The Sale of Instantly to SSI

By Matt Dusig


LOS ANGELES,  February 2, 2016 — Matt Dusig shares his personal thoughts on SSI’s recent acquisition.

It’s been a busy week. I received dozens of emails, phone calls and texts – everything from “Wow” to “Interesting” to “What’s Next?” In case you’re not aware, I co-founded Instantly in 2008 with my long-time friend and business partner, Gregg Lavin. At the time, we named the company United Sample;it was a firm focused solely on providing sample to full service market research companies. In 2010, we re-branded to uSamp. After we left the firm in late 2013 to form our newest sampling venture, Innovate, the existing Instantly executive team pivoted from a traditional sampling company to an insights-based business. This is a trend we’ve observed among many larger-scale suppliers who seek to accelerate revenue in a challenging, often commoditized space.


Many of my industry colleagues have asked me why SSI (Survey Sampling) would want to buy Instantly. With full disclosure, I was not involved in the decision to sell the company, nor did I sit on the Instantly board of directors. The obvious first guess is that the value of Instantly's revenue is accretive to the value of SSI. In English, this means that if Instantly were hypothetically sold for 1x revenue (for example), and SSI felt their company was worth 2x revenue, then SSI is buying a company for less than they believe it’s worth (buying at a discount). The other reason to purchase Instantly might be to continue creating scale: more clients, more employees, more technology, more panelists, etc. In the U.S. we live in a “more” society and bigger is typically seen as better. I wholeheartedly believe that Instantly’s pivot to an insights-based strategy made for an attractive acquisition by SSI. But, there is something to be said about “staying in your lane,” so naturally I’m intrigued about how this acquisition will play out in the long-term.


I’ve also been asked why Instantly would want to sell. In this case, I wasn’t behind the scenes to understand the rationale; I can only hypothetically answer this question too. The first thing that comes to mind is that it was a financial decision. The goal of investors is to get a return on their investment. Other possible reasons to sell, besides financial, could include a fatigued board of directors, lack of strategic direction, poor execution, lack of market understanding, or just taking advantage of opportunities in the marketplace where someone expresses an interest in buying your company.


After two companies are married, there’s a honeymoon. Usually the buying company promotes all the reasons that employees will love working for the new company. For most, that will definitely be the case. For others, there will be culture shock when they realize that the old ways of doing business will shift dramatically. I know that Instantly was a free-flowing, creative organization that intentionally lacked structure so that creativity could rise to the top. For SSI to be successful, they should embrace that creativity, even if it pushes people out of their comfort zone.


As companies consolidate, one would typically think there are fewer options for clients. However, new companies are being formed every year, offering a unique twist on the old business model. Even if you’ve had a relationship with a sample company for many years, I still think it’s important for sample buyers to always be listening to new companies. Buyers may find that sometimes there really are newer, more innovative ways of conducting business.


I can’t predict the future, but I have had success in forecasting the path of companies and the sampling industry in general. I do believe there is a distinct Sampling Industry that is separate from the Market Research Industry. Conferences like SampleCon and other affiliate related events, such as the Affiliate Summit, are where sampling gurus gather to network and build business. To describe sampling, we use terms like supply and demand, traffic, sourcing, affiliates, publishers and, of course, quality. We are the engine that powers data collection for companies worldwide. Without our creativity and technical execution (building panels, sampling technology and other research solutions like mobile apps, APIs, etc.), it would be hard for research departments and agencies to accomplish research projects and to sell their solutions to clients.


So what’s next for the Sampling Industry? I’ve seen so many mergers since I started my first sampling company, goZing, in 1999. These include:

  • Greenfield acquired goZing and Ciao
  • Toluna acquired Common Knowledge and Greenfield
  • SSI acquired Bloomerce, Opinionology/Western Wats, MyOpinions, Instantly
  • Research Now and eRewards merged; Research Now acquired Peanut Labs
  • Reinvention acquired ZoomPanel and Critical Mix

Perhaps Google buys Toluna, SSI and Research Now and re-brands it as Google Sample. Well… that’s highly unlikely, but everyone can dream, right?

 

Matt Dusig is a serial entrepreneur and has co-founded three pioneering digital sampling firms since 1999: goZing.com, uSamp/Instantly and most recently, Innovate. Matt’s technical know-how and business experience help drive his companies. Matt envisions the ideal market research world where every consumer has a positive experience with research surveys, thereby expanding the universe of people willing to participate in surveys.

 

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