By December 7, 2010

Lab42 is one of the young, nimble startups carving out a niche in Chicago’s growing tech community. Specifically, Jonathan Pirc and Laura Rokita, the team behind Lab42, are forging ahead to establish an altogether new category of market research firm.

Lab42 is market research reinvented for the social-media landscape. “We obtain our data directly from users who are already on social networks,” said Jonathan Pirc. He continued, “we have partnerships with various Facebook applications that allow their users to take our surveys in exchange for virtual incentives. Because there is such a huge pool of people who currently use Facebook, we can target nearly any consumer segment for our surveys–anything from pool owners to moms with 3 kids.”

From a newly-launched online dashboard, Lab42’s clients enter questions targeted at a specific market, the identification of which is often aided by Lab42. From there, Lab42 fields the surveys on it’s social-media partners and produces results quickly, within a few days. What makes Lab42 different from other market research firms is its methodology; instead of polling tired panels of survey-takers, Lab42 gathers data “as people go about their daily lives”, according to the company website. The result of this is valuable, on-point data. Also to Lab42’s advantage is its flexible pricing, which gives even the leanest startups the opportunity to better access their target markets. It’s a win-win.

According to Pirc, “we also have a full service offering in which we create, field, and analyze entire research studies for our clients”, which seems ideal for entrepreneurs still figuring out their target market. Lab42’s full-service market research option relieves clients of the burden of formulating probing questions. Said Rokita, “Since the respondents to our online surveys are consumers going about their usual activity on social networks, Lab42 believes that questions should only be included in a survey if they obtain answers to critical questions. This keeps surveys from being too long or tedious for respondents.”

Therein lies Lab42’s edge: data gathered in the moment from a given target market is “fresh”, and data from a target demographic in a “natural” setting, as social networking utilities are increasingly becoming, are better. It’s the man on the street interview of the socially-networked age.

Lab42 will continue to enhance its online survey creation process so that anyone can create an account on our site and begin performing market research. “We especially hope the online dashboard will be a good resource for entrepreneurs,” said Rokita. Currently, Lab42 is determining how to automate the fielding of surveys.

I asked Rokita about the current, “traditional” market research space. “Traditional full-service market research can easily cost tens of thousands. However, similar online market research packages to Lab42 start at about  $1000. At this time we have not found another tool that does not use survey panels, though, so there are no direct comparisons.” Pirc added that Lab42 just ran a survey with a traditional online market research firm to validate his company’s results, “and it cost $1200 for a total of 105 respondents (and we created our own survey). Our $500 package includes assistance in writing the survey and comes with 125 respondents.”

Both Pirc and Rokita agree that Chicago is an extremely friendly city toward new business. “Not only are many of our potential clients located within Chicago, but the entire startup and entrepreneurial community has been such a great resource for business growth and development,” said Pirc.

Rokita’s hopes for Lab42 extend far beyond Chicago, though. “Our goal is to become a go-to market research tool for companies of all sizes. We will have to overcome the belief that market research is supposed to be an expensive, untimely process.” Agile and accurate, Lab42 is among the first of a new breed of market research firms leveraging the popularity of social networks. “We are breaking the mold,” said Rokita. I suggest a different perspective: Facebook broke the mold of “traditional” online market research, and Lab42 is building a new standard from the rubble.