Just a couple months after Dan Martell sold his social marketing start-up Flowtown in October to Demandforce, he started thinking about his next venture. The seeds came from a little web app he made that allowed him to easily call back people who wanted his advice. The idea morphed into a full blown service called Clarity which lets people get experts and advisors on the phone via a web app.
The application debuts today and will help entrepreneurs get advice from a stable of start-up gurus. The way it works is that users sign up with their Facebook account and find experts on various topic pages. Or a new user can just submit a question and Clarity will suggest relevant advisors. When they’re ready to reach out, users explain the reason for their call in the web app and Clarity then connects the call to an advisor, whose number is kept private. The advisor, who can see the reason for the call as it comes in, can choose to take the call or add the person to a call back list. Or they can offer a scheduling widget so users can slot themselves into open blocks of time.
For advisors, the incentives come in a few forms. They can decide to just give back to their community in a pay-it-forward way that’s part of the culture of Silicon Valley. Or they can choose to charge for their time, at least $100 an hour with the amount pro-rated. Advisors can also choose to donate their revenue to a charity if they want.
San Francisco-based Clarity has signed up more than 1,200 advisors who are experts in lean startup, fund raising, business development, and marketing. Advisors include Eric Ries, author of the Lean Startup; Josh Elman, of Greylock Partners; Marc Nager, CEO of Startup Weekend and Daniel Debow, an angel investor and co-founder of Rypple. Mark Cuban is also on the list, offering his time for $10,000 an hour.
Martell told me the service was prompted by his aversion to email. He had gotten more and more requests for advice, especially from entrepreneurs from his native Canada. But while he wanted to just jump on the phone with people instead of hashing it out over email, he also wanted a way to maintain some privacy and streamline the call-back process. He said the service will expand to other verticals such as health care, financial services, HR and legal and could encompass any number of topics and experts.
Clarity launched in private beta in Canada in January and has facilitated more than 4,000 calls. The average call is 23 minutes long and about 10 percent of advisors charged for their time. The average rate for paid advice was $200 per hour.
Martell said Clarity allows people who have become known as experts or micro-celebrities to better connect to their community and monetize them if they want. He said reviews and ratings will be added soon. The service will also refund people’s money if they’re not satisfied. And he said Clarity will police the service to ensure that advisors are not taking advantage of users. Clarity, which is being boostrapped by Martell, makes its money by charging 15 percent for paid calls. Martell said he’s doing alright after selling to Demandforce, which in turn just got bought by Intuit (s intu) for $423.5 million.
I think Clarity is a pretty cool way to help spread some knowledge worldwide and help people with a big following makes some money from their advice. We’re seeing more and more ways for online celebrities to sell directly to their fans, whether it’s comedian Louis CK selling his concerts online or services like Chirpify, which let’s brands and celebrities sell via Twitter. A lot will still depend on keeping up the quality of advice and making sure that the system works as advertised, which can be tricky especially if Clarity is connecting people around the world. But it’s an interesting start and a good test to see how much advice seekers and experts can connect over the phone.