Bounty Hunters Unchained

While I was grappling with privacy issues swirling around data brokers and Facebook’s inadequate protection of minors, along comes a company called BusinessLeads to further complicate my thinking. The big idea they’re testing out is an online marketplace for businesses to pay for customer leads. Think of it as crowdsourcing the sales function.

Clearly aimed at smaller companies and startups that can’t afford to build their own sales department, BusinessLeads lets them instead pay “bounty hunters” on a piecemeal basis. The business posts a reward–e..g., “$200 to find companies looking for better mousetrap”— and then bounty hunters get their prospects to connect with BusinessLeads.

A potential lead is then asked by the hunter to fill out a online questionnaire prepared by the business. If the lead passes muster, the bounty hunter gets the fee. It’s that simple.

And therefore there’s potential for all kinds of problems. Wasn’t there a movie about a bounty hunter who kept on selling a fugitive slave back to a new owner and freeing him later with both splitting the bounty fee?

With that in mind, it does seem possible–unless I’m missing something–in the BusinessLeads ecosystem for bounty hunters and their prospects to join forces and rig the game. On the other hand, this kind of bad behavior is typically disincentivized in online markets by providing a voting mechanism for evaluate the work of the service providers. Professional hunters will earn more votes and gain credibility over the scammers.

More troubling, I think, and more likely, is the potential for “kickbacks” as the sales prospects begin to realize the value of their information and ask to, ahem, split fees with the bounty hunter in order for deals to go through. Of course, this has always been a problem in large businesses with semi-autonomous purchasing departments. Now with the BusinessLeads shadow market there’s a way to efficiently handle the transaction.

In any case, I’m still intrigued by BusinessLeads. It does seem to provide a way for a certain type of information broker and perhaps even a well-connected blogger to monetize their rolodex.

While the primary purpose of BusinessLeads is to increase the proverbially sales pipeline, based on looking at some of the bounty posts, it could also be used to gain an introduction to a hard to reach person. And in that spirit, the BusinessLeads honchos have offered a $2500 bounty for a meeting with Mark Zucherberg to discuss a possible Facebook integration.