When Karl Jacob was noodling with an idea for a Net startup last year, he couldn't quite hit the right note -- until one Sunday in July that he spent with his dad in Michigan. There, the two were stuck on a boat in a lake, working on a balky engine. Jacob suggested calling someone for advice, but his father reluctantly nixed the idea. Even though there had to be hundreds of boat owners who had dealt with the same problem, there wasn't any way to reach them on a Sunday.
That bit of frustration provided the seed for Keen.com, the company launched five months ago by Jacob and partner Scott Faber. It was one of the first of what is now becoming a crowded field of Web sites where people can sell their knowhow. "From the beginning of time, people have gotten information from someone down the street," says 32-year-old Jacob. "With the Net, the world is your neighborhood."
Call it person-to-person e-business, a whole new area that's projected to generate $4 billion in revenue by 2004 and help facilitate as much as $50 billion in service transactions, estimates researcher Datamonitor. Even with the current skepticism about consumer sites, Keen.com has raised $67 million from heavies including Benchmark Capital Partners, eBay, Microsoft, and Inktomi. And on May 2, eBay announced that it would integrate Keen into its auction service.
Keen.com is elegantly simple. Anybody from Joe Six-Pack to PhDs can sign up on the site to sell advice on anything from tax tips to what wines to buy. But instead of waiting for an e-mail answer, the two sides connect instantly over the phone by clicking on a button on Keen's site. The service, which launched in November, signed up 100,000 people in 90
days to give and get advice at prices running from 5 cents to $13 dollars a minute. Keen.com skims 30% of each transaction, which has increased in average price to 85 cents, from 50 cents three months ago. Now, with partners like eBay, Jacob is betting his summer Sunday idea will get turbocharged.