Creating a New Market for Consultants
Rajeev Jeyakumar, WG'13, Co-Founder of SkillBridge
16 September, 2014
Raj Jeyakumar, WG’13, wants to introduce you — to yourself — just 10 years younger. That is, if you have finance, strategy or marketing challenges, and wish you could hire someone as smart as you, he has thousands of former consultants and graduate students, able and ready to help. His company, SkillBridge, enables organizations to hire just-in-time bright business consultant talent, connecting both sides of the market, while minimizing search and discovery costs. Raj is an enthusiastic participant in WE-EARN and the Wharton Angel Network.
What’s your background?
I grew up in the U.K., attended Oxford and then spent five years at Marakon Consulting. After it was acquired by Charles River Associates, I moved to New York City, and decided to attend Wharton.
What was your aha moment to create SkillBridge?
I can tell you the moment exactly. It was in 2008, at my former consulting firm, while working on a project for an internationally renowned familyowned entertainment guide. We could serve it only as long as it could pay our full rates, with 50% of the fee going to our partners and overheads. If the client wanted to pay only for the actual people it needed, a manager and two consultants, then it was an opportunity cost to us. I thought, “That’s broken.” We were turning down smaller clients that consultants themselves enjoyed working for, but the economics prevented the consulting firm from taking them on.
You began SkillBridge at Wharton. How did it come together?
I began taking entrepreneurship courses, and then joined the pilot program at the San Francisco campus, to experience the startup culture in the Bay Area. Our three co-founders met through the Wharton Venture Initiation Program: Brett Lewis, WG’13, who has gone on to take a full-time job, Stephen Robert Morse, C’07, now head of marketing for SkillBridge, and me.
Our thought process was that, if you look at the consulting industry, there are many ex-consultants who would love to do work in their spare time. And there are companies that would love to hire them. We asked, “Why isn’t there a platform for people like us and the companies that would hire us?” And it’s not just grad students. About 70% of MBA women who leave work to raise a family have difficulty re-entering the work force. We decided to build a simple online marketplace where companies could connect to elite independent consultants. Our brand is built around consultants who have very high-level academic and professional experience. That was the genesis of SkillBridge.
How important has support been from the Wharton community?
It has made all the difference. In 2012, we applied to the Dorm Room Fund started by Josh Kopelman, W’93, and became one of the first startups it invested in.
When you start a business, people constantly say, “No.” I say “Try out our service, and tell us how to make it better!” So in the beginning, getting people’s time is more valuable than clients or money. In that respect, Alberto Vitale, WG’59, the former CEO of Random House, gave us a boost. He invested in SkillBridge, because he said, “I saw what happened with the publishing industry and could see it happening to the consulting industry. Our company used consultants, and I would have utilized a service like SkillBridge.”
When you have someone who was a CEO of a major company for that long tell you to ignore the naysayers, and that he would have used it, it’s liquid motivation. It will keep you going when you are working on your birthday and Thanksgiving. When people do that for me, I try to pay it forward to undergraduates asking for advice.
Wharton Professor David Bell invested in SkillBridge and gave us a lot to think about. He talks about the digital experience of realworld dynamics. Consulting has a real-world face-to-face element. How do you translate that into a digital experience?
And we have been lucky to serve companies founded at Wharton, like ChargeItSpot, Lead Edge Capital and Warby Parker.
My observation on Wharton is that, whereas Stanford startups tend to focus on consumer products, like a skateboard with electric power, Wharton is perfectly suited to focus on B2B issues like finance, business development and marketing, which may not be as sexy as consumer products, but are ripe for innovation.
What is SkillBridge’s value proposition?
Elite consultants quickly and in bite-sized chunks! The typical SkillBridge project can be kicked off within two to three days and lasts about four weeks. Our algorithm and filters choose the right consultant for your project.
Our communication tools allow you to monitor progress and record work. We bring technology to the interaction between client and consultant, which results in multiple efficiencies. For example, someone can look at a consultant’s LinkedIn profile and use that to hire him or her. This person will ask, “How many people I know, know this person?” That’s real-world social validation, online! This generation wants an interface where they can go online, filter it and get it straight away.
They trust it. They know what to look for, and they want to directly do it themselves, not wait for HR, or after two or three weeks of meetings for coffee or drinks. We are consulting for the Internet Age. Consultants love SkillBridge. They tell us, “Just getting paid on time, and not having to talk to clients about money, are worth the 20% fee.”
What is your experience with the WCNY?
First of all, I think it’s fantastic! Our team has attended WE-EARN events, and on June 25, I pitched at the Club’s Wharton Angel Network Demo Day. These bring together the Wharton alumni in New York City who are building new businesses and are able to exchange ideas, capital and advice. The experience was helpful as practice for pitching an idea to new people, and was informative in seeing what questions people had — more prompt and constructive feedback would make it even better! It’s also a great way to see what other Wharton entrepreneurs are working on
and how you can help each other.