Streetbees is rapidly emerging as an innovative pioneer in helping organisations better understand consumer behaviour. The application of machine learning and natural language processing to consumer data is providing new and more accurate insights than is possible from traditional surveys and methodologies. In this conversation with Streetbees founder and CEO, Tugce Bulut, we discuss the origins of the firm, how it helps clients, some of the challenges they have faced and where data-driven marketing may be heading over the next 5 years.
Martin: Your company describes itself as “The world’s first human intelligence platform”. What does that mean in the context of the marketing solutions you provide?
Tugce: Streetbees exists to decode human behaviour. It is not an insights, market research or consulting business – what we’re building has never been done before.
Instead of relying on how people claim they behave and controlling the answers they can give, we capture authentic moments in people’s lives within the natural flow of activity. Our users, or bees, have conversations with us through our app – sharing as much or as little as they wish, through open text, photos and videos.
By applying machine learning and advanced natural language processing technology to the data, our platform uncovers not just what people do, but also why they do it, and what drives them – and predicts what they may do next.This process transforms rich, in the moment data into actionable insights for brands, giving customers rich insights into communities – about the everyday feelings, hopes, desires and frustrations of real people, anywhere in the world. For the first time, it’s possible to combine the richness of qualitative research with the scale of quantitative – allowing for an entirely new level of understanding of how and why people do what they do.
Martin: Could you briefly outline the origins of Streetbees and why it was founded?
Tugce: 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 weren’t good enough. Turns out, big corporates don’t make billion-dollar decisions based on assumptions and guesswork – and that resulted in massive launch campaigns being pulled.
This situation didn’t make sense. There were millions of people in these markets, all already interacting with goods and services, who would share information with us if we asked them to. Maybe they would even share photos and videos too if we engaged with them and incentivised them. Then, we’d have a huge amount of rich data that would really allow us to understand how people lived and behaved, and we could make accurate decisions about what they’d buy.
However, every research company said the idea was either impossible or would cost a ridiculous amount. Instead, they suggested we rely on outdated, ineffective methods like surveys and panels – which my clients had already tried, and were sick to death of.
So, in 2015, I started Streetbees with £5,000 of my own money, looking to create a solution that would collect real stories from people, including photo and video content, and let brands access the detail within people’s lives. We reached out to some of the largest FMCG companies in the world, and they got excited about the prospect pretty quickly.
Martin: What are some examples of how Streetbees has helped clients over the last 12 months?
Tugce: Streetbees was one of the first to launch a COVID-19 solution that allows companies and organisations to keep their finger on the pulse of how people were changing their purchasing and consumption habits due to the pandemic. With data going as far back as January 26, 2020 and updated on a weekly basis, Streetbees has been able to show the true evolution of consumer decision making, behaviour and emotional wellbeing.
The level of trust and engagement Streetbees has built with its users – or ‘bees’ – over the years means that it’s able to provide a unique insight into people’s raw and unfiltered responses to the pandemic.
Streetbees’ Always ON platform captures real life experiences across dozens of markets around the world with in-depth conversations and in the moment stories with photos and video chats. We are able to provide global coverage, flexibility and comparable benchmarks side by side.
The solution is supporting both clients and consumers, for example highlighting the dangerous health remedies people have been taking to prevent COVID-19 infection, allowing OTC brands to better educate consumers.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Streetbees has also played a critical role for national health services and nonprofits, allowing them to understand how consumer fears and mental health have been evolving through the pandemic.
Martin: What are the technical skills you find it most difficult to recruit for?
Tugce: Technical skills rarely pose a challenge when hiring new team members. We hire the best of the best, and over the years we’ve cultivated an environment that attracts top talent.
What can take more time is ensuring the culture fit is right for both sides. You can’t just rewire someone’s values to match those of the company if they are fundamentally misaligned. This is why we integrate our core values into every aspect of the business – including interviews – to make sure everyone is working towards the same goals.
Martin: As the UK transitions to a new data protection arrangement with the EU, what are some of the key challenges and/or opportunities for your company and the UK’s digital marketing sector in general?
Tugce: While the new arrangement will result in big changes for a number of businesses, I’m confident that it will have little impact on Streetbees.
Streetbees’ has always given full control to our bees over their data – it’s one of our fundamental principles that will never change. Rather than tasks, we ask our community to share their stories with us. 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. And of course, all data is automatically anonymised.
Streetbees is also ISO (International Organization for Standardization) accredited, which recognises that our data is compliant with the best practices in maintenance, protection and processing.
Martin: Marketing has been transformed by the digital revolution over the last 20 years. What are some of the greatest opportunities over the next 5 years for brands in the context of data-driven marketing?
Tugce: The biggest transformation we’re going to see is how data is understood and used by businesses.
Digitalisation of market research and the insights industry is not new – but the past year has made it even clearer how important having fully digitised consumer intelligence really is.
There is so much data out there that the challenge isn’t on collection. The greatest breakthroughs currently happening are on the technology side using AI and Machine Learning. Machines are required to do the heavy lifting when it comes to making sense of all this data – pulling out the insights and providing the user with actionable, tangible results.
A fundamental part of marketing is being able to create empathy and authenticity. By being able to trust the insights they’ve got and focus their time on translating them into business objectives and strategies, marketers will be able to build far more meaningful connections with consumers.
That’s where Streetbees comes in. Consumers talk to us in the moment and in their own words, which allows us to uncover the emotions and context behind their decisions.
Martin: In the last 6 months you have raised $46.7m from 2 funding rounds. How do you plan to use these investments?
Tugce: First and foremost, we will be using the capital to significantly increase our data acquisition and further enhance our machine learning capabilities. This is not only good news for the brands we work with but also our bees – because it means there’ll be up to 10 times more stories in the app for them to take part in. We already have millions of bees around the world who share real-life moments with us – when they’re eating, drinking, doing their nine-step beauty routine, or booking a virtual HIT class.
We are also expanding into new sectors – media & entertainment, and financial services. Media companies have a wealth of data about what content consumers consume, but they have little insight into what else they’re doing at the time. For instance, do you know what food is most popular when watching The Queen’s Gambit, or who you watch The Mandalorian with? Streetbees’ Always ON platform provides the full view of what’s happening in people’s lives and homes, in their own words. This can help better position product partnerships, as well as media buying strategies.
In order for all this to happen, of course, we need to quickly scale our team, with a specific focus on increasing our presence outside of EMEA. We’ve recently appointed our first GM for North America, Sebastian Hempstead, who will be responsible for developing our operations in the US. Hempstead has been successfully scaling up operations for fast-growth businesses since 2009. He has a proven track record in both leadership and sales, and has helped UK-based companies Brandwatch and Idio achieve success in the US.