Successful Funding Round Validates Sense360s Deep Behavioral Data
The answer to some of the most important questions in the restaurant business can be answered by data. But getting the data around basic questions like, “Who is my true competitor,” or, “Who is this LTO resonating with” has been nearly impossible to answer without relying on traditional surveys or a gut feeling.
Eli Portnoy, CEO and founder of Sense360 doesn’t like gut feelings. He likes hypotheses, he likes sensors and above all, he likes proof. So he created a data set based on millions of consumers’ behavior that observes more than 150 million consumer trips each month. The data, collected from consumer smartphone apps, gives insights into traffic patterns, visit frequency and all sorts of other valuable metrics.
Now with a fresh capital infusion of $7 million led by Firstmark, with Qualcomm Ventures and Upfront Ventures, Portnoy said the company will expand the team with a focus on data science and engineering to move past a fire hose of data to actionable insight.
“There’s a bunch of things that we’re really excited about, we’ve been working on a whole set of initiatives around segmentation, so using our data to build custom segmentations around personas or around occasions,” said Portnoy.
When the company first started in 2014, clients were given a huge volume of important data, but it took at least an interest in data science to make much sense of it all. Now, he said with segmentations that can be saved, the company has been providing behavioral insight on an ongoing basis.
“It’s behavior rather than survey based which is really interesting, but also because the way we build it out we can actually provide an ongoing tracker, almost like a rolling segmentation to see how its changing month-over-month,” said Portnoy. “That’s been traditionally way too expensive and hard to do.”
Working with clients across the top 50 restaurant brands like Chipotle and Firehouse Subs taught the new company exactly what sort of “hygienic” data they wanted.
“Now that we’ve been able to work with lots of different clients, we’ve found what analyses really help move the needle,” said Portnoy. “The way most clients started working with us, we were very reactionary. It was basically on-demand insight. We think that’s still incredibly powerful, but now we’re starting to be more proactive.”
Generally, Portnoy said that brands are still focused on the basics; which fall into three main data sets.
Firstly, the C-suite has questions about why a market is doing so well or so poorly.
“They coming to us and asking what’s going on and we can diagnose the root cause,” said Portnoy. “For instance, if traffic is down we can go and isolate the data and see that traffic is down and the bulk majority of that decrease is in the lunch timeframe, then we can see which personas are moving up or down. Then once we isolate and see that the heaviest users have slowed down and we can look further and see what’s changed with those heaviest users. You can just keep drilling down.”
Secondly, it’s how neighboring competitors are affecting business.
“We look a lot at competitors and try to understand the impact of competitive activities to their business. So when a competitor launches a new LTO or promotion or a competitor starts expanding into the market, clients use our data to see the impact of that,” said Portnoy.
Finally, clients use the data to measure their own initiatives to se what really works and on which customer persona.
“One of the things that has been historically hard to do is you launch a promotion and you get a big lift in traffic, but that’s about all you know,” said Portnoy. “What you don’t know is if that traffic is a bunch of new guests or old guests and you’re subsidizing them to come in.”
But then there’s the brand marketer’s dream data. Things like what does a frequent gym goer prefer to eat and where, what brands did marchers at the Women’s March love (they really like Starbucks, Dunkin and Chipotle) or conversely what brands did Donald Trump’s inauguration crowd prefer (McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and Taco Bell).
In all this data, there’s still a place for surveys. While behavioral data can answer the who, where and how, it cannot answer the why question. So another line item for the new round of funding is the expansion of Sense360’s non-traditional surveys.
“I think surveys are very, very important part of our product,” said Portnoy. “So we’re building a whole platform around behavioral data, then building a survey module on top of that so that when we find that someone is doing something interesting to us like going to a specific QSR three times a week while there is one way closer to them and they’re never going there. We want to as them why, and we now have a survey module to ask them.”
Now customers can be asked why automatically, opening up a bevvy of possibilities around loyalty, satisfaction and return visit data.
“If someone rates their experience an 8 versus a 6, what does that mean for future visits, so combining those datasets becomes really interesting,” said Portnoy. “We all understand that there is an impact if someone likes or doesn’t like an experience, but understanding exactly how many visits that represents in the future or how much loyalty you garner, or what kind of frequency increase there is are all things we’re starting to see.”
The company also announced a new advisory board made up of industry veterans: Noah Glass, founder & CEO of Olo; Joel Aach, former VP of Insights at Darden Restaurants; Alex Vayslep, vice president at Maritz Holdings Inc.; and Huw Griffiths, global chief product officer at Universal McCann. Portnoy said the board would help them get to the new possibilities faster, building on board members’ deep experience.
“One thing I’ve found in building Sense360 there’s a lot of things we’re doing that are new but there’s a lot of things that were doing that are not new,” said Portnoy. “So rather than reinvent the wheel, we want a whole bunch of folks who have done it before who have been in the industry and are experts so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel where we don’t need to.”
Currently, Sense360 only offers data for the QSR segment, but Portnoy said that may expand out to casual dining, retail or other segments in the future. But given the heated market share battles in the segment, he said the team would hone the offering where it has the most impact, for now.