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These Alumni Are Democratizing Expert Knowledge Around the World

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When Yishi Zuo, MBA ’18, Devin Basinger, MBA ’18, Derek Hans, MBA ’18, and Nikhil Punwaney, SB ’17, MNG ’18, co-founded DeepBench in 2016, they wanted to make the global “expert networks” industry more accessible and affordable.

Thanks to a new strategic partnership with, and investment from, VisasQ—a knowledge-sharing platform founded by Eiko Hashiba, MBA ’07—DeepBench is doing just that.

“Even if an expert doesn’t answer your questions perfectly, or doesn’t know some specific thing you’re looking to answer, chances are good that, in that half-hour-long conversation, you’re going to learn a lot,” Zuo, who also serves as DeepBench’s CEO, explained on the Sloanies Talking with Sloanies podcast in December. “You’re going to be very happy, because even if they didn’t answer your questions perfectly, it’s going to uncover a lot of new questions.”

“Knowledge leads to more demand for knowledge, which is great for business,” he added. But even an industry with high demand can be very inefficient—especially when intermediaries mark up the price of access. Zuo discovered this firsthand while working as an investment analyst for Solstein Capital, a hedge fund in San Francisco.

“We used these things. They were useful, but expensive and very human-driven,” said Zuo. “It was all less of a marketplace and more of a high-touch recruiting concierge service. It was a little bit of a no brainer to see an opportunity there to use technology to bring down the cost, expand the market, and become the Uber of this industry.”

With support from the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, and the MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Program, Zuo and his colleagues got to work. They built DeepBench’s proprietary advisor search technology from the ground up, raised money, participated in accelerators, and hired additional employees.

And they did it all while enrolled as full-time students in the MIT Sloan MBA Program.

“I knew I had caught the entrepreneurial bug. I knew I wanted to transition from finance to entrepreneurship,” recalled Zuo. “So I came to MIT Sloan in the fall of 2016 and, pretty quickly, met the co-founders. They were also excited about entrepreneurship. We were just talking about new business ideas.”

Years later, with the help of VisasQ, the idea Zuo and his classmates decided to pursue—improving the marketplace for knowledge with greater efficiency and access, for the clients and the experts they seek—is further on track.

"A lot of knowledge is trapped in people’s heads and there’s value in that. That’s the insight that sparked all this,” said Zuo. “It’s a product that leads to inherently pretty high client satisfaction.”

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Investors looking for an edge rely on well-sourced, and expensive, industry experts. New startup DeepBench wants to make a better match at a lower cost.

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