So credit Swedish startup Mancx for trying something different.
The Stockholm-based company — which is today announcing a $1.65 million round of financing from Swedish backers Almi Invest and Chalmers Innovation Seed Fund — has spent the past year developing a twist on the traditional Q&A formula: it’s a service where people can get paid for giving answers.
The idea is that there are some questions that people would happily pay money to get the right answer to, rather than wade through huge swathes of opinion or commentary, like many free Q&A rivals.
“We’re targeting the premium segment of information that people won’t give away for free,” says co-founder Henrik Dillman. He suggests that the potential is substantial. “Stack Exchange is one of the best Q&A sites out there, but even it has over 600,000 unanswered questions. If five or 10 percent of those people were willing to pay for the answer, that’s big.”
The site works much like any auction site or marketplace: people post questions and suggest the price they’d be willing to pay to get a good answer. Those who think they can provide a solution place their own bids in the auction, and the asker gets to pick the winner (people can also offer answers for free if they want). There’s a money-back guarantee in case the answer is no good, and a reputational system in place to try and prevent people from gaming the service.
“It’s a big challenge,” admits the site’s other co-founder, Mattias Guilotte, of the need to make the reputation system work. “Once you have information, you have it — you can’t take it out of somebody’s brain.”
I’ll admit I am skeptical of the concept working long-term, purely because the internet drives down the value of information — something we have seen time and time again. But the duo insist that they are making headway, and they’ve got some pretty strong data behind them. Riding on the back of LinkedIn (s LNKD), the site has access to more than 600,000 users, and currently has 10,000 ongoing questions on site.
But here’s the real killer: people are paying serious money already. Right now the average transaction, they say, is worth around $150, and it’s going up over time.
That’s partly because there’s a community — mainly centered around marketing and sales — that places a high value on the answers they get. And the team plans to extend that opportunity by pushing hard in new communities and new countries, using the new funding to first open an office in San Francisco, and then targeting India and China. Put it all together, they say, and the opportunity here could be significant.
“Around 300 million people turn to Q&A online each month, but low quality answers are a big problem,” says Dillman. “It’s a big shift from three or four years ago, when people expected everything should be free.”