Building a B2B knowledge platform

Germain Chastel, NewtonX

Posted

We live in a world increasingly rich with data and information; there is more hyper-specialist knowledge out there than ever before, but accessing that knowledge is by no means a straightforward task. Consulting firms provide one entry point to clients looking for external expertise, but they are far from the only option. For certain classes of problem, what clients really need is a way to tap directly into the knowledge of independent experts, wherever those experts may be located.

That’s where NewtonX comes in. Founded in 2016, NewtonX provides clients with an AI-driven platform that allows them to put their most pressing questions to the people best placed to answer them. We spoke to Germain Chastel, the company’s CEO and Co-founder, to learn more about NewtonX’s platform and how it creates value for clients.
 

How do you describe the core concept behind NewtonX to prospective clients?

At NewtonX, we're building the world's first search engine for B2B expert knowledge. We want to be the Google of professional knowledge.

Our approach consists of two core elements: a search engine and a conversion engine. Say, for example, a client comes to us and says, ‘I need to survey 275 maxillofacial surgeons in the US who have experience using titanium plate BT201 for post-trauma recovery.’ We can take a request like that and tell the client how long it will take and what the price per completed response will be. Then our search engine identifies everyone who meets those criteria. And when we've identified enough of those people, our conversion engine starts reaching out to them, verifies their identities, and converts a certain percentage of them into survey participants.

The reality of the market is that there are very few good options for clients who need B2B expert knowledge. There are plenty of panel providers who can give you access to consumers—which is great if you want to poll 2,000 members of the public about their laundry detergent preferences. But that approach just doesn't work when you have highly technical questions and you need B2B knowledge. So we launched NewtonX to address that gap.

How does NewtonX’s approach to accessing expert knowledge differ from that of ‘expert networks’ like Gerson Lehrman Group (GLG)?

There are two big differences between our model and that of a company like GLG. Firstly, GLG specialises in facilitating calls with experts: 90% of its revenue comes from those calls, whereas with us it's closer to 20%. Instead, the bulk of our revenue comes from surveys of those experts. But the second, and more fundamental, difference is that we don't operate our own network of experts. GLG has a big database of experts in different topics, divided up into categories. We don't operate from a fixed pool like that; instead, when you give us your brief and tell us who you're looking for, we go out and find all of the people who fit that description and reach out to them.

We don't think of ourselves as an expert network, because the people we identify don't think of themselves as experts before we reach out to them. Our model is demand-first, not supply-first: We find people who are best placed to answer our client's questions, wherever they happen to be.

And what does the typical client relationship look like? At what point of the problem-solving process would NewtonX typically come in at?

We don't have a sales team at NewtonX; most of our clients come to us through word of mouth or through referrals. Often what will happen is that someone will come to us because they've worked with a consulting firm who knows about us; the firm will help them define the problem statement and the questions they need answered, and then they'll use our search engine to find experts who can answer those questions.

We only intervene when our clients have questions that they need answered—we don't help them define those questions up front. For example, suppose a big tech company wanted to launch a new cybersecurity product. They might want to survey chief information security officers at Fortune 500 companies to find out what products they currently use, what their wish list of features would be, what their current stack looks like, what purchase cycles they operate on, and how much budget they have. We step in at that stage and help them find those people and get the answers they need.

How heavily do you lean on technology and automation to do the work of finding and surveying experts?

Sixty-five percent of NewtonX staff are engineers or software developers. Compare that to a company like Nielsen, Gartner, or GLG; 90% of their people are consultants, account managers, or researchers, and only 10% are engineers. That should give you an idea of how heavily we lean on our technology stack.

We have a team of engineers who are constantly working to optimise our platforms. But it's important to remember that the clients, ultimately, don't care about underlying technology. It doesn't matter to them whether you're doing everything in an efficient and automated way, or you're using a team of 10,000 offshore analysts. The client says, for example, ‘I need to survey 250 IT decision makers in the financial services industry who recently migrated from AWS to Google Cloud. The survey is 20 minutes long and I have four days to get it finalised.’ What they care about is whether you can deliver those results in that time frame at an acceptable price.

We treat expert knowledge as a commodity. We see ourselves as a utility; the knowledge exists at point A and we have to get it to point B. So, like any utility, we have to invest in technology that will allow us to continuously deliver better, faster, and cheaper access to that commodity.

When moving that knowledge around, to what extent do you have to think about concerns around compliance and confidentiality?

Compliance is extremely important for us; we're doing something that hasn't been done before, so the onus is on us to set the precedent. If we achieve our vision and become the number-one platform for B2B knowledge exchange, it'll be important for us to have set down the boundaries from the early days. You can't have companies using NewtonX if, on the other side of the table, that company's executives are using it to sell corporate secrets. We make it clear that people can use our platform to share knowledge about their industry and about their subjects of expertise, but anything that could be linked back to their current employer is completely off limits.

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