Embrace Mobile: Surveys via Cell Phones

In theory the cell phone makes the perfect research tool — a text-message or WAP-based survey on a cell phone is immediate, location-aware, and targeted. Implementing these services, especially in the U.S. where carriers are controlling and mobile data usage is low, is much more difficult.

Embrace Mobile, a UK-based mobile survey startup wants to help fix that. The year-old company opened an office in Palo Alto, and launched its US specific offerings, says CEO John Merrells, who is also demonstrating the company’s products at the Office 2.0 conference in downtown San Francisco. The 25-person team has raised no venture funding, but says it is already profitable. Embrace isn’t really looking for funding, though, of course, probably wouldn’t turn down any discussions from investors.

Embrace’s core product is MSurvey – a service for running questionnaires via cell phones. Its target customers are market researchers, advertising agencies and big consumer brand owners. Embrace makes money by licensing its software or charging for a managed service. In the U.K. the company has done surveys for big brands, but doesn’t disclose those customers. The crew also has a lot of other mobile applications, including a mobile rating application for Hot or Not, but the company might be wise to stay focused.

With roughly twice as many cell phones in use in the world as PCs, it makes sense that startups are exploring ways to use mobile phones as research tools. Nevertheless, Embrace is going to have some tough competition on their hands. Mobile marketing company Air2Web recently raised $25 million from the Carlyle Group and lists a polling application among its mobile services. Both Air2Web and mobile startup Flytxt produce text message campaigns for big consumer brands and media companies in the U.S. Embrace’s Merrells says mobile marketing companies could be good customers of their mobile survey software, but those companies could likely do this themselves.

The market just also might be just a little too early in the U.S. Or maybe they have timed it right. When I called the research company M:Metrics to see if they had similar technology, M:Metrics execs quickly called Embrace for an intro and demo. That’s a good sign!

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