• Company Updates
  • Sarabjot Kaur
  • AUG 17, 2014

From Idea to Action

What prompted the idea for Experfy and how did it come to fruition?

It all began with my experience with virtualization of team members, which dates back almost a decade ago. After consulting for companies like State Street and Fidelity, I founded a digital agency in Boston.  My team’s almost exclusive reliance on virtualized talent did not prevent us from delivering high quality cutting-edge services to Fortune 500s like EMC and organizations like Harvard and Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Relying on virtual consultants—sometimes on the other side of the globe—was a risky proposition but our economic limitations gave us little choice.  We were frequently able to take away business from our larger competitors by hiring virtualized talent on short-term, per project basis.

However, our experience with existing generic marketplaces—Elance, oDesk, Freelancer—was often sketchy because the talent they provided was not vetted. There were some successes but most of the time, it was frustrating and required great deal of patience to hire 4 or 5 people before we could find one who could perform the job—despite rating systems and testing for specific skills. Over the years, we built our own rolodex of highly reliable talent that possessed highly specialized skills and delivered on-demand—and at a fraction of the cost of full-time employees.

My co-founder Harpreet Singh—a Harvard PhD who began his career on Wall Street—worked for large corporates like Citigroup, which acquainted him with big consulting firms that were summoned whenever there was a fire in the boardroom.  These consulting teams consisted of a partner who came to the first meeting and often left behind junior talent to tailor existing decks to “solve” the problem at hand.  Corporate strategy appeared to be synonymous with corporate waste, largely because the right talent was not involved. Spending six-figures on a deck was not uncommon and there were no cheaper alternatives.

Unfortunately, in those days the consulting market was not ready for any kind of disruption. In the past decade, however, we have witnessed breakthrough technological advances, cost pressures, globalization, changing mindsets, 24/7 business cycles and instant communication—all teaming up to change how we work.  Due to this radical shift, we have seen the emergence of several marketplaces but they have not been embraced by larger enterprises. Not surprisingly, a Harvard Business Review case study on oDesk from 2011 makes its clear that the virtual marketplace does not see large businesses as its target market. These marketplaces are horizontal, enabling small-business to hire from data-entry operators and accountants to programmers and podcasters. Small businesses have no choice but to hire this talent, but mid-size to large companies are unwilling to take risks and engage in experimentation, which has its own cost.

Another innovative approach to disrupt the traditional sourcing models has emerged through crowdsourcing platforms.  There have been success stories of crowdsourcing platforms like UBER, AIRBnB and Kickstarter, which are disrupting automative, hotel and fundraising industries, respectively. Following their footsteps, several talent crowdsourcing platforms have applied the same concept to innovation and technology services. Large corporates and organizations are utilizing such platforms to run competitions to validate their ideas, solve open ended problems and innovate on product development. Crowdsourcing works well when companies are willing to make their project information and data public for the crowd to work on it. This is not feasible for most companies because they don’t want their competitors to run away with their ideas and data. We believe that there is a difference between sharing an apartment and sharing thousands of people to solve a problem.  In the latter case, one or two people out of hundreds who solved the problem see a financial reward—this process is often unethical and frequently lacks an equitable outcome for everyone who spent time solving a problem for a commercial entity.  Many people participating in such competitions, however, are motivated by the thrill of solving the problem.  Others are amateurs who are trying to build their resumes.  When we need a reliable resource for day to day deadline driven projects or when confidentiality is concerned, crowdsourcing is not a sustainable model.

About one and a half years ago, we decided to create an expert marketplace connecting enterprises with elite consultants, academics, hard to find domain experts for consulting services.  We even met with Gerson Lehrman Group—the largest “offline” expert network—to understand their business model. To validate our idea and pick our beachhead, we ran a survey of 150 large companies asking them about their current need for external consultants. We spoke to business executives in almost all industry sectors from  high tech, healthcare and financial to consumer goods and retail. After spending about 3 to 4 months just talking to people and researching, there was no doubt in our minds that there was a huge supply and demand imbalance and fragmentation in the analytics and business intelligence market. Our idea of an expert marketplace was born—a marketplace that is focused on domain-specific data experts . Data scientists, visualizers, data engineers and BI architects who don’t just work on data—they work on clinical trials data, financial data, telecom data or retail data. In the last year, we have been working  tirelessly on creating a platform that we envision to be a de facto place for all data professionals.  A place to collaborate and find work. A place where smaller vendor companies can outshine larger companies by the power of their specialization and senior-level resources.

By Sarabjot Kaur
Co-Founder, Experfy
The Harvard Innovation Lab

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The Harvard Innovation Lab


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