The future of work is, in part, about new ways to sell your time. Besides the old-standby of the full-time job (office based or remote) services like Elance and oDesk offer to connect skilled workers with project-based work, freeing them from the nine-to-five grind, while apps like Zaarly and TaskRabbit offer the enterprising ways to make extra cash in their free time fulfilling others’ needs.
The project-based sites cater to the highly skilled, while the errand-running apps are aimed squarely at those with small chunks of time to monetize. (College students are you listening?). Now MinuteBox, a London-based startup launching Tuesday, is hoping to combine both slices of the market. The service, co-founded by marketing pro Josh Liu and technologist Cristiano Betta, offer highly skilled experts a way to monetize their free moments.
“If you have some spare time, you can just put yourself online and people can buy your time,” says co-founder Liu, boiling down his idea for the site in an interview.
Spare time for spare change
MinuteBox is “micro-consultancy” service, which works two ways. Those looking for an expert in, say, social media or web development, can search out MinuteBox users who are currently online with those skills using the site. After checking the expert’s profile (which is automatically pulled from experts’ social media pages when they sign up), the parties agree to a price per minute, chat via video and the fee is deducted from the user’s PayPal account and placed in the expert’s.
This site-based mode of using MinuteBox has been around since 2008, and met with a less-than-overwhelming response at first, with commentators faulting the site’s lack of focus and limited resources to raise its profile and attract quality experts.
Enter the second, newer way of using MinuteBox — MinuteBox Direct — launching today. MinuteBox is now also available as a widget that can be installed on experts’ blogs or websites, creating a “buy my time” widget and allowing people already familiar with the expert to arrange a short consult with them on a pay-per-minute basis. MinuteBox takes 25 percent of the final fee, and users can rate the experience, warning others if an expert doesn’t live up to his or her billing.
It “enables experts to sell their expertise to their audience,” says Liu, who notes: “We want to go out and facilitate the transaction no matter where the experts and their clients are.” As of yet, that doesn’t include a widget for LinkedIn profiles, which seems like a natural extension of the concept, but the company is working on developing this going forward.
Currently, experts aren’t vetted by MinuteBox before they can use the service, so buyers must judge those offering their expertise by their reputation and online profile before deciding to pay. Liu acknowledges this model won’t work for regulated industries like law and accounting. The company is working with professional associations in those fields to develop a MinuteBox widget that can be embedded on the websites of these professionals and used for lead generation rather than on a pay-per-minute basis.
Willing to pay?
According to MinuteBox, the beta version of the website has already attracted 1,000 experts, mostly in the tech community, and they’re aiming to reach 5,000 in six months’ time. The company is self-funded by the co-founders and while they’re talking to investors currently, they are primarily focused on generating revenue. They do have a recently expanded advisory board, however, including Hans Nillson and Alan Hodgart of H4 Partners, Francine Hardaway from Opportunity through Entrepreneurship Foundation and Michael Mahemoff, an ex-Google technology evangelist.
Will the company succeed? MinuteBox Direct makes sense from the perspective of the expert: Why not monetize your scraps of downtime and leverage your online reputation for a bit of extra cash? Whether users will go for it is another issue. Many questions can be answered by information freely available online and the idea of paying for information online in a world of Google is alien to many. The low price of the small bites of expertise available should encourage people to give it a try, though once they have established a connection with an expert there’s nothing stopping them from cutting out the middle man and arranging a Skype chat paid for through PayPal.
Is the MinuteBox model likely to take off?
Image courtesy of MinuteBox.