We spoke with Dmitri Poukhovski of AirVote about monitoring and analyzing real-time customers’ feedback.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Dmitri Poukhovski: Doing well, thanks for asking. Amazing how with technology, the world can keep going with remote work.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AirVote.
Dmitri Poukhovski: I have been fairly successful in the corporate world. AirVote became, for me, a fulfillment of a dream to create a worthy impact. Little that I knew it first needed a worthy cause. It turned out that was the hardest thing – to find out what lights my fire and where my passion is. All along, I have been programmed to work hard, learn well, and become good in anything that life or work brings along. But I had the hardest time answering a simple question, “what do you really like?” It was a super-irritating question that my wife Angelique would ask me every time I’d turn the conversation to an “…I wish I had my own business” topic. My answer was always: it doesn’t matter. I will like whatever I learn well and become good at it.
After I realized that there is no way around it, I attacked this like every other challenge – read up and learn. Now, I am much closer to knowing what really lights my fire. It is helping people or businesses to move from “good” to “great.” Being natural about serving people, I would always get drawn to creative ways of looking at one’s own business through the customers’ eyes. Every time I looked at HappyOrNot smiley stands at the airports, I would think about the freedom and the power of on-the-go feedback and how to make this available not only to large companies but to businesses of all sizes, ideally as a self-service and without the hassle and cost of the polling devices. QR code technology was a natural choice, and it started from there.
How does AirVote innovate?
Dmitri Poukhovski: Innovating usually involves taking the available building blocks to create something unique. Here are two building blocks: the simplicity of on-the-go feedback and the growing popularity of QR codes (even before COVID). We use the technology in customers’ pockets for on-the-go customer feedback, which makes the service infinitely scalable for a fraction of cost. From the QR code interface perspective, we observed that QR code is usually not meant to “take action” but to be a simple replacement of an internet link. Even in feedback systems involving QR codes (look no further than some of your grocery store receipts), scanning a code means the first step in a long series of multiple-choice questions, required comments, etc. How many times did you actually scan a QR code on your receipt? This is why an AirVote question poster is a set of three smileys, and the fact of scanning the QR code registers the customer’s vote – everything else is optional.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Dmitri Poukhovski: The pandemic is impacting us both ways. On the positive side, we have to say that the interest in contactless interfaces has drastically grown. For many businesses, physical smiley buttons are no longer an option, especially when installed in restrooms. AirVote was founded in August 2019, when no one could even imagine how 2020 would change the world’s face. On the negative side, many businesses are now worried about basic things of staying afloat, and the customer volumes are much lower at restaurants, airports, or public places – the very locations AirVote posters are designed for. Our clients are mostly those who use this time of daily low tide to focus on the strategies that would differentiate them from the competition tomorrow.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Dmitri Poukhovski: Absolutely. After developing the first version of the https://air-vote.com website, we poured the budgets into marketing and found out that many come to the site, but very few become clients. This is bad for the business that positions itself as a self-service. Lesson learned: we now realize the importance of the conversion rate optimization to start with the site design. Our version 2 is live, and we are in the process of further simplifying the concept to tell the visitors in a matter of seconds who we are and the value they would get from the service.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and AirVote in the future?
Dmitri Poukhovski: Asking the question “what’s the worst that can happen?” has helped me throughout my life to cope with stress by looking at it from a bigger perspective. As for the future, I see it bright: The service has a clear value proposition. It is easy to start at a reasonable cost. It is the matter to put it out there and to be able to explain the value to business owners in a way they may quickly grasp it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Dmitri Poukhovski: AirVote has a few competitors, many are quite mature and successful companies. They roughly fall into two groups. In the first are the companies that have at the core physical smiley terminals. Among them are HappyOrNot, SurveyStance, FeedbackNow. For them, QR code and contactless feedback are an add-on, largely developed recently due to COVID realities. The second group is strictly QR-code feedback services. They are the most popular in Europe. Among them are the Ukrainian company Expirenza or German company Sarafan.
A single QR code interface leads a customer to a custom survey set up by a client company. Our value proposition lies exactly between these two. Like HappyOrNot, AirVote provides a truly on-the-go feedback, but without pressuring physical buttons or installing smiley terminals. Like Expirenza, AirVote is contactless and easy to implement, but an AirVote QR smiley is an action, not opening the door to a long or shortlist of questions. Another differentiator of AirVote from many others is that we are self-funded. We cannot play with large budgets, but we have the freedom to do what we think is right for the customer, without the investors’ revenue pressures.
Your final thoughts?
Dmitri Poukhovski: Great challenges usually trigger the greatest innovations. This is always the light in the tunnel for me. I am confident 2020 is not the exception here.