Show Him the Money

Adam Froman’s digital-strategy and digital-consulting firm, Delvinia, has conceived some incredible market-research ideas in the past decade and a half, and as Froman sees it, the best innovations are those that also turn a profit

Social media, streaming content, large-scale search platforms, myriad online shopping portals—today’s digital technologies have given people incredible choice and control over what they want to do and how they want to interact with businesses and brands. Therefore, Delvinia looks at everything from the users’ perspective and helps its clients harness the large amounts of data available about consumers’ habits and behaviours, offering insights regarding how companies should make business decisions going forward.

CEO Adam Froman founded the company as a Toronto-based digital-strategy, experience, design, and innovation business in 1998, and since then, he has overseen its strategic vision while keeping a sharp eye on its finances. “With any entrepreneurial business, cash flow is king,” he says. “I’m accountable financially when everything goes wrong; it all comes down on my shoulders. So I’ve found that as long as I have control of all the financials and cash flow, then I can make decisions in a timely manner.”

Froman holds himself, along with his business partner, Steve Mast, accountable for Delvinia’s overall well-being, but he also knows no one person can keep a business afloat. That’s where his team comes in—one that he’s happy to offer support and encouragement to. “I am becoming more of a cheerleader because, as our company grows, I have to make sure that people are doing what they need to do and are accepting the accountability that comes with their roles,” he says. “It’s one thing giving people responsibility in a particular role, but if something goes wrong, who’s ultimately accountable?”

5 Questions
with Adam Froman

 

Is there a technology, trend, or idea that’s driving your company forward?
I would say the trend of mobile data collection. I think there’s a huge opportunity to use mobile technologies to holistically track consumer behaviour in an “omnichannel” world.

How do you innovate on a day-to-day basis?
I’m constantly pushing everybody out of their comfort zone. If you can do that, you can solve problems in ways you never thought you could solve them.

How has the notion of innovation changed in the past decade?
Innovation today is about applying technology, whereas 10 years ago, it was developing technology.

What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
It’s constantly changing, evolving, testing, and learning, but it can commercialize and have sound business models, and it’s making real money. My focus is the commercialization of innovation.

How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
We have an incredible environment here in Canada, where you can actually use your retained earnings and cash flow to trigger investments, tax credits, and funding to be able to put your people to work on innovative ideas.

Because of Froman’s efforts, Delvinia remains innovative today, but as more businesses push toward digital, it’s becoming more difficult to stand out from the crowd, so Froman and his team have taken a “three-pillar” approach in an effort to stay ahead of the competition. “What continues to differentiate us as an organization is our whole approach to innovation,” Froman says. “In Canada, there is a great opportunity for small to medium enterprises to access research-and-development funding from governments to help stimulate innovation. We’ve done a lot of our own R&D projects, and we’ve been able to invest in ourselves to work on these initiatives and then recover that investment in government grants or tax credits. The challenge then becomes how to successfully commercialize that innovation.”

One of the biggest money-makers to come from Delvinia’s approach is its AskingCanadians business. AskingCanadians is an online data-collection firm with access to more than 600,000 Canadians who have opted in to participate in surveys that influence today’s leading brands. The company offers a range of services, including survey programming, voice-of-the-customer programs, and online research tools that can be used to test media creative and understand the habits and behaviours of consumers. Through partnerships with some of Canada’s well-known retailers and loyalty programs, AskingCanadians offers incentives to its participants for their opinions.

“[AskingCanadians] came out of R&D work we did back in 2003 around how broadband would affect market research,” Froman says. “Through a series of R&D projects, it evolved into launching an online research panel and has become one of the success stories and spin-off businesses to be commercialized out of Delvinia. We just expanded our office space, and AskingCanadians has had triple-digit growth every year for the past three years since we really focused on its growth strategy.”

Froman and Delvinia aren’t just using AskingCanadians to get in the minds of the shopping public, either; the subsidiary is also playing a role in government. Delvinia has used the AskingCanadians online research community to create the Voice of e-Democracy: a platform that enables governments to develop a dialogue with citizens online rather than through traditional channels such as phone calls, letters, and meetings.

“Citizens have total choice and control of how they want to interact with government because of digital technologies,” Froman says. “I really feel … that we can help governments [with] how they dialogue with their citizens, how they share data. The future of democracy will be based upon building a transparent and trusting relationship between governments and their citizens. Since digital technologies have given the choice and control to the masses, governments need to demonstrate their leadership and embrace e-Democracy instead of fearing it.”