Israeli startup Kasamba finds the path to knowledge

According to Kasamba, the path to knowledge they provide is a much more personal one than more established advice sites such as Yahoo Answers, Google Answers and Guru.com.Looking for a third generation clairvoyant, a how-to guide on becoming an astronaut, …

According to Kasamba, the path to knowledge they provide is a much more personal one than more established advice sites such as Yahoo Answers, Google Answers and Guru.com.Looking for a third generation clairvoyant, a how-to guide on becoming an astronaut, or the centrifugal force for a physics equation? Israeli live-expert site Kasamba can help you find an answer online and in real-time to solve your nagging questions, give you career advice or simply guide you on how to fix a clogged drain.

According to Kasamba’s president Arthur Fuhrer, hundreds of thousands of people are registered and use the site regularly to get individualized information that online sources such as Wikipedia cannot provide. Ranging in fees from 17 cents a minute to $20, with some 30,000 experts from 90 countries are at users’ disposal waiting online to answer questions: no more sending emails into outer space hoping for an answer.

And although the site does offer the skills of witch doctors and Tarot card readers, most of what you’ll find on Kasamba are reputable experts who have made themselves available to those in need. Some are Harvard grads and doctors from top-notch institutions like the Mayo Clinic. If they aren’t reputable, you’ll know, because previous site users are free to post and rate their experiences.

Fuhrer explained that the company’s management scours the world to find the top professionals in their fields, attending international medical conferences to scoop up doctors and the site’s very popular resource – psychologists.

Fuhrer and Kasamba co-founder and CEO Inon Axel chose the company’s name in 1999 with no particular meaning in mind. So they were floored when they met a doctor from Zaire at a medical conference in Toronto who told them otherwise. Kasamba meant something special in an African dialect, he told the stunned Israelis.

“It literally means he who kicks the bush to make the path – the path to knowledge or wisdom,” recounts Fuhrer giving his partner Axel credit for prophesying the name of the company. “When we heard that, it was a perfect fit and so close to what we do,” he told ISRAEL21c.

That path to knowledge that Kasamba provides, they say, is a much more personal one than more established advice sites such as Yahoo Answers, Google Answers and Guru.com provide.

Fuhrer himself was used to the personal touch in his work, from years as a physician. Feeling somewhat like Alexander Graham Bell more than 125 years ago, Fuhrer initiated the first expert chat session on Kasamba, offering up himself as the expert.

Very quickly, he knew he had to take his profile down as so many requests were pouring in that he didn’t have time to continue working on the startup. But today he’s still registered as a Kasamba expert in high tech. After the first experts came on board a few years ago, company founders were pleased that they could also use their site to help build the company. If they were stumped on building the software, they could simply ask a resident Kasamba expert.

Now clearly out of startup mode, Kasamba is generating $10 million in sales every year. And according to business newspaper Globes, the company is planning to raise $10 million at a company value of $40-50 million, in an IPO to be led by Clal Finance Underwriting Ltd. Kasamba was also one of 15 Israeli companies chosen for a coveted place in a four-day tour in Silicon Valley earlier this month to show the crème de la crème of Internet companies – including Google, Yahoo, Adobe and eBay – that their innovations are ‘next big thing’ for the web.

The company has attracted the thousands of experts in their fields the easy way ? revenue. Experts receive 70 percent of the overall earnings on a chat session and third party affiliates can get up to $50 per client or 14 percent of all revenue generated.

If you fancy yourself an expert in something, simply log in, create a profile, and estimate how much your time is worth. While three quarters of the specialists are US-based, there are also registered experts from places like Russia and India. According to Kasamba, some of their experts – such as programmers in the US – are earning upwards to $10,000 a month and have quit their day jobs to maximize online Kasamba time.

On the flip side, if you are an answer-seeker, you can enter keywords or browse through the categories until you get the right fit. Listing first the experts who are online, a user initiates a conversation with an expert and decides on the price for the advice. Advice can be sent real-time via a chat session or emailed immediately depending on the questions and the availability of experts.

Asked who the most famous expert featured on Kasamba is, Fuhrer quickly replied “Bill Clinton.”

“We are just kidding,” corrects his more serious partner, Axel a physicist by training.

“We don’t have famous experts,” the two explain more or less in unison, “We have people who are columnists in newspapers and local celebrities in their own right. We also have Harvard professors.”

“The thing about Kasamba, is that we offer a very large variety of experts and there is no dominant expert in every popular field,” explains Axel.

One doctor whose profile appeared near the top of the list under Kasamba’s search for physicians is US-based Dr. Mark, a family doctor who charges $1 a minute to answer questions on osteopathic manipulative treatments and principles, and non-operative sports medicine. If you live on a Texas ranch in the middle of nowhere, having such an expert might come in handy after a bone break.

“I spend much of my time doing phone consultations for adults and children, and providing urgent and emergency medicine,” he wrote in an email to ISRAEL21c. “I am a firm believer that the body needs to be treated as a whole unit, and not just a collection of separate parts.”

On the other side of the spectrum of Dr. Mark’s work is Ms. Dove, a third-generation clairvoyant who gives Tarot card readings and emotional counseling. “I read from your own spiritual guides, and the energies around you,” she writes. “I prefer not to confirm or deny the facts based on other readings you have had done, and I do not give out spells in a casual manner,” Ms. Dov assures.

Tarot readings or not, it looks like Kasamba’s success is in the cards. The company is located in Ramat Gan and all of its R&D and marketing efforts are run out of Israel where they employ a team of 45. Thanks to a new partnership (which they couldn’t disclose) with a US content provider (one of the top 10 they say), Kasamba experts may be popping up all over your browser very soon.

A dream content partner for Kasamba would be technology guide, CNet, where people go to find insider info on what to buy. Kasamba says that if their experts were available through CNet’s site, buyer’s guides could be augmented with real, personal, on-the-fly advice to those sussing out the best deal.

In the long-term, Kasamba’s Axel and Fuhrer say online expert advice can be a big business. Every year since inception they are tripling sales.

“Everybody needs an expert. And many people are already using Kasamba experts who range from plumbers to programmers.” He concludes, “Regarding our future plans – I won’t even say we are close to the tip of the iceberg. Even our tip is buried under the water.”

About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman is an award-winning environment news publisher who founded Green Prophet (www.greenprophet.com) to connect North Americans to issues that matter in the Middle East. She is the CEO of the Internet of Things startup flux, a company that is making social grow tools for urban farmers everywhere (www.fluxiot.com). Karin can be reached at karin (at) fluxiot.com.