government agencies, as well as entrepreneurs looking to get feedback from the crowd on the viability of their business ideas.
TaskSpotting, which has now expanded to 12 people, is doing “phenomenally well commercially”, says Mr Aly, declining to share details about revenue growth and profitability.
The company announced this month that it has passed the US$1.2 million funding milestone, from investors including Mena Venture Investments, the investment fund of Aramex founder Fadi Ghandour, a Saudi institutional investor, and a number of UAE-based high net worth individuals.
The next moves for TaskSpotting include the launch of services in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and a redesigned app that will further deepen the interaction between brands and consumers.
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