While you were sleeping, the expert network space grew in importance and revenue. According to Max Friberg, CEO of Inex.one, an expert network aggregator, the category surpassed $2 billion in revenue globally this year. Inex.one, itself, more than doubled during 2021.
But the expert network space is not just growing in size and value, it’s also morphing in some very interesting directions. And, that’s creating a great deal of opportunity for freelance experts in many fields.
More and more freelance platforms and more traditional talent organizations see the expert network space as an adjacent opportunity for growth and profitability. In general, these new participants are taking advantage of their most important asset: their talent directory.
Executive recruiters are one example. Large global firms like Odgers Berndtson recognize that executive clients have a life cycle that extends beyond the next post. Many of these executives have unique expertise that can be monetized on a fractional basis, providing a side-hustle while the individual remains full-time in their executive role. And, upon retirement, many of these individuals continue to have attractive opportunity as experts and post-time advisors. Levelcompany.com, a recent startup founded by Peter Ekman a former GLG.com consulting executive, offers well-connected – and often recently retired – executives the chance to monetize their relationships through introductions. It’s a win/win; startups and SMBs benefit from the connections these executives provide. And, as Ekman points out, the executives both enjoy the interaction with younger colleagues, and appreciate the continued relevance it offers those who’ve retired from executive roles and feel a gap.
Research firms also see the potential for experts. Reveliolabs.com, a startup in the US has grown quickly and successfully by making its unique experts and expertise in data analysis easily accessible to both consultancies and researchers. Ravenry, a Singapore-based research platform both provides individual experts to investors and corporates, and has created an accelerator for experts in their network who are eager to build their own niche expert network. For example, as Ravenry CEO Ricky Willianto mentioned in a recent conversation, “One of our experts was able to grow their individual expertise in Indonesian banking into a thriving business employing several other experts.”
Consultancies are by no means behind the curve in offering an expert network advisory. Consulting marketplaces like Expertpowerhouse.com in Germany, Talmix in the UK, Bluebirds Partners in France and Morocco, and Catalant in the US, offer their consultant experts for short as well as longer term expert advisories. Traditional consultancies are getting in the game as well. Firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain in the US, and Egon Zehnder in Europe, recognize the potential to be providers as well as consumers of expertise. Platforms offering interim management talent like Ferovalo.com in Finland – typically these individuals are experienced experts in a function like Finance and HR, and depth in an industry – should also be more engaged in expert networks and interim professionals are often individually on expert platforms.
Functionally focused consulting boutiques like RBL.net in the HR space or West Monroe in Private Equity are increasingly taking advantage of expert opportunities to grow their service offering. The RBL “RBL Institute”, for example, brings together HR heads of large corporates for a yearly subscription of quarterly meetings, advance information on their proprietary research, and access to RBL experts and affiliates. Other firms, like Accenture, are taking notice.
Tech has noticed the possibilities of fractional expertise. Codementor.com, part of Arc.dev, provides what they describe as a coaching or mentoring service to companies looking to assist technical employees working with new or difficult design and coding challenges. Think of it as coaching tied to fractional programming.
We are also seeing change in the nature of expert network assignments. Historically, the expert network has focused on short engagements. According to Inex.One, 85% of expert gigs are historically less than one hour, and few take more than a full day. But, that’s changing as both clients and providers recognize that the potential for “longer tail” relationships requiring original research or additional experts. Dialectica.com, a fast growing London and Athens based expert network, explains that an increasing number of client requests are looking for subscription relationships like GLG or ongoing advisory support. As Friberg of Inex.One points out, “The boundary between consulting, research and expert guidance is blurring as more expert engagements grow in length and strategic importance, and as corporates as well as investors and consultants seek the help of experts.”
As the competitive and strategic importance of unique expert knowledge grows, the expertise industry is expanding. New platforms like Consultok.com in Latam and Sealed.network, operating in Southeast Asia are growing nicely. Overall, more than $350 million was invested in expert networks in 2021 according to expertopportunities.com. Platforms like Atheneum.ai and Tegus.co raised significant funds for expansion, and younger expert marketplaces like Prosapient.com, NewtonX.com, Techspert.io, Enquire.ai, Lynk.global, Arbolus.com, and Friberg’s Inex.one also won new investment. The industry is also increasing in specialization. For example, Keren Etkin’s thegerontechnologist.com offers expert insight in agetech. Firstthought.io emphasizes healthcare and life sciences. The Agile Talent Collaborative offers expertise in the freelancing industry. Keysheet.io provides experts in cryptocurrencies.
In conversation some years ago, Miles Everson, CEO of MBOpartners.com, described the growth potential of the fractional economy. It was prescient. We’re seeing it in so many ways: new expert networks offering the insights of global expert by the minute and hour; Zipcar.com providing car rental by the hour and Citibike offering bicycles in NYC by the hour; and Gorilla.io, a grocery service in NYC promising delivery within 10 minutes.
Expert networks is a part of a larger global trend: The growth of fractional service roles. Vanninchiefofstaff.com founded by former Accenture executive Keziah Wonstolen leads a growing platform of experienced chiefs of staff available fractionally. Fractional CFO roles are similarly growing. The expert network space has been a real beneficiary of the fractional trend, growing from $1.5 billion USD in 2020 to $2 billion this year, is attracting thousands of new participants, and seems likely to be an attractive growth adjacency for both new and traditional companies. Fractional expertise is in. 10 minute therapy sessions, anyone?
Viva la revolution!