Before Google, I worked at a private equity firm called Blackstone. When doing diligence on deals in different industries, there would often be expert calls with people in the field. These calls would cost thousands of dollars to set up, and hourly rates could be more than $500/hour. Many of these were done over the phone as well. At the time, I thought it was a space that was ripe for disrupt. Extremely high margins and low-hanging fruit to shift to digital. Unfortunately, I didn't see a novel way to acquire customers or bootstrap the network so I never pursued it (I wouldn't have been great at this type of business either).
In 2020-2021, expert networks saw a resurgence as record deals were made. The expert network TAM hit $1.9B in revenue in 2021. New startups raised large sums to take on incumbents like GLG. Out of Chicago, Tegus raised $90m and in Berlin, Atheneum raised $150m. It's no coincidence that the current market leader GLG was formed in 1998 before the dot com bubble.
Expert networks were never threatened by LinkedIn, but might be part of the next unbundling cycle of LinkedIn. These networks do more than just match-making, they offload risk and compliance (although some still get caught up in insider trading allegations) and vet experts.
What's next for expert networks? The evolution of expert networks turns expert-as-a-service into diligence-as-a-service. Crossover funds like Tiger Global have legions of Bain consultants doing diligence on potential investments before they even meet with the companies – which is why they were able to sustain an average of more than 1.5 deals per day in 2021.