An investor looking to conduct due diligence on a company in the Indonesian mining industry?
Unless you possess an existing rolodex of contacts, it’s difficult for one to get directly connected to an individual with adequate knowledge of it.
That is where expert networks come in. Reportedly experiencing double-digit growth annually, expert networks primarily support investment managers and strategy consultants with their due diligence and research process by linking them up with experts for insights.
They provide what is perhaps the most valuable commodity in business — connections.
While global giants such as Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG) and AlphaSights pride themselves on having a multinational presence, Singapore-based Sealed Network is focused on the world’s fastest-growing region — Southeast Asia.
Launched by Benjamin Lee and Leo Wen Ge, a former investment professional at Temasek-backed VC firm Wavemaker Partners, Sealed is on a mission to connect the region’s top minds with organisations from across the world.
However, in a region as diverse as Southeast Asia, connecting people to it is easier said than done. “When we started, we realised that many experts in Southeast Asia are either not on English language platforms or have a minimal online presence,” Lee shared with e27 in an interview.
In true entrepreneurial spirit, Lee — who previously worked at unicorns Grab and Sequoia China-backed Huobi — managed to turn the hurdle into a competitive advantage for Sealed. “This has quickly turned into a source of strength for us as we have been able to gain traction amongst local experts in almost every country in the region.”
Another challenge Lee noted was the difficulty in hiring due to the nascent knowledge of expert networks in the region. Many job seekers struggled to adequately comprehend the services offered by Sealed and the value proposition it offered.
“We eventually managed to find the right hires from meeting with many people and getting a pool of credible investors and advisors to support us,” Lee said.
Despite the lack of awareness of the expert network industry among the general public, its value was well understood by those who needed it. Besides investors and consultants utilising it to gain in-depth insights into a particular industry, expert networks are also utilised by professional services firms and startups for a variety of purposes, ranging from scoping market entry needs to strategic advice.
Stressing that Sealed services are sector-agnostic in nature, Lee also noticed requests have picked up for experts based in Indonesia and Vietnam, which he believes is part of increased economic interest within the region.
“We are also seeing strong demand for expert engagements in sectors, including fintech, e-commerce and last-mile logistics,” he added.
How it works
Sharing on the typical process of an expert request, Lee noted clients usually send in a project brief to explain how they wish to engage experts. With screening questions and target companies among the required fields, the project brief serves to enable Sealed to identify relevant experts within short notice, which Lee stresses is paramount for the time-sensitive needs of clients.
After scanning through its internal database of over 20,000 experts, the company shortlists on average 10 to answer the screening questions. Thereafter, their profiles and answers are shared with clients, who will make the final pick.
Once selected, engagements occur through a call ranging from 30 minutes to an hour, with Sealed taking a cut of the paid fee.
“We get our customers entirely through warm referrals and word of mouth. Our investors and advisors either previously or currently occupy senior roles at strategy consulting firms and investment funds. They have helped us tremendously in acquiring our customers,” Lee shared when probed on how Sealed acquires its clients.
Sealed has notable names such as Far East Ventures (the VC arm of Far East Organization) on its cap table. To date, it has raised US$1 million. It also counts among its backers prominent angel investors such as Koh Boon Hwee (GIC Investment Board Director, former Chairman of DBS and Singtel) and Steve Melhuish (Co-founder of PropertyGuru).
With over 40 corporate clients on its books and its experts boasting a net promoter score (NPS) of 8.7, Lee shared Sealed has its sights set on regional expansion.
“With the goal of becoming Southeast Asia’s leading expert domain, we aim to have a local office in every Southeast Asian capital. We also intend to onboard more strategic and well-connected investors across the region,” he added.
The CEO also shared the company is looking to expand its product offerings past its current consultation calls to include opinion polls for executives and short to mid-term consulting engagements.
Lee believes that enabling different ways for clients to engage experts will allow them to tap into adjacent industries such as strategy consulting, B2B information services, and market research, collectively estimated to be worth over US$330 billion globally.
He also plans to grow the engineering team to enhance the expert-client matching process using a recommendation algorithm. To achieve that, Lee is looking to raise north of US$2 million either by the end of the year or early 2022.
With Southeast Asia shaping to become the next economic darling of the world, it would be tough to bet against his vision.
Image Credit: Sealed Network
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