Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Harvard Students Revolutionize Customer Surveys - Presenting PollVautr

I recently had the opportunity to meet two enterprising Harvard students who are Co-Founders of a fascinating company called PollVaultr.   Merrill Lutsky and Erik Schluntz met as freshman last fall in a Harvard class.  Lutsky, who is from Northfield, Minnesota, and Schluntz, from Bethesda, Maryland, quickly discovered that they share a fascination with innovation, invention and entrepreneurship. What started as a class project has quickly "pole vaulted" into a full-fledged business, with beta testing under way in a number of Boston and Cambridge locations.

Over lunch with the duo, I learned that typical on-line customer surveys garner a participation rate hovering around 1% or less.  In early beta tests, the PollVautr system, based on an iPad and four simple questions, is running in excess of 15%.  In addition, PollVaultr customers - typically restaurants, medical offices and other service providers - are able to retrieve analytical reports on customer response and attitudes, allowing them to quickly respond to perceived areas of concern or complaint.  The user experience is so positive that a number of customers who took the survey went to get their friends to try their hand at the survey that typical takes only 15 seconds to complete.

The company is still looking for some additional beta testers in the Boston area.  Let me know if you have a business that would benefit from trying this new approach to sensing the pulse beat of your customer base.  I will be delighted to put you in contact with

Merrill Lutsky and Erik Schluntz were featured in a recent article in BostonInno.  Lauren Landry wrote this article:

"PollVaultr started as an idea in Harvard’s ever popular CS50 class. Merrill Lutsky and Erik Schluntz thought they were just doing what they had to for their final project. Little did they know then they’d be raising$60,000 roughly six months later for their “dead simple tablet surveys.”
Winner of the Harvard College Innovation Challenge’s (i3) HSA Award, PollVaultr is an iPad-based, data-driven point of sale survey platform that allows businesses to collect more feedback, better understand their customers and advance their products and services.
Lutsky admits they had initially thought of using PollVaultr as a social rating system for the dining hall at Harvard. Visitors could tap a screen, see what dishes come recommended and then “pay it forward” on the way out by ranking what they ate. “But then we started thinking about broad applications with that,” Lutsky says, who deems comment cards an inefficient way for stores to collect customer feedback.
The duo entered into Hack Harvard’s winter incubator program, gaining the expertise of, now, Hack Harvard President Lexi Ross. She advised the team to Harvard’s i3, before taking a summer internship at Google in California. Following her leave, the team carried on, working out of the third floor of the Harvard Student Agencies headquarters, where they’ll remain over the course of the summer.
Lutsky says they’re gearing up to begin running live tests on PollVaultr in HSA Cleaners and The Harvard Shop. From now through the end of June, they’ll be going through their beta testing period, all while securing a substantial base of initial users and trying to score partnerships with tablet companies, specifically Apple.
Companies will be able to choose what questions they need answered. For some, Lutsky says the most important question is, “How likely are you to recommend our service to a friend?” because that question correlates to a customer returning to the store, as well as actually referring a friend.
“Businesses want to have a base of loyal customers,” Lutsky says. Once they have that base, they can then maintain it thanks PollVaultr, who’s pulling feedback from users in real-time. “That’s the platform we’re trying to provide here. What effects does a customer’s opinion have on my store, and how can I improve my business?”
Lutsky hopes they can partner with Apple, so they can offer businesses iPads at subsidized prices. For now, stores need to provide both the iPad and the mounting software, although PollVaultr is likely to start offering either a free, one-month trial and then a flat, per-month rate.
Over the summer, Lutsky claims they’ll be seeing how businesses are using PollVaultr — what’s going well, what’s not going well — and then rapidly start iterating. They hope to then conclude the summer by raising a Series A round of funding. “We’re making constant improvements and discoveries,” Lutsky says. And with PollVaultr, businesses will be able to make constant improvements and discoveries, as well."

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