PracticeConsultingHow to grow your own consultancy – from scratch

How to grow your own consultancy - from scratch

A small start-up can't rival a top five consultancy on headcount or security, but it can offer employees and clients a unique satisfaction. Qedis co-founder Vipul Kapadia shares his formula for success

Two years ago, I and two former colleagues from Deloitte started up a new
consultancy. As the firm grew, it became clear that most of our early recruits
had faced a dilemma: why move from the relative security of a large, reputable
consultancy to a high-risk start-up? In each case, they realised they wanted
something more than just security.

Without really planning it, in the first year we found that we were
developing a similar culture towards our people as we had experienced at
Andersen (as  Deloitte was formerly known).

One of the biggest attractions was the opportunity to truly help grow the
business. At Qedis almost everyone has an internal role or responsibility for an
internal initiative such as recruitment and remuneration, or organising
community events.

This has brought us all closer and helped create a sense of being part of
something special.

We prize good communications We have an intranet and a videoconferencing
facility, and record our weekly conference calls for those who can’t attend. And
we use instant messaging to communicate with colleagues and clients at other
sites.

One of our first challenges was to craft a distinct value proposition in an
already crowded marketplace. Initially targeting chief information officers, we
were given a major boost by a big win in the transport industry.

We want to be known as a company that delivers real change, so we regularly
construct our deals with a risk/reward element, putting some of our fees at
risk. Combined with our individual reputations, openness and honesty, this gave
enough confidence to our early clients to award us transformation projects.

These projects helped us double our first-year target, growing to 15 people.
To celebrate, we took our people and their partners to Paris for a weekend.

Like all consultancies, we are inherently a people business. As a start-up we
had to be extremely careful ­ every new recruit had a significant impact. My
primary challenge has been how to build a team that has the ambition, drive and
innovation associated with a large consultancy but which remains cohesive.

Our initial team consisted mainly of former colleagues ­ people we knew we
could trust to bring the right level of skills to our clients, and who were
seeking a similar set of values that we were offering.

In our second year we have recruited from a wider pool to avoid becoming
sterile in our thinking, recruiting graduates, big-hitters from other
consultancies, and even some experienced people from industry. But we have
underpinned the team ethos with a bonus system based on team sales and billing
targets.

We have spent a lot of time working on our culture, building a tightly knit
community of consultants in an effort to combine all the attractions of a career
in consultancy while maintaining the intimacy of a smaller company.

An external organisation comes in to conduct regular climate surveys. This is
a powerful tool to help keep everyone motivated. We have monthly drinks,
quarterly actions days (where our people contribute to the business plan),
dinners with partners, and even supply fruit for the office and birthday cakes
for all.

Keeping our people happy inspires them to work harder in adding value for our
clients. So far it’s worked well ­ no one has left the firm in the first two
years.
Our targets continue to be ambitious, but new questions have arisen. How big do
we want to be? How quickly should we grow? What do we do when the market
inevitably dips?

To help answer these questions, we set up an advisory board to bounce ideas
off each other. It’s a team of industry heavyweights who advise on our progress
and help us pull ourselves out of our day-to-day activities and think more
strategically.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was working at my dining room table.
Sitting in our new Covent Garden offices, it amazes me to see how far we have
come. It has been an unbelievably steep learning curve but one that has brought
us all enormous personal and professional rewards.

Vipul Kapadia is a director of Qedis

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