Peggy Choi, 35, is a finance graduate in computer science, finance, and arts, from University of Pennsylvania, US. But when her parents were facing challenges while running a gallery business, she had no answers for them as she had minimal knowledge about their business and operations.
“I thought it would be great if they could access somebody who can guide them. But even if you find somebody, you don’t know how credible that person is, let alone if they come at the best price,” she recollects.
A Hong Kong citizen, Peggy had worked in equity, finance, and management of capital across countries, mostly in technology companies. She was involved in the Skype buyout from Ebay.
But in the long term, she wanted to create something new.
“Out of many ideas, I wanted to focus on a way to connect people for knowledge and expertise. As a student too, I had wished for a platform like this. After the experience with my parents, I wanted to dedicate my life to democratising knowledge,” Peggy says.
This determination led her to forming Lynk, a destination for expertise, in 2013.
With Jennifer Li, 33, her friend from her university, she embarked on an entrepreneurial journey. Soon, Evan Xiao Han, 34, a Wharton MBA whom they met via the Hong Kong-Penn alumni network, also joined them.
Over the next two years, Lynk, completely bootstrapped, was formed to connect knowledge seekers to experts.
After working from cafes with no pay, in 2015 they raised $1 million seed round from Wavemaker Partners. This year, they raised another $4 million from Southeast Asia-based Hong Leong Group, Hong Kong’s Cyberport, Zhuhai Da Heng Qin (DHQ), and CRE Venture Capita, along with Wavemaker.
Today, they have offices in Singapore and Mumbai (besides Hong Kong) with an international team of 40 people in product, technology, marketing, sales, and business development.
Lynk, which launched in Mumbai in October 2016 with a team of eight people, is set to open shop in NewYork and China in 2018.
Expertise has no boundaries
Lynk aims to be a platform where you can go with your problems and questions; it will curate experts who can answer your questions with deep insights.
“Relying on internal resources and knowledge alone may not always be sufficient. We can support by feeding external conversations into these processes to help companies make decisions,” Peggy explains.
For instance, if a B2B customer who works in banking solutions needs deep understanding on how the HSBC procurement system works, they won’t be able to find it on Google. They will need to talk to experts who have sold to similar customers before.
For such purposes, Lynk has tied up with C-level executives who want to stay active, and have an altruistic side to help. For an hour-long phone call, experts’ fees range from $500 to $1,500 (per hour). Peggy says that most senior people often charge lower rates.
Clients can engage with Lynk’s experts for quick consultations, ad-hoc research, consulting projects, or long-term engagements.
The pricing and commission structure is dependent on the nature of the project. Often, clients choose to pay to speak or meet Lynk experts per hour in which case they receive a percentage of each consultation fee.
Even if you are an Indian customer, you might need advice from experts in China or the US.
Peggy says, “In India, our customers are mostly consulting firms and corporates looking for advice in the IT space. Many people who are modernising traditional business are also among them. Some IT companies want to expand to South East Asia, and are looking for HR expansion strategies; they reach out for help with that too.”
Lynk currently has nearly 4,200 experts based in India, as well as more than 1,000 professionals listed with Indian expertise, having either worked in-market for a long period of time or for an Indian organization. Lynk’s search engine gives a curated list of experts with relevant ranking, for every customer’s specific needs.
Building the right pool
Lynk has more than 80 institutional customers, including consultancies, financial services firms, private equity funds, hedge funds, family offices, corporates, SMEs etc. They are set to expand this list in 2018.
According to Peggy, keeping these experts and customers content was a challenge.
“But we take feedback and data points into account,” she says, adding that one of her biggest learnings from the Lynk journey is understanding the people she worked with, internally and externally.
“In finance, it is about making right investments; so, there is no strong people element there. At Lynk, everything is people-related – and hiring the right team takes patience,” she says.
Lynk has built its team of experts carefully.
“We care about their experience in particular fields; not just CVs. Retired executives are higher in number among our experts. They provide a good pool for us, because they want to be active but are not looking for any job. Some of them are accessed through partnership and referrals,” Peggy adds.
Currently, Lynk has 50,000 experts across 73 countries – about 95 percent of them are individuals; the rest are consultancy firms.
In India, the highest number of experts belong to telecom, logistics, and retail industries. According to Peggy, many international clients show great interest in speaking to experts familiar with India’s startup scene, especially e-commerce and payments.
“Our clients in India have engaged experts for some very interesting topics recently, including AI, blockchain, and robotics,” she says.
Unique work culture
Being based in Hong Kong, the financial capital of Asia, has been beneficial for Lynk.
“Our positioning is as an international startup. Usually in HK, most jobs demand proficiency in Mandarin Chinese to work in the China market; but we are open and we got very good quality people,” Peggy says.
Although it was not intentional, Lynk attracted a unique blend of individuals with 14 nationalities and speaking more than 20 languages, most of them bi-lingual.
In the early days, Lynk was able to grow relatively quickly through the team’s own networks and word-of-mouth. Their strategy was to focus on raising awareness and getting people to try their service for the first time. Since their clients are based across the world, Lynk’s business development teams often travel to meet clients.
Peggy says that once they’ve used Lynk, most users see the value and become repeat users.
“We’ve also benefited from the strategic investors we’ve partnered with, from our seed round to our Series A earlier this year. Given the nature of our business, we’re blessed with knowledge that we can use in our marketing efforts – through content marketing, digital marketing, and to arrange set-piece events,” she adds.
An idea whose time has come
Individuals tend to seek social media and platforms like Quora, or even reach out to experts on LinkedIn, for information very often. But for in-depth expertise, Lynk has no competition. (Currently, they have only enterprises as customers; individuals will be able to access Lynk in 2018.)
Although enterprises and individuals can easily approach research firms and consultancies for expert advice, Peggy says the user experience and benefits Lynk offers is their USP.
“It will be better than what you get through reaching out directly. There is a trade-off between price and benefits here. We need to be more efficient, and the equation with price needs to work out so that customers will stay with us,” she adds.
Lynk is focusing on growth now, and is in no hurry for profit.
“We don’t think of it as a goal. It works in unit economics. We are still a small company. We should continue to invest in growth. We can be profitable today if we switch off our growth spending on marketing,” she says.
Lynk aims to constantly innovate, to achieve the vision of democratising knowledge. And that is surely an idea whose time has come.