BitWine – the marketplace for advice

I chatted with Alon Cohen today, who is the co-founder of BitWine, which is a marketplace for finding advice on a whole range of subjects from “experts”.

In essence you can offer your services in any field – (“long tail” notion) and provided that a) you correctly describe yourself b) people are searching for such expertise AND using the same terminology; then you will be gainfully employed to some extent.

BitWine itself acts as

  • a market place for buyers and sellers to meet
  • a place for seller to advertise their “wares. See Alon’s own profile here as an example.
  • a neutral party to orchestrate the transaction and effect payment between the parties (it does not actually collect or pay the cash itself)

Piggybacking on skype (it is a skype extra), “experts” can quote a per minute fee to provide advice via a video call, albeit this is negotiable with the expert

At the outset of the call, the customer and expert will normally have a few free minutes conducting a brief interview to understand needs and capabilities. The BitWine application operates a “time meter” which is activated when both parties on the call agree it should start. A customer can stipulate a maximum amount they wish to spend on a call to protect against incurring a large bill without realising.

At the conclusion of a call, experts are rated online by customers and hence other users can get see how good or otherwise the experts are – similar to an ebay rating scheme; to be treasured by the expert both for the rating they receive and the volume of customers they have assisted.

To address the problem of unsatisfied customers, BitWine does have a feature whereby the customer can ask for a refund from the expert, who needs to consent.

BitWine has over 10,000 registered users and over 3,000 “experts” already, after launching only 8 weeks ago. Presently, BitWine doesn’t take a fee whilst it builds up its’ user base but will eventually introduce a fee on sellers.

BitWine has an affiliate scheme but which operates on an on-going revenue share basis rather than a CPA one-off payment.

This is an example of a “crowd-dependent” venture, with a few twists on it.

  • Whilst a single customer can be personally satisfied provided that there are many “sellers” offering advice in their required field, they will not benefit from seeing sufficient feedback to make an informed judgement unless there have been many customers using a supplier. They can of course interview individual suppliers but this will be a time consuming process and assumes the buyer is qualified to make an assessment of the seller
  • User numbers is not the important metric here – instead it will be user minutes. I think that many users will simply browse and whilst paying customer numbers could help but then they may only use the service once. Hence billed minutes is the best metric. That said, as a customer I will want to understand that there are many “experts” available and customers will only return provided they find an adequate supply of experts
  • Sellers have no barriers to entry or joining costs at present. Hence offering yourself as an expert has little or no downside. This should boost the potential supply of experts.

I discussed with Alon the fact they are likely to miss out on some billable hours that might otherwise bring them revenues, since not all advice/service will involve interview face time. For instance, someone may go away to write up their findings or provide me with research offline. This is a scenario that ODesk has dealt with on their marketplace. BitWine experts and customers can still agree to settle via BitWine for this.

Alon presented recently at the NY Tech Meetup and the video is below. Also their illustration of what BitWine is about is here

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