Spoiler: There are about 50 expert networks, in our latest count. (Update Feb 2019: Read about them all in the Expert Network Directory)
Expert Networks are niche headhunting firms, specialized in recruiting people for short-term advisory engagements. Their customers include global investment funds, management consultants and strategy/M&A departments of major companies.
There is a handful of large Expert Networks (ENs), with offices around the globe. However, most ENs are focused on some certain region (by geography or language) or industry segment.
Prior to Inex One, we co-founded the Nordic expert network Previro. We got strong traction from early on, as clients appreciated our reach into the Nordic countries. We also helped Nordic clients with “outbound” searches – finding experts from around the globe. This is probably the evolutionary path of ENs: start local and grow with your customer base. Some ENs find an attractive product-market fit to expand internationally (e.g. Dialectica is growing rapidly with low costs by near-shoring their teams to Greece), whereas others double-down on their region (e.g. SpeakIn for India), get acquired (e.g. Innosquared, Vista Research, Epito, and a few others), or simply move along healthily (see our article on this).
How will the market for Expert Networks develop in the next 5 years?
The jury is out on this: there is a case for consolidation, and another one for continued or increased fragmentation.
The Consolidation case is typically expected from an industry, as it matures (see background here or here). For ENs, this may be caused by the need to invest in compliance infrastructure (IT systems and personnel), to meet demands by customers and regulators.
The Fragmentation case is built on the assumption that the EN market is yet in an emerging phase (e.g. Alphasights’ CEO interview) and that ENs have limited economies of scale. Personal data regulations and the sector-rotations of PE activity limit the extent to which experts can be reused over time (see our article on this). Specialization might come from customers demanding more niche experts, routing projects to multiple locally specialized networks.
Place your bets – we will revisit this article in a year or two, to see how things are playing out.