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Survey On The Spot raises $750,000 to collect customer input via mobile devices

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 12, 2012 01:48 PM

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A decade ago, entrepreneur Geoff Palmer and Ken Kimmel, then the chief marketing officer at Dunkin' Donuts, were brainstorming about the potential of the early cameraphones that were just starting to reach the market.

"Suddenly you had phones with cameras built in, and we started talking about taking pictures of the donut cases in our stores," Kimmel recalls. "You can tell a lot about how well-run the restaurant is if the donut case is well-stocked and beautiful."

The spit-balling didn't go anywhere... until 2009, when Palmer and Kimmel decided to start Survey On The Spot, a business that would use mobile phones as data collection devices. Their premise was that if businesses asked customers to use their own phones to fill out a survey, the feedback would be fresher, and the response rate higher than with traditional paper-based survey forms. The company, based in Newton, recently raised its first outside funding: $750,000 from Kepha Partners, a Waltham venture capital firm, Angel Street Capital in Providence, and Mike Sheehan, CEO of the Boston ad agency Hill Holliday.

surveyonspot.jpgSurvey On The Spot offers a Web site for creating surveys, and both an iPhone app and mobile-friendly HTML5 Web site for collecting information from users. Subscription fees for using the service start a $40-per-month for each location a business operates. The company's customer list already includes chains like 7-11, The 99 Restaurants, Not Your Average Joe's, and Carrabba's Italian Grill. Most use it to gather information from customers, but some use the surveys as part of store inspections, or in the case of The 99, for gathering employee feedback on new menu items being developed internally. And not all businesses expect their customers to use their own mobile phone to fill out the survey: at Not Your Average Joe's, servers hand diners an iPod Touch with the survey on it, which can be filled out as the diner's credit card is being processed. (The Joe's set-up is pictured in the photo at right.)

"When you're collecting data quickly, as opposed to the next day or two days later, you have the ability to fix problems before they affect more customers," says Kimmel. "Certain kinds of complaints" — those related to under-cooked food, for instance — "can automatically go to the manager of the restaurant, and they can deal with that right away."

While the company's first customer was Finale Desserterie & Bakery, Survey On The Spot's technology has more recently been adopted by veterinary clinics, tire stores, hospitals, and even a Whole Foods Market in Scotland, Palmer says. The partners had self-funded the business until late December, when the seed investment round took place.

The new funding "gives us an opportunity to build a team," says Palmer, who was a co-founder of uLocate, a start-up that became Where Inc. and was acquired by PayPal last year. "Up to this point, it has been just the two of us, working with outside contractors." (That list includes Raizlabs of Brookline and OneStopTechnology of Holyoke.) He says Survey is now hiring in engineering, marketing, sales, and customer support.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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