Ricardo Lopes is GeoPoll’s Regional Director for Southern Africa, leading both the GeoPoll team and business development efforts in the region. He spoke to Frankline Kibuacha about his work at GeoPoll, his experiences, and his thoughts on the research industry.  

Frankline: To start us off, please tell me about your background before you came to GeoPoll.

Ricardo Lopes: Before Joining GeoPoll, I was in the media industry both at agency and publisher. I was involved in strategy development, which gave me a firm grasp of using multiple data sources to make informed planning decisions on spending, targeting, channel selection, and managing cross-country teams and global clients.

What drew you to join GeoPoll? 

Emerging markets pose a challenge when it comes to acquiring actionable data that businesses desperately need, not to mention expensive and time-consuming. So, when I heard about GeoPoll, its integration with telco customer bases, and the technology it had built to incorporate mobile-based data gathering methods for market research purposes at a scale, I was very interested.

After joining the team is when I realized that was just the tip of the iceberg. I was intrigued by the vast array of clients our products and services are positioned to, all powered by mobile.

How long ago was that, and what changes have you observed since joining GeoPoll?

I have been in GeoPoll for four years – I joined as a Business Development Manager in 2019.

The one key defining factor of GeoPoll’s culture is adaptability, a trait we inherited from our earlier startup days. I have seen this company react to client needs, adapt to changing environmental factors, and accommodate an explosion of growth in a fast, decisive manner. Being a rapidly growing company with growing skills and talents, I am excited about observing my colleagues and learning from them in this ever-changing company.

Can you briefly describe your role at GeoPoll and your main responsibilities? 

I manage the Southern African Region both from a client and team perspective. We work collectively as a unit to develop client relationships, implement projects, and ensure the region’s overall success.

As a Regional Director, what excites you most about your work at GeoPoll? 

The clients. They come from various sectors and countries, which makes for exciting work. Not many people get to start their day talking to a community-based radio station in Mozambique and end their day discussing a project with a mining consortium in London. No day is the same, which can be challenging at times but provides me the constant change needed to stay motivated in my role.

With the wide array of clients comes the diverse research challenges to be addressed. It is exciting having a birds-eye view on feedback gained from such a wide-ranging respondent profile. Often, I watch or read the news about an obscure product or demographic and say, “I have done research on that.”

Where do you think Market Research in Africa is headed in the next five years?

Difficult question, our focus is always on research applications that are born out of new technology. Take, for instance, the predicted surge in popularity of voice assistants allowing the capture of 125 words per minute in a conversation. The potential is that new research channels are likely to open up and enable researchers to gain more insights quicker than currently done, with more in-depth and rich qualitative answers.

A good gauge of where things are heading is looking towards what the global clients are asking for. When all the buzzwords are removed, they are all asking for the same thing – in moment or agile research. The power of this feedback being close to the decision-making process is attractive to insights managers but poses a challenge to market researchers. We must focus on cutting down on research times to short bursts of focused research for speed and flexibility of research experiences. It is not only in the fieldwork process but in the auxiliary services such as design and analysis. AI will play a massive role in this regard, although I believe it is still a bit early to automate the research process fully.

All in all, I believe it will be more of the same. We will see our CAWI capabilities increase with the rise of mobile internet penetration on the continent.

What has surprised you about GeoPoll and the projects we work on?

The speed at which we can deploy and field projects always leaves me a bit surprised. I am further impressed by the vast array of data collection solutions we have at our disposal in case of challenges during project implementation.

Do you have a favorite project or experience at GeoPoll you would like to share?

During my onboarding in Nairobi, a colleague invited me to tag along for a series of qualitative focus groups run for Colgate in Kajiado, where we were interviewing members of a Maasai tribe. Halfway through the day, we were lagging due to the large distance needed to walk between locations, and our international clients were starting to take strain under the harsh conditions. As an experienced motorcycle rider, I rented a bike from someone in the community and proceeded to transport clients, moderators, and GeoPoll staff between interviewing locations. This not only made our clients happy but gave me a unique opportunity to experience the landscape from a perspective not many tourists can have.

I became somewhat of a celebrity mzungu among the locals and was welcomed into a village. All of this culminated in a marriage proposal from a local girl whose family offered me ten cows as a dowry. This is how I got my earlier nickname in the company “10 COWS”. A top experience not only at my time at GeoPoll but in my entire life.

What is a fact about yourself that people may not know right away? 

I am very transparent, so it does not take long to find out what I am about. Quick unknown fact, I paid my way through university playing Poker.

What do you like to do outside of work? 

South Africa has fantastic nightlife. However, COVID-19 and being a new dad has changed that for me. I enjoy the outdoors, and growing up in a surfing mad family, I take surf trips down to the coast as often as I can. Living inland, I enjoy downhill mountain biking and hunting.

Finally, what does it take to succeed in your line of work?

Being competitive is paramount to success in my role. It is essential to be driven and have the proverbial thick skin in business development. If I had to look at GeoPoll specifically, it is important to be “change fit” and be willing to redesign old paradigms and ways of working drastically and often even if you do not agree with them. This has taught me to trust our leaders, which always results in a learning experience, good or bad.