FirstThought Expert Network Goes Out of Business

UPDATE: FirstThought ceased operations in August 2023. Techspert acquired some of its data and assets, and has invited experts to migrate to its platform. Our previous review of FirstThought remains below.

Have you received a LinkedIn message, email or phone call inviting you to participate in a paid consulting opportunity with FirstThought?  Are you worried if this is a legitimate opportunity or just a scam? Our FirstThought review shares what to expect, how much you can earn and how to land high-paying hourly consulting projects with this upstart expert network.

What is FirstThought?

First Thought logo

FirstThought is an expert network, specializing in life sciences and healthcare. The company connects investors and management consultants performing in-depth research with experts in the field, such as physicians, researches, administrators from throughout the healthcare, insurance and therapeutics fields.  FirstThought’s network covers most aspects of life sciences and healthcare, including niche areas like market access, regulatory affairs, and reimbursement.

Like most expert networks, FirstThought’s primary way of connecting clients with industry experts is a one hour ‘consulting call’.  Clients will rapidly take a deep dive into the research topic during these calls to get your viewpoint on how things work, what your opinion is of key players, and your thinking on how trends will play out.  Rates FirstThought consulting calls usually start at several hundred dollars per hour and can climb significantly higher if you have specialized or hard to find expertise.  FirstThought also arranges paid surveys, events and more traditional consulting projects for its clients..

FirstThought was founded in 2020 by several alumni of Guidepoint, one of the largest expert networks. The company is headquartered in New York City and employs approximately 50 people, according to LinkedIn.

Is FirstThought a scam or a legitimate opportunity?

FirstThought is not a scam.  The two year old company is a fast growing expert network, which connects subject matter experts in the life sciences and healthcare industries with its clients such as investment managers and management consultants.

Your introduction to FirstThought will generally be through a call, email or LinkedIn message inviting you to participate in a high-paying consulting opportunity. While you should always perform due diligence on lucrative offers from strangers on the Internet (which may be what brings you to this FirstThought review!), working with FirstThought may be a great way to create a lucrative source of additional income by simply sharing your expertise.

What to expect if you consult with FirstThought

FirstThough paid consulting opportunity via LinkedIn

FirstThought’s clients are performing primary research as part of an investment decision, due diligence process, or to formulate a new strategy. They want to speak with people who have deep first-hand knowledge of the product, company or market that they are looking at to help shape their thinking or get feedback on their hypothesis. Experts are typically former employs, customers, vendors, competitors, or key influencers (such as prescribing physicians) of the research subject. Clients will often want to speak with a handful of experts to get different perspectives.

Once a project has been created with FirstThought, an associate will start recruiting potential experts to speak with their client. LinkedIn tends to be the most popular tool for sourcing expert consultants.

If your profile seems to match what the client is looking for, the associate will reach out to you with a brief note, inviting to have a brief call so they can tell you more about FirstThought and the project they are working on, as well as learn about your qualifications and background.  Keep in mind that the associate usually has limited knowledge of the topic that the client is researching – they are mostly trying to gauge your fit with the client’s requirements.

If you’re interested in the opportunity and look like a good fit, there are three brief steps to formally apply for the project.

First, you’ll need to complete a brief profile about your background; this will help you land future projects with FirstThought as well. Expert networks want to know what you know aren’t terrible interested in your soft skills. So, unlike your resume, make sure you are very specific and liberally use keywords and product and company names. A good rule of thumb is that if you could give a quality 30 minute presentation on something (such as how you selected a vendor or allocate budget) you are likely qualified to participate in an expert network consulting call on this topic.

Next, there will be a few short screening questions about the project you are applying for. You just need a few sentences to answer these, but again be as specific as possible. The client will want to know that you have strong firsthand experience with the topic they want to speak with you about.

Finally, you’ll set your hourly rate for the call (more on that in a moment!) and provide a handful of time slots that are convenient for you. 

All of this should take you less than an hour, and once you’ve applied for your first project responding to additional invitations should only take you 5 – 10 minutes.

The associate will present your information, along with other profiles, to the client.  They’ll often select a number of people to talk to so that they get different perspectives.  If you’re selected, the associate will send you a calendar invite during one of the time slots you’ve provided and it’s off to the races.

Setting Your FirstThought Hourly Rate

Conversations with FirstThought clients tend to be interesting and engaging, plus it’s rewarding to be considered an expert. But what’s even more exciting is the high hourly rate you can charge for sharing your expertise!  Your insights will often help shape a multi-million dollar decision, so clients will gladly pay hundreds of dollars (or more) for an hour of your time.

The two key factors that go in to finding your ideal FirstThought rate are how much of an authority are you on the topic and how many other people could they can find who have similar expertise.  For example, if the client wants to speak with a former senior finance executive of a specific company and you are the only person who fits that criteria, you’ll have significant leverage in setting your rate.  However, if there are dozens or hundreds of people with similar expertise to you, then experts with more affordable rates will generally have a leg up in being assigned to the project (and the associate will often steer them in that direction).

While ever situation may differ a bit, here are some rules of thumb for setting your expert network consulting rate:

If you’re earlier in your career or have knowledge that’s easily found, you’ll usually be steered towards $100 – $200 per hour; director level or similar professionals can expect $200 – $300; very experienced professionals and senior executives  often charge rates of $350 – $700. Some experts can land projects at rates of $1,000 or more per hour, though these tend to be reserved for elite-level experts, such as Fortune 500 executives, specialized physicians or former elected officials. If you’re new to FirstThought or expert network consulting, it’s generally a good plan to put your rates towards the lower end of your target range to make it easier to land your first few projects. It’s not hard to negotiate a higher rate with just a short track record.

For paid surveys, you’ll be presented with the fee when you are invited to participate; $40 – $70 is typical for a 10 – 20 minute expert network survey.

How to ace your FirstThought consulting call

Consulting projects with expert networks like FirstThought are extremely concise and compact.  You provide your availability – which may include before or after work or during your lunch hour. Since you’re talking about what you’ve been doing day-in and day-out for years, you don’t need to do anything to prepare for the call, and once you hang up the phone, your work is done – there is no follow up and no deliverables.

Consulting calls tend to be very conversational, and about topics that you likely know like the back of your hand.  Many calls do deep dives into somewhat droll topics where your explanations can cause wide-eyed excitement for the client, such as purchasing decisions or budget allocation.  

The client will come the call with an agenda and a crisp set of questions for you. Calls will generally start with brief introductions and a couple minutes of small talk to build rapport. Generally, the client will want rapidly download your industry knowledge to help them confirm or challenge their understanding of a company, industry, or product of interest.  Your insights are usually a key factor in a significant strategic or investment decision.

Prior to the call, you will be asked to review FirstThought’s compliance policy and brief compliance training to make sure you understand that no propriety or confidential information can be shared during the call.  You’ll often be asked to affirm that you understand the compliance policy at the start of the call as well, and a member of the client’s compliance department may even listen in to the call or read a transcript after it is completed.

This is for both your protection and the client’s.  The entire expert network industry was nearly destroyed by a major insider trading scandal over a decade ago, which has fortunately led to the development of robust compliance policies and procedures.   Clients are tightly monitored by their own firms and don’t want to receive non-public information which could prohibit them from making a planned investment or lead to disciplinary action within their firm.  If you are ever unsure information is ok to share, simply say so and the client will simply move on to the next question. 

What’s Next?

FirstThought’s suite of research and consulting services

FirstThought will process your payment shortly after you complete your call or survey – no clunky invoicing or chasing down multiple clients for payment. Be sure to keep your profile updated for additional consulting opportunities!

If you’d like to become a FirstThought expert and haven’t yet connected with an associate, you can indicate your interest here.

Mitchel Harad