When Wyatt Nordstrom launched Maven.co back in 2009, he had questions. Questions he could not find answers to. Maven Research was founded, three years ago this month, to use the web's long reach to answer the unanswerable questions businesses have on a weekly basis. Since then, Maven has quietly served some of the biggest clients in the business world, raised $2 million from two funding rounds, and now has 25 employees in cities across the United States. "We've been under the radar...but we're starting to get more attention, particularly from fortune 500 companies," said Nordstrom in an interview with WebProNews. "We've created what we consider the fastest way of sourcing expertise,"
On the Maven website, the company is described as a global knowledge marketplace. Marketplace is the functional word here, the one that makes it different from Wikipedia's global knowledge compendium. Maven's customers are searching for data and advice that doesn't yet exist, and they are willing to pay for it.
Maven provides three types of services: electronic surveys, telephone consultation, and extended consultation. Maven talent-sources industry experts from a global pool and pays them to answer their clients' questions. "What you get is a quick way to get to any kind of expertise," said Nordstrom. He pointed out that, in his opinion, Maven has kept its services uncomplicated, requiring a minimal amount of expertise for both clients and consultants to access and use.
The cost of Maven's services scale with the amount or difficulty of answers needed. For example, surveys scale with the number of questions on the survey and the difficulty of finding the right people to take the survey. A survey of CEOs for example, would be more expensive because of their relative rareness and high level of expertise. The surveys come back to clients as raw data. Maven does not provide analysis, but does produce survey results that feature some simple graphs.
Telephone consultation is provided at the consultant's per-minute rate. Maven arranges the session by scheduling a time for the consultation, and then ringing both the client and the consultant's phones at that time.
Extended consulting allows clients to hire experts for longer durations. For all of these services Maven acts as an administrator, handling compensation and other details.
For each of these services, consultants are vetted through a qualification program. Clients work with Maven to develop knowledge and expertise thresholds that consultants must pass to be part of a survey or considered for consultation work. In the case of extended consulting, experts must complete written interviews. Broad qualifications will provide more survey data, while niche expert qualifications, such as "oil company CEO's," would provide more precise, niche answers.
Nordstrom did confirm Maven's talent source pool does include CEOs. He emphasized, though, that any kind of expert has a place on Maven, no matter their career level. Nordstrom told us that for its members, Maven is not dissimilar to LinkedIn, just more private. The company's talent pool, which they consider to be a social network, has grown virally, mainly by word-of-mouth, with expert colleagues telling each other about the extra consulting work available through Maven. It's similar to Demand Media except, instead of writing, Maven is crowd-sourcing expertise.
Maven is still expanding its services and trying to cover any kind of query a business may have. In April of this year the company launched its "Knowledge Communities" product, which enables businesses to use Maven within their own workforce. This allows sprawling, multi-national businesses to make sure none of the expertise they have hired is going to waste.
Nordstrom's goal for Maven is, like so many other tech startup founders, to cut the red tape, lawyers, and expense from traditional business practices - in his case, talent sourcing. He wants Maven to "be the single source for all forms of expertise." Having already serviced clients such as Heinz, Procter & Gamble, and GlaxoSmithKline, it appears the company is well on its way toward that goal. This type of startup is another example of how the web can streamlines business, even for traditional industry.