In its first year in existence, website SellerCrowd has signed up more than 7,400 media and ad-tech salespeople by providing an anonymous forum for asking questions and getting answers from other users about the agencies and people who control the purse strings of the growing digital ad industry. Now, the startup is making a controversial move that it believes will create value for both media buyers and sellers.
SellerCrowd today will begin publishing profiles of more than 4,500 buy-side professionals -- from planners to media directors and brand managers. The profiles will be completely crowdsourced from information provided in the more than 50,000 questions and answers that members have already posted on the site. The new format arose in light of the fact that the vast majority of searches on SellerCrowd aren't for information about, say, a particular company's media preferences but rather for details about individuals at agencies and brands to pitch.
A profile will include basic information such as name, title, company and accounts (for buyers at agencies) and will also include all the questions and answers from the SellerCrowd community that mention that person. Sellers will be able to "follow" individual buyers and brand managers.
With the launch, buy-side professionals for the first time will be able to join the site and claim their profiles. (SellerCrowd makes users sign in using their LinkedIn accounts.) They won't, however, be able to see the questions and responses that sellers have posted about them. (A sample question: "Other than Matt Ross, who is a good digital contact for Levi's at OMD?")
Some might see a buyer's claiming of a profile as the equivalent of throwing open the doors to all comers. Even SellerCrowd Founder Clay Gran expected some buyer skepticism, saying, "If there [were] a profile out on me that I didn't create, I would be leery." But he stressed two distinct benefits for buyers. For one, they can use the platform to ask questions to the entire seller community (such as "What are some innovative marketing opportunities in mobile other than banner ads?"). Secondly, they can cut down on wasteful pitches by setting the record straight in their profiles on just what types of opportunities they are open to hearing ("No social media, please").
"We hope buyers use SellerCrowd to communicate what they're looking for, which we think will lead to better- targeted pitches," Mr. Gran said.
Sellers will also be able to provide recommendations about a given buyer. And buyers claiming their profile can control whether a recommendation is published to the profile or not.
Briefed on the SellerCrowd launch, a media director at a large New York digital agency said the buyer profiles will be helpful only if sellers pay attention to the preferences a buyer outlines in them.
"[I]f comScore numbers don't add a lot of value to my brand's evaluation of a particular vendor and [listing that information in the profile] can shave 5-10 minutes from every meeting by not going through them, then great," he wrote in an email.
SellerCrowd has five full-time employees and has raised $500,000 in seed funding from Lerer Ventures, Softbank Capital, Charles River Ventures and angel investors. That money is funding operations for the site, which is free for users, while Mr. Gran decides on the best way to make money. For now, he is noncommittal about a business model but said SellerCrowd, which is for now largely focused on domestic U.S. sellers, will likely introduce a paid subscription service in the future.
"We're confident that building a database of information that doesn't exist anywhere else is valuable," he said.