Think back to the turn of the century.

Manchester United had finally won the Champions League; Amazon was a niche website selling books and electronics; and Woolworths was the dominant force in toy retail.

This was an analogue age when the High Street still ruled. Yet the vague market intelligence used by the likes of Woolies to make decisions was still largely in place 17 years later.

Nick Richardson – a creative marketer with management experience at leading global brands including Hilton and ExxonMobil – was turning over his idea of creating a market intel business when a chat with a former colleague pushed him towards family-led insights.

“He told me SuperAwesome were looking for research support and that the challenges in the toy industry were the same issues they faced back in 2000,” he explains to BusinessCloud. “People in the industry hadn’t changed their approach, even though back then Woolworths was one of the biggest retailers and the Amazon we know today was just an idea.

“By now kids were no longer watching broadcast TV, but spending their time on devices – gaming, on social – yet the people in the industry were scratching their heads going ‘our marketing isn’t effective, we’re not selling as much, we don’t know what we should be doing’.”

Planned over a pint

SuperAwesome, acquired by videogames giant Epic Games in 2020 but still operating as a standalone business, is a technology platform now used by brands to engage responsibly with almost half a billion young people every month.

Back in 2017, impending changes in European data legislation via GDPR were by then preventing companies from holding data on children – and opportunity beckoned. “I could see a huge gap,” says Richardson.

“I was sat in The Castle pub in the Northern Quarter in Manchester and very quickly sketched out what the business would look like. A week later we did the deal with SuperAwesome: our first clients were them, Disney, Finsbury Food and Warner.

“We agreed a deal where SuperAwesome would resell our services – so that essentially meant that we could plug into their resources as we built the business.”

The Insights Family, ranked No.1 on our recent MarTech 50 ranking, provides real-time market intelligence on the attitudes, behaviour and consumption patterns of kids and parents. The company claims 94% of industry professionals do not have a complete understanding of their audience.

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“Our purpose is to inspire organisations to put kids, teens, parents and families at the heart of everything they do,” the founder explains. 

“The global kids advertising market is worth about $6 billion a year. So if advertisers think only 80% of their spend is effective, therefore we know that a billion dollars a year on kids advertising is essentially wasted. 

“By understanding our clients’ pain points we can build our suite of products from that knowledge – and give them the right intel at the right times.”

Global growth

Richardson, who had secured £100,000 from an angel investor to build the tech, agreed an investment deal with SuperAwesome – which remains a shareholder today – to launch into America in 2018. A year later France, Germany, Italy and Spain followed, then India. 

Following a £500,000 EIS investment from DSW Ventures in 2021, it now collects market intelligence on more than 56,000 brands and IPs across six continents, 22 countries and 28 verticals every year. Its client list includes Amazon, the BBC, Danone, Disney, F1, Havas, Kraft, LEGO, Mattel, MediaCom, Nintendo, Pokémon and Warner Bros.

The company has seen triple-digit growth every year – but Richardson is candid about its journey.

“We didn’t have account management – everything was focused on building the product. We were delivering things to clients, but we weren’t getting to know them. So we were always behind where we needed to be from a relationship perspective. Looking back, that was a mistake,” he says.

“In the early days, because we had so little budget and we were bootstrapping, it was like playing Championship Manager – when you’re Altrincham in the Conference, you might get a couple of good youth players who’ve been let go by some bigger teams; you might get a couple of 38-year-olds who’ve played in the divisions above. 

“But then when you get promoted, you need to refresh the squad. We had a very junior team which didn’t really support in the right way. Things were becoming misaligned with the original vision.”

Executive arrivals

The Insights Family underwent a restructure last year to facilitate rapid growth, trimming its workforce from 65 to below 50. Crucially, it brought in three operational executives in the form of Voxpopme co-founder Tom Williams, BBC marketing guru Rachel Bardill and finance expert Clive Maudsley to support Richardson, who is now in a more strategic role.

“They understand the vision, what we’re trying to get to, and how to shape it and take it to the next level,” he says. “It was hard to let go. But I was definitely burnt out in 2022 – and that was one of the reasons why I decided to take a step back.”

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Plans include increased automation and predictive tools within the product, as well as ramping up commercial growth.

“Most of the industries we serve are working months – if not years – in the future. People will be booking their Christmas advertising in May, June, July, so there’s a guesswork there in terms of where kids’ eyeballs are going to be. We can start to build a predictive element based on our historical data, using data science and AI.

“In licensing, if you’re a retailer or licensee and deciding which brands you want to create product with, our forecasting tool will essentially tell you which properties we think are going to be the strongest in a year’s time.”

Richardson adds: “We will also deliver automated insights to you: if you’re the brand manager for Sonic, we will push notifications to you based on where we see changes in the data [with regards to perception of Sonic or Mario]. So we’ll essentially do the heavy lifting by personalising the service.

“If you look at our growth and our projections, this curated insights bubble will be the biggest because it saves so much time for clients who are always time-poor. It’s all about giving clients things which they can very quickly read, take into a meeting and make decisions on.”

Investment round

The Insights Family has 5,000 portal users, around 130 clients and generated around £3.5m revenue last year. It is now appointing an advisor to lead an upcoming investment round which will see it significantly scale international operations.

“We recognise now that we need to have an on-the-ground presence in Asia and North America. And that will be built into the raise,” says Richardson. “We have a number of warm relationships with investors and are in a far more investable place now. 

“Also, the investor market has changed – the focus now is on finding a pathway to profit then going for controlled growth, not burning through cash to grow as fast as possible. We’ve always been pretty frugal with money, so that suits us.”

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