Starting the gig in 2001, David Paull had been vice president of Market Strategies International for nearly a decade. But four years ago, when the company decided to move in another direction and sell off the business unit Paull had been running, it left the VP with a decision to make.
“It was a blow, but also an opportunity,” Paull said.
Paull ended up purchasing the business unit from MSI in 2008, and re-launched it as Dialsmith, a four-year-old Portland startup that’s been profitable since day one.
The six-person company got off the ground by helping brands survey customers and gather market research data with its offline Perception Analyzer System. But things really kicked into gear when Dialsmith diversified its product line, offering tools like Perception Analyzer Online and Slidemetrix, which provides real-time feedback for videos on websites.
The startup, which has worked with several big-name brands like ESPN, The Food Network and TED, also helped build a scoring and judging system for live sporting, entertainment and reality television events. ISX Scoring was recently featured at the PDXDrones Challenge and is commonly seen at action sports competitions.
We caught up with Paull to learn more about the company in this latest edition of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Through our tools and services, we provide the ability to collect and display continuous audience feedback for market research, audience engagement and live event scoring.
Inspiration hit us when … We realized that there were broader applications for our core offering outside of market research. Clients are now using our tools across different industries — whether it’s for engaging audiences at live events or online, or for scoring live events like action sports or pitch competitions.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap — for sure. We’ve had opportunities to secure external funding, but I’ve always felt that being self-funded is important because it gives us the ability to maintain control. I want to keep my focus on delivering a return on the investment and commitment our team has put in as opposed to focusing on delivering a return to a group of investors. It’s a strategy that has worked for us so far.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Obvious answer is the tools we develop. But in reality, we’ve been successful because our clients love what we do. We make their lives easier and allow them to deliver better results for their clients and stakeholders. We take on much of the heavy lifting during projects that customers would otherwise have to do themselves and we help them get results that make them the hero with their end clients. There’s not much in the way of secret sauce. It’s really just operating on the philosophy of being good people and good partners. We invest ourselves in our customers’ success and in return, we become successful.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: An aggressive strategy to identify and secure opportunities to work with clients and partners on highly visible projects — Food Network, CNN, CNBC, ESPN, X Games, TED, etc. While in some cases we agreed to provide tools and/or services at discount or at no cost in exchange for the exposure, we’ve also seen tremendous benefits from the visibility.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We’d love to go back and re-approach the first new product we developed under the Dialsmith banner. In hindsight, we recognize that we were too focused on just getting the product to market and not focused enough on developing one that we could effectively scale after we launched. But we’ve learned from this and now approach our development efforts with a more long-term plan in mind.
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: I’m thinking Bezos. Pretty sure we can’t afford him — not yet. We share a similar viewpoint on success being all about the customer.
Our world domination strategy starts when: From the moment we began diversifying from our core offline tool, the journey started. We took the first step by integrating the feature into online surveys with Perception Analyzer Online; then we took it out of the survey environment and made it embeddable on any website with Slidermetrix; next we’re looking at how it can be done through mobile and second screen components.
Rivals should fear us because: We’re laser-focused on doing what we do and not diluting that. We’re willing to leave potential opportunities on the table if they’re not the right fit so we can focus exclusively on those opportunities where we can clearly deliver wins for our clients.
We are truly unique because: We built a new business off of a technology with a 25-plus year legacy which has provided both advantages as well as challenges. Also, we’re proud to say we are fully self-funded; we make and deliver 100 percent on-shored, locally-sourced products, online services and SaaS tools; and we have been profitable from day one.
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: We had a mature product that had been in the market for years. We knew that we needed to expand and innovate in order to be a viable business for the long term which included forays into completely new industries that didn’t know us and that we knew little about.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Set personal agendas and egos aside. We’ve had to be patient when, at times, we didn’t want to be. We’ve taught ourselves to be a pragmatist in how we approach the difficult decisions we face every day in running this business.