Making connections

An Israeli start-up is going against the grain using technology that would put the human touch back into trading.

Filip founder Nir Sorek (photo credit: Courtesy)
Filip founder Nir Sorek
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The conventional wisdom in marketing and retail today is to use technology to cut the middleman: See Amazon, Ebay and Google to name but a few companies that have totally disrupted their respective industries. but Nir Sorek, CEO of the Jerusalem-based start-up Fillip, wants to use technology to beat the bots and make everyone a middleman.
Fillip currently helps hi-tech companies fill vacant job positions by offering rewards to middlemen, or what Sorek calls “connectors.” log on to Fillip’s online platform and dozens of companies are seeking help finding staff, offering rewards as high as NIS 20,000 ($5,500) for a successful hire. the company is not shy about what motivates people: Its motto is “ you help, you earn.” While Fillip currently is focused on using the crowd to get the right person into the right job, Sorek sees the company not as crowd recruitment agency, but rather a decentralized mediation platform that will provide services across the board from real estate through to matchmaking. “We provide a platform that at present deals with human resources and allows companies to declare their hr needs and to state how much they are willing to pay so that people will help them fill vacant positions,” Sorek says. “We have built a basket of technological tools that enable the man on the street to make the connection. the solutions include tools to see if your acquaintances match the jobs on offer and tools to manage the process until your acquaintance is hired.”
One of those tools is a machine-learning algorithm that enables users to determine, for example, which of their Facebook friends are suitable for a particular position. many platforms, Sorek says, are trying to cut the middlemen and create algorithms that connect buyer and seller. but what Fillip believes, he says, is that “with all due respect to technology, it needs the input of the crowd and the human touch.” Sorek’s eureka moment came while working as an information-systems director for Ex Libris, a leading software as a service (SaaS) company.
“I found myself spending an enormous amount of time recruiting staff, and I understood that something was wrong with the system,” he says. Struggling to find the right people for the job, Sorek started calling his friends and offering to buy them dinner if they could find him a linux developer.
Within weeks, the positions were filled.
“What I understood,” he says, “is that most job seekers are passive. But when you operate a broker, or a connector, and offer them a reward, they have the motivation to go out and find the right person. I saw that people started to come in for job interviews, that many of them were suitable for the job and saw Ex Libris as a good place for them to work.”
Seeing that he might be onto something, Sorek, together with CTO Gil Peretz – who previously, along with serial entrepreneur Dov Moran, founded, a start-up that helps consumers manage their relationship with their providers – and Erez  Haliwa, a UX/ UL guru, conducted a pilot in Beersheba where they got students to help landlords find tenants. the pilot went so well that Sorek quit his job. “I saw that the market was thirsty for that kind of solution,” he says.
Expanding on his philosophy, Sorek says that in today’s economy when people want something, they ask a bot, and after they have done that, every time they surf, no matter where they go, they will get an ad for what they were looking for.
“We have stopped talking to each other,” he says. “We just talk to machines, algorithms, bots. the natural evolution of this is that the algorithms and the bots replace the middleman just like with Uber, Amazon and  Airbnb. But what we are doing is bringing people what they need – sometimes even before they know themselves that they need it they want it – before they have even taken a step, before they have even began to search on Google for what they are looking for. “The only way to make that happen is to bring brokerage back into the human arena. Because so much happens in human conversation, in the interpretation of an off- cuff remark by a friend. Only a human can see a product and know that is exactly what a friend is looking for, and only a human can know that his friend is looking for something before he or she has even started actively searching for it.
“In this race, machines can’t win because humans can use machines, while machines can’t use humans. When it comes to brokerage, we need to trade with each other and make use of machines, but not to trade via machines.”
After establishing the model in Israel, Fillip is setting up shop in New York, where Sorek hopes to establish it as a crowd recruitment platform and then move on to becoming a crowd brokerage platform, and eventually even to use the model for matchmaking. “In five years time we see ourselves with a crowd mediation platform that enables everyone to become brokers and use our strongest asset, which is our social net- works,” Sorek says. “With the technology we have, everyone will be able to make connections.”