Show empathy: You never know the whole story, and at a human level, it begins and ends with empathy.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Ramlet, the co-founder and CEO of Morning Consult, a billion-dollar, global enterprise tech company delivering intelligent data to power leaders’ decisions.
Michael Ramlet is the co-Founder and CEO of Morning Consult, a global enterprise technology company specializing in intelligent data to power leaders’ decision making. Ramlet co-founded Morning Consult in 2014 with the conviction that modern global leaders need better daily intelligence on what people think about brands, the economy, and geopolitics to make strategic decisions in a time of unprecedented change. In just seven years, Morning Consult has revolutionized the market research industry with the development of its proprietary technology and is now valued at over $1 billion, following a $70 million Series B funding round.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I grew up in the Madison, Wisconsin area. From a very young age, I was always entrepreneurial, whether it was mowing lawns in the summer or checking coats in the winter. I attended the University of Minnesota where I developed a passion for the intersection of business strategy, economics, and public policy, which is really the core of Morning Consult.
During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year, I interned on Capitol Hill and met my now co-founder Kyle Dropp. What I found most inspiring about Washington was the constant exposure to congressional and White House staff who were making such consequential decisions so early in their careers.
The next summer, I interned for a Fortune 500 healthcare company, the perfect encapsulation of business strategy and public policy colliding. I returned to the university convinced I wanted to pursue a PhD, and I began recruiting a well-known health finance professor to be my thesis advisor. In exchange, I promised the professor a morning email briefing covering the best healthcare industry news to save him time (that I hoped he’d spend on me). My professor began sharing it with industry leading executives as well as senior government leaders. (I had no idea at the time that this email briefing would become the basis of our content platform at Morning Consult.)
After graduation, Kyle and I reconnected as he was finishing his PhD at Stanford with a focus in online survey research. We discussed how the market research industry was ripe for disruption and realized we could create a “Bloomberg Terminal” for public opinion and market research powering the decision making of business and government leaders.
With $30,000 in angel capital, we tried to prove this idea by measuring what the young and uninsured thought about the newly created health insurance exchanges. We surveyed 2,000 U.S. adults online — roughly twice the industry standard — and found that a significant number were interested in purchasing insurance through the exchanges. We released the findings through the email briefing. The White House cited them in its afternoon press briefing, leading to a healthcare executive sending us a larger project. It was enough to quit our day jobs and launch Morning Consult.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
We founded Morning Consult with the conviction that modern global leaders’ decision making needs better daily intelligence. Traditional market research is an antiquated $90 billion industry. It takes too long, costs too much, and offers low quality insights. We wanted to introduce global scale and better quality standards, continuously collecting survey interviews to answer any question at a moment’s notice.
Building on cloud-based infrastructure and recruiting better technical teams led to the creation of a programmatic data collection platform leveraging pricing algorithms and global API networks to reach over 100 million potential survey respondents. This is unprecedented for the industry and something no else has been able to accomplish.
With scale, we could implement new programmatic quality assurance standards to ensure we reached attentive survey respondents and representative samples of each population in upwards of 100 countries.
Combining scale and speed programmatically allowed us to conduct daily surveys on over 4,000 brands and nearly every economic indicator in the 15 largest economies. With all of this proprietary data, we built an enterprise SaaS software platform for global executives to search, analyze, and share analysis in real time and make intelligent decisions.
The disruption is only getting started: the more than 35 million proprietary survey research interviews we’ve conducted are readymade for artificial intelligence applications like machine learning and natural language processing.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was a big meeting, and I was excited to show the solutions we could offer. I grabbed a marker and started to scribble on the nearest whiteboard, outlining our approach. Little did I know, that wall was not actually a whiteboard, and my contribution was now indelible. It was certainly one way to leave a mark.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I was incredibly fortunate to have a professor in Stephen Parente who took such an interest in my academic and professional development. The opportunity to work with him on my thesis led to the creation of what became the foundation of our company’s content, and his early investment allowed us to launch the company. My experience is proof the best mentors facilitate opportunities for personal discovery.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption is good when it informs better stakeholder decisions or outcomes.
Our delivery of clear decision intelligence is a positive disruption. Global leaders can now not only better understand what people think in real time, but at a more granular demographic or geographic level.
Disruption can have negative outcomes when it leads to overconfidence. Not all data is good data, and correlation does not imply causation. Global leaders need to be more analytically fluent and ask harder questions of the underlying data they use to make decisions. Look no further than the 2008 financial crisis.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
Be creative: Early on, we took on every client because we were willing to bet that we could creatively solve their problem. It forced us to think differently and allowed us to make non-traditional investments in areas like scalable data visualization that has become an enduring competitive advantage.
Have grit: It’s Murphy’s law running a startup. Our mantra — “You can’t get too high, and you can’t get too low” — allows us to take the long-view.
Show empathy: You never know the whole story, and at a human level, it begins and ends with empathy.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We’re expanding globally, both in our daily data collection and in our commercial operations, because it’s where our clients want us. By the end of this year, our intelligence platform will cover the 50 largest economies, and we’ll have a physical footprint in EMEA and APAC.
We will also continue to invest in industry leading technology like machine learning and natural language processing that help leaders make better decisions with higher quality data in real time.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
Every aspiring entrepreneur should read Titan by Ron Chernow and How the Internet Happened by Brian McCullough. Together, the titles bookend more than a century of American history. The challenges, foresight, and innovation that defines successful companies is nearly identical in two different industrial revolutions. In Titan, Chernow details the incredible life of John D. Rockefeller and Standard Oil, which essentially created the mold for the modern corporation and large-scale philanthropy. In How the Internet Happened, McCullough brings to life the pivotal moments and sometimes luck shaping the companies now critical to the lives of Millennials, Gen Z, and society.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think a lot about this quote from Rosalyn Carter: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go, but ought to be.”
We conduct more interviews on what people think than anyone else in the world, but that doesn’t mean leaders should simply make decisions because of public opinion today. In some cases, our data offers critical context enabling leaders to go against public opinion and better understand the need for education among employees, customers, or citizens to bring them along to where they ought to be in the future.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Representative data that focuses on building a deeper understanding of all communities: the work we’ve done with central banks around the world on the economic impact of the pandemic, especially in underserved communities, is an example of where traditional survey research fails to offer any insight.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!