From one-on-one consultations to presentations by seasoned professionals to a large audience, experts have never been more in demand. In today’s competitive knowledge economy, individuals and businesses relentlessly seek the latest information to stay ahead of their competition. However, an expert’s time is precious and therefore every engagement they participate in should be rewarded enough, otherwise it is not worth it. With the rise of audio media such as Clubhouse and the podcast industry as a whole, there are opportunities for experts to have an easy way to reach such broad masses. Travis Fischer and Christine Hong observed these trends that prompted them to create Senpai. Senpai is an audio platform where individuals can request voice responses to their questions from experts asynchronously. The startup is based in New York City, New York.
Frédéric Daso: What are the gaps in the current means by which people seeking expert advice come into contact with experts in the field?
Travis Fischer and Christine Hong: There are a number of ways people seek expert advice these days.
By far the most common way is to ask for the wisdom of the internet through platforms like Quora, Reddit, and other online communities. Sometimes this works great, but often times you find yourself without a definitive answer, or worse yet, you end up with the blind leading the blind. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of “experts” on these advertising platforms are not paid for their responses. These platforms also offer a lot of utility beyond just seeking expert advice.
If you want definitive advice from a well-known expert, you either need to have a strong enough network to get in touch with them directly, or like most of us, you can try to contact them by e- cold mail or by DM. Unfortunately, it is difficult for most people to come into contact with experts in the high end field with a cold approach because there is so much noise.
In the very high end of the market, expert networks cater to hedge funds and private equity firms, but these resources are far too expensive for ordinary consumers and SMEs.
Daso: When did you first start believing that these highly sought-after experts in the field want to turn into content creators to disseminate their knowledge?
Fischer and Hong: It’s honestly something we’ve both struggled with on our own. You can be an amazing employee in an organization full time, but as the work becomes more independent, your public reputation matters more and more.
The future of work is changing. Being good at your job is no longer enough, and we are starting to see traditional knowledge workers being left behind. The safest way to move forward in this world is to create a personal brand for yourself outside of your immediate network.
Dasso: What explains the accelerating growth of the economies of creators and passion?
Fischer and Hong: To borrow Li Jin’s excellent article on Passion Economy and the Future of Work, Creator Economy celebrates monetizing your own individuality. It’s incredibly appealing because it opens the doors to entirely new forms of work. Theoretically, anyone can live regardless of their skills and personality.
The designer economy has mainly turned to people who do not fit the mold of existing professionals. However, there is a whole group of professionals, knowledge workers, who could exist in either space. They can conform to the culture of a business that demands their knowledge and skills, or they can harness their personality and creativity to build an audience out of all the knowledge they have gained over the years. These are the people we seek to empower to become designers at Senpai.
Daso: How are you both going to stimulate the growth of the emerging economy of expert networks? What are the main obstacles to further growth?
Fischer and Hong: In order to develop the economy around networks of experts, we must do two main things.
First, we need to encourage experts to participate and share their knowledge. Platforms like Quora and StackOverflow have done a great job of gamifying the experience of sharing your knowledge, but they’ve done a terrible job of enticing the experts. By taking a page out of the economics playbook of creators and direct payment platforms like Cameo, we plan to align incentives so that experts get paid directly for their responses instead of relying on advertisements.
Second, we need to make this kind of paid expertise much more accessible. Existing expert networks such as GLG focus heavily on the business, regularly charging $ 1,000 for a one-hour conversation with senior executives. We believe that by creating a more customer-centric platform where experts can respond asynchronously at their own pace, we will reduce the actual cost of these initial interactions by orders of magnitude.
Daso: How did you determine that asynchronous audio was the best medium and medium for an audience interested in expert advice?
Fischer and Hong: Short, asynchronous audio responses offer many advantages over other formats.
The most important advantage is that the audio is incredibly easy to produce. Our goal is to reduce the friction required to share your knowledge. While not everyone is well suited for blogging or creating YouTube videos, most experts are quite comfortable talking about their area of expertise. It’s also great for experts who are shy with the camera as it focuses on content rather than presentation.
A non-obvious advantage of short, asynchronous audio responses is that they provide a very flexible primitive that can create hybrid formats using speech-to-text and generative video.
On the consumer side, there are two main characters that we want to take into account. The first is the task-oriented consumer who wants to digitize an answer and move on quickly. This is where the transcription and our focus on short answers come in. The second character cares more about hearing what the expert has to say in his own words, and this is where the audio shines. .
Daso: What do you think is the biggest advantage of your team in creating this platform and attracting your target audience and experts?
Fischer and Hong: Our team is quite rare since we were both strong solo founders with technical training working on our startups for a year before realizing that we had the same mission and decided to join forces.
In addition to our team, huge inspiration for Senpai came from our friend and advisor, Olly Meakings. Olly is a marketing expert who manages RoastMyLandingPage.com, where he provides asynchronous comments on landing pages. He has had great success with this business model (maintains himself full time and uses it as a leader for higher paying consulting jobs). We’re now focused on taking everything we’ve learned from this case study and transforming it into a more generalized platform.