Profile: Bath-based entrepreneur Martin Bysh on how he came to create his cutting-edge survey tool Usurv

Not to mention the charity and dating portals he's created in the past, and how he can help you do the same
7th April 2016

Martin Bysh, chairman of Usurv, is a determined, creative and energetic individual, who, it’s clear when you meet him, enjoys the excitement of creating and nurturing companies. One could call him a serial online entrepreneur, as over the last 20 years Martin has started many successful businesses, some of which he has gone on to sell. Like many other tech business people in the region, he is also happy to share his knowledge collaborating with others too.

His latest project is Usurv, a rapid and inexpensive consumer survey tool. We visited Martin in his offices in central Bath to find out more about his past and this unique platform. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least: We sent a question we made up about artificial intelligence out via Usurv, and the results from 500 people came back to us within half an hour! You can see how those survey results were delivered and the various ways you can break them down, here: TechSPARK AI survey

usurv-survey-results

Our survey says: We asked what 500 people thought about AI, and knew within 30 mins!

So what caused him to choose the world of online surveys as his latest business to concentrate on? “The market research industry has ignored tech advances of the last 15 years and is now paying the price as companies like Usurv, mostly run by techs rather than researchers, are entering the space,” Martin explains. “So it’s a space ripe for disruption and we’re excited to be part of that.”

How does Usurv work?

Traditionally online market research has been carried out via emailed questionnaires that are delivered to people who complete the surveys for some incentive, such as cash, but Usurv delivers questions to people by showing them to people who are surfing the internet on partner sites.

“The system revolves around an API that gives website owners the ability to serve our surveys to their members and get paid for it”

 

“The system revolves around an API that gives website owners the ability to serve our surveys to their members and get paid for it,” Martin explains. “We signed up hundreds of websites up and down the UK, including newspapers, magazines, research panels and membership sites.”

Combined, these sites give Usurv access to millions of UK consumers and enables the company to fulfil surveys faster than any other in the UK (1,000 untargeted respondents in under an hour). The quality of the sample has enabled them to sell research to corporates, SME and national and local Government.

Serial innovation

However, Usurv isn’t his only project, as we mentioned earlier Martin has a long history of online entrepreneurship. He tells us that after programming computer games for 20 years, he opened his first company in 1999 (Primary Drive) to build websites. “While we always have and still do build sites for other businesses it wasn’t long before this became a mini-incubator for our other business ideas. There have been many more of these ideas than there have been successes of course, so I won’t go through them all!”

The first successfully incubated business was MakeFriendsOnline.com in 2001. “This was a free dating/friendship site before Facebook or even Friendster had been conceived of,” says Martin.

“We had hoped to ad-fund it, but this was a time when brands weren’t that interested in advertising online unless it was on sites owned by other established brands. We grew it for a year or two then switched to a subscription model, accepting slower traffic growth in exchange for revenues.

“If we’d waited a bit longer AdSense would have been launched and I’d be describing a very different history. Anyway, we had a great first year as a subscription site and pretty much doubled in size every year after that until selling in 2009. We then launched Smooch.com, a freemium site, and grew that into a HitWise top 10 site in two years, going on to sell that in 2012.”

charity_checkout

Check it out: Charity Checkout is another business that Martin helped to develop, and
it’s currently doing well, helping to raise over £6million for charities so far

At the same time, he’d been working with other entrepreneurs on a few projects. One such project was CharityCheckout.co.uk, a kind of PayPal for charities. “This was a pivot from another site we’d built with the same entrepreneur,” explains Martin. “It’s currently doing very well, employing a team of sales and support people, and helping thousands of charities, including some very high-profile ones.”

“I wanted to see if we could build a simple system that gave other companies access to this kind of powerful market research at a price that was affordable”

 

Inspiration for Usurv

After selling Smooch, Martin wanted to test out an idea for a very different business, the one that was to become Usurv: “We’d been running large surveys to our Smooch members and using them for PR purposes. Having a large database of loyal members gave us the ability to collect huge research samples in very little time at literally no cost. I wanted to see if we could build a simple system that gave other companies access to this kind of powerful market research at a price that was affordable.”

usurv-survey-firm

Reaching out: A self-service, cost-effective, real-time solution for online surveys, for businesses, marketeers and PRs

Finally, last year Martin re-entered the dating market with Lovething.co.uk, and a number of other brands running off the same system/database.

High-hitting moments in Martin’s career

According to Martin, the most notable successes he’s had are building and selling two of the UK’s largest dating sites: “Building Smooch into a HitWise Top 10 site in two years in a tough market is something I was particularly happy with,” he says.

“Charity Checkout is at a to a point where’s it’s helping thousands of charities raise more money that they would have without”

 

“More recently helping to build Charity Checkout to a point where’s it’s helping thousands of charities raise more money that they would have without it is naturally really gratifying. As is constructing the fastest high-quality research tool in contemporary market research.”

You’ve got to be in it to win it

Martin understands the need to collaborate in business, and as such urges you to get in touch with him, as there are so many ways people can get involved: “I’m working with a number of local entrepreneurs at various stages in their projects,” he explains, “this is something I enjoy and have had some success with, so I’m always happy to hear from anyone that feels I might be of some use to them.”

“Anyone with an interesting web project and anyone that sees the most distant synergy with anything I’m doing should get in touch… I strongly believe in the value of sharing ideas and collaborating”

 

He’s also always looking for resellers for Usurv, and media partners who want to monetise their traffic. Plus, his web development company, Primarydrive.com, is now actively looking to expand in the South West.

“Historically our clients have been London based. So anyone with an interesting web project should get in touch,” says Martin, “and really anyone that sees the most distant synergy with anything I’m doing. I strongly believe in the value of sharing ideas and collaborating.”

“Professionally, Bath clearly punches way above its weight in the kind of people it attracts, which makes for fertile ground for collaboration”

 

Being located where he is is also important to Martin: “Professionally, Bath clearly punches way above its weight in the kind of people it attracts, which makes for fertile ground for collaboration. Then you’ve got that great metropolis of the South West, Bristol, 10 minutes away on the train, full of talent and energy.”

Personally, he finds living in a beautiful place is a tremendous advantage to all aspects of a life: “As well as being one of the most beautiful towns on Earth, Bath and the surrounding countryside is such a fantastic place for families,” he says.

Others to watch

We wondered if there were any other tech companies he was excited about in the area. “There are so many great companies popping up in the area it almost seems unfair to single out just a few,” he says, “but the first that comes to mind is Keymailer; a great example of solving a real problem that most people wouldn’t know existed.”

“Like many ideas that have potential for rapid growth it demonstrates a great understanding of the vertical it occupies and has the potential for rapid international growth.”

He adds, “CitrusHR is a great “software plus a service” offering from a local serial entrepreneur that brings the kind of order to SME human resources that I know from experience can otherwise be really tough to establish.

“I also really like YellowDog, the crowd-sourced rendering company – selling your PC’s downtime at a rate that’ll make you more than if you were to devote the same PC power to Bitcoin mining!”

Thanks to Martin for welcoming us into his office. You can get in touch with Martin at [email protected], and follow Usurv on Twitter here: @Usurv. And while you’re there, don’t forget to follow us too! @TechSPARK