Askable answers call for UX matchmaking

Askable answers call for UX matchmaking

Brisbane-based scale-up Askable is often referred to as an "Uber for user testing", its service attracting high-profile customers like Qantas, Accenture, Breville, CBS Sports and some of Australia's largest superannuation funds. 

But the analogy doesn't quite cover the complexity of what Askable seeks to achieve. 

If you order an Uber right now there are just a few key variables determining who ends up as your driver: they've been vetted, they are available, they are nearby and perhaps some other features may be needed.

User Experience (UX) testing however is not just about getting safely from A to B. Askable not only rises to the challenging task of finding and paying participants for testing at times that work, but the result of this research can end up directing the strategy or product of an entire organisation.

The quality of participants is therefore paramount, and in UX that's much more subjective than say, checking for a driver's licence or criminal background. 

"We're doing a lot of work around participant engagement and honesty," says Askable co-founder Andreas Zhou (pictured above), who over the past six months has been busy with the company's international expansion as well as a move into a new office in Brisbane's Petrie Terrace.

"With qualitative research you're doing maybe five or 10 interviews, so to have one person who is dishonest on the screener or doesn't fit the criteria, it's actually pretty disruptive.

"We are finding ways to improve the quality of the participants, and I think that will eventually become something that makes us pretty defensible as a business."

The company was founded by Zhou and John Goleby (pictured right) in 2017, born out of an incubator called ThinkDo that was set up by their digital marketing agency Orange Digital. 

"We started looking at things we really knew from our experience at Orange, and one of those was how painful it was to run focus groups and usability testing on behalf of our customers," says Zhou.

"We put together an MVP (minimum viable product) to throw out to the market and see if anyone else was interested in that.

The first customer was another digital agency in Brisbane in mid-2017, but it didn't take long before orders started to flywheel.

"It was one order in the first month, then 10 orders the next month, then 50 after that and it just started spreading pretty quickly," he says.

"Agencies are still a big chunk of our user base, but what surprised us was the take-up from big B2C (business-to-consumer) and B2B (business-to-business) type of companies that had their own UX teams."

While monetised from day one, Askable still depended on Orange Digital for funding in its early stages. But after realising the idea "had legs", Askable was incorporated as its own business and has since become independent, culminating in the move to its own offices late last year.

"We want Askable to stand on its own two feet, and we've been able to do that," says Zhou.

"I think funding for us has really been more about how much faster can we grow, and not necessarily how can we survive?"

Last year the team decided to test that question with New Zealand as their yardstick - a test market to see how well practical challenges such as currencies, phone formats and different timezones could be overcome by the business model and systems.

"What we've learned is there's definitely a market, but we just want to make sure everything works perfectly," he says.

"We've got a little bit of interest in the UK, so geographically that's where the next logical step would be, as well as the US."

The next step for Askable will be to delve further into what is known as unmoderated usability tests.

"Askable started with just doing face to face in person, organising people to go to those types of sessions, but customers have started asking us to recruit people for they call online, unmoderated testing, or self-moderated testing.

"It's almost like an emerging market, using stuff like voice recordings, asking you to speak out loud and say where you're confused - so it's still quite qualitative, but it's still all done online and doesn't need a facilitator or a physical room.

"We're really pushing into that market now, so there will be more geographical expansion and moving into online self-moderated testing; that's where there's scalability, to do it all online."

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