Maestro Market adds one more thing to the sharing economy: Consultants

By Richard Nieva , written on March 14, 2013

From The News Desk

So your son is at that age, and it’s about time you told him about the birds and the bees. You’re dreading it. Maybe you could turn on HBO and let him watch "Girls," but that could scar him for life. Or you could buy a book. Or there’s a site that offers real-live humans to help you out.

San Francisco-based Maestro Market, which gives users access to consultants in different niche areas, today announced a partnership with Palo Alto-based nonprofit Parents Place to bring parenting advice to its marketplace. For $170, a befuddled parent can talk to a consultant with a background in child development to help prepare you for “the talk” over Skype or phone. Sessions usually start at $125, last for about an hour, and in addition to parenting cover topics ranging from publishing, finances, and social media. The service has more than a thousand professionals who cover some 300 categories. Maestro Market vets each one and in the case of the Parent Place partnership, Parent Place does the investigation.

It’s another spin on the sharing economy. Like Taskrabbit, which lets users hire other people to perform chores, the commodity is people and their time, but with a focus on information. The site has raised a little under $2 million, and is privately funded by angel investors including Steve Blank, who is also an advisor, according to Ian Shea, the company’s founder. Thus far it has struck partnerships with Pubslush, a crowdfunding publishing platform, and GoGirl Finance, a financial advice site aimed at women. It brings its consultants to those sites’ audiences using widgets and content curation.

The site relies on authors to bloggers to career coaches and PhDs, and their subject matter is wide ranging – from charisma lessons ($25) to a session on how to make over your pantry ($200) to advice on getting angel funding ($350). The site’s editors work with each info-provider to help him or her decide pricing.

Maestro Market has some utility, but there are still only about 100 users a month who purchase sessions, says Shea, so it’s unclear whether or not people will pay for this high-touch personal service. But if the sharing economy has taught us anything, people will pay for access for the most splurge-worthy things (read: town cars with personal drivers and boats). The key for Maestro Market, then, is attracting advice givers that can’t be found elsewhere. That will be the difference between a user coming to the company’s website and or just googling information on how to find consultants.

The company started out with grand ambitions. Founder Ian Shea says he conceived the idea after sitting next to extreme skier Scot Schmidt at an event. Seeing how many people came up to Schmidt to ask for advice, Shea realized that people would pay to meet professionals well-versed on specialized topics.

He may be onto something, but the problem is there is not much oomph to his so-called experts. That’s not to discredit the ones they have, but they need to go from having good and capable advisors to indispensible ones. Schmidt, the extreme skier, is on the site – as well as being an advisor to the company – but there aren’t many others with his luster. Thuzio gives you access to athletes. Earlier this week, Bandpage launched a service that lets you hobnob with musicians. It would really add cachet to Maestro Market if it let you in behind the velvet rope to meet a few rock star execs or well-known advisors.

The Gerson Lehrman Group, a large company geared toward professionals, links clients with these kind of high powered executives in technology, real estate, finance, and a host of other areas. Guidepoint Global does the same kind of thing. But if Maestro Market can build a more lightweight marketplace for consumers, the company could find its niche in the market. But it still needs some big-deal consultants to be compelling.

Without them, what’s to stop users from finding consultants on their own? Maybe Maestro Market could ask for advice on how to take a business to the next level. There are probably dozens of people on the site they could shake down for suggestions.

If not, you can always just ask them about sex. It's, uh, for parenting.

[Image courtesy Pete Prodoehl]