Needle provides client companies with the tools and experts to support online chats with uber expert/fans of the brand and current or prospective customers. Yesterday, Shasta Ventures and Rembrandt Venture Partners co-led a $10.5 Million B round to support Needle’s expansion.

Screenshot of Visitor and Needler Connections
Real-time View of Visitors and Needler Connections

This is affirmation of Needle's “Fan Sourcing” model. Needle works with client companies (from electronics to cosmetics) to identify, recruit, and train “Needlers” who come online when a client customer clicks on the offered chat button on the client’s site.

Needle is ground breaking both in terms of this fan/expert sourcing model (Needle reports that their clients have Net Promoter Scores, a measure of customer loyalty, higher than 72 percent, as compared to the industry average of 47 percent), and in terms of their work anywhere approach.

Morgan Lynch, Needle’s founder and CEO, has built the Needle platform to be “work anywhere” friendly. Needlers can work from anywhere they can get a moderately good Internet connection. Needlers have worked from plane wifi connections, coffee shops, and while staying in youth hostels. The Needle webclient the Needlers use is lightweight and tuned to their mobile workforce.

Morgan offers:

"The most passionate brand advocates and fans are often not in the same physical location as a call center, nor would they work in such an environment. If you want to access the best talent, you need to provide a platform that allows them to work when and where they want."

Needle is part technology platform, part marketing support, part expert recruiter, part game platform (there is more to a Needler's pay than just hourly wages). Clearly the investors think there is room to grow with this approach. I'm wondering what other industries could gain value from similar strategies.

The current roles are the client companies that create the products the Needlers love and support, the Needlers, and the Needle platform and infrastructure. I'm focused on new forms of work and education at the moment... Might a similar approach work for tutoring with universities and colleges playing the client role? Course topics would be the products. How about certifications? The organizations that provide the educational content are interested in student success (all the more so as financial aid packages are dependent on graduation rates). Do you think there is value there? Others areas that would be a better fit? Let us know in the comments below.

A slightly shorter version of this post appeared on Technorati, here.