Frédéric-Charles Petit, CEO of Toluna: Why Business Leaders Must Combine Instincts with Insights

Published Dec 15, 2021

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Originally published by CEO Digital.

We were fortunate enough to chat with Frédéric-Charles Petit, the CEO and Founder of the market research company Toluna, earlier this year. Frédéric shared insights about how Toluna responded to the global pandemic, how market research has evolved since then, and a little about what the future of real-time insights might look like.

The adage goes that knowledge is power, but at no other point in history has the saying held more truth than in our current, data-driven era. With the assistance of digital technology – in some cases technology that is supercharged by Artificial Intelligence – we’re beginning to understand more and more about the world, societies, markets, and above all, people. Better yet, we’re gaining insights at an ever-increasing rate. In a business sense, only those companies that are able to harness real-time insights are thriving in this world.

It’s with all this in mind that we talked to the Founder and CEO of Toluna, Frédéric-Charles Petit. Toluna is a global insights company, delivering real-time insights for enterprises through a unique combination of innovative technology, design, expertise, and a panel of over 36 million consumers. Here’s a little of what he had to say.

Meet Frédéric-Charles Petit, Founder & CEO of Toluna

Frédéric-Charles Petit founded Toluna in 2000, with the goal of helping businesses make clearer decisions by bringing brands and people together via a streamlined research platform and the world’s largest social voting community, Toluna.com. Over the course of the last two decades, Toluna has acquired several companies and the company has grown from one individual based in Paris, to a global company of more than 1,400 staff in 25 offices on five continents.

Connect with Frédéric-Charles Petit on LinkedIn.

From Humble Beginnings to Global Leader

Toluna now generates close to £150 million a year in revenue, and recently launched a subscription service providing unlimited access to the world’s first end-to-end, real-time consumer intelligence platform – which will take the company to new heights in 2022. But the company has had a long journey to get here, from the humble beginnings of a one-man project in Paris to what it is today.

In 2000, as the internet continued to gain ground and reach more people in their homes, Frédéric founded Toluna with the intention of providing better insights for marketers. And it was an intention that gained traction, with Frédéric soon wanting to take Toluna pan-European and later global. The company expanded rapidly, and in 2010, Toluna was turning over about £60 million annually. Since then, the company has enjoyed substantial growth. It now operates in 20 countries globally and features a workforce of 1,400 individuals.

Underlying all of this has been Frédéric’s strategic drive to make Toluna the best company for helping the enterprise market, to help generate insight in an agile manner at scale. Toluna now helps enterprises in CPG, Financial Services, TMTE, and many other sectors to innovate, ideate, and measure the impact of their communications and health of their brands with the speed you’d expect in the digital age.

Overcoming the Pandemic Challenge

But while Toluna has gone from strength to strength in the past twenty years, there’s one challenge that it couldn’t anticipate: Covid-19. Fortunately, the makeup of the company meant it was primed for a shift to remote working.

The company has a distributed leadership, with the company growing organically with internationality in mind. Frédéric said that the executive team and senior leadership aren’t able to meet every day, even before the pandemic. For instance, Frédéric started the company in France, but its HQ is in the UK, and it now has team members all around the world.

“We’re very proud of the team across the globe,” Frédéric said. The team has become closer since the pandemic, with “the connections between the management really improving, the level of interaction between the teams really increasing, and the level of coordination” going to new levels, too. For Frédéric, the emphasis was on nurturing cohesion.

One way Frédéric likes to encourage cohesion within the company is to have meetings, sometimes, where there’s not an agenda and employees can interact with one another like they would in an office. “You want to have that water cooler chat sometimes,” Frédéric said.

And that was important because during the height of lockdowns some employees have struggled more than others. “Lockdown was perceived differently for employees on the basis of square footage,” Frédéric says. In APAC, for instance, housing in cities is generally more compact than in the EU or America, so these employees could have experienced greater stress than their colleagues across the globe. To maintain wellbeing, it was vital that enterprise leaders like Frédéric listened to everyone’s experiences, and tried to help where they could.

Are We Entering a New Era of Data-Driven Change?

“You can’t just rely on instinct anymore,” Frédéric says. “You need innovation and insights” to make true success happen. Citing the example of Steve Jobs, Frédéric highlighted that when Apple developed the iPhone, Jobs and his team thought they knew something the consumer didn’t and they went for it. But this kind of innovation needs to be balanced by understanding what impact your product will have – and for that, you need insights.

“If you can gather insights about your customer in an easy way, and by easy, I mean seamless, and it’s not slowing you down in terms of strategy,” Frédéric says, you have an invaluable tool for helping to refine and define your strategy and its execution. Data can tell us a lot of things, but if we don’t understand that behind that data is a person making decisions based on emotions, enterprise leaders won’t unlock their true innovation potential.

The leader that believes their opinion is better and more informed than everyone else’s should always have a place within an organisation. But Frédéric argues that these leaders must balance this mindset with a collaborative approach, where people share more information and try to understand situations better. He claims that the next generation of leaders will integrate this collaborative approach to innovation naturally into the business because they believe in research.

Namely, they have identified the need to test and fail, and understand the value of data in facilitating such agile iteration. However, Frédéric also highlights the need to bring in micro-segmenting to conduct business at scale. Because people are so ubiquitous, research is critical. And that’s where Toluna can help.

Connect with Frédéric & Learn More About Toluna

Toluna delivers real-time consumer insights to some of the world’s largest enterprises, helping to empower market leaders through technology and expert knowledge with the information they need to guarantee advantage.

To learn more about what Toluna can do to help your business, head to their website now. And we highly recommend following Frédéric on LinkedIn for more stellar insights on consumer research.

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