Updated to reflect comment from Pearl.com
There are plenty of online forums out there, where people are willing to give you advice about anything. But think about it: would we just stop anyone in the middle of the street and ask them to recommend a doctor? Or ask how to fix a car? Most people want to talk to a professional, or at least someone they know has some knowledge in the area they are being asked about.
Previous investors Glynn Capital and all Board members, including Charles Schwab, Larry Sonsini, Bob Finocchio and Sandy Robertson, led the round, along with participation from new investor Crosslink Capital. With this latest round of funding the total amount raised by Pearl has exceeded $50 million.
Pearl plans to use the money to build its brand hrough television and advertising and to expand its mobile presence, Pearl.com Founder and Chief Executive Officer Andy Kurtzig said in an interview with VatorNews.
In regards to its presence on mobile, Pearl is currently available on iOS, and will be debuting an HTML version of the app soon. There are plans to come to Android eventually, but Kurtzig could not put a timetable on when that would happen.
The company is also looking to fill 20 open positions for engineers, people on both the product side, and in management and expert relations.
The first hire the company is making is that of Erik Zech, the former Chief Financial Officer of Real Goods Solar, as Pearl’s first ever CFO. He will be responsible for the company’s corporate finance, accounting, investor relations and treasury.
"We were interviewing people for a long time," Kurtzig said, until the company found Zech. It was important to find someone who fit the culture at Pearl, and who matched the company's core values.
At Vator Splash last month, Kurtzig gave a keynote address, where he spoke about the three most important things he has learned to start a business. One of those was making sure that the people you hire fit the company.
“Your business is about people,” he said, and values indicate why they should work with you, and they communicate what kind of people you want to be working with.
What you want, he said, are people that are "smart, fun, and get things done.” Kurtzig said that Zech had these qualities, in addition to his experience as a CFO, and that is why he got the job.
In addition, the money is also going to be used to increase personalization on the site. What that means is that there will be an ongoing relationship between the experts and the people they answer questions for, instead of just being a one time thing where they answer a question and never speak again.
Society has been moving away from personalization, Kurtzig said. Doctors used to make housecalls, now you only get eight minutes with them. With services like Pearl they can use tech to one again make those housecalls and have a more personal relationship with their patients.
Founded in 2003 as JustAnswer, the original idea for the site came as a way for Kurtzig’s then-pregnant wife to talk with an OB/GYN about her round-the-clock health concerns in a more convenient way.
Rebranded as Pearl in June of this year (the name is meant reflect the wise instruction and advice, or pearls of wisdom, a consumer can get from the service) and has grown to provide access to professionals in various other fields, such as lawyers, veterinarians, electricians and technology specialists. The website currently provides access to 10,000 professionals in 700 specialties. It been growing revenue an average of 123 percent year over the last five years and currently generates revenue in 196 countries and 22 currencies.
In June, the San Francisco-based company announced that it had raised $25 million in financing from angel investors, such as Charles Schwab, as well as Glynn Capital.
In an interview with Vator CEO Bambi Francisco in June, Kurtzig told her that 80% of the questions that are answered on the site are from doctors, lawyers, mechanics and tech support.
Customers have the option of either paying per question, or buying a monthly subscription plan for $35 a month that will allow them to ask unlimited questions, and give them access to the 19 million questions and answers Pearl has already aggregated.
For those paying per question, customers are actually able to set their own price by choosing how quickly they want a response, and how detailed they want it to be. The customer gets to a page where they move sliders to make the price go up and down. Pearl takes a fee of 50% of the payment made by a customer. Customers are paying about $30 on average, Kurtzig said.
He also said that, on average, the experts on Pearl make about $1500 a month, though a few have even generated $40,000 a month. For the most part, it is legal questions that cost the most because attorneys charge the most, but doctors do more volume.
The Q&A space
Pearl faces competition from many other sites, including Quora, Ask.com, Ask Reddit, Facebook Questions and Yahoo Answers.
In May, Quora raised $50 million, for a valuation of $400 million. The company has raised over $60 million altogether.
In August, Answers.com announced that it would be purchasing customer review website ResellerRatings for an undisclosed amount. ResellerRatings is a site for consumers to rate products and retailers. It currently features around one million reviews of around 40,000 online stores, including Home Depot, Barnes & Noble, Newegg and TigerDirect.
Kurtzig says that Pearl is different from those other websites because he does not see Pearl as a Q&A site, but as a professional services website.
But what really makes Pearl different is that it is about helping people.
"We save lives. It's what we do, all day every day. It's about making a difference."
(Full disclosure: Andy Kurtzig is an investor in Vator)
(Image source: http://www.pearl.com/)