Market research is a massive industry, but despite this global interest, the sector lacks innovation and struggles to manage fraudulent data.

Sharekh Shaikh, founder of CleverX, discusses how his platform aims to provide market research teams with complete control of the quality and reliability of their research with access to top-level business professionals.

Listen to the podcast now via the links below:

About CleverX

CleverX is an audience discovery platform for market and product research teams, connecting researchers with >20K senior professionals ranging from the world’s leading companies like Apple, McKinsey, NASA to founders of exciting startups.

About Sharekh

Sharekh Shaikh is a 2X founder in the human capital and the future of work space. He has successfully created businesses that have generated $ multi-million in sales. He has also raised >$1M on his new startup CleverX.

Time Stamps

[01:49.0] – Overview of CleverX and its uses.

[07:52.2] – Quantitative vs qualitive research – Sharekh discusses the two major methods of research

[11:53.2] – How is AI impacting the product? – The opportunities and pitfalls of AI in the research space

[20:40.7] – Would you recommend market research as a career to a young person?

[22:53.2] – What is the best piece of marketing advice you’ve been given?

[24:24.5] – Ways to get in touch and find out more.


“Traditional ways of doing online surveys in the B2B space are very broken, it is almost 40% fraud data.” Sharekh Shaikh, Founder at CleverX.

“Companies which create narrative around a product, which probably isn’t even the best product, still win.” Sharekh Shaikh, Founder at CleverX.

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Transcript: Interview with Sharekh Shaikh – CleverX

Speakers: Mike Maynard, Sharekh Shaikh

Mike: Thanks for listening to marketing B2B Tech, the podcast from Napier, where you can find out what really works in B2B marketing today. Welcome to marketing B2B technology, the podcast from Napier. Today, I’m joined by Sharekh Shaikh, Sharekh is the founder of a company called CleverX. Welcome to the show Sharekh.

Sharekh: Hey, happy to be here. Mike, thank you so much for having me.

Mike: It’s great to have you on the show. So we always like to start off with a question about your career journey. Do you want to tell us how your career’s gone and why you ended up founding CleverX.

Sharekh: You know, this is my fourth country, I live in the US now, in California in Palo Alto. This is 1/4 country, I’ve lived in different countries before, mostly spend time in technology. So I’m a software engineer by trade, did my you know this is MBA in Singapore, and then worked in Dubai for many years, and now in the US, but the amount of time that I spent between the place where technology and market research comes together was a reason for me to start clever acts. But what I learned in that process is that this industry is struggling with a lot of fraudulent data. It’s a massive industry, which is around like $70 billion global spent. And it’s not as innovative as it should be, in my view for the spend that it has all around the world. So we tried to build this innovative platform that solves a lot of problems for market researchers, product research teams. And I think that was the reason for me to start. Clever Axia.

Mike: So let’s talk about clever acts. I mean, CleverX is obviously something to help people do market research, can you just explain what the product does.

Sharekh: So if you look at the, you know, traditional market research industry, there are two major ways of conducting research, qualitative and quantitative research methods. Quantitative mostly is related to online surveys, which is a major chunk of money that’s spent by the most of the world in terms of market research. And there’s a very small 10 11% of money that’s spent on like one to one sort of engagement for research purposes. What we’re trying to focus here is give, you know, market research teams, the control on the quality, and the reliability on the research by giving them access to the world’s top level business professionals, and the tools that they already use come together seamlessly. So think of it this way, if I’m conducting an online survey, I’m hosting that online survey on Qualtrics. What level X allows you to do is bring that survey from Qualtrics into our platform, and connect it to a verifiable, senior, you know, audience to that survey that doesn’t exist today. The reason being traditional ways of doing like online surveys in the B2B space are very broken, it is almost 40% fraud data, because a lot of people wouldn’t know this. Even if you spend a million dollars, you wouldn’t know who your research participants are when it comes to online surveys. So let’s say a big company goes ahead and does like an online survey, they have no idea. Even if they spend $100, on a successful survey response, they have no idea who took that survey. So that’s the problem cloud X is trying to solve, I think for just solving that particular problem. We’ve seen like a growth of 5x in the last one year, in terms of our revenues, and you know, team as well.

Mike: So it’s interesting. So I mean, just to make sure I’ve understood this, what you’re doing is you’re providing effectively a pre selected audience and audience that CleverX has created on the platform that experts or senior leaders in the field that will then answer your survey. So you’re getting very, very high quality answers to survey questions. Is that right?

Sharekh: You’re getting identified users. So it almost looks like a professional network. So if you sign up on the platform, you can connect with 1000s of people on the platform today. You can ask questions to them. So if I’m conducting research with let’s say, Mike, I can actually chat with you and see like, Hey, Mike, you answer this question number 10 on the survey in a different way. And I want to do a call with you now. So you can extend your research by interacting with every single respondent who’s been a part of your research project, which, which is, I think, a big, you know, change for this industry that has never happened before. Yeah.

Mike: Well, so that that’s something actually quite different. So not only do you get the survey result back, but you’re actually doing people dive deeper and go in and ask follow up questions or ask the why behind the house. Is that Is that what you’re doing?

Sharekh: Yeah, absolutely. You can you can ask them the why behind the particular question, but you can also go ahead and extend your research by saying, hey, let’s do a call and I’ll pay you like $500 for the next one hour of your time. So for research, it brings a lot of reliability and control into your research process. In today’s world You don’t know who your respondent is. So it’s very difficult for me to say I got a survey response from 100 people. But I don’t know who these people are, is it really a reliable outcome that I should base my multimillion dollar decision on? And that’s a scary thing for a researcher to answer to the board or to the CEO of a company.

Mike: So, you know, I’m interested, you mentioned this group of experts that you have, I mean, how, how many industries do you cover? I mean, how broad is the actual range of these professionals?

Sharekh: Yeah, I think most of our professionals on the platform are in the US, most of them are manager or above position, you wouldn’t need CleverX to connect with someone who’s at a junior position, you can do that on LinkedIn right away, what we’re trying to do is get you the access to hard to reach business audiences, someone you cannot connect with on LinkedIn. And if you do, they’re most likely not going to respond to you, because of trust are spam issues that happen on LinkedIn. So we did a study, which is very interesting, or 1000s, of, you know, outreach, or LinkedIn, the standard is one acknowledgement for every 20 emails, that’s how frustrating it is for a market researcher to connect with one respondent. So with clever is that that problem is solved where you can go and directly connect with these people. Because since the money and the trust is guaranteed on the platform, it becomes very easy for two strangers to interact with each other to transact that value for research and money.

Mike: And I’ve actually had a play with looking at different industries. So this is probably a bit unfair to ask you. But I mean, what sort of industries do you cover? Is it around a specific industry? Or how broad? Yeah,

Sharekh: yeah, I think we are quite, you know, you want to be quite broad. But being a marketplace, you have to be more verticalized in the beginning, then being horizontal. So we don’t want to be the platform for everyone right now, we will be hopefully in the future. But right now, we are covering marketing, which is being used heavily on the platform, technology would be the other one, and healthcare and HR. These are the four verticals that people are using the platform mostly on. But there are close to 133, niche verticals in the world for expertise. And we want to have all those people, millions of users using the platform and become this sort of like, probably a bad analogy ever something like think of it like an Amazon or a Shopify, for market research in B2B.

Mike: I mean, it’s really interesting because I actually looked at something fairly niche in terms of people who were engineers designing with semiconductors, and actually found some some experts on the platform. So there’s certainly a few I mean, where you have perhaps something that’s much more niche, presumably, people can go straight into a video call or a discussion, and get qualitative feedback, where you don’t have the volume to get quantitative. Is that the way you’d approach it? If you’ve worked in, you know, one of the smaller niches?

Sharekh: Yeah, absolutely. I see. You’ve got to understand the context behind qualitative and quantitative, I’ve always, you know, learn this from our customers, you do quantitative, which is online surveys to get collective intelligence. What do you want know is like 100 people have a same job role in a particular industry think about a particular topic, right? That’s what you’re trying to understand. Like, what’s the sentiment there? How are they thinking and feeling about? Once? Once you have that answer, the next step would be qualitative, which is like going deeper into that particular thing with five or 10 people to know the small details, you know, of why that’s happening? Or, you know, what are the things that they should care about? That’s the context between qualitative and quantitative, but mostly, our platform is being used for quantitative. There are expert networks all around the world, we can solve the same problem around qualitative, like the GLG is the gardeners of the world. And I’m an ex gardener. So I understand this industry really well. But I think most of the problems that we’re solving are around this collective intelligence, which is this quantitative online service part in the research.

Mike: That’s interesting. That’s kind of a process that, as you described, is built in where you do the research and then dig in. I love the way that that’s kind of almost built in as a process. So it kind of makes it easy for people to take the right approach.

Sharekh: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike: So I’m interested to know, you know, how do people use this service? So what sort of things companies typically wanting to find out? And how do they go about doing it? Yeah,

Sharekh: very interesting project. So suddenly, we’ve been seeing like a lot of projects happening on the platform around Chatterjee beginning AI. That’s like the most trending topic in the technology world. So people are building these incredible products, in large enterprises or at startups. And they’re approaching a lot of people who have built AI solutions before on the platform. So we are seeing big market research teams coming and bringing their online surveys and trying to conduct surveys with machine learning developers on the platform. So let’s say they want to conduct 200 online surveys with machines Learning developers. On the other hand, we seem like startups which are trying to find a product market fit in AI application. And they’re trying to talk to these people who are CIOs where they want to sell this product, and ask them questions around pricing, or, hey, does this make sense? Or will Google come and build this in the future or charge GPD might come up with a new plugin that can, you know, completely change the dynamic of that particular industry. So those are the questions people are asking on the qualitative side, and quantitative side. So it’s very interesting to see how trends shape my goal as a founder is when when CleverX becomes like a massive big company, to understand the pulse of the world, because we will have a very good understanding of what the world is looking for. Because the amount of data that we generate on just these projects that happen every day on the platform is incredible. We get to understand what people are really thinking, you know, and where things are moving in the future.

Mike: So you could almost act as a resource for industry knowledge, once you’ve got the data from the surveys, is that where you see yourselves going?

Sharekh: Yeah, I think data is a big mod for our platform. I mean, it is still very small, but 1000s of surveys and hundreds of calls happening on the platform every month. And we see what people are actually talking to each other about kind of projects that they post within the platform, or the opportunities that are getting created around market research. That gives us a pretty good sense of a particular industry, what people are thinking in that direction. It’s also a very fun thing that I’ve noticed, the senior people on the other side of the platform, we’re participating in research, also tell researchers like hey, I’m going to participate, you’re going to pay me this $100 or $200, whatever for this research. But I want to know what the outcome of your research is going to be once the study is finalised. So people in general are very curious to know. Because what’s going on in the industry as well. So that’s very exciting to me. And we see that happen quite often. Yeah,

Mike: I can imagine certainly, you know, talked about AI, there’s got to be a lot of people who are on the platform, who wants to know what the future of AI is. So we’re gonna want to know this research that that makes a lot of sense to me.

Sharekh: Yeah. Last year, that was metalworks. You know, we’ve seen a lot of companies trying to talk to people in that space without naming the names of companies, but understanding like, where’s the future? What’s happening, even just for curiosity, even if you’re not going to spend money, but just to understand, is there an opportunity there for our company to build something or create a service around that particular topic? Yeah.

Mike: So I think we want to explore you know, whether there’s any alternatives to using something like CleverX, I mean, you know, we’ve talked about AI, do you ever see AI being able to evaluate new products?

Sharekh: I think we got to see AI becoming a part of different workflow, CPUs, AI, have you been using AI for the last many years, you know, but big companies like the apples and the Google, you know, the products that we use, but I think now it’s kind of democratised with new, you know, alums, and companies that charge up to opening up their platforms to everyone to use. And that’s opened up like startups, which can create vertical niche solutions to solve a specific problem in a specific industry. In market research, we will see that happen when it comes to you can tell your AI like, hey, go ahead and create a survey for transportation C level execs because these are the XYZ questions that I want to get answered from them. Can you go ahead and create a survey for me there is a possibility that’s going to happen very soon. The other possibility could be, hey, can you tell me what the sentiment of 100 people has been on the survey? Right, so that sentiment analysis can happen. It’s happening in certain cases already. But what AI cannot do is talk about an experience that Sharik has had on Mike has had in their life working for a particular company, doing a certain project that AI cannot do, it can give you what’s out there in the in the public domain, the data that’s already there, summarise it and give you a pretty good answer to learn something from, but it cannot go deeper to a human level and that post political experience a human being has had in doing something and that’s, that’s where I think, you know, we are different than machines are. And that’s, that’s pretty amazing, actually, to think about it.

Mike: And that’s pretty cool. It, you know, gives us optimism that AI is not going to replace us all and actually that person experience is going to be important. Yeah, I mean, talking about personal experiences and relationships. You know, I know a lot of B2B companies, their market research is somewhat around going to the sales team and saying, check with a few customers see what they think. I mean, what’s the benefit of doing a more formalised process through CleverX rather than working with the sales team?

Sharekh: Yeah, I think sales team getting feedback from a sales team is a given you have to do it. But when you run a formalised process, you’re putting a really deep thought into every single question that you’re asking them. You’re trying to understand nuance answers of things which a lot of companies miss out on. And I think the answers lie in the details, you know, most of the major decisions or any company that’s found an edge in, you know, competing better in a particular industry, or becoming the best in that industry has always been a detail oriented company, it doesn’t happen by luck and float, where you can say, like, oh, we talked to 10 customers, and this is what they want. And this is how it’s going to look like the companies which has gone deeper with every single customer try to figure out, you know, what their problems or challenges are, I think those are the winners, you can create an average company, of course, doing that, but but I think the goal of companies, which are using research as as a method to learn more about the customers have an edge over companies, which do not because you’re putting in really thought and time into it and figuring things out.

Mike: That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I think it’s, it’s clearly something that’s a little bit deeper, a little more rigorous than than talking to the sales team. I mean, that makes sense to me. Yeah. I mean, I guess on the other hand, people might say, Well, you’ve got a group of people on the CleverX platform, how do I know they’re representative of my audience? I mean, what are you doing to make sure that the people on the platform are representative of a particular industry or particular area?

Sharekh: Yeah, so the platform has his discovery function, which is pretty exciting. Where you can find people by, you know, their location, you can find people by in their, in their industry, their skill set, profiles of people on collaborates, or as exhaustive as your LinkedIn profile would be, right. But the biggest validation for me as a person who’s trying to conduct research is directly talking to my respondent or chats, asking them questions before even starting my research project, to know like, are these the right group of people that I want to conduct research with, or there are other sets of people or persons that I can go after and connect with, so you can even filter people by their job roles. So let’s say I’m trying to conduct a project, understanding how the macro environment is changing SMB, as a sector, I can actually go ahead and find people by their designations, buy the company type, the revenues of the company, and things of that sort. So you can do a lot of filtering, and finding those specific people that you want to talk about, or even test idea that are these the right person or that I should be talking to before I even start conducting research. So talking to people on club X platform is free, you can go and chat with as many people as you want to, just like you would do it on LinkedIn or any other, you know, social network.

Mike: So it’s interesting. So you can actually go and almost test the audience for free before you actually commit.

Sharekh: Yeah, absolutely. Our goal is to make sure that product researchers market researchers are empowered, they have all the control, and they are directly interacting with the respondent. So today, the way research works is there are multiple companies, parties involved between the researcher and the respondent. So a lot of people in the value chain, and we even want it ourselves to be out of that equation. So we’ve given this platform we democratises access to each other for a researcher as well as a respondent. And that solves a lot of problems when you directly talk to the person you’re researching solves enormous amount of like issues that are currently existing in this industry.

Mike: So thanks, Shrek, one of the questions that people are probably thinking is this platform sounds amazing in terms of accessing, you know, this, this huge resource of people who can advise you on products or technologies? I mean, is it something that’s painfully expensive, or can midsize companies access this sort of technology.

Sharekh: So we have customers from the Microsoft’s of the world, to the largest research companies in the world using our platform. We also have like really tiny startups, which are, which don’t even have a product today, using the platform. So it’s, you know, skills based on the need that a customer would have, we see that by giving a sense of his platform, you can reduce the cost of research. So for example, the amount of money that you would spend to recruit one exec for one video call would somewhere go in the range of $800 to even $1,500, depending on the kind of service that you’re using. With CleverX, you can just sell service, use the platform and spend probably less than 50% of that, because you’re doing the heavy lifting and connecting with these people and talking to them, rather than a new service provider, which is going to do this on your behalf. So it depends. If a customer wants to have a concert service, where they want someone to give them everything. Probably CleverX is not the platform for them to use. But there are customers who who want to take control of the research process and they want to do everything by themselves. For them CleverX makes a lot of sense.

Mike: I’m presuming those customers get a lot of value because of this ability to ask those follow up questions and really take it from just being a survey to be a conversation. Yeah,

Sharekh: you can extend your research and that’s the beauty of of the platform is and there are Adding new research methods as well. So we are even incorporating in the new version of the product where you can even do product research. So you can give the product to a customer, let’s say you’re building an app, and you want this customer to interact with your app, you can just give the app to them to our platform, just sit there and watch them interact with that product. And you record all those details. So what Lex is doing is all these amazing tools that are out there to solve these problems. We are integrating them into our platform and giving you access of those tools and audiences in one single place. And that’s not been done before, for I don’t know, decades. And I think that’s the problem you’re trying to solve for different type of research methods.

Mike: That’s great. I, you know, I’m interested, we’ve talked a lot about market research. I mean, one of the things we’d like to ask guests is, you know, if you had a young person thinking of a career in the your case or career market research, I mean, do you think this is going to be exciting place to be in the next few years?

Sharekh: You know, it’s interesting, I was just talking to someone couple of days back, she’s 21 years old, and she’s asking me a question, I want to get into, you know, a tech company, what kind of role should I look for? I mentioned, or you should go into product research product management role in the future. I think that’s where the fun is, I think human beings are designed to create, and product research, product marketing, product management, or roles where you get the ability to create something or be a part of creation. Same thing goes with market research, as well, with even larger and smaller industries is like, you’re coming up with these insights and these golden nuggets to find two small things that probably are uncovered and people are not aware of, and that could help you build something or build a building amazing service or a product out of it. I think that’s a very fun process has become very frustrating with the way the traditional industry has done it in the past. But that’s what we want to change. We want to make it a fun, exciting process, because actually is, is an amazing, you know, thing to do research and figured out something that a lot of people don’t know, probably around the world. Yeah.

Mike: And that’s great to hear that technology is making a particular career more exciting and more fun. I mean, I think a lot of people think technology is about taking jobs, but but you’re doing almost exactly the opposite.

Sharekh: Yeah, I think researchers like I have a lot of people have been on the on the other side where I’ve done research as well working for Gartner. And it’s not easy, it’s a really frustrating job, you require a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of dependency on multiple things that are happening in a particular research project. Yeah, but if you can make it like fun, entertaining and faster, I think you can make the job and life easier. If you can save, like let’s say a few hours every week for research, I think we’ve accomplished enough as a startup to solve their, you know, give them extra time for themselves and their families. Yeah,

Mike: that’s great. I mean, another thing we like to ask, I guess, is about marketing. And I mean, interested to know, what’s the best marketing advice you’ve ever received?

Sharekh: I’ve been in B2B sales for a long period of time. I personally found one advice or statement by Bill Gates, a lot of people might find this very contrarian as an as an advice. If someone asked him a question saying, like, if you’re given $1, what are you going to spend on when it comes to marketing, and he said, PR, and I realised that you know, when br happens is you can just create this amazing narrative and education about a company, because my learning has been the best products always do not win. companies, which have created this narrative around a product, which probably is not the best product in the world, still wins. And that’s, that’s very interesting to me, you know, we always think like, Hey, I’m gonna create the best product and it has to win. Of course, your goal is to create the best product, don’t get me wrong, but I think this narrative, this education that you create around a particular trend, or a product that makes winners, that has been my personal learning, I’m sure a lot of people would disagree with me on this. But I think that’s a pretty amazing advice. Very contrarian.

Mike: Well, I think, given the fact that as an agency, we do a lot of PR, we’ll be very happy with that advice. That’s not a problem. So Chirag I really appreciate your time. I think it’s been great. There’s been some really fantastic insights into doing market research and and how that’s changing for B2B. If people would like more information, or they’d like to try the CleverX product. I mean, how would they go about doing that?

Sharekh: It’s pretty straightforward. You just go on the platform, clever., see And you can sign up for free, you can import all your LinkedIn data onto the platform, it takes you 30 seconds to sign up. And then you can start receiving amazing work opportunities around research or you can hire people for your own research work. So it’s a very straightforward, amazing platform to intuitive and simple platform to use. If you want to reach out to me, I think LinkedIn would be the best way you can put my name Shahrukh. under Search most likely I will be the first head. Lucky for me the name is kind of unique. So it should work out. But yeah, reach out to me on LinkedIn happy to answer any questions around research or just any help that I could be offered to anyone.

Mike: That’s very generous, Sherif. I know people appreciate that. I mean, thank you so much for being on the podcast. It’s been a really interesting chat. I really appreciate that.

Sharekh: I really appreciate that. Mike, thank you so much for having me.

Mike: Thanks so much for listening to marketing B2B Tech. We hope you enjoyed the episode. And if you did, please make sure you subscribe on iTunes, or on your favourite podcast application. If you’d like to know more, please visit our website at Napier B2B dot com or contact me directly on LinkedIn.