For a long time, market research was a privilege for large companies, that could afford it. And it was a business for research institutes, that spent weeks or months telephoning consumers or interviewing them in pedestrian zones. The Hamburg-based startup Appinio has transferred market research into the mobile-digital age and made it affordable for everyone.
With Appinio, participants are asked questions via an app on their smartphone instead of via a call centre and paper questionnaires. This means, that even smaller companies can conduct targeted surveys for a low four-digit euro amount. "A democratisation of market research," says CEO Max Honig.
Not only the questions, such as opinions on products and services, but also the target groups such as age segments, places of residence, gender and habits are entered by the customers themselves in their survey request. The app is then used to address precisely the desired target group. Appinio has access to a pool of around 1.5 million app users. They answer the questions and receive coins in return, which they can exchange for vouchers or donate to social projects. The IT system of founders Jonathan Kurfess, Max Honig and Kai Granaß evaluates the statements of the survey participants at the end and creates an analysis for the client.
"This is the fastest and most representative market research in the world," says CEO Honig. This gives companies an almost real-time insight into the opinions of their target groups and enables them to make decisions accordingly. Several hundred surveys and projects are carried out every month. There are competitors such as GfK and Nielsen, but they have not yet been able to slow down the Hamburg-based company's success. "We have grown by an average of 100 per cent in recent years," Honig sums up. Since the company was founded, it has won over more than 2,000 customers, including prominent names such as VW, Netflix, Telekom and Coca Cola.
Appinio has been in the black for a long time and, with over 200 employees, is one of the big players in the Hanseatic startup scene. Founded in 2014 in a tiny storeroom, it has long since become a scaleup. Jonathan Kurfess came up with the original idea during his studies at the Hamburg School of Business Administration. "I wanted to give decision-makers in companies the opportunity to find out directly from their customers how to find a particular product as quickly as possible," recalls Kurfess. However, he was unable to convince anyone of his mission so quickly back then.
"When you claim to revolutionise market research as a 23-year-old, who has no relevant professional experience and has never worked in market research, you don't immediately find an open door," explains the founder. "I spent eight, nine, ten hours on the phone trying to get hold of customers – when in doubt, I sometimes claimed to be the managing director's cousin, so that I could at least talk to someone for three minutes, who had something to say."
The first customer was Jägermeister, who still had a small budget for market research at the end of the year. A hit. Since then, the company has grown rapidly. The rapid growth could be financed without capital from institutional investors. Only at the beginning did Appinio receive a small round of financing from business angels such as Michael Trautmann and Matthias von Bechtolsheim. With its own profits, the company was even able to establish locations in 15 cities such as Berlin, Bilbao, London, Barcelona and Madrid.
The location hardly plays a role for employees anyway. Mobility, flexibility and work-life balance are becoming increasingly important. "Work from anywhere – whether in the office, at home, on the beach or in a lonely hut in the mountains. The main thing is WLAN," proclaims Appinio on its homepage. Appinio is far removed from the rigid rules and hierarchical regulations, that are otherwise common in working life. Personal responsibility, intrinsic motivation and trust, on the other hand, are among the principles of the team culture.
For this reason, Appinio has removed its holiday limit for employees since 2021. Only the statutory minimum entitlement of 20 days per year must be utilised. "Everyone at Appinio should decide for themselves when, where and how they work," says Kurfess. This even increases productivity and makes the company more attractive to potential skilled workers.
Sustainability and social responsibility are among the team's goals. In february 2023, Appinio was awarded "B-Corp Certification", one of only 6,000 companies worldwide to date. "The certification confirms our commitment to a more sustainable future and shows, that we can offer real added value not only to our customers, but also to society and the planet," says Kurfess, explaining the significance of the seal. But it is by no means the only award that he and his colleagues can boast.
Last year, Appinio was honoured with the German Founder Award and as one of the "Top 50 Fastest Growing Companies" by Deloitte, and in 2020 it was included in the Forbes "30 under 30" list. In 2019, the team won the Gunnar Uldall Business Award, in 2017 the founders were honoured as "Top European Business Startup" and right at the start in 2015 as "Best of Hamburg." An honour, that is mutually valid. Despite all the mobility, Appinio does not want to give up its noble residence in Große Theaterstraße near the Binnenalster. The Hanseatic city is the first choice for Kurfess and his team.