CivicScience Pittsburgh Founder John Dick Makes Headlines with New Technology
By Andrea Bosco
Photograph by Michael Fornataro
Sponsored by CONSOL Energy
On February 3 at 10 p.m., tune in to AXS-TV for its 2nd Annual GRAMMY® Prediction Special, moderated by Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray. Dreamed up by Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban, the show idea was pitched to John Dick, founder and CEO of CivicScience, a locally based consumer research company, where Cuban is an advisor. For the second consecutive year, John will sit on an esteemed panel of music industry insiders for the broadcast, sharing GRAMMY® prediction data collected by CivicScience in partnership with Billboard magazine. “It should be a blast,” he says. We caught up with the revered entrepreneur on his pioneering startup.
Give us the scoop on CivicScience.
John Dick: Put simply, CivicScience is a polling company that we started in 2008. We engage millions of people every month in fun but rewarding polls, quizzes, and games. Then, we combine all of that data to measure consumer attitudes and identify trends. We deliver that information to our customers through an enterprise software platform, which they use to guide their marketing strategies, measure the effectiveness of those strategies, and make bets on the future. Our customers span all areas of the Fortune 500, including companies in retail, CPG, finance, media, health care, fashion, and technology. We’re based in East Liberty and currently have 21 employees, with plans to hire five to 10 more this year.
What inspired you to start the company?
JD: The rapid decline of polling and survey research is a bigger economic and societal problem than most people realize. First, businesses and political organizations are trying to understand consumers based on limited, flawed information; they’re misspending billions, if not trillions, of dollars as a result. And, more importantly, reliable opinion research is critical to democracy and free markets. If we don’t know what “the real world” thinks, then business and policy decisions will only represent the will of elites. We have to not only save the polling industry, but also improve it through modern technology — that’s why we started CivicScience.
CivicScience is cutting-edge in its field. Why?
JD: Advances in automation and large-scale data mining are allowing us to take polling to levels never before imaginable. Where a traditional polling sample might include 500 or 1,000 people, we’re often analyzing responses from hundreds of thousands, if not a million people or more. When you apply the latest techniques in artificial intelligence and data science to numbers like that, you can discover things that were unachievable even five years ago. Most companies like CivicScience face a lot of pressure from their investors to relocate to the Silicon Valley — but we don’t. There is no better source of the kinds of technology and talent we need than at Carnegie Mellon.
What is an average day like for you?
JD: I spend about 20 percent of my time traveling, primarily to New York and the West Coast, where the majority of our customers and prospects are based. When I’m in Pittsburgh, my days are pretty regimented. My days are packed with sales, marketing, and planning meetings. It’s probably unusual for a startup CEO, but I generally leave the office by 5 p.m. every day. I like to be home to see my kids and shuttle them to their various activities. After they go to bed, say 9 or 9:30 p.m., I go back to work until midnight. I’m definitely at my most productive during those late night hours.
:: CivicScience, 6101 Penn Ave. #501, East Liberty. 412.281.1954. civicscience.com.
John was born and raised in North Huntingdon and attended Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., where he majored in politics and philosophy. He moved back to Pennsylvania to work briefly in politics. During that time, he collaborated with a good friend on a business idea, and, a few weeks before his 25th birthday, they started GSP, a company that offered services to early stage tech and biotech companies who were looking to do business with the government. GSP grew quickly to include seven offices around the country and a large clientele. John exited the company in 2007 to start CivicScience, and GSP was sold to Duane Morris in 2011. One of his passions is his dedication to charitable work through two main activities. As a member of the local rock band Moscow Mule, John and his bandmates donate their booking fees and other proceeds to charity each time they play, and have raised thousands of dollars and new awareness for a number of local Pittsburgh charities. A few years ago, the band was named the first-ever group recipient of the Jefferson Award for their charitable work — one of their proudest moments. John is also on the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Association, a local group of entrepreneurs that has quietly raised or donated over $500,000 for children’s charities in the region.