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RIWI online survey platform quietly transforms the art of opinion gathering

RIWI uses patented algorithms to detect when a person has entered an incorrect or non-existent website name into the address bar.

It then sends them to a registered domain containing one of its short, easy to complete surveys.

RIWI (CSE:RIW) is being mentioned in the same breath as tech giant Google for the way it is revolutionising survey data and in particular the method by which RIWI’s market intelligence is collected.

Yet rather surprisingly Neil Seeman, chief executive and founder of the company, is keen to play down the analogy. The two models are different, though they share one common feature - their surveys are short.

RIWI uses patented algorithms to detect when a person has entered an incorrect or non-existent website name into the address bar.

It then sends them to a registered domain containing one of its short, easy to complete surveys.

While Google asks users to take short surveys in their entirety, RIWI’s method is to take long, 150 question surveys, condense them, and dispatch them all over the world.  Then it pieces the collected information together to get a completed survey.

“We deliberately ensure that the suite of domains in any given country is randomised and representative of the broad Internet user population,” says Seeman.

Part of the firm’s business model is that there is no researcher bias, no contact with the participant, and no personal data recorded.

RIWI admits it does not fully know why people choose to take its surveys, though its data show some users answer out of curiosity, while others do so to have their voice heard.

Whatever the reason, a growing number of us are seemingly willing to spend a few minutes answering the questions.

“There have been several hundred million people exposed to RIWI questions since 2009,” according to Seeman.

RIWI conducts these surveys for clients including the World Bank and a group of Fortune 500 companies, and will reach the 100 million surveys landmark by the end of this year.

The rich seam of information mined for customers in the private, non-profit and government sectors, allows these organisations to test ideas about what’s hot and what’s not all over the world.

Put simply, if you want to know if teens in all cities of China are following the same fashion trends as their counterparts in the US, RIWI can tell you.

One of its most significant and impressive accomplishments to date was the in-depth voter read-out it collected in the run-up to the recent Turkish election.

While in-market pollsters were predicting a hung parliament, RIWI produced evidence that there was increasing support for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Republican People’s party (CHP).

This was reflected in the results, burnishing RIWI’s reputation as a quality, reliable data collector.

It has also completed surveys for Procter & Gamble, helping it understand how changing economic conditions affect the affordability of goods in India, the Middle East and Africa and how people are adopting online purchasing in the region.

“Global companies understand that they need to make really important decisions based on factual circumstances of the crowds, not just what highly opinionated people are saying on social media sites,” explains Seeman.

Until now, the most efficient way to compile this data has been through panels, surveys offering prizes or to reward participants for time filling out a form.

But RIWI’s business model means respondents are coming to them randomly rather than for pay-outs or incentive programmes.

From a financial perspective, this means the profit margins are “very high”, according to the chief executive.

“Our business model means we do not advertise to recruit survey takers so a number of costs are kept lower, enabling our margins to be greater than our competitors,” says Seeman. “Our upfront costs are extremely minimal.”

In a global market where a completed survey costs an estimated average of US$3, keeping costs low is imperative.

“However, this is general and in some markets the price is much higher and some it is much lower,” the RIWI CEO says of the costs other businesses incur.

The company prefers to offer multi-survey discounts in order to help build long-term relationships, making RIWI “an incredibly cost-effective solution” for global multinational companies.

Some clients are looking for complete surveys while others only need partial results, given to them in stages.

Similarly, pricing can change based on a number of factors, including the amount of data collected and difficulty obtaining it.

The ‘incidence rate’ is also important in determining price. In simple terms this refers to how easy or difficult it is to find a relevant survey participant.

So, for example, if the survey is about smoking in Canada, and 25% of the population smoke, the odds are quite high of finding a relevant participant. But if it requires a more of a “needle in a haystack” approach, prices will be higher.

At conservative estimates, 25 million surveys are due to deliver partial data this year, with around 10% of these having being completed in their entirety.

And next year, Seeman expects the number of surveys delivered to “vastly exceed” the figures quoted above.

Additionally, the firm is moving towards a more tracking-based model. This simply means publishing a survey that remains active 24/7, charting responses over a period of time.

So it might be available 24 hours a day in 229 countries, allowing the group to constantly analyse and update data.

RIWI is streets ahead of the competition, having launched this active model in 2007 and winning peer-reviewed validations and patent approval in 2011. It means that even the cashed up major market research firms will have to sprint hard to catch up with this sort of innovation.

“We have proven that we can do these global trackers which are very high value and are cost efficient,” he says, “something the company is looking to build on aggressively in the future.”

RIWI listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange on August 27, but unusually did not use the IPO to raise any cash.

But with only 14.8 million shares in issue, any investors looking to join the company in its future might need to contact RIWI directly.

“We did not need the cash,” Seeman explains.  “It was a natural consequence for us and allows us to be able to scale and grow very quickly.  Our ambition is enormous and we are in the interest of growing this into an extraordinary company.”

Perhaps this is another thing it shares in common with Google.

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