OnFrontiers Beta Platform: Q&A with Co-Founder, Brian Caouette

Founded in 2014, OnFrontiers is a peer-to-peer market insights platform that provides rapid access to targeted, high quality insights in hard to reach markets. Visit us at www.onfrontiers.com.

OnFrontiers is changing the way researchers search for and interact with industry experts in emerging markets. In this Q&A, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Brian Caouette, discusses the rationale, development, and features of OnFrontiers’s platform and how it creates unique opportunities for both researchers and industry experts.

  1. What’s the story behind OnFrontiers?

OnFrontiers grew out of frustrations founders experienced doing business in dynamic fast-growing markets from Indonesia to Kenya to Colombia.  

Our team has worked in over 30 countries as consultants, entrepreneurs, and policy advisors.  One consistent challenge across these experiences has been finding quality information to make decisions.

For my last startup in Liberia, it was incredibly hard to find good information, I literally had to write a master’s thesis to gather the intelligence I needed to move forward.

Weak knowledge networks hold back progress.  No investor or donor worth their salt is going to put money into a market they don’t understand.  OnFrontiers is about democratizing access to a goldmine of insights from top professionals in every developing market.

  1. What is OnFrontiers?

OnFrontiers is a peer-to-peer market insights platform that helps professionals explore new markets, make better decisions, and expand their impact.  

On many topics we cover, there is an individual or small circle of people who you should be talking to if you are planning a project.  If you don’t, you are taking risks that can prove costly down the road.

Most of our customers understand the importance of engaging with experts at the right time. The trouble is, the people with specific market knowledge are incredibly hard to find.  

OnFrontiers is building a quality-curated community of market experts from around the globe where professionals can connect directly to exchange insights on a broad range of topics.

  1. So how does it work?

Since mid-2014 we have been offering a (mostly) offline service for enterprise clients.  It is pretty simple: we take questions over our website and then scour the earth for the perfect expert.  I describe our operations as as sort of “recruiting firm on steroids.” We produce a shortlist of top ranked experts matching the customer’s question in a matter of hours. The customer then chooses who to engage with and we set up a confidential call at a mutually convenient time.

We are now in the process of bringing this service online.  In our Beta platform, customers can browse experts on a limited number of topics.  If they find who they are looking for, they can move forward to arrange a time and connect over a call directly through the site.  Or, if customers don’t see their topic listed, they can make a custom request (similar to our offline service).

The platform is completely pay-per-use, with fees charged based on the time you spend with experts.  For custom requests, customers pay a fixed rate per minute.  For connections over the site, the rate is set by the expert; OnFrontiers earns a service fee of 20%.  

  1. So why the new platform?

It has always been our intention to launch an open online community.  This is the only way we saw of being able to scale across the many markets and geographies at the pace our customers require. However, we chose to start offline so we could learn directly about customer and expert needs and recruit a critical mass of experts before investing in our site. This phase also allowed us to validate the commercial proposition across a broad range of organizations needing local insights.

  1. So what’s in it for the expert to participate on your platform?  Why would a top industry professional want to join?

Experts use OnFrontiers to gain exposure and make valuable business connections.  They earn fees by speaking about what they know.  They can also use the platform to give back – they can consult pro-bono with nonprofits and journalists and donate their earnings to charity. Participation is very flexible and is compatible with current employment.  Inbound requests from OnFrontiers entail a certain quality screen as the customer demonstrates a real, actionable interest to connect.

Going forward we intend to invest heavily in promoting our top experts through multiple channels to enhance their profile and visibility on a global stage.

  1. How do you compare to competing services?

Our direct competitors arrange expert calls but focus mostly on topics in developed markets, like healthcare in the USA, and cater mainly to hedge funds and other large investors.

OnFrontiers is a global-first business.  Our focus is developing markets, where knowledge gaps are most pronounced and also where 80% of world growth will take place over the next 5 years.  

We are also, unlike our direct competitors, an open platform. Anyone can sign up to be a member and engage with an expert on a call for as low as $100.  

This openness makes us more scalable and also more appealing to our experts who gain exposure on a global stage.  It also allows us to cater to a broad array of insight seekers, from a leasing company expanding into Kenya to a family office funding an education startup in Chile.  

  1. What is the best way for people to learn more about OnFrontiers?

Three ways: