Why are so many consultants founding successful start-ups? – Part 1

Why are so many consultants founding successful start-ups? – Part 1

Jumia ($824m), Monzo (£325m), Transferwise ($773m), Funding Circle ($746m), Zopa (£360m), Qonto ($151m), Gocardless (£95m), Jobteaser ($75m), Innovafeed (€55m). Just some of the most well-known and celebrated start-ups. Four have reached unicorn status; the others are hoping to. And they were all founded or co-founded by ex-consultants. 

In this article series, we look at why there are so many consultants founding successful businesses. We’d like to start by thanking the following for their time and great insights: Alexandre Prot (Ex-Mckinsey & Qonto founder), Aude Guo (Ex-Mckinsey & Innovafeed founder), Antoine Loron (Ex-Roland Berger & Hublo founder), Martin Pellet (ex-Kearney & LBF founder), Grégoire Schiller (ex-Roland Berger & Simundia founder), and Nick Patterson (ex-McKinsey & Movemeon co-founder).

The “consulting profile” and why some are driven to start companies

“Consultants that started with me at McKinsey had two things in common: firstly, they were some of the highest achievers I’ve met; secondly, they didn’t know what they wanted to do.” (Nick)

Consulting attracts high achievers as it is one of the most prestigious careers post-university. This is partly because the brands are so well-known across industries, but also because it is recognised as a career that opens doors.  

The combination of high achievement motive, and uncertainty around what you’re looking to do – not a single founder interviewed had entrepreneurship in mind when they joined consulting – means there are a lot of consultants who look to leave after a few years.

Turnover is extremely high in consulting, and whilst some of that is driven by “up or out” policies, the majority of the people leaving do so because they didn’t want to follow the track to Partner. And this is commonly accepted within the business. People can therefore talk openly about leaving, and in return receive great advice that gives you the confidence to launch businesses. Interestingly, both Nick and Alexandre mentioned that consulting gave them the confidence to launch businesses.

Finally, and that’s more an explanation of numbers rather than success, consultants know they have a strong employer brand to fall back on in case it goes wrong. This also means you have some very marketable short-terms skills – the option of  freelancing to supplement your income from a new business gives you more liberty to try and start something.

Consultants are great do-ers, despite what you may have heard!

The myth that consultants aren’t do-ers is regularly parroted. However, from what we’ve seen of peers and the consulting alumni community, quite the opposite is true.

In the early days of setting-up Movemeon, the most common challenge we’d hear from potential employers was that they didn’t want to hire consultants. They were concerned that, whilst they were very good at advising, they weren’t good at executing.

We couldn’t agree more on the importance of execution, but the common misconception about consultants not being good at delivery is just that – a misconception. Martin said that the high day rates charged by consultancies (especially strategy houses), and the high standards demanded by boards of large businesses, mean consultants have an obligation to deliver results and have to learn to deliver at pace.

On top of being good do-ers and dealing well with time pressure, consultants are also particularly good at multitasking. Alexandre, in the early days of Qonto, was able to work on strategy, finance, management, marketing and even office management. Antoine also highlighted that in a similar way to consulting, when you’re an early-stage founder you learn by doing.

Being good at multitasking, being good “do-ers”, and working with tight deadlines, it looks like early-stage start-ups have more in common with consulting than what we would have expected.

In the second part of this article – to be released in two weeks – we’ll look at the key skills developed in consulting that help you launch and grow a start-up.

We’ve also published an in-depth interview with Innovafeed founder Aude Guo here.

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