BrainJuicer: John Kearon

John Kearon decided to stop thinking up great ideas for other companies and set up BrainJuicer, his own online market research firm

John Kearon seems to have developed a happy knack of producing business success wherever he goes. Having launched three new Unilever brands at the age of 24, Kearon has enjoyed a series of business triumphs and is not breaking the habit with BrainJuicer, an online market research company, which was named the Service Business of the Year at the inaugural Startups Awards.

BrainJuicer, which conducts internet-based market research for companies, was started up by Kearon in January 2000. Within a year, the business secured Nike as a client and has since worked with household names such as the BBC, Cadbury’s and Boots.

Kearon founded BrainJuicer with an impressive CV behind him. Working for Unilever, he launched three new brands before becoming London’s youngest advertising agency director at the age of 29.

He admits that “the vision of being a successful entrepreneur crept up on me, somewhat.” In 1996, he set up Brand Genetics, which created products for the likes of Robinson’s Fruit Shoots and Amex Blue Card.

With the entrepreneurial bug finally biting, Kearon decided he was fed up of inventing ideas for other people and wanted to go it alone.

“I felt the time had come to put my money where my motivation was and invent and back my own idea,” he explains. “I’d had an idea to develop intelligent tools for use on the web and had started to work on prototypes. It took nearly two years of designing, building and rebuilding.

“Finally, our first and most significant breakthrough was winning the contract to provide feedback for Nike in the UK, on their events like Run London. From that point on, the business has gone from strength to strength, doubling in size every six months.”

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Kearon realised that market research was a long and laborious process. He felt that an internet-based system would speed things up and could be operated at a lower cost than traditional methods. Kearon backed his hunch by pouring his savings into the BrainJuicer project. He admits this was a difficult time.

“As time went on, I lived hand-to-mouth, working to pay the developers,” he recalls. “For the first couple of years, every penny I earned was re-invested back into the business.

“The greatest challenge was being able to continually finance a unique idea that was giving nothing back at that time and had never been done before.

“It was extremely difficult to keep up with the costs involved – supporting a family of three children – and I had to continually use my skills to earn enough income to pay for the next stage of development.

“In essence, I had two full-time jobs – one to develop the software, the second to subsidise that development. I suppose it was ‘The Elves and the Shoemaker’ but without the Elves!”

Having developed a new concept, Kearon then had to sell it to clients, something that proved initially problematic. Indeed, despite the stunning rise of BrainJuicer, Kearon admits that although the company’s credibility is now sky-high, there are still barriers to overcome with large companies.

Allied with Kearon’s previous experience, perseverance appears to be the driving force behind BrainJuicer. The founder continues to work an 80-hour week to keep the business moving forward.

His efforts are certainly paying off – the business is expanding around the globe, with offices set to open in Holland, the USA, China and Australia.

Although he names James Dyson as an entrepreneurial inspiration, he feels that the UK still trails the USA in terms of business startups.

“I think the UK has a long way to go to get to US standards but it is increasingly entrepreneur-friendly place to set up.

“The government has some good initiatives but needs to improve its financial and networking support of potentially world-beating businesses like BrainJuicer. I’m afraid Business Links by contrast are local, parochial and of little or no practical help to a company like ours,” he says.

So what would his advice be to a budding UK entrepreneur?

“The recipe for entrepreneurial success includes the following ingredients in various measures: creativity, resilience, determination, perseverance, stamina, drive, imagination, resourcefulness, courage, self-belief, commitment, ability to go without sleep and a touch of madness.”

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