The era of big data is upon us. Dozens of well-funded start-ups have sprung up of late claiming to be able to turn raw data into ‘actionable insights’ that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. But the process of actually collecting data is still not always straightforward.
Finding out the price of a pint of beer in Milton Keynes or what brands of crisps are available in the corner shops of Bolton would typically require a long trip and a lot of hassle – or the services of a pricey market research firm. Perhaps the combination of smartphone tech and the burgeoning ‘gig economy’ could change all that.
London-based start-up BeMyEye (not to be confused with Be My Eyes, an iPhone app that claims to ‘help the blind see’) has built an army of casual data gatherers that report back via their phones. ‘For companies that sell their product to high street retailers or supermarkets, being able to verify the presence of their product, the adequacy of the promotions, the positioning in relation to competitors, this is all invaluable intelligence,’ CEO Luca Pagano tells MT. ‘Our crowd is able to observe and feed this information back to these brands very, very quickly.’
After a client gives BeMyEye a set of data to find out, the company puts the tasks on a map on its app. Its 250,000 data gatherers (known as ‘Eyes’) can then choose a task to complete, do it and get paid. A quick glance at the tasks currently available in London suggests they pay around £5-£8 a pop.
They can do more than check prices in shops. Some of its clients (which include Heineken, Illy and Three) have used the service to check billboards they are paying for have actually been put up correctly. ‘We realised the level of [billboard] compliance is actually below 90%,’ says Pagano. It can also be used to generate sales leads.
‘One of our key differentiators is not only the speed but also the granularity and the scale with which we provide data,’ says Pagano. ‘If anyone wants to know what’s happening across 15,000 supermarkets today in the UK, there isn’t really another useful option like BeMyEye.’
Today the company got a vote of confidence in the form of a €6.5m (£5m) injection of cash from three VC firms and a number of previous investors. It is also acquiring French rival LocalEyes to increase its reach across Europe.
BeMyEyes isn’t the only company that’s exploring this business model. San Francisco company Premise is using a similar network of data gatherers to monitor food prices and other metrics in developing countries for NGOs and governments as well as commercial organisations. It’s not hard to see why they would be an attractive proposition for clients, but the challenge for both of these businesses will be ensuring they can find enough reliable and effective data gatherers to keep the information flowing in at a high enough quality.