Ever have a persistent problem at work and wish you could just connect with someone who could teach you how to fix it? Or have an idea, but need someone who knows more about the field to validate your concept?
CommonGenius, an on-demand “knowledge marketplace”, aims to help anyone do just that. The platform facilitates connections between users and thousands of experts in fields ranging from financial services to digital marketing to nuclear physics.
The startup was conceived and founded by Silicon Valley tech veterans in 2016. Founder and CEO Amber Hu previously led teams at Facebook, Intel and Symantec.
But as the platform developed and the team grew, a connection led them to Atlanta. CommonGenius’ COO, Scott Graham, had worked with his childhood friend, Atlantan Roman Grimaldi, on a few different ventures. They reconnected in 2018 when both of their previous startups were acquired.
The two “immediately connected and aligned on the vision for the company,” Grimaldi tells Hypepotamus.
Grimaldi had also come on as co-founder of the Atlanta-based experiential marketing agency 31south, along with Tami McQueen (formerly SalesLoft’s Marketing Director), Tyler Droll (co-founder and former CEO of defunct social media startup Yik Yak), and Steven Cundari (B2C marketer), and managed to sell his entire team on the CommonGenius concept. They have all joined as advisors and consultants.
“We strongly believe individuals should have access to the worlds’ thought leaders, experts and mentors, and you shouldn’t have to spend thousands of dollars to fly across the country to be able to meet and talk with these people,” says Grimaldi, now VP of Marketing for the startup.
CommonGenius is deceptively simple. A user creates a profile and goes through the guided search to explore the platform’s database of experts. They can view each expert’s experience, specialities, education and expertise — and even connect via private message — to find the ones who will be most likely to help them.
Once a user identifies their target expert, they propose time slots that they would be free for a video call. The expert has 72 hours to respond and either confirm a meeting time or suggest alternative times.
CommonGenius provides the link to the video call (available by web app or an iOS app) so neither party has to worry about coordinating Skype or Zoom accounts. The platform keeps track of the exact number of minutes the meeting lasts for, pausing that time if one of the parties leaves for a break.
CommonGenius charges users per-minute, but allows the experts to set the rate for their consulting services. More experienced experts typically charge $2-5 per minute, while those with less experience charge around $1 per minute. The platform takes 15 percent of the total and the rest goes straight to the expert.
The startup has already signed on 1200 experts, including some notable names such as best-selling authors Ryan Holiday and Nir Eyal, Morning Brew newsletter founders Alex Lieberman and Austin Reif, and investor and author Chris Yeh.
“We have everyone from General Partners at VC firms, to astronauts, to the head of product at Uber and Airbnb… we’re covering all industries,” says Grimaldi.
The platform went live in January 2019, but the 31south and CommonGenius team wanted to generate some serious buzz. They decided to host a series of events at SXSW, the largest technology, entertainment, and culture festival in the U.S. (and one of the largest in the world) that would build the brand, provide education for conference attendees, and build the kind of connections they want to facilitate with their platform.
In addition to sponsoring SXSW official mentor sessions and speakers on the conference’s Discovery Stage, CommonGenius hosted a networking brunch and happy hour that brought together attendees and their own experts to connect in a more casual setting.
“SXSW was a perfect opportunity for our platform to shine, and that’s exactly what we did,” says Grimaldi.
“Professionals across a wide range of verticals and industries attend conferences and festivals like SXSW to network, find mentorship, seek wisdom, and peer into the near future in which apps and technology will change and shape our way of living. The CommonGenius platform fits wonderfully into this setting because we provide access to all of these experts and individuals on-demand, through live one-on-one video meetings.”
Since launch, the platform is seeing about 12,000 monthly users and is growing quickly, says Grimaldi.
The team is about 20 strong now and hiring, with several open positions in Atlanta, Silicon Valley, and Washington D.C. Though they raised a $5 million seed round in 2018, Grimaldi says they gave already closed on additional investment and are in talks for an upcoming Series A.