Zintro’s Pay-by-the-Call Service Connects Investors, Others with Industry Experts

9/29/09Follow @wroush

If you spend much time in the business or legal world, “due diligence” is a phrase you hear a lot. It’s the polite term for the time you have to spend figuring out whether a potential client, vendor, investment, acquisition, or partner is legit or phony, smart or just slick.

Part of the process involves discreetly (or not so discreetly) calling around, trying to find people who know the person or entity you’re “diligencing.” But what if due diligence weren’t such a guessing game? What if there were a central marketplace where you could declare which type of information you need, pick an expert, and—for a reasonable fee—get an hour of private telephone consultation?

That’s the whole idea behind Zintro, a Web-based client-expert matching service being rolled out in beta form by serial entrepreneur Stuart Lewtan. The founder of Lewtan Technologies, a maker of financial analytics software sold to UK-based DMGT in 2004, Lewtan believes there’s a problem with existing professional-networking services such as LinkedIn. They’re great for staying in touch with your acquaintances, he says, but they aren’t really designed to bring about conversations between people who don’t already know one another.

“LinkedIn is an excellent tool, but it doesn’t’ really provide a good mechanism for reaching an agreement to talk,” Lewtan says. “Everything Zintro does is built around trying facilitate introduction, qualification, payment, and all the other aspects of connecting two people and creating a safe environment for them to communicate and exchange information for a fee.”

Zintro ScreenshotHere’s how Waltham, MA-based Zintro’s Web service works: Say you’re an investor and you’re thinking about buying a big chunk of stock in A123Systems, the Watertown, MA-based battery maker that went public last week, but first you want to know more about lithium ion batteries. You sign up for a “client” account at Zintro.com and fill out a form describing your information needs. Zintro uses what Lewtan calls “fuzzy search” algorithms to comb its database of experts, who all fill out detailed profiles when they sign up for the service. Zintro sends your inquiry to appropriate experts who indicated they know something about batteries, electric cars, or material science.

These experts are then free to respond with a brief proposal outlining their rates and their qualifications for talking about A123. From your Zintro dashboard, you can sort through their proposals; if you need more details, you can request them from the experts via Zintro’s internal e-mail system.

Once you settle on an expert, Zintro helps you schedule a phone call, and charges your credit card or PayPal account for the amount of the expert’s fee, plus Zintro’s 30 percent introduction fee—say, $100 for the expert plus $30 for Zintro. The funds go into an escrow account, and Zintro provides a dial-in number that both parties can call at the agreed time.

Once the call is over and both parties confirm how much time was used, the fee is released to the expert. There’s also an escape hatch: if you … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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