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Jonathan Million is an innovative and insightful technical research expert, with vast experience across product testing, sensory, and claims methodology creation. Curiosity makes him ask questions, and the search for solutions drives the innovative values that have built Blue Yonder. Jonathan loves working with teams who drive positive change by pushing boundaries, building eco-systems that deliver positive impact, and innovate the path to lean, agile working systems that accelerate client journeys and brand growth.
Transcript (Semi-automated, forgive typos!)
John: So, Jonathan, welcome to the show.
Jonathan: Thanks, John. It's a pleasure to be here.
John: Wonderful. It's a pleasure to have you on the show. So we were talking before the call just talked about the kind of history of Blue Yonder and I think maybe it would be good for us to start, for you to kind of describe what is Blue Yonder. And then I think your story of how you created this company, which I think is very impressive company. It would be nice for our listeners to hear, I think it would be very interesting. I found it interesting. So maybe you can go....
Jonathan: Yes, sure. So my role into research is pretty unorthodox, actually, because we I'm not an academic. And a long time ago I was a delivery driver in 1996, 24-25 five years ago, something like that. Luckily one of the contracts that I picked up in that role was delivering products to consumer’s houses or a company called Elida Gibbs in Leeds, in the north of England where I live. That was soon taken over by Unilever and so grew into what we know now. But back then it was kind of a technical research was being founded and growing itself as a function within a big company. Everything was done internally, but the delivery of the products was quite complicated because it was often aerosol and test prototypes and these things had to be taken care of. So they couldn't go through a mainstream delivery service like the Royal Mail or carrier. I got that job and was very good at it and we did it for 2 or 3 years. Getting busier but luckily the technical team within it was doing very well. And cut a long story short, we just kept doing more and more, so we kept asking questions. There were other services and I was like packing and prepping the products and all the day to capture on the products and then and speaking to the consumers and building the panel up to get more and more people to test it. And we just kept asking if we could do it. We could see the frustrations with their existing suppliers and they kept saying, yeah before we knew it, we were a failed and top agency and was pretty much solely fault for Unilever at that stage with a very comfortable existence. And they were happy. We were happy and then it wasn't long before because of that, because as soon as you went global and things changed, they outsourced more to agencies and we were getting left behind because we didn't have the full service skills and we weren't able to do an end to end project. So we have to learn how to write mythologies and understand objectives and deliver insight that helps them continue the journey. But luckily we built such a good relationship with the team who grown dramatically, I mean, they've come from 6 to 50 people in a few years. And we were quite integral in that team as their local supplier, and they wanted us to be a part of that journey with them. So they helped us. They told us to call. And it's always the quantum. They told us which were the best platforms to work with and software to use at the time. And we just came and coached along this entire journey. And then we kind of got to a point where we just couldn't be dependent on them anymore and they couldn't really be dependent on those because there was just too much going on. So we started to recruit people and you know we recruit very well. They got the benefits of all this client side knowledge that we learn the ropes on. And before we knew it, we have half a dozen brilliant people ourselves, all wanting to do a bit more. So we within side scraps of paper and you know, as the CTI has a function develops, people were moved around because of the big clients to create their internal functions. So they took us to their clients. And we also then we started growing. And that’s the story really until the most recent news was we, you know, I'm an ideas person and I love innovation, and that's what can go in business and that's also been the secret behind our growth and our reputation. I just asked people what they need. But then as the business grew and we got to 20-25 people. I'm not a natural FMD and so it was just, I have no energy for that part of the job, which is unhealthy for your business, especially when you've got brilliant people in there who want to achieve and want to get better and want to grow. And so luckily....
John: And for our American audiences, FMD is managing director.
Jonathan: Yeah. It's almost an old-fashioned term. We will switch to CEO one day. He had a corporate background. It was ahead of time it was Brown in Singapore and he was looking for new opportunity, wanted to come back to the UK. And again, got this rather long story short, we we've now split that role. So he's managing director. He runs the day to day and he's brilliant and he gets his energy. And I just feel the innovation role. So I'm constantly assessing the business for I would being innovative how we use the right tools. Now we're asking our clients the right questions so we can innovate for them. And help them on their journey.
John: Yeah, that's fascinating. Yeah and it sounds like you've got a really good balance. And so that's something I've actually gone through something recently like that on Aigora, but that's a topic for another day. As far as like one of the things that I really like about your company is that while it is true that you're innovating in the technology space, it's not just software innovation. Do you have a number of hardware innovations? I know you have, I mean, the reason we're talking is because Stan Knoops at IFF was talking about the Clickscape solution that you offer. And I know you also have you're kind of simulator shopping environment. So I think it'd be interesting to talk about some of thesolutions that you've come up with and how they're really they exist in the real world, they're not just software solutions. I think that's really significant difference between the technological innovations that you provide and some of the other things that I see as I kind of look across consumer science.
Jonathan: Yes, I think we have the massive explosion of apps when there was an app for everything and that changed the way people thought and in a good way. And this has changed people's lives and helps us enroll more efficient for that. When you then look at product testing and in particular sensory and Stan's how a product propose there isn't really an app for that but people tried. But you know, the differences in a FMCG products can be so slight. And, you know, we can prove that technology works in a lab or on a descriptive sensory panel, but it's really hard to get to work in the real world. So what people are doing and I'm going back three or four years now and there were a lot of our clients, Stan included and we were just saying we need to understand the moment we need to how well is my product evolving throughout the day? And it was very different to get that information, because if we're asking you how many times you smell your aftershave, how man time you get your phone out every time you smell your aftershave and feedback, you just not want to do it. You might try. And we could track the data when new data was coming in or you just these people feel bad about not doing it through the day. So at the end of the day, they would fill in six or seven months where they thought they'd smell the aftershave. And we love them for trying, but it's not very helpful because the day is not going to do what I showed and help us achieve what I want today. I mean, Stan was a big part of this, of course, because what's great about Stan is he asks you a question that you know, there is a genuine need for. He's always making chit chat, is he says I need days, can you do it? And I bumped into him at a conference in Amsterdam previously when he was at Unilever. And he just said, I remember you, you are innovative. I need people to be able to tell me when they smell my products throughout the course of the day in a public condition or something like that. There's always someone following them around to have a chat with him. But what was what was good timing with that is we've been having other conversations with clients saying the same thing. And the market's very competitive. It's culture in FMCG. So any little they can achieve, they can get any stronger claim they can make based on facts and evidence and performance and fulfilling consumer genuine needs. So we kind of thought of this wearable and we got a little girl with some existing wearables on the market like biometrics and things like that, we just wanted any feedback that we could actually use. We are excited about a little button that people wear and that they can click when they smell the fragrance. So the original plan was that would just give us a frequency on a quantitative measure for products services, products, and that's kind of Stan and some of our other clients asked for. And once we're doing it, we have this brainwave about what if we could and add a binary measure so that we can get the positive or negative or any binary measure in particular what felt relevant to product testing, both positive and negative.
John: Yeah. Now you've got your left and right mouse click buttons.
Jonathan: Yes, exactly. And it just a lot of thinking in two weeks. We have so many ideas about how we could implement this and the applications that it could be used against and a bit worried about the idea. We d really want anybody to finish it. So we started to then we went down the patent application role, which is actually. So we've got that now.
John: So you did get a patent on the concept?
Jonathan: We get the patent and in the US, Europe and various other important regions that we want to own the patent. And then the work started. So we got the found designer. They put together the hardware is pretty easy to put together. The complicated was the app because you've got to you know, the original idea was we'll send the buttons out to consumers and they can send them back to us and we'll pull the data off and then we'll see what it looks like. But no one's got much time anymore, even though this was quite a new metric and was answering no need. Yeah, we'll need it to be faster than that. So we do the Bluetooth technology so the consumer or the person using the button have to connect to that app once and then that's it. All that app do then is act as a gateway through to the dashboard every time they click so we're getting live data all the time. So we're quite exciting that those are the challenges in that process, like becoming the Bluetooth partner, getting our apps in the Apple store. And when you're using third party hardware, like when you buy the Bluetooth chip, it is just putting it in your button. It's not using that. You've got there's lots of complexities about making sure people know there's a high quality product and it's not going to drain their phone and all these things that we just hadn't dreamed of when we decided on this innovative journey.
John: But from a business standpoint, that's a good thing, because if it's hard for you to do, it's hard for somebody else to do it right? So protected.
Jonathan: Yeah, we did. We fail ahead of the game on this one because there's been lots of challenges. Nothing really takes a day to fix everything takes two to three weeks to fix. So, yeah. So we then started the piloting and what was great in having so Stan gives a lot of support to the pilot in process of and motivation to do that because he was excited about the information he's going to get back. And the pilot in what we now refer to see as 1.0 is very, very challenging because we had created button that works. We created an app that was both a dashboard, but we haven't put as much thought into the user experience of the app as we should have. And then we sent it out to two or three people.
John: That's funny because it actually, you know, making apps, designing apps well is actually a sensory problem. I mean there's a huge overlap between UX and sensory. So that's interesting. So you had a problem you could solve because you had the tools for optimizing.
Jonathan: Yeah. We use to measure our own customer feedback, but we got through all that. It was that we know we've got a bespoke and unique team now, which is we're way ahead of schedule on that bit from by some brilliant people. And they've just spent six months so and a lot of our locked down time was spent creating CS 2.0, which is the new app which is live on the Google and app stores now. The pilot is doing really well. We at one point, one person couldn't connect, and there's always going to be that because it's just a different phone. And then we get an 85% of the data back, which is just superb. But then that's only half. What I learned then is an innovative thinking. You just have an idea and you think of the brilliant and you think you can tell people about it and you think you're flying to the market. Yeah, well, I'm learning the hard way that just is not what happens. So you've got to really clearly and tell people why they need it and in a way that can that can talk to many different sectors and industries at the same time. But then what Stan's help is with that was the commercial and issue that it was like, all right, so what about what it do for us? How do we use it? And that was like you know constantly have to jump over hurdles to get where you're going. That really helps us because it does have to get, you know, information and insight. And I have a bone to pick with. Purely automated and platforms with static questions and automated reporting and delivering insight because that really isn't the case and insight has got to feed back to the business on something they didn't know and a solution of what they should do instead of actions on how that can benefit the business and what they should be doing now and the changes they should be making, and that's what we spent the best half of the second half of last year doing, just creating the commercial model. And going into lockdown we've just rolled out this version 2.0 of the app and we're really comfortable with the things are now. We can say that this is scalable. We can put this in the hands of any consumer. And within two minutes that can be connected to the button to the app. And when they click, that data is going back to a metric now. So nobody's ever had that. So that we can say of mental adaptability of anything.
John: And this is global then? Anybody probably could license this from you? Or do you have a program now at this point where...
Jonathan: For licensing program, yes, so we say is technically a rental system, you rent the buttons and you can have a full service solution where we set the methodology in the missions and assist you with field work and do the reporting, or you can just simply rent the buttons if you've already got your projects running. And then that's an important part because it is a really strong part of any project, particularly product testing, where you know, you're going to have the questionnaire. It's not going to replace a questionnaire, but a questionnaire in these days isn't sufficient for what stakeholders need. They need something else that can that can help them make a decisive decision quickly. So, yeah. I think we've got 12 languages online now. If we get a project in an area where we can get the language, we can have that language upload in the app in two or three days. So we we're just doing that now and when those projects come in. What we focused on now is the CS 2.0, which is the button with the two binary measures. So we see a multiple timeline. And globally what we're now working on is CS 3.0. We have them, we have a pilot plan for the Formula One Racing Silverstone this year, due to Covid that was happening. But what we've added is a GPS chip so we can locate them accurately to within one meter where they are. And the activity sensor as well. So we can see how many steps to take in and just we can then start to correlate different things. So, yeah, in one of our clients is Reckitt Benckiser, and they make a lot of insults and ultimatums to noise. They can get the feedback on the on the pain and the issue, and they haven't really gotten a quick way to correlate how many steps that person has done when they start complaining about the pain. We can now, you know one click can now give them all the information. Lots of opportunities there.
John: Yeah, this is really, really good, Jonathan. So, okay, one thing I like about it, is it kind of universal metric, right? That it's really, truly cross-cultural. I mean, there's nothing that is going to be different. You know, you've got a positive or negative balance, right? And then you can record that in real time. Yeah, I mean, it's really fantastic. So that's really interesting. I mean, I have a lots of, as a business owner myself, I have a lot of questions about IP and that kind of stuff. We can talk about that later. But I am interested in how then you're putting this data into practice to generate insights? So what is the some of the analytic methods you're using or how is this going into your larger research program as a metric that's helping you to deliver new insights to your clients?
Jonathan: That's a brilliant question and satisfies me that you've completely understood what this product is, because it's not as straightforward as it is not as just as positive and negative measures. The world the world spins at the same speed, but people move at very different speeds and they have very different routines and they have very different days. So one thing we learned recently, which was fascinating and changed the game for those in turn was we found a way. So when you combine if you have 100 people all live in the same region and you just click on the times of the day, it was there were some dips and peaks that we just couldn't answer because this was discovery and we were trying to learn what this product would deliver and how our clients we started ringing people saying what's happened in some of them saying, well, I was on my lunch. Well, it's 10:00 in the morning, why are you on lunch? Well, I was on an early shift. I was at work at five o'clock. So it was time we kind of using a one size fits all process for this hundred people who in the modern world probably got completely different routines and different lives and nobody does the same thing anymore. So we started to add the time they got up and the time they went to bed, to the gallery alongside. And then when you bring the moment of the clock is important, then when you standardize that on average time across the hundred people, across what their real working days, all that week day, it completely transformed the information. They made it so much clearer in terms of what was happening, particularly with one of the missions we set for that was advertising. So we were getting all sorts of different peaks about when I think the mission was and if we were interested in how could feedback about interaction with digital. So every time we send out a digital device and which click ones. It gave us an average number of amount of times people see another versus how many of us in front of them, which is popular that you can get hold of. How many did they actually see and then the conversion rate of how many are actually relevant and before we had standardized the information versus what time you get up, what time you go to bed. There was a lot of confusion elements that we had hypotheses for, but we didn't know what it was for. As we standardized it, it just became very clear to certain parts of your day where you are more aware of advertising that's put in front of you. And that then made the relevant or irrelevant measure really valuable to advertisers, because it's like what you put in this content out this time and it means nothing to people.
John: Right. That's interesting.
Jonathan: Yeah, we've been looking at you know, standard timeline for about probably four to six months before we learn I had to find solutions fast. To answer the question more broadly is that we're learning as we go with the data science. In essence, it's quite simple. It reminds me of you know, what market research first dive, they will have gone out with 6-7 page questionnaires that have been very short, sharp questions of, hey, did you like the film? Yeah, great, thanks, move on. That's kind of where we're having to start with this in the moment because a lot of people ask you know, so can we bring them to understand more about what happened at that moment? And I understand that it's a great way to think. Actually, what we want to do is understand that moment on a mass scale. So if we start ringing people in the click and they stop clicking because they might want to take the call.
John: You can't measure a system without interfering with it.
Jonathan: Exactly. So we keep in it. We've been very disciplined in keeping it as simple for the person using the button as possible, now our respondents have clickers but then interestingly, when we have done some feedback in our pilot and consumers are quite shocked that this is all the neighbors have got an interesting piece of data that you guys are kind of coping with it. And we're getting feedback from women saying, I really wanted to tell you more about that when I click that, I knew I clicked and I want to tell you more. So that's helping us develop some follow up. Dig deeper into that moment. What we are doing overall, John is it asking us and telling us what to ask, where and why so that was the unknown. So the initial piece of work for any client would be, let's understand, let's get the button out there. Let's click in it and let's see how you know, what your brand does throughout the timeline, throughout the day and at what point is it significant consumers. And then we can target those times and speak with people as when is relevant to them. So it really has changed the game. It is a new metric and with that, as you can tell, we're very excited about it.
John: Yeah, well, as an analyst, I would love, I mean my brain is already thinking about different machine learning applications of these kind of inputs or outputs. I mean, it's very fascinating and you definitely are. I think you've really progressed the science forward with this new measurement that you've made possible. So amazingly, we are now at 26 minutes. So this call is blown by. So thank you very much, Jonathan. This is very fascinating. So if someone wants to follow up with you, how can they get in touch with you? What's the best way to contact you?
Jonathan: So yeah, there's a contact form on our website, blueyonder.agency. And if you want to innovate with us, we're always looking for partners in that way. If you'd like to innovate with you, we'd love to hear from you as well. And I'm on LinkedIn, and Twitter. So, yeah, let's get in touch that way. I'd love to talk to anybody about this whole thing.
John: Yeah, that's great. And clickscape isn't the only solution you offer, of course. I mean you have other technological solutions that we didn't get a chance to talk about.
Jonathan: Yeah. So we've got an interesting toolbox and that really comes from just being so close to our clients and understanding what they need. And as part of building an ecosystem that is relevant to them, valuable to them. We needed some of software options, hardware options, and we're always happy to implement them and put them in place, assuming the values there is on both sides.
John: Okay. And normally we wrap up by asking advice for young sensory researchers, young sensory scientists. But something I think I'd like to hear is your advice for young entrepreneurs, because your story is extremely inspiring. You know how you built this company and how you responded to your client needs over time. What advice would you have for kind of young innovators, young entrepreneurs out there?
Jonathan: Yes. So, be confident really and, you know, I'm not an academic and I see the value in having academics in the industry and we need them, of course, then I also think that we need the entrepreneurial spirit of people just wanting to get the job done and asking questions at the right time. There's no such thing as a silly question. Just listen to people understand what they need. Ask them why they need it. Ask them what the perfect world look like, and then try to deliver it in a positive and productive way. They've seen it all before our clients or any roll of their eyes. And if you have a genuine way to help them, put it under the nose and ask them if they want it and then deliver as well, is we can all talk the talk. But ultimately you've got to really work hard and care about what you do so the delivery has a really positive effect because your job as your nature is to make your eyeline client, whether you're talking to look great to their stakeholders. And I think that is your mindset, if that is your mission for that to happen. I think you stand a very good chance.
John: So in some sense, you're still in the delivery business, just a different sort of delivery now?
Jonathan: Always. Yeah, I often have a chat with it whenever we get a delivery and the delivery drivers try to keep out of it and have a chat about the manifest look like.
John: Yeah, that's funny. Okay, awesome, Jonathan. Thank you. I've enjoyed talking with you.
Jonathan: Me too. Thanks for the invite, John. That's great what you're doing.
John: Okay, and I'm sure we'll be in touch in the future. Okay, that's it. Hope you enjoyed this conversation. If you did, please help us grow our audience by telling your friend about AigoraCast and leaving us a positive review on iTunes. Thanks.
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