As founder and president of marketing research company Elevated Insights, Debbie Balch has structured her business around the three Rs: research, results and revenue.
With a degree in marketing from the University of Texas at Austin and years of experience in independent consulting and market research for brands such as Frito-Lay, PepsiCo and Starbucks, Balch connects companies with consumers to develop concepts and products.
“My ultimate goal is to be able to take the experience and techniques I’ve learned from corporate America and reapply them to organizations, nonprofits and efforts that genuinely help,” she said. “The organizations that I think can make the biggest difference in our city and in our world are often the ones that can’t afford the expertise that big companies can.”
The business’ fully integrated space at 525 N. Tejon St. includes high-tech rooms for research and development, as well as space for focus groups, co-creation sessions, viewing space and usability testing.
Balch sat down with the Business Journal this week to discuss her passions, company growth and plans for local partnerships.
What are the current research projects?
We have an off-roading study, a few infant studies and a couple app studies.
I would say nine out of 10 clients come from outside of Colorado. It’s great because they’re bringing new revenue into the city and getting consumer input from people in Colorado Springs. In fact, we just finished one for CamelBak. They wanted fitness enthusiasts and bikers, and what better market for that than in Colorado Springs?
It makes me happy to see the impact our business can have on the local community and citizens, because with each project that comes here, there are probably 30-60 residents recruited to share their opinions and get paid $100-150 dollars for their participation.
How did you get into the industry?
I’ve always been extremely curious about why people do what they do. Out of college, I was offered three different positions with Proctor & Gamble and chose to work in brand management. I learned how to run a business, develop advertising, a media plan — all the different facets of running a business — but my favorite part was consumer understanding. So I switched into marketing research and around that time, we started having kids. We moved, and I stayed home with the kids — but needed something on the side to keep my mind engaged, so I started working for Frito-Lay and PepsiCo, forming qualitative focus groups and insight programs.
“The drive I have with my business is not about money.”
I did straight consulting for a while and when the kids left for college, we branded to Elevated Insights and started hiring and training people. It’s a fun stage in life. If we can get enough sustainable business from other companies coming here, and I could turn my personal attention to nonprofit and local work, I would love that. In my mind that’s where I’d like this to be headed in five years.
Did you envision starting your own company?
I think it’d be hard for me to join a team and not take on leadership. It wasn’t that I had this big desire — I think it was more that it’s my natural bent and I’m excited to do it. I wanted to throw energy into something that I’m super passionate about.
I prefer working on my own and being able to say, ‘This is our culture, these are our values and this is how we want to structure our weeks, days and years.’
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It’s almost like a rubber band that pulls and pulls until you’re like, ‘OK, let’s change something here.’ I think it’s about paying attention and then making adjustments — such as hiring an assistant.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Knowing how to be present in my day and turn it off at the end of it. I think it’s learning not to be too relaxed during those downtimes, and use it to do all of the things you purposely set out for at the beginning of the year and are important for you to accomplish.
I think we’ll keep growing, but we have to decide how much we want to grow. Do we want to grow at a slower or bigger pace? Growing at a faster pace could bring in venture capital — but is that something we want to do? Or do we want more of a slow and steady 50 percent growth that we’ve been targeting?
What are some of your interests outside of work?
I love dogs, and that’s why I let employees bring theirs to work. I also love music, gardening and giving back. We go to Nicaragua at least once a year, sometimes twice, on organized trips where we bring hundreds of people to help provide medical supplies and clean water. It’s a cause that’s near and dear to my heart.
What are you passionate about?
I’m deeply spiritual and think a lot links back to that. The drive I have with my business is not about money. It would be cool if we sold some of our trademark techniques to a big company and received money, but I’d probably get more pleasure distributing it among the team. It’s not as much about the money as it is the challenge of each and every study — each being a unique puzzle and getting to the bottom of it.
What is your leadership style?
I try and give my team the tools and end objective, but not direct them in exactly how to get there.
The cool thing about being a younger, growing company is that we’re moving in a variety of directions. We’ve been able to almost custom-craft cool jobs, filling the sweet spots with talented people who’ve come through.
What is your next goal?
Most of the time during our research, people will earn a bit of money for their participation. What we want to do is partner with the local nonprofit community, building a panel of Colorado Springs respondents so they can have a voice.
We want them to have the option at the end of their study, whether they want to receive their incentive in a gift card, check or donate it to a local charity of their choice. n CSBJ