INTERVIEW by DAILY BR!NK STAFF | PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of HENRIK & MATTIAS
Knowledge is power. With the overabundance of online encyclopedias and a new debate surrounding the democratization of education, one could assume that wealthy Westerners and individuals in developing nations have access to a relatively similar amount of information as long as they both have a decent internet connection. Of course, the sad reality is that some answers are unattainable by just scrolling the web, and that those might often be provided by the wrong person. Our primary source of knowledge still remains our own personal network. Enter Mancx. Henrik Dillman and Mattias Guilotte have created the first “transactional knowledge market,” where users are able to obtain responses to their questions from industry experts for free or for a fee, as well as to monetize their own knowledge. The two Stockholm-based entrepreneurs are out to revolutionize the way in which we share, obtain, and treat information; their ultimate goal being to empower people by connecting those looking for answers to those who have them.
You’re just fresh off Arctic15, where you convinced hundreds of individuals that you were the most promising startup there. I apologize in advance for you having to go through it again with this interview! Before we start, how was your experience competing against 400 other startups?
I think the strongest feeling from the whole experience was the enormous energy from all participants at the conference, and the great feeling of kinship meeting with so many other web entrepreneurs. We are not spoiled with huge startup events here in the Nordics, so what the guys at ArcticStartup managed to achieve with very small resources was pretty darn impressive! This sets a completely new level for the startup community in the Baltics and Nordics.
Let’s get right to it. What does Mancx bring to the information/knowledge world that was not available before?
That’s pretty simple: we add both reach and richness to the global knowledge market. We believe most information will continue to be shared for free, but that some information will remain “locked away” (both figuratively and literally) as long as you don’t offer incentives to share it. Incentives might be soft in nature (like Klout, or positive comments from other users), but in many cases that won’t be enough.
When it comes to information that is either too valuable or too time-consuming to put together for free, people want something more tangible in return for their efforts. Historically, money has proven to be a good tool when it comes to facilitating the exchange of valuable goods between individuals. We see information as no exception to this rule. So by adding money to the game, we make sure people can pay to get the information they need when they need it.
Can you provide us with some real or imaginary instances during which someone might need to use Mancx — in which it could contribute to his/her success?
Let’s not be theoretical about this — people are already posting heaps of questions (i.e. information requests) on Mancx as we speak. Right now, most questions are either within sales/business development or within market research. People have been asking for typical long-tail business information, which is hard to come by if you don’t already know the right person.
I’m curious how the monitoring process works — what prevents someone from providing false information on the site? What “preview” do users get to see before making the purchase?
The solution is simply to provide the buyer and the seller with the necessary tools they need in order to bridge the trust gap between them. This includes Mancx rating, verification with the business networks, document preview tools, chat, etc.
We have monitored a couple of thousand chat dialogues since the start, and people on Mancx are surprisingly courteous and generous with helping each other bridge the “trust gap” I mentioned. A lot of information is given away for free in the initial “get to know each other” phase, and the tools we have provided seem to work just fine.
And for the record: Even if we are not aiming for an escrow business model, right now we sit on all money until we have confirmation from the buyer that the answer they have received is accurate. Just a precaution to make us unattractive to fraudsters.
In the same vein as sites like Yelp, will people providing questions be rated and therefore gain a reputation as trustworthy sources?
Yes, indeed. We just spent an hour discussing Klout this morning, and to us it is quite obvious that the Mancx score will have a similar role for information buyer/sellers up ahead.
The monetary aspect of this platform might obviously be the most controversial. Shouldn’t tech pioneers such as yourself be striving towards the democratization of knowledge?
Hate to be the one to tell you – this is democratization of the global knowledge market!
People helping people for free is a cornerstone of a civilized society. But underpaid junior developers giving away advice for free on Stack Overflow to make the development teams on Fortune 500 companies more efficient is not helping democratize the pool of all combined human knowledge.
As it is now, knowledge and information is very unevenly distributed between the (information) haves and have-nots. Well-connected elderly gentlemen in the Western world and youth in developing countries do not have access to the same amount of, or same quality of, information. A newly graduated student who chooses to become an entrepreneur has far less relevant information sources than an older peer. A small company does not have the resources of a large MNE.
As we all know, knowledge is power, and the right knowledge at the right time gives opportunities. Being able to connect into existing networks and buy answers from well-connected individuals is a huge opportunity for people who do not already have this pool of knowledge easily accessible.
Another aspect of this discussion is the question of what knowledge you own in relation to your employer, since Mancx give employees a new way to monetize their personal knowledge. The company obviously owns a patent even if you have developed it, and they also own the brand as well as some core IP. But from there on, it is all a matter of interpretation. May you as an employee sell your CEO’s mobile phone number if someone wants to buy it? If 500 customers know the pricing of your products, could your price be considered public and hence sold to someone doing market research? Is the name of your best developer a corporate secret or something you can disclose?
My personal stand is that, in time, very few things should be secret and/or owned by corporations. What should continue to be kept behind locks are probably private stuff (your medical records, for example) and core corporate IP, like patents and the company strategy. Apart from being an ideological standpoint for me personally, extensive research also shows that markets are more efficient when buyers and sellers have more (not less) information available. More openness will lead to a more efficient and effective global economy.
After a user has downloaded and received an answer (therefore paid for it, with prices fluctuating according to the question), is he/she not allowed to share this on other platforms? In other words, who does the information belong to once it has been paid for?
Information wants to be free. It is, of course, up to them what they want to do with the information they bought. We don’t believe in trade barriers or adding artificial friction into the knowledge market.
What’s in the future for Mancx? Considering how much it has evolved over the past two years, I can only imagine what you have in store.
Thanks for saying so. Yes indeed, we have plenty of cards up our sleeves. The major thing happening in 2012 is our increased focus bringing Mancx out to where the questions are, as well as where the people with the answers are. Our newly announced partnership with Viadeo is the first step on this journey. Stay tuned for more interesting stuff.
The company’s co-founder, Henrik, said that the prize money from Arctic15 will be turned into a “beer fund” and that everyone visiting Mancx will get free beers. Is that true? Where are you located? When can we come grab our beer with you?
But of course! Our office is in central Stockholm and we will treat all visitors with a crazy night out!
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success and that of Mancx?
The easiest way to help us is to try out Mancx and tell us what they like and don’t like about our service.
Also, give us an extra thirty-second thought whenever they meet entrepreneurs who they think would benefit from having all human knowledge at their fingertips.