Queritel testing new online research platform
Online research service Queritel is beta-testing a new platform that went live in January, but which has already attracted 200 clients in three Caribbean countries, according to CEO Shani Bennett.
"The majority of our legal questions come from Trinidad. The majority of our marketing questions come equally from Barbados and Jamaica," Bennett told the Financial Gleaner.
The system is performing above expectations and has already generated revenue of US$6,000, he said.
"Our first thought was to have at least one question per day for the whole year. At that rate we certainly would break even, but what we've found with testing is that because of the Caribbean-wide reach and some places in the developing world, we were getting an average of 10 questions per day."
Since Queritel's start-up in 2015 by Bennett, as a law student, some $500,000 has been invested in the operation. It began as a service, ResearchAid Plus, for students of the University of the West Indies, UWI, but morphed into the business it is today.
The nascent company also got a financial boost in March $2 million big as winner of the National Business Model Competition staged annually by the Development Bank of Jamaica.
Asked how he plans to invest those funds, Bennett said it would be ploughed into the business to aid further development and engage more research contractors.
Queritel's management team includes Kevonne Martin as vice-president of marketing and operations; Marseille Skyers as vice-president of finance; and Shanice Bryan as vice-president of technology and development. All are final-year students at the University of the West Indies.
The company currently has about 200 contractors who act as resource persons in answering questions. Recruitment starts with an invitation to known lecturers in the UWI network along with experts in particular fields. In some cases, lecturers recommend top-tier students, and Queritel also engages other specialists overseas. Invitees are subjected to rigorous vetting, according to Bennett.
"Our vetting process is very stringent because you will understand that we are only as strong as our researchers are. Our vetting process includes psychological assessment, problem-solving, and logic. We also verify qualifications, including institutions attended and programmes covered," he said.
Research requests from clients start at US$24 per query and can either be made via the company's website under the general heading of market information or legal information. Complex queries requiring In-depth research generate higher fees.
"What sometimes happens is that our contractors actually bid for jobs and the client may opt for one or the other, depending on that researcher's rating," said Bennett, who owns 100 per cent of Queritel.
Bennett adds that the research talent at UWI is immense but often comes with challenges.
"Yes, we made some mistakes and that centred on some of the people we hired and our ability to monitor their performance. You will appreciate that being in a virtual environment means you can't be in touch with persons to physically check on their work. The good thing is that we have sought to learn from those mistakes," he told the Financial Gleaner.
As a safeguard, Queritel has coded performance indicators into its system to track whether contractors are fulfilling their assigned jobs. The company has implemented a project management system that sets timelines and deadlines, and generates reminders to researchers, the chief executive said.