Rick Kieser is the chief executive officer of Ascribe, a company that provides a comment management platform to drive meaningful insights from customer comments and in doing so processes more than 300 million customer comments per year. Rick has more than 20 years of operating, management consulting, and venture capital experience. In this interview he talks about natural language processing and text analytics and explains why Ascribe is different from any other company in this space.
Sramana Mitra: Rick, tell us a bit about you and about Ascribe. What is the business?
Rick Kieser: Ascribe was founded in 1999, and we are a market-leading provider of online software solutions for managing verbatim text or unstructured data. Ascribe has developed an integrated suite of leading text analytics solution, natural language processing (NLP), machine learning, and semi-automated technologies to generate insight from customer feedback regardless of media or language.
I am a third generation San Franciscan, and I live in the Midwest. I spent some time after my undergrad [studies] in investment banking, went back to business school, and did about seven years in management consulting, then about a decade in venture capital/private equity. One of my related investments was a predecessor to the one I am currently running as CEO of Ascribe.
SM: Let’s hear more about Ascribe and about what you do exactly in the context of your customers. Pick two or three customers and go in depth about what you are solving and how you are solving it.
RK: At our core, we simplify comment text management, allowing customers to process vast amounts of comments rapidly and cost effectively while revealing quality insights. That is our mission. We enable market and corporate researchers to be productive in the ever-changing technology landscape.
We were originally focused on the market research world – on the labor intensive process of coding and classifying verbatim comments. These are open-ended comments coming from surveys. There wasn’t a product or technology at the time that would reduce the labor factor in classifying and coding those. With such data, you fill out a survey, you check a, b, c, or d, and then there is an open ended box where you write: “Tell me about your service.” If you had 10,000 of those out and you had four or five of those open-ended boxes, then you had a high volume of unstructured statements that needed to be processed.
Before Ascribe, people would read these comments and enter them in an Excel spreadsheet to identify schemes or classifications. Originally Ascribe was set to look at manual ways to increase the semi-automated classification of those texts.
SM: So your primary customer base are corporations and services companies that do market research?
RK: Our core are the largest market research firms in the world, companies like Nielsen, Kantar, or Ipsos. Those are the three largest market research firms in the world. We also have a number of firms that are on the Fortune 100 and that are not market research firms, but they have very large market research components. I call those corporates. We have many more on the market research side, but we are increasingly focusing our future on the corporate side. That is because of this “do-it-yourself marketing trend” that is impacting the ecosystem of market research.