Stuart Willson is the CEO and founder of Radicle, a research and advisory company that has worked with great companies like Lego, Diageo, Proctor and Gamble, and more. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside founder talks with Stuart about the new trends in the world of research, how companies are using information and data to make better decisions, and about the new venture model that companies like Prehype are using to create startups from scratch.
Brian Ardinger: On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Stuart Willson. Stuart is the CEO and founder of a company called Radicle. It’s a research and advisory company that has worked with great companies like Lego, Diageo, Proctor and Gamble, and more. In our interview, you’ll hear some insights about the new trends in the world of research, how companies are using information and data to make better decisions, and we talk a lot about what’s the new venture model that companies like Prehype are using to create new startups from scratch. Have a listen.
Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, founder of InsideOutside.IO, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption.
Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends and collaborative innovation. Let’s get started. Welcome to another episode of inside, outside innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest with us today is Stuart Willson. He is the cofounder and CEO of Radicle, a new research and advisory business. He’s here to talk about some of the changes and trends that he’s seeing. Stuart, welcome to the show.
Stuart Wilson: Thank you for having me.
Brian Ardinger: I am so excited to have you back. You were at the IO Summit and you had a great talk about some of the new trends that you’re seeing. Before we jump into that and talking about Radicle, I want to talk about how you got into the innovation space cause it’s a little bit different than your traditional entrepreneur.
Creating Value in Business
Stuart Wilson: I like to say I have a fairly nontraditional background relative to my peers and by which, I mean I had a pretty traditional background for most of my career. I worked and investment banking out of college. I went and got my MBA and then I was looking for a job where I’ve been learning a lot and be challenged and get paid to be right. And I ended up at a hedge fund and for 11 years. I was an investor investing everything from media to ski resorts and ultimately starting my own fund with a partner.
But then as is often the case in New York, my circle of friends shifted somewhat and I was introduced to and became friends with a group of people that included folks like Ben Leventhal who just sold Resy to Amex and my friend Josh Abramson, who had started College Humor, friends who were at places like Spark and Union Square, and I was the only person sitting up on Park Avenue, looking at a Bloomberg machine. And the more time I spent with them and the more I listen to what they’re doing, the more I felt like I was really wasting my time and that there was this transformation happening as waves of new technologies created opportunities and democratized business building.
But I wasn’t participating in that and I wasn’t really doing anything that I felt was driving value or utility for our customer. And so I decided to leave and I was introduced to Henrik Berglin, who started the incubator Prehype. And cofounded Bark, a dog focused startup, formerly Bark box. I told him what I wanted to do, which was to build something like pretty abstract. I had a couple ideas, but you know, nothing that was super compelling, and I just wanted to be someplace where I could build things. Thankfully, Henrik said, come to Prehype. I joined the network at Prehype.
Prehype Venture Studio
Brian Ardinger: For those maybe unfamiliar with Prehype. It’s got one of the newer models popping up, this idea of a venture studio, almost like an incubator, but tell us a little bit about what Prehype is and how its model differs from accelerators and other things you’ve seen out there.
Stuart Wilson: Prehype, where I’m nominally a partner, is a pretty unique animal. It’s in the business of helping entrepreneurs launch new businesses, and we’ve launched businesses like Roman – Men’s Healthcare and Managed by Q that was sold to WeWork. We have a business called Main Street that’s in the home services business currently.
In some ways that, it looks like an incubator and we’re called a studio sometimes, but we differ in some key ways from the studio model, in that we don’t have permanent to capital, there’s no fund behind Prehype. And so what that allows us to do is invest behind entrepreneurs who have many different sorts of visions. And some of those visions are for the venture scale businesses and so Romans raised almost a hundred million dollars in. Some are not for profit. We have an entrepreneur, Alex Godin, who started a business called Lemontree Foods, that is a meal kit business for a low-income families. And so that’s a business that a traditional studio probably couldn’t invest behind.
An incubator probably couldn’t invest behind because they have return needs to give to their LPs. But because we don’t have permanent capital, we can just find great entrepreneurs and help them build things. And some of those things will be huge outcomes financially. And some of the things will be huge outcomes, like in other ways, like hopefully this drives an impact with respect to how people eat, and all those things make us so good about what we’re doing.
Brian Ardinger: You came into Prehype with an idea for Radicle, or how did that incubate and become a real thing?
Building a New Model
Stuart Wilson: Prehype as I was noting, has a pretty interesting model, so we don’t have permanent capital, so how do we get any money? And the way we do that is we run incubation workshops for big companies. We have entrepreneurship programs also for big companies. And so that’s part of the Prehype flywheel. We attract interesting entrepreneurs to Prehype by offering them the opportunity to work on interesting projects to doing a workshop for Citi Group as an example, and then get paid. So they don’t have to stress out about having left their job. They don’t stress out about when they want to launch something, they launch something at the right time. For me, I did not come to Prehype expecting start an insights business. I expected to start and direct consumer eyeglass business or a mattress business.
You know, I had an idea for what, like a startup was in New York, right? Where there are a lot of consumer-focused startups. And so that was in my head in terms of what the business was that I wanted to build. But. In working on some of these incubation projects, I realized that there was a great opportunity and that was that the world is changing and startups and emerging technologies were impacting businesses that weren’t impacted 10 or 15 years ago. So it wasn’t just like venture capital investors and large technology companies that need to be aware of new markets and startups, but all of them. Whether they were a media company or hospitality company. And so I saw that as an opportunity and then set out to build a business to solve it.
Radicle Research & Insights
Brian Ardinger: Let’s talk a little bit about Radicle. It’s kind of one of the new ways of research. I’ve been in the research space for a long time. I used to work at Gartner and that. So let’s talk about how you saw a gap in the way research was being conducted, or maybe the new trends that you’re seeing that enabled an opportunity like Radicle to be created.
Stuart Wilson: The opportunity again, was that you have all these big companies, and they’re being challenged by all these emergent startups, whether they are disruptors or enablers it creates a complicated and complex ecosystem. I just thought, based on all the conversations I had with big company innovation executives, that they weren’t being well served. They’re using tools that were built for investors and tools that I didn’t think, and they didn’t think, that gave them the insights or information to make the kind of decisions that they were being forced to make.
What we tapped into was an insight that powers all of our insights and research products today. Was that there’s an incredible amount of latent knowledge about markets and approaches to markets inside the mind. The people who are writing the future of this market to the founders and former founders and employees and investors. If we could tap into that and help big companies make more and better decisions, you know, we thought we could be an impactful partner to them. And so that’s sort of our approach to insights is tapping into the latent insight of startup founders and making available to big companies to help them make better decisions.
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Brian Ardinger: So let’s talk a little bit about, you mentioned insights. So companies are swimming in data. There’s more than ever before, as far as accessibility to that. And what’s it the core difference that you’ve seen between insights and data, and how are companies using that to make better decisions than they were in the past?
Understanding and Using Data
Stuart Wilson: There’s really an onslaught of data, as you talked about, and we talked about that also when I was out in Lincoln. Some of the data can be useful and it’s really hard to make broad based conclusions about what data is useful and what isn’t. Without knowing what kind of problems you’re looking to solve and deciding if data or an insight can enable a better decision.
In our business and in talking to big companies, we see people using new sources of data, but I would say like generally people aren’t actively out there sourcing new forms of data, and it really depends on what they’re doing in terms of what kind of data they’re using. We see some of our clients actively using patent data, to source early stage investments and partnerships, and there are a number of sources of this data, including the US PTO.
We see some of our corporate venture clients using credit card data to better understand trends in a given market. So as an example, in like the men hair loss market. How did companies compare with respect to AOV in turn and retention? And those are some of the things that, you know, new data and insights platforms can offer, but generally for most people involved in big company, innovation, data’s overwhelming. And that’s why you really want to start with questions about problems you’re looking to solve and then back into what type of data or insights might make sense for you.
Brian Ardinger: Part of what Radicle does is help a company kind of understand what data is out there and then how to best then not only collect that data or use that data, but then create insights around that, that they can make better decisions from.
Data for Better Decisions
Stuart Wilson: Ultimately, we’re in the business of helping people make more decisions and better decisions. And we think one of the key inputs into decision making, and you know, this may seem like common sense, is better information. And so there are a lot of different ways, new sources of information, insight can be used in the decision making process. You know, for example, if you are running an incubation program, you may want to better understand what consumer problems exist. And so there are like surveying platforms like survey monkey or alpha, you know, that can help you better identify consumer problems that are aligned with business cases at your business.
You can also use data to identify where are smart investors making bets and help you triangulate into those problem spaces that have attracted high-profile and just key investors. And those are some of the things that we do. And then we also just help you understand the approaches in markets. If you’re looking to partner in the diabetes space as an example, what problems are being solved. And why is now the right time for these businesses who might be best or worst positioned? Those are things we help someone understand by actually talking to those entrepreneurs and understanding those perspectives. And so those insights are less about data. So it’s not a data point that you can plug into a model. It’s a unique perspective on a market that can help influence a decision.
Brian Ardinger: What I like about what you’re doing is that it’s not only just taking a technology approach to trying to brute force some of this understanding or insights, it’s a lot of hand to hand combat of talking to people in the marketplace, talking to entrepreneurs, talking to business owners, talking to the consumer itself. Let’s talk a little bit about how technology itself is changing the game of research and how is that playing a role in what companies can do and how they can do it.
Technology & Business
Stuart Wilson: Yeah. So I think technology is hugely important to all businesses, and depending on the type of business you have, it can play a greater or lesser role. And we see that with startups more broadly, where direct to consumer businesses, technology may not be at the heart of the product or service offering, but it influences how they engage with customers, influences how they understand customers. And for us it’s similar. We have invested a lot in technology.
We’ve invest in technology to helps our clients, map markets, to identify where to focus and who to talk to. We’ve invested in technology, that scores investors. So who’s the most selective investor, as I mentioned earlier, which allows us to score every company and compare companies based on the quality of the cap tables, which then allows us to look at sectors or clusters of companies and identify where smart money is going. And there are other signals that we’ve invested in also, and those investments are not in service of having technology itself, but in helping them make you know, better decision. And for us, where a lot of what we do looks like a service business where we’re in constant contact with our clients and we really work closely with them to solve problems.
We view ourselves not as a service company, but as a product company. The service layer is important, but how do we make that service more efficient? How do we iterate on product to drive greater value for them? How do we identify new insights that weren’t available before? That’s where investment in technology and process for us are critical.
Case Studies – Who is Using Data Well?
Brian Ardinger: What companies are doing it well? Can you give us any case studies or examples of companies you’ve seen that are using these different platforms and using data better?
Stuart Wilson: In terms of companies that are doing well, I think like venture capital funds and investments in startups, investments in innovation and using data insights drive innovation returns are things that we won’t see the return from in the short term. Not to kick the can, but we won’t know for a few years who’s doing it well with respect to the impact that it’s had on their business, but the ones who are doing it well should be the ones that are being proactive, and the ones that are creating replicable processes, and the ones also who understand the risk profile innovation and the power law, driven nature of returns.
There are a couple of folks that we work with, that I think are doing a great job of being proactive, and, and really understand the nature of an early, early stage portfolio. AmFam, The American Family Insurance, based out of Madison, and P&G Ventures both apply a pretty rigorous approach to identifying and validating opportunities and they both really know what assets they can lever and which they can’t, and you know, where they have permission to play. So I’m excited to see how their investments, play out and I believe that the combination of productivity and in a process driven approach should ultimately drive returns for them.
Then I think there are a couple cases that are you know, pretty intriguing. So big moves like Edgewell, who last year bought Harry’s, and where Jeff Raider and his cofounder will run U.S. Operation. I’m intrigued to see how that plays out. Similarly with Serta Simmons who merged with Tuft & Needle and named the Tuft & Needle co-founders as strategy officer. Those are another example of a big move that haven’t seen a lot of I have seen a lot of incrementalist innovation and so picking it that and poking at this and that doesn’t seem really to move the needle and so whether those moves payoff is really anyone’s guess. I do think they position those companies to be more entrepreneurial and that’s obviously huge.
For More Information
Brian Ardinger: Well, Stewart, I love what you are doing. I love what Radicle’s doing. If people want to find out a little bit more about yourself or about Radicle, what’s the best way to do that?
Stuart Wilson: I am on Twitter at Stuart, a Willson with two L’s. My email address is Stu@radicleinsights.com and then our website is radicleinsights.com.
Brian Ardinger: Stuart, I appreciate you being on the Inside Outside Innovation. Looking forward to seeing what happens in the near future and keeping us abreast of all the new trends that you’re seeing.
Stuart Wilson: Thanks a lot, Brian.
Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content or services, check out insideoutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.
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