Secretive Expert Network Industry Sees Soaring Venture Capital Investment

Fat profits and innovative technology drive approximately $350 million of venture investment into the sector during 2021.

After years of soaring growth and hefty profits, the discrete expert network industry is suddenly one of the hottest sectors for venture capital investment.  Rapid industry growth, fat profit margins and a handful of noteworthy liquidity events are enabling a number of technology-focused upstarts to amass significant war chests. 

What are expert networks?

GLG consulting invite
Spend much time on LinkedIn and you’ll probably receive invitations to consult with expert networks like GLG, which recently filed to go public.

Expert networks facilitate deep and rapid research into a company, product or market by connecting their clients – mostly investment managers and management consulting firms – to ‘experts’ with significant and current knowledge of the research subject.  Expert network consulting is frequently used to shape investment decisions, conduct due diligence or set strategy recommendations.

The experts are usually former employees, customers, competitors or key influencers (such as doctors or former government officials) of the research topic.  The typical consulting project is a one hour call between the expert and the client, where the client will want to rapidly download the facts on the ground from people who know the company best.  

Many firms charge clients $1,000 or more to facilitate these consulting calls, with experts often earning hourly rates that can regularly exceed $500.  Many firms also regularly coordinate paid business surveys for clients.  (If you’ve spent much time on LinkedIn, you’ve probably been approached to participate in a paid consulting opportunity with an expert network company.)

The expert network industry was born in the late 90’s, with pioneers GLG and Primary Insights taking advantage of an SEC crackdown on the sell-side research practices of invest banks, following a number of scandals.  The firms grew rapidly by directly connecting investors with executives with firsthand knowledge of the companies that they were considering investing in.  However, the young expert networks soon found themselves at the center of several major insider trading trials and making unwanted headlines of their own.  

While these high-profile cases seemed likely to kill off the industry, it instead responded by building large compliance teams tasked with implementing more rigorous compliance policies and monitoring for clients.  Compliance became a feature to sell to clients (and help justify sky-high pricing).

The industry returned to steep growth over the next decade, with over 100 new firms sprouting around the world.  It remained mostly out of the public eye, with a just a handful of early stage venture capital investments or late stage private equity deals — until the dealmaking floodgates opened at the start of this year:

A dozen firms reported approximately $350 million in venture capital investment this year:

So what’s driving the sharp increase in venture capital dealmaking?

Most of the capital investment went to firms developing technology to better identify and source new experts and streamline the process of matching experts to client’s project criteria.  This should enable firms to scale without hiring armies of recent college grads to endlessly scour LinkedIn for qualified profiles.  Several firms are also shifting towards self-service marketplaces for clients to select and staff experts on their projects at a fraction of the cost of traditional expert networks.

While a new firm seems to now be born every week – many of them touting more competitive pricing – the industry remains enormously profitable.  Many firms still charge $1,000 per hour or more to speak with an expert.  GLG, the largest firm in the industry, revealed eye-popping 73% gross margins in its recent S-1 filing.

The expert network industry reached $1.9 billion in revenue in 2021.  It has recorded double digit growth annually since 2015, with growth accelerating to 20% during 2021.  Two expert networks made the top 20 list of the highest paid investment research providers for the first time this year.  Meanwhile, a number of firms continue to make inroads into the corporate strategy market, which dwarfs the size of the industry’s traditional investment manager and management consultant customer bases.

While most firms in the industry have long been closely held, several firms established a path to liquidity in 2021.  GLG recently filed for an IPO, where it expects to raise $100 million, and Capvision has also filed to go public on the Hong Kong stock exchange in early 2022.  VisasQ debuted on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2020 and recently acquired industry stalwart Coleman Research for $102 million, perhaps kicking off a long awaited bout of industry consolidation.

proSapient Review

Have you received an invitation to participate in a ProSapient paid consultation opportunity? Are you unsure what this opportunity is, or if it’s even legitimate? Learn what to expect if you work with this rapidly growing expert network in our comprehensive proSapient review.

What is proSapient?

proSapient logo

ProSapient is an expert network, which are recruiting firms that specialize in custom sourcing subject matter experts (SMB) for short-term consulting projects. Expert networks are a rapidly $1.5 billion industry that cater to institutional investors (management consulting firms, private equity, hedge funds, mutual funds, etc.) doing market research or performing due diligence on a company or subset of companies in preparation for an investment. Expert networks are a great way to capitalize on your industry experience, even after you leave! Expert network opportunities generally take the form of a 1-hour phone consultation between the subject matter expert and the client.

ProSapient is one of several up-and-coming expert networks that are capitalizing on new technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotic process automation. London-based proSapient offers the typical product mix such as surveys, and 1:1 expert consultations, but also offers a multi-vendor platform for clients in it’s bid to be a software-as-a-service (SaaS) for expert networks. ProSapient recently raised $10M in Series A funding after achieving 100% year-over-year revenue growth. It plans to use the funds for a larger expansion into the United States as it seeks to offer a more technology-driven approach than industry stalwarts GLG, Guidepoint and AlphaSights.

Is proSapient fake or a scam?

ProSapient is a legitimate, newer company in the large but secretive expert network industry — it is not a scam. 

proSapient reviews

However, it’s noteworthy to mention that in the process of researching this article, I found more than a few complaints from experts in their proSapient reviews about the payment timing (or not being paid at all!). It appears the company has not addressed these complaints (at least on the forums where they appear) leaving experts feeling as if they were scammed.

While these complaints do not mean the opportunity is a scam, it does indicate that the firm may have some chronic operational issues that could delay your payment, or need to chase the associate who contacted you. These payment issues are likely to be growing pains, but it will be interesting to see if they start to respond to these public complaints, or if these complaints will continue.

What to expect if you consult with proSapient

ProSapient associates are tasked with sourcing experts for client projects, so if they reach out to via LinkedIn or email, they’ve already identified you as someone who may be a good fit. Why? It’s likely that you are a senior level industry professional with experience with a company, product, or industry their client is looking to learn more about. Here’s a breakdown of the basic eligibility criteria for project participation:

  • You are at least 6 months and no more than 3 years out of a job where you were a senior executive (Director level or higher) at a company their client is trying to learn more about.
  • You currently (or formerly) work for a competitor of a company the client is looking to learn more about.
  • You currently or formerly were a customer of a product or company the client is looking to learn more about.

Now that you’ve been identified as a candidate for proSapient paid consultation, the associate will want you to register for their site and participate in a short vetting call to make sure you’re a fit before proposing your profile to the client for review. The vetting call will consist of some pretty general questions in order to judge your knowledge and confidence level in discussing various topics of interest to the client. This vetting process does not take the place of the client call and you can keep your answers high-level.

During the vetting process, you’ll be asked to provide a list of convenient times when you could participate in a client call, generally over the next week or two. Providing as flexible a schedule as you reasonably can will greatly increase. your chances of being assigned to the project. If the client does choose you for the project, you’ll generally receive a calendar invitation for the client call within a day or two of the vetting conversation.

Even if you don’t get chosen for this project, by completing their compliance procedure, you will be registered in their system and likely vetted for future projects, as networks tend to source in-network before custom sourcing for out-of-network experts. Most expert network consultants only land about 1 out of 3 or 4 projects that they apply for, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t selected for the first few that you respond to.

ProSapient Consulting Rates

How much should I ask for? How much can I ask for?

You may have read articles online about how some experts make thousands of dollars a call. While that is true, the higher you price yourself, the more likely you are going to get priced out of a client interaction. The experts who can charge $1500 a call are usually very high-profile professionals with very recent experience in a niche industry.

In general, if you have been contacted for participation in a 1-hour 1:1 phone or video consult, you can expect to be offered a $100 – $200 if you are a Director level or below, or $200 – $350 for above a Director level. While you can absolutely negotiate your rate (or set the stage by letting the associate know your price floor), if you ask for a proSapient consulting rate above $500 per hour, you risk your profile not being seen by the client, or a client balking at your rate and going with a cheaper expert. You can always renegotiate your rate for subsequent projects you are contacted for, especially if you find that you are getting inundated by project participation requests.

The rate you actually receive for participation in a client call will be determined by the amount of time both you and the client are in the call. It’s in your best interest to keep the conversation going (with more insights, tidbits, analysis, or small talk), as an extra 10-15 minutes can bump up your rate, but conversely, any call that is more than 5 minutes under the 1 hour mark can be penalized with less pay.

How to ace your proSapient consulting call

Most client calls are centered on a particular company, industry, or product. The client is not expecting you to prepare a presentation or deliverable for the call; they are looking to rapidly download industry knowledge via your many years of experience. You can expect that clients have done their own basic research, reviewed publicly available information, and perhaps heard a management presentation. They have come prepared with specific questions to confirm or clarify aspects of the business. You can see some examples of expert consultation use cases on their website.

If the call is centered on a particular company, the client will want to know how the target company compares to its’ competitors, product and feature differentiation, pricing strategy, quality of management, etc. These types of calls will often resolve around your former employer or a major vendor that you worked with frequently, with emphasis on the key factors influencing your decisions.

Alternatively, if the call will be centered on a particular issue or problem they have been tasked to solve. The client may be looking to develop a marketing strategy, solve chronic operational issues, or restructure an organization. These types of calls will often center your approach to an issue, your impressions of various products, factors that influence budget and purchase decisions, or to provide feedback on potential new products or solutions.

You should have an easy time answering the questions during the call- after all, the client wants to learn about an area via your experience. Even so, you may not have all the answers, or know figures off the top of your heads. You can always be honest and say you don’t know, and you should never make up answers. Clients often have multiple calls on the same subject and if it becomes apparent that you lied, you may be blacklisted.

It’s important to note that you will never be asked to share non-public or proprietary information during a client call, and doing so would be illegal. One of the key responsibilities of expert networks is to ensure that improper information isn’t exchanged on a client call, with both parties bound by strict compliance standards (which you will receive prior to the call).

You should know that proSapient records all of their calls and makes the transcripts available to clients as part of a content library. You will not receive additional compensation if clients access the transcripts of your call, which is the same policy of Tegus , Stream and Arbolus, which offer similar subscription products.

What’s Next?

ProSpaient offers payment via PayPal or ACH direct deposit, and you can expect payment within 45 days of the completion of the call.

Now that you’re a part of the network, you will periodically be contacted for participation in new projects, especially as you build a history of completing successful client calls.

Expert networks are a great way to capitalize on your experience. If you haven’t been contacted by an associate from ProSapient, you can still register to be added to their network by contacting them here.

Learn more in our proSapient video review:

Next: Learn how to conveniently earn hundreds of dollars per hour with our Ultimate Guide to Expert Network Consulting




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