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MBA Consulting Match-Making Site Out To End The War on Talent

Daniel Callaghan founded one of the big MBA consulting match-making sites. But the IESE Business School graduate has grander plans for the employment market.

Thu May 22 2014

Two years ago, Daniel Callaghan was flown out to the Big Apple to collect his latest accolade. The CEO and co-founder of MBA & Company was taking a brief vacation away from his company’s London offices to network with big venture capital players.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg was among a bevy of distinguished judges who handed Daniel a start-up booster. As a newly-appointed New York City Venture Fellow, he was given the opportunity to scale his high-potential venture on the East Coast.

Sitting alongside Mayor Bloomberg was Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures, the giant VC firm. Next to him sat Lawrence Lenihan from First Mark Capital and Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP. MBA & Company was one of only two UK-based start-ups that made the cut.

“A lot of good names were there,” says Daniel, who set-up his business in 2009. “They assigned us a mentor – who happened to chair VC fund MMC Ventures – and [they] have invested in our last two funding rounds.” The latest of which netted MBA & Co. £800,000.

The company, set-up by Daniel and co-founder Adam Riccoboni, pairs MBA consultants with companies that need trained talent for short-term projects. Today they have more than 20,000 registered users. About 1,000 are MBAs. Consultants deliver projects in more than 50 countries. The average cost of a project is £18,000. MBA & Co. charges companies a fee – “it varies from 10% to 25%”.

When Daniel jetted off to the United States, the company was in its infant stages. Today it employs 17 people, based in the UK, and one in NYC. “They flew me over three times over the year... it's why we set-up a sales desk there,” recalls Daniel, his British accent beaming.

After reeling off some impressive figures, the IESE Business School graduate launches into his battle-plan for ending what he calls the War on Talent.

The MBA-holder is trying to make his mark in a competitive market. The era when companies struggled to fill temporary vaccines – or spent a premium on short-term, temporary projects – may be drawing to a close. The rise of start-up match-making consultancies is an argument to support that view. Daniel has had to fight for market share alongside competitors such as and HourlyNerd, founded by a group of Harvard Business School grads.

These mostly online-based match-makers are connecting MBA consultants with companies that need talent to help with smaller projects, often at a fraction of what they could expect to pay big firms like McKinsey & Company or Accenture.

We are not there yet, though. And Daniel does not see management consultancies as competitors. He even sends his users to work at some of them. “No,” he rebuffs my suggestion of competition with the Big Four. “We’re not trying to replace management consultancies; we’re trying to pioneer a new means of work.” He adds: “There will always be a need for the McKinsey’s of the world.”

The likes of Deloitte or Bain, he says, hire people for full-time roles as a “jack of all trades”. MBA & Co. provides companies with access to exact expertise to deliver a specific piece of work. The most common areas include market research and operations projects.

With this type of project-based work, there is no down-time or national insurance costs, Daniel says. “It’s a much more effective way to access the intellectual and human capital they need.”

There are other factors that are pushing MBA students in particular towards his company. The current competition to get into management consultancies is forever hotting-up. A report released last week by GMAC, providers of the business school entry test the GMAT, said that consulting remains one of the most dominant functions employers’ seek. More than 80% of companies surveyed wanted to hire MBAs for consulting roles.

The MBA jobs market may be in rude health but it is no easier to break into a consulting career. MBA internships with the leading firms are sometimes restrictive. “Not having an evaluation committee scrutinising your every move frees up creativity. I basically get to be my own consulting firm,” said Marta Mussacaleca, a second-year Harvard MBA who does project-based consulting.

Students balance their business studies with freelance work to beef up their CVs – and earn a bit of cash on the side. Marta regularly uses match-making sites similar to MBA & Co. She earns an average of about $2,000 for each project.

MBA & Co. works with companies ranging from start-ups to some of the largest corporations in the world, including General Motors – “a fair portion of the FTSE 100,” enthuses Daniel. He adds: “Predominantly its fast-growing companies.”

Daniel has an array of figures to support the growing popularity of project-based consultancy work. MBA & Co. users operate in more than 130 markets, he says, and the largest project banked about £600,000.

With his background in media strategy, working with companies including Procter and Gamble, Daniel fits the entrepreneurs’ mould. With an MBA from one of Spain’s best business schools, he has the qualifications to boot.

Last week MBA & Co. announced it had raised a further £800,000 in funding – led by existing investors MCC Ventures and Piton Capital. That takes the company’s total funding to around £2 million.

Yet when Daniel wrote the business plan, while still in business school, the co-founders had little more than a grand to get the company off the ground with.

After studying at Durham University, Daniel joined IESE’s MBA program in 2008. A month after graduating in May, MBA & Co. began to land their first customers. “It immediately picked up traction,” says Daniel.

After snapping up more prize money, the co-founders raised about £450,000 from funding and a grant from the Spanish government – “for being one of the more innovative companies”. After that, Daniel and Adam banked a further £800,000 in a funding round, before netting the same total again last week.

More interestingly, perhaps, was the backing Daniel received from his business school. Two IESE professors personally invested in the business, he says – but there is much more that an MBA degree has given him. “It’s been incredibly helpful... that whole network of people, and from a credibility point of view,” he says.

To keep the business expanding, and to see off competition, the CEO has just hired two new bright sparks: head of marketing Chris Winstanley, who has a strong start-up background; and head of product Richard Hewitt, who comes from internet betting giant Betfair. “Their jobs are to the ensure the platform provides the smoothest experience as possible,” says Daniel.

He adds: “The next step will be to significantly improve the platform and grow the sales team. We will see this as a stepping-stone [funding] round to much bigger and better things.”

Daniel and co-founder Adam retain a majority share of the company. Daniel’s task now is to keep growing.

An MBA has given him a springboard – one that MBA & Co. will be hoping keeps paying dividends for years to come.

“It will never replace the persistence and work ethic you need to get it [a start-up] off the ground. But it makes it easier and you make fewer mistakes,” he says, before quickly adding: “But time will tell on that one.”