An elite social-networking site for network engineers is expanding into consulting on IT projects for businesses and service providers.
The site, Pingsta.com, has been in beta for about a year now, assembling a stable of about 500 networking professionals it deems worthy to be considered experts, says Deka Yussuf, marketing vice president for Pingsta.
The site is now testing a service called Pingsta ICE in which it pairs customers who need help on IT projects with qualified networking experts from among Pingsta.com members.
When requests come in for help, Pingsta's software sorts them and notifies members with the best qualifications. The first to respond wins the engagement. Customers pay pingsta.com, which takes a portion of the fee and pays the engineer who does the work.
Some work is done on a flat-fee basis, and other types are negotiated based on the size of the project, Yussuf says.
Initially, experts were selected by Pingsta staff and invited to join, but now the site lets interested parties submit resumes that are screened to determine whether applicants will be granted membership, Yussuf says.
Ronald Jean, a network engineer for Verizon Wireless, joined Pingsta recently after learning about it during a discussion on the business-networking site LinkedIn. He says he uses Pingsta as a way to discuss networking issues with other experts, learn about problems and bugs, and get a global perspective on the industry. "It seems to be a very powerful tool that will get more powerful as more people join," Jean says.
Current qualified experts hold industry certifications such as CCIE and GNCIE, and they are categorized based on this expertise and the types of gear they are qualified to work on. So far, Pingsta staff vets applicants. "But we want to get to the point where it's a self-regulated community," Yussuf says.
Each member is allowed to invite three other people to join. Most of the members work or have worked in service provider organizations, and many are retired. "This is a way for them to extend their intellectual legacies," she says. "Maybe they worked for 10 or 20 years at Cisco. What do they do now?"
From Pingsta's perspective, it runs a consulting service but doesn't have to pay salaries. "It's a very interesting model from the perspective of sales and marketing expenditure," Yussuf says.
The company is privately funded but is considering seeking venture capital, she says. It hopes later this year to have customer case studies it can make public.
The company was founded by CEO Peter Alfred-Adekeye, an engineer who has worked for Cisco, IBM Global Services and AT&T. He is also CEO of a service company called MultiVen specializing in network maintenance, operations and optimization that he started after leaving Cisco.
Alfred-Adekeye also in 2006 set up The African Network, an organization that promotes entrepreneurship in African and elsewhere by people of African descent.