Will Bachman 00:00
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed the show that explores how to thrive as an independent professional. I’m your host Will Bachman. And I’m excited to be here today with Max freeburg, who is a McKinsey alum and the founder and CEO of nx one, which is a new concept in the space of expert networks. Max, welcome to the show.
Max Friberg 00:23
Thank you so much Will for having me today. I I’ve been I’ve been really listening into to your podcast ever since you invited me back in the winter. It’s incredible how fast time went. Very glad to finally be on the show. Really excited.
Will Bachman 00:40
Fantastic. So Max, and I and for listeners, Max, I think you’re sitting in Stockholm today. So we are doing this via zoom. So forgive any audio. So Max, tell us a little bit about just give us a quick overview of annex one.
Max Friberg 00:58
So in it’s one is a marketplace for expert network services, is a technical platform is SAS platform, facilitating the exchange between clients on one end, and the best expert networks on the other end.
Will Bachman 01:14
Okay. And and I’ll tell him, I’ll mention that I have used and tested the platform, and I’ve had quite good success with it. So you’re not an actual expert network, network yourself. But it’s more there’s, there’s been kind of a proliferation of expert networks out there. And it’s a bit of a hassle as a user, if you if you’re searching for an expert, it’s a bit of a hassle. There’s some kind of big major ones out there. But then there’s a proliferation of of more midsize ones. And to kind of go to each one of those and submit your request is a bit and then manage all those and see all the different experts are generating. It’s a bit of a hassle. So what you’ve done is basically allow, you know, a sort of to consolidate them all to you put your request in once and then multiple expert networks can see that and submit submit experts through your platform.
Max Friberg 02:08
Exactly. And to be fair, that’s part of the that’s only one half of the story, because both you and I will we’ve been on the customer side and experienced those exact pain points, who should I contact? What should I tell them? What happens when they get back to me? How do I figure out duplicates? It’s it’s a hassle, and it’s rather a rather expensive hassle for whoever ends up paying for it. I never made it that far up the McKinsey run ladders, right. So I never saw the bill really. But it’s it’s a rather expensive process. And it’s kept expensive. Due to the behavior of clients such as myself, when I was in consulting, the rather
Max Friberg 02:59
high volume usage across many expert networks. Now, that’s only half of the story. There’s actually a story for the expert networks as well. The very same pain points that you just mentioned are reflected in a lack of coordination, email chaos, and a lack of prioritization. On the expert network site. We think of nx one as a two sided marketplace, where we optimize for both the clients and for the expert networks, creating value. I read this interesting bill Gurley piece is some time back, where he talks about online marketplaces, as a general concept, that create value out of nothing. They connect economic actors who otherwise would not transact, hence creating value in transactions where such wouldn’t take place only by simply reducing the friction, the transaction costs.
Will Bachman 03:58
Yeah. So you’re reducing the transaction costs, reducing the friction, it sounds like it’s a good value proposition for the expert networks, because you help provide them with it may be kind of smooth their workflow, provide them with access to more to more customers. And so from the user perspective, maybe I’ll share maybe my experience and you tell me if this is typical, or if there’s, you know, other aspects to the platform from a user perspective. So maybe just pause I think most listeners of the show are probably familiar with the concept of expert networks. But if you’re not, it’s basically if you’re doing you know, market landscape or due diligence or trying to, you know, learn something about a particular industry and want to speak with some person from that industry. You know, US Typically they’re scheduled in 30 minutes or more typically like an hour interview, expert networks will find that person Then do the compliance checks to make sure that they’re allowed to speak with you and that they’ve been properly trained. And then, you know, tee up, you submit, like, here’s the criteria I’m looking for, I want someone who’s a former employee of one of these firms, or who can speak to this particular industry, or has knowledge of this space, they’ll tee up some people for you, you get to pick the one that you want. And then they, you know, help you schedule the interview. So very valuable if you want to quickly get up to speed on a space. And I’ve done, you know, hundreds, I don’t know, maybe 1000, but certainly hundreds of these myself. So I recently used the platform, we were looking for former employees of a particular firm, we used it for that, we also were looking at another project through nx one, where we were looking for some experts on some particular aspect of the aerospace industry, and was very satisfied. So we put in a request, and then and the description of what the expert looking for. And then your platform, said, Okay, here are a bunch of expert networks, I think you pick up to like three or four or five, you can pick which expert networks you want to participate. So it doesn’t kind of blast it out to all of the networks that participate in your, in your platform, sending out two, three, and then those three that we selected, sent us experts we were able to go through and pick them is very nice communication, platform back and forth. So it’s not just on email, but you can go in there and communicate your platform picked them. And then and we were able to schedule them in and do great. And the fees were a bit less than what I’ve seen at some of the the larger, more more well known global expert network. So the fees were like in the neighborhood of I think 800 to 11 $100 for one hour call, I don’t know if that’s, that’s typical what you see on your on your platform, but that was my experience, I you know, as efficient, we got people that we needed. Tell me a little bit more about, you know, what other aspects of the platform maybe that I didn’t see, and just my first couple uses?
Max Friberg 07:07
Yeah, so it’s, uh, I mean, I can, I can talk about this forever, I tend to joke about being the biggest nerd on expert networks. And, in fact, I’ve been called upon more than a dozen times to be an expert related to expert networks. Very much when there were deals in the expert network space. I mean, as an industry, it’s an incredibly dynamic and fast growing space. I think it’s been over the last decade, the industry has been around for many years for the last decade has been an absolute boom time, both in total market size and number of expert networks. Now for all kinds of due to all kinds of evolutionary steps in industry, it’s, it’s reaching a plateau and maturity, where we see other shifts, where there might be a shakeout where there might be margin pressure, where there’s a need for the industry to reinvent itself. And I think that it’s one place of all in there. So starting out, you ask for what we do more than what you just describe. Starting out in explain was very much the tool that I wish I had, when I was at McKinsey, streamlining, all the experts, and all the expert networks that I came up with. I had my own spreadsheets for that my own macros, then, you know, build a little knowledge nuggets around that. But it was simply inefficient. So we started out Okay, let’s build in as Think of this as an aggregator aggregate all the emails and all the experts, I can collaborate with my team. Then we saw Okay, what more can we do here? Well, there’s an there’s a huge knowledge management aspect in there, who did I speak to? What did we talk about? How good was this expert? Can I revisit when i when i revisit this topic? Can I revisit my call notes? Can my colleague perhaps they they are typically not allowed to see my call notes given this my clients property, but they can see on an on a broad level of all the 100 experts we spoke to in the automotive industry, who were the best ones, they will follow a bell curve of relevance and quality. So knowledge management, who did we speak to and what did we learn is another big future. And if third one is compliance, if you think of how most, I mean, this isn’t not necessarily your typical audience, but public market investors more so than private market investors are regulated, strictly regulated, who they may speak to and in and what they can talk about. As long as this is decentralized in individuals mailboxes. There’s a lot of compliance burden on the individual user and the expert network user. Now, by streamlining the communication about experts, and interviews through one platform, you get a central oversight. So you can have trained compliance professionals review what’s going on, who are we about to speak with? What do we talk about? This is something that many of the expert networks offer individually. But given everyone uses multiple expert networks, it’s a hassle to to do in an efficient way. That’s a lot on the client side, you get free call time, transcripts, scheduling, help, team collaboration features to take notes on the experts, etc, then there’s a lot of tools for the expert networks as well. The way the way I think of it is, we’re building an ecosystem. There’s an ecosystem that I was part of, when I was in consulting, rather inefficient ecosystem, clients, emailing with expert networks, with incredible transaction costs for everyone. The reason I was paying so much for my calls, was because I, I generated high OPEX, in the expert networks. And I, I told I was like the boy who cried wolf, all the time. I was like, Guys, I need experts on this thing. And then that thing, and and I made them work as hard as I was doing in the team room. But the payoff for them was unclear. So in a way, you could say I was optimizing for the short term, the sub optimizing for the longer term, getting many experts today, but getting worse service and higher costs tomorrow. With in the index one ecosystem, we create that transparency and trust that is missing from the current emailing ecosystem. We, as you said, we limit the number of expert networks that you engage to make sure that there’s sufficient ROI for each expert network, but we also quantitatively and qualitatively assess the expert networks to make sure that they are indeed the best ones for you. The increased trust that they have in the quality of the platform, helps them to really go full steam on every project. And it makes it very, almost, it was almost funny how evident it is to everyone when the client is misbehaving. And the client then sees, okay, well, I’m misbehaving. I’ve done this and that of my past projects, this is why I’m not getting the best. So I cannot expect to get the best service anymore. And here’s what I need to do to get there to become a plus client and get the same service that the best clients. It’s creating, bringing transparency and efficiency to an incredibly in transparent and inefficient market.
Will Bachman 13:07
Hmm, that’s interesting. So do you provide metrics on individual clients to the expert network? So they would say, Oh, you know, Will Bachman you know, he’s a crummy customer, because he always puts in these requests and says he needs you know, 30 interviews, and then he never follows through, right? Or this other person? Oh, he’s, you know, she’s a fantastic client, because she puts in his requests. And, you know, she says she wants 20. She does 20. Yeah, she always books, plenty of calls. So did you know do the expert networks get that get those kind of metrics on the on the user, so they know who they want to really go after and work hard for?
Max Friberg 13:50
Yeah, we’ve started experimenting with this. Obviously, sharing anything we share with expert networks, we also share with the client themselves to make it very transparent. Why why things are happening. This The same thing happens. Offline today, right? expert networks know which clients are great clients and which are not. It’s just intransparent to the client by they end up getting crappy service all the time. And they go down, it’s it’s a vicious cycle, when you then start engaging more and more expert networks, giving each of them less and less business is hard to come back out. So we think we see that adding transparency to everyone, both the client and the expert network helps everyone you know, my my fundamental assumption is very optimistic. I think everyone wants to optimize for better service for everyone. I think clients want to optimize both for the short term and for the longer term if they if they know how to do so.
Will Bachman 14:51
Now, that’s an interesting point I hadn’t thought about before, which is that kind of double ended reputation, building and reputation management that just like it If you are really rude to your Uber driver, and they give you a crummy review, maybe future Uber drivers, like, won’t pick you up or, or so forth. It’s a similar thing that if you’re a crummy customer, and then don’t follow through, then then you’re providing the visibility to the other side of like, Oh, this is a really good customer serve, but this one not so much. That’s an interesting perspective. What? So you were at McKinsey for a few years? Sounds like you used a bunch of expert networks. What got you thinking that, you know, tell me how your thinking evolved that, wow, there’s really a need in this space to, you know, to innovate and to bride more of a more of a marketplace to help reduce transaction costs.
Max Friberg 15:48
Yeah, that’s it was quite a ride quite a journey. It’s not, you know, nothing that came out of the blue. I was in McKinsey, I was very focused on private equity deals, I did mostly transaction work. And I therefore I was a massive user of expert networks. And I quite enjoyed it, it was a way for, you know, fairly junior person to become incredibly knowledgeable about a topic. So I loved them. But I also saw the pain points. Now my other focus area was advanced analytics. And at the time I left McKinsey 2016 everyone was talking about AI, is like, you know, the joke about teenage sex, everyone talks about it, no one knows what it is, was the same thing with AI. We, we had an idea to build an AI expert network, scrape all of LinkedIn, you know, basically download the entire internet, put an AI algo on it, and automatically recommend the best experts, right? We soon discovered it didn’t work. We work long and hard on it. Put some, you know, put a lot of thought into it. I ended up explaining why doesn’t work on our blog, which I do with many things explaining in the expert network industry. So I left McKinsey in order to start an expert network. Now, we didn’t have any AI, but we had skilled people, an internet connection and a LinkedIn account. So we could become a normal experiment instead. About a year and a half into that I had seen the market sufficiently from both sides to see that okay, well, the pain points that I experienced as a customer are reflected one to one on the expert network side, there must be a bigger player, there must be some way we can solve for both sides pain points. So I exited the expert network, and was part of starting annex one.
Will Bachman 17:58
Tell me a little bit about what you’re seeing in the expert network space. I mean, certainly, you know, a lot of listening to this show would be familiar with some of the big names, you know, GLG alpha sites, third bridge. beyond those, are there some expert networks that are like very focused on a particular geography or particular industry or particular, you know, functional area are sort of are some, you know, specializing into, you know, I don’t know, like very, very senior people are very niche, like, you know, so tell me a little bit about how you see this, this whole ecosystem evolving?
Max Friberg 18:33
Yeah, I think I think more and more so in the in the global landscape, there’s a bit more than 100 active expert networks. Wow. Okay. Increasingly, you see, new entrants tend to out of necessity, but also out of strategic focus. They go for, for a region or for an industry. When I think of the expert network industry, I like to compare it to the consulting industry, which I believe is 30 years ahead of us in the institutional development. consulting firms have segmented specialists according to geography times industries. In some firms, obviously, there’s even the matrix structure, you know, you have a functional division as well. Let’s see if we’ll get there with with expert networks, but you definitely see the geographic times industry matrix with expert networks focusing on one or multiple of the cells in that matrix along the two axes. So you have those focusing specifically on topics such as health care or energy or automotive, or a specific region such as Southeast Asia or Japan, dark
Max Friberg 19:57
And I think that their particular model works Really well, with something like index one. When I ran an expert network, you know, we tried to be the jack of all trades, right? We tried to be the next field G and we would run on every project that was given to us, irrespective of whether we were good or terrible at it, right. Back to my transaction costs, that was an incredibly inefficient way of transacting, for us and for our clients. Now, what if we would get all the projects relevant for the Nordics, where we were based and where our expertise and experience was? Well, we would have delivered so much better on those than the ones that were about semiconductors in South Korea. Right?
Will Bachman 20:43
Right. Yeah. Because On the flip side, it’s difficult. If you’re, you know, for a expert network that’s focused on, you know, the life sciences industry in Germany, and they’re trying to build up that pool of experts, but then they’re also trying to, you know, find clients who need that. And as a smaller player, it may be difficult for them to, you know, be found by the private equity firm based in the US that’s interested in, like Life Sciences in Germany for some due diligence, like, there’s so many out there that’s difficult to sort sort through them. So you’re helping make a kind of marketplace of marketplaces, practically.
Max Friberg 21:22
Exactly, yeah. And it comes back to to one of my pain points, when I was a clueless 20, something at McKinsey, I was always interacting with equally clueless 20 somethings at the big expert networks. And one day, we were looking into those semiconductors in South Korea, the next day, automotive in Germany, the third day, aviation in Chile, it’s rather tricky for me to get up to speed on those industries, and equally tricky for my account manager in London, to do so, especially as he or she is, you know, this seven other projects in parallel.
Max Friberg 22:04
what would have saved me a lot of hours in the team room would be if I would have been connected with the actual expert in each of those markets and industries, with the true thought partner in the shape of an expert network that specialized in that topic, that can guide me, they will operate much more efficiently, they will not have to jump between all kinds of random time requests, but they can really focus and double down back to my transaction costs, operating more efficiently, reduce waste, and add more value. That’s the knowledge partner.
Will Bachman 22:42
Tell me a little bit about building nx one from a technical and design perspective for the kind of website that tool itself. did. Did you have sort of a technical or design focused co founder? I mean, it’s a it’s a beautiful sight, you know, you know, the interactivity is quite intuitive. Tell me about just sort of what’s it like to leave McKinsey and to go and, you know, build, build some stuff like this? How did you go about it?
Max Friberg 23:15
Okay. All right.
Will Bachman 25:32
And then I imagine that there was, tell me a little bit Who do you find her is using your platform right now, in terms of the clients as opposed to the, to the networks? Is it what independent professionals? Is it smaller consulting firms or PE firms? Or what, you know, what sort of client base are you targeting?
Max Friberg 25:54
And I’m was surprised to see that you always get surprised to learn how big the world is. I started out thinking that the market is probably just the six or seven or so big, consulting firms that I can name. But it’s incredible how many p e shops there are in Eastern Europe, how many corporates that are based in Australia, that need these types of services. We have a fortunate situation with SEO. So the articles that I mentioned, have have garnered a lot of attention worldwide. So we we have we have gotten clients inbound from all over and continue to get. So our client base is a mix of consulting firms, big and small, private equity. Those are our two biggest segments. But then corporate sorry, like 20% of our of our final segment.
Will Bachman 26:59
And you’ve been getting a lot of that as sort of inbound from the the content that you’ve created on your on your blog. It’s nothing. That’s impressive. That’s impressive.
Max Friberg 27:12
Yeah, it’s I think it was a lucky, lucky slot there that no one had written anything about expert networks before. I don’t expect that would happen in most industries, but very few people I’ve written. It was basically me and and there’s a gentleman called Sandy Bragg up on the East Coast us, we were the only ones writing about this industry. Now it’s picking up.
Will Bachman 27:39
Okay, so that’s an interesting lesson of, you know, to get known to space, pick some niche that no one is writing about that people care about understanding and write about it, and people will find you.
Max Friberg 27:52
To be fair, I mean, you you’ve done that successfully success fully as well with Umbrex. I mean, I, I see quite a few similarities between our businesses. I mean, the content that you’re producing for the community, the way you think of the community that you’re supporting and working with, but also in in creating, creating that marketplace, creating opportunities for independent professionals. In our case, those would be the expert networks. Yeah. To work with and on client projects, they might not access otherwise.
Will Bachman 28:30
Yeah, I know, there’s some parallels there. So let’s mention the website. It’s inex dot one, that’s i n e x dot o n e. m. So that’s probably the place to start and Max for our listeners, do you have anything else that you want to offer mentioned to them about if someone wants to try out your platform and get started?
Max Friberg 28:58
They’re very welcome to come in, come and try it out. We have I believe we have the best offering in the market, both in terms of the price model, but also in terms of the quality delivered by the expert network partners. If they can mention, if they mentioned that they’ve heard the Unleashed podcast, they’ll get personal onboarding from myself, or at least a personal greeting from myself. All right, fantastic.
Will Bachman 29:27
That is awesome. So index dot one, i n e x dot one, check it out. We’ll include that link in the show notes. Max. Thank you so much. This was great. Really appreciate you coming on the show.
Max Friberg 29:40
Thank you Well, great being here.