Clarity Opens Its Phone-Based Expert Advice Network to All

After a closed beta begun in January of this year, startup Clarity is launching today to the public. The mobile-focused company aims to connect entrepreneurs seeking advice with the people in the best position to give it, by allowing advisors to sign up and provide time to chat via telephone with other business people and startup founders just getting started.

Clarity founder and CEO Dan Martell knows a thing or two about just starting out as tech entrepreneur and how useful advice from seasoned pros can be at that stage; the New Brunswick native previously founded and sold two startups, including Flowtown (purchased by Demandforce in 2011) and Spheric Technologies (bought by Function1 in 2010).

Martell told BetaKit in an interview that Clarity is designed to both help those just starting out get in touch with people who can help them, while also making sure that it’s as convenient as possible for busy entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily have a lot of time to spare.

“We’re essentially trying to provide these really valuable 15-30 minute calls that provide insight,” he said. “Most CEOs either want to do in person, or second best is ‘Here’s my number, call me,’ which I’d love to do if I wasn’t scared to have people just texting me at all times of the day.” Martell said that provided the spark that turned into Clarity; a desire to help people starting out in a position he once found himself in, balanced by a need not to get overwhelmed by requests.

Clarity provides just that, by allowing advisors to register on the mobile-optimized site and provide a phone number they can be reached at. People who want to connect don’t get to see their number, however. Instead, they click on a link and provide a reason for the call and a callback number. Advisors then receive an automated call telling them the name of the person seeking their advice, along with the reason they offered for wanting to get in touch. At that point, advisors can either call the person right back, or add them to their queue to address at a later date.

Clarity also already has a revenue stream in place, as well as a way for advisors to make money using the service. About 10 percent of all its current users charge a fee upfront for calls; for instance, Mark Cuban is a member and charges $10,000 an hour for his time, but Martell said that abou 80 percent of those who currently charge donate all their proceeds to charitable causes through Clarity. The company takes 15 percent of any payments made through the site directly to users, but waives its fee completely when advisors donate their proceeds to charity organizations.

Martell sees the percentage of people charging growing now that Clarity is open to all, since when he was growing the network initially he targeted high-profile entrepreneurs who were more likely to want to donate their fee than make some extra cash on the side. Now, however, the site could extend well beyond its initial target audience, and become a painless automated billing system for professionals who generally charge for their time and phone consultations, like lawyers.

In general, Martell notes that while he originally conceived of the site as an advice network, people are already using it for a range of purposes. “We have over 12,000 advisors, and a lot of them are using it more for personal productivity,” “Like being able to field those emails, or provide that link at the end of a presentation when the give a talk at a university. It’s just a streamlined way to schedule a call and keep both sides private.”

That’s something that could give it an additional edge over other professional expertise networks, like ExpertInsight and AlphaSights, in terms of general appeal. Martell also thinks the phone call mechanic will provide an advantage over sites that focus on video, which he admits could be better for explaining more complicated subjects but requires much more time invested in preparation and proper execution than a phone call. Martell also told us that Clarity was considering implementing a simple screen sharing feature down the road to make demoing products easier, since it’s something users have been asking for.

Clarity also competes with text-based expert advice services, like Sprouter and Quora, but Martell again cites the phone call focus as a key differentiator from Q&A-style sites that will appeal to a lot of busy execs who are already dealing with email overload and looking for a way to write less, not more. In general, though, he says that the different modes of communications each appeal to users in different ways, and that there’s likely room for approach each to succeed.

While Clarity’s initial appeal might rest with tech industry professionals and entrepreneurs, what it offers has a much more broad-based appeal. Long-term, the tool’s real strength might be in its applications beyond just advice-giving, as a way to enable mobile workers to quickly and easily communicate with customers, clients, media and more while retaining total control over their time and privacy and without the help of a personal assistant.

Disclaimer: BetaKit is an initiative by Sprouter founder Sarah Prevette, and both sites are  owned by Postmedia, Inc.

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