Witness the Rise of the Matchmaker

My family and I just got back from a relaxing vacation put together by a travel agency that we found through Zicasso.  If you haven’t come across the site, Zicasso is a “matchmaking” website where consumers  describe a complex trip they’d like to take.

9496054340_8b68a80c80_zThe website has a roster of vetted travel specialists who focus on specific areas of the globe.  Three of these companies will respond to your request with a general travel itinerary and proposal.

For our trip to Asia, Zicasso matched us with three out-of-state “boutique” travel agencies who specialized in the region and who were incredibly knowledgeable.  We picked one of the proposals and ended up with an well put-together trip.  Every step along the way was expertly considered.

I’ve been giving some thought to this type of matchmaking site.  The genius of the site is that it makes travel agencies relevant again, because it makes narrow and deep knowledge available to a diffuse consumer population.

  1. Zicasso allows “experts” with narrow but deep knowledge to stay narrow.  The platform allows them to be connected to a large number of buyers looking for something very specific and complex.  As an agent, you could, for example, run a viable travel agency specializing in trips to Thailand from your home.
  2. The site empowers consumers.  Back in the day, if you decided to use a travel agency, you’d end up having to rely on the professed expertise of a generalist.  On a matchmaking site you compare offers, and also see reviews left by other travelers.

It’s an interesting trend, because in this era of wholesale “cutting out the middleman” and self-service on sites like Expedia, boutique travel agencies are in demand and seem to be doing a lot better than the generalist corner travel agency.

We’ve seen matchmaker sites before, or course. I’m reminded of the famous “when banks compete” ads from Lending Tree:

Dr. Jack Guttentag, a Wharton professor of finance (and curator of the excellent “The Mortgage Professor” website) has criticized Lending Tree as a lead generation site, with inaccurate and incomplete information.  Mortgages, Dr. Guttentag argues, are too complex and individualized for website offers to be accurate. He argues that the site is effectively a lead generator for banks that are willing to pay the largest finder’s fee.

It strikes me, though, that the key distinction between Lending Tree and Zicasso is that mortgages aren’t distinct enough.   Zicasso woks because it is matching consumers who have a very narrow need with agents who have narrow expertise.

The implications for healthcare are obvious, of course.

I first wrote about “skinny” or unbundled medical networks in 2014. My sense, at the time, was that transparency, innovation and specialization were leading consumers to “skinny platforms” in education and healthcare where narrow “star” performers competed against more expensive generalists.  This was particularly that case when patients needed something quite specific. I wrote:

We are seeing the emergence of “skinny platforms” which support a handful of superstars: it is a profound “distillation” of the product consumers are seeking…

… there will continue to be ample business for the top group of clinicians.  But not for everyone: “stars” will be leveraged to the extent that a “star physician” with charisma, a set of expert protocols and a focused team of advanced practitioners will unseat a cadre of lower-quality doctors.

Validating the premise of that early post, I recently learned about Best Doctors, a Boston based company that, among other services, connects patients with specific and complex medical problems to physicians who specialize in that area. The company provides referrals and second-opinions for 34 million members, most who are employees of companies that contract with Best Doctors.   The firm now has a database of 53,000 physicians.

For 25 years, we have asked physicians to identify the doctors they consider the leaders in their field. Today, our peer-selected network has more than 53,000 medical experts in over 450 specialties and subspecialties.

Witness the rise of interfaces between buyers and narrow+deep knowledge.  Witness the rise of the matchmaker…


Photo: Nick Kenrick via Flikr, cc search