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David Walker, co-founder and CEO at the Happen Group on innovation

Agnieszka Gibbon (Social Media Portal (SMP)) - 29 March 2017

David Walker from 10 year-old Happen Group shares more about  innovation for global brands, StarMaker and more

Happen Group logo 150x150Social Media Portal (SMP): What is your name and what do you do there for Happen Group?

David Walker (DW): I’m David Walker, co-founder and CEO.

SMP: Briefly, tell us about Happen Group.

We help businesses in crowded consumer markets (like household products, drinks and electronics) consistently beat the odds of innovation success. 

SMP: When was it founded, how many people work there and how it is funded?

We created Happen in 2007, two years later we co-founded Winkle which is our sister market research business also specialising in innovation. We are now 65 people with offices in London, Amsterdam, New York and Sydney. We are self-funded.

Photograph of David Walker, cofounder and CEO of Happen GroupSMP: Who are your target audience and why?

DW: Innovation, marketing and research directors at companies who operate in crowded consumer markets. Companies like Reckitt Benckiser, Arla Foods, Philips and Heineken.

SMP: You’ve reached a 10th year anniversary, what are you most proud of what you ‘ve achieve din this time?

I am proud that we have practiced what we preach by continuously innovating our own business, creating success with SWEAT, our Asset Out Innovation approach and StarMaker Digital Analytics.  Overall I am most proud of delivering $4.2bn of incremental value for our clients. I think that’s a big achievement for a company that started round my kitchen table in 2007.

SMP: What are the challenges that you’ve encountered and how are you overcoming them in what you have been doing so far at Happen Group?

DW: We started the business in 2007.  When 2008 came around the world changed quite dramatically.  The financial crisis hit and it was impossible for our clients to get CAPEX signed off which put intense pressure on our own market for innovation services. So we (or more precisely, Costas one of my co-founders) created SWEAT, our asset out methodology in response to those market conditions.  Instead of dreaming up blue sky ideas, SWEAT starts the innovation journey by looking for smart ways to modify existing assets in order to create innovations for consumer without needing CAPEX.

We co-founded Winkle in 2009 because we were frustrated with the clunkiness of the market research tools available to us as innovators at the time and because we saw the opportunity ‘new’ online data collection offered to make the whole process more agile.  In 2009 internet penetration in the UK was already 78%, but for the first few years we had our work cut out persuading market research buyers that it was a viable data collection method compared to the old, slower, but better known approaches of street intercepts and CATI.

We see the same sort of challenges with StarMaker which is conquering the digital data frontier for innovation – it’s still early days in this market and many clients are nervous about using it because they don’t yet have any experience to draw on.  One thing we’ve learned is that leading innovation comes with getting lots of doors slammed in your face, but that only serves to make the success all the sweeter when you find an enlightened client who is prepared to be an early adopter.

Happen Group homepage image

SMP: Tell us about StarMaker, what is it and what does it do?

DW: StarMaker is a digital analytics toolkit designed specifically to power innovation. For innovation we are interested in two extreme emotions – frustration and excitement.  Frustration because it is the first indicator of a missed need and therefore the seed capital of innovation.  Excitement because it indicates where new ideas are really succeeding which is another rich source of clues about how to build new products that will work. It works by using very smart analytics to trawl through the 2 Tn Tb of data being added to the web space every day sniffing out the fragments of data we need to inspire and optimise innovations.

Find out more about StarMaker by watching the YouTube video.

SMP: How is it being used and what are the benefits for brands?

DW: It’s being used to find innovations in food, household, personal care, healthcare and consumer electronics.  There are two key areas where it works – StarScout identifies the missed needs / opportunity areas faster, deeper and with more confidence than any traditional research approach. Scout can also be used to identify new ideas that are showing early promise – which can be candidates for acquisitions or inspire fast follower strategies. StarTrack helps optimise the product launches once they’re in market by providing an early feedback loop so that launch communications and the next generation of product can be optimised before the first warehouse of stock has even sold through. You can read more about it at the Happen website.

SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?

DW: When one of the world’s best known mobile handset manufacturers decided to use StarTrack to optimise its product launches.  

You can find out more about me on my LinkedIn profile.

SMP: Best way to contact you and Happen Group?

DW: I can reached at our London office in Clerkenwell on +44 (0)20 725 00 234 or

Or you can find all contact details for our global offices.

A recent Business Live interview on BBC World News can be found at YouTube.

Now some questions for fun

SMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?

DW: Porridge, microwaved eggs and turkey breast.

SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?

Organised assistance for the American senior sitting next to me on the plane tonight as she didn’t know what an insanely long walk it is from gate D26 to the exit at Schiphol.

SMP: If you weren’t working at Happen Group what would you be doing?

DW: Therapy.

SMP: When / where did you go on your last holiday and why?

Rio de Janeiro at New Year?

SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?

DW: Say hi to Johanna, our UK hub manager, who secretly runs our entire business.

SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?

Do you mean one I don’t have already?

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