For those readers with an interest in #freelancerevolution history, count the 2005-2010 era of early internet job boards as freelance revolution 1.0. The next five years – from 2010 to 2015 – proved an even more propitious period for the #freelance revolution and certainly 2.0. During that time we saw the first significant combination of platforms, elance and o-desk, leading to the formation of Upwork. We also saw the formation of Toptal in the US, Worksome in Denmark, and YunoJuno and FreelancerClub in the UK.
One particularly interesting outcome of the period was its production of four pioneers of independent management consulting: Expertera in Turkey, OMS in France, Talmix in the UK, and Comatch in Germany. Although not always the first mover in their markets, these four platforms have had an outsized impact on freelance consulting in their nation and surrounding region. They continue to grow in performance and reputation, and significantly contribute to the growth of next generation entrepreneurial talent in the freelance space. You need to know about them.
Here’s an introduction to each of these pioneers:
Expertera took Turkey into the freelance revolution in 2012. Like so many innovations, it was the creative response to a problem. Platform founder Alp Sezginsoy was a research analyst working in Chile at a global bank, and found it difficult to find experts to advise on investments. On his return to Turkey, he created Expertera to provide experts and independent consultants to its earliest clients: Turkish and regional banks, private equity firms, and large consultancies needing access to experts to meet specific project and client needs. Now the largest independent consulting platform in Turkey, a majority of the platform’s work is for large corporates and the regional operations of many Fortune 500 companies. The 15,000 freelancer platform members serve a wide range of industries including industrials, tech and telco, health care, retail and consumer, as well as financials and consultancies. Big growth areas: tech and business support for operational and business transformations, remote working freelancers (versus on-site), and curated freelance teams. Expertera is also finding additional demand for ongoing or part-time consulting roles and for interim executives giving expert support to significant corporate IT and operational transformation efforts. But, as Alp explains, after almost a decade it’s still early days in the Turkish and regional freelance consulting space as well as greater demand for global talent. He sees additional opportunity as more and more Turkish corporates play a significant role in the global economy, and adapt a hybrid resourcing approach: “We’re leading the future of work here in Turkey. After almost 10 years, clients are still getting comfortable with independent experts and tend to start small. But we are also increasingly used to test out business concepts on behalf of European and North American businesses. We have a strong agility effort here in Turkey.”
Christoph Hardt, the CEO of Comatch explains, “We came at the right time, and were able to surf a wave of interest in independent management consulting, and attract both excellent clients and top freelancers. We heard many people say, ‘finally somebody does it and grows it.’” The McKinsey connection of the founders was an important asset and provided early credibility. And, it worked. Now it’s a platform of 13,000 pre-qualified independent consultants, including a rich mix of alumni from top consultancies and deeply experienced industry experts. The platform initially served Germany but has expanded to the whole of Europe with a larger presence in Paris and London. Comatch focuses primarily on large and mid-sized corporates as well as on consultancies, and provides service in consulting and interim management. The covered topics range from (IT) project management (PMO), digital transformations to purchasing optimizations. Early in its history, Comatch focused on assignments in Automotive and Banking. Big growth areas: More recently the platform has expanded into Pharma, the Machinery sector, and Consumer Retail. Asking how Comatch earned its position as a leader of independent consulting in the region, Hardt explained: “We’re a trust and relationship based business. In many cases, we’ve had discussions with clients for 3 or 4 years before they hired us. We understand that we need to earn the right to serve, and we do that by continuing to show up, demonstrating our abilities, describing how we’ve helped others with similar needs, and showcasing the great talent we can offer them.”
Talmix is the oldest of the pioneers, formed in 2010 and known early in its life as MBA & Co. The FT featured Talmix in its recent article, “When McKinsey met Uber.” Now slightly more than a decade old, Talmix’s platform membership is nearly 60,000 including experts from 150 countries. Similar to the mix at Comatch, platform members include both the alumni of top consultancies and operating experts from a wide range of industries and geographies. Each of these four pioneer platforms have a different mix of clients that reflect the history and vision of the platform. In Talmix’s case, CEO Sandeep Dhillon describes a portfolio that evenly includes consulting to large corporates, providing interim management expertise to both corporates and PE portfolio companies, and providing specialist consultants to top tier global consultancies. The work is currently balanced among North America, Asia Pacific, the UK and rest of world. The interim management practice is one of the most diversified I’ve seen, and is growing as client companies recognize talent gaps in operational and business transformation expertise, project management (PMO), new product development, and interim C-suite roles. What does Dhillon see on the horizon for Talmix: “We see growth in several areas: more and larger PE funds means more demand for consulting and interim management. We’ve only scratched the surface of large corporate opportunity, and top tier consultants are increasingly depending on platforms like Talmix to provide deep industry or functional experts at scale.”
OMS is the fourth pioneer, formed at the same time as Expertera in 2013. It was founded by former Bain & Co consultant Arnaud Sourisseau. Sourisseau explained the origin story to me this way. “I saw the possibility of providing top quality consulting at an affordable rate to smaller and medium sized enterprises who were priced out of the best consultancies.” OMS works in four primary areas: consulting on organization and strategy is the best known. But, client service is growing in three additional focal areas: digital and data strategy, interim management, and financial or M&A due diligence support. The OMS platform emphases the focus put on the quality of the work and the experience. The pool of freelances is certainly broad, but Sourisseau has made the decision to keep the platform smaller in order to master a higher overall quality of freelancers and to create more of a community of mutually supportive colleagues. Sourisseau sees this competence as a differentiator. As he puts it: “Our size gives us greater flexibility and reactivity. And we have built a very strong quality community so quality is part of our unique brand, and the network is another. We have a very good relationship with consultants, they are helping each other, and this is particularly valuable for young consultants who need and want some mentoring.” Big growth areas: For OMS, a key growth edge is consulting teams rather than the traditional solo advisor. Sourisseau also describes project management (PMO) as a key growth opportunity with larger clients, and increasing demand for their work assisting SME clients on strategy, organization and operational transformation. I particularly enjoyed Sourisseau’s closing comments from our interview: “My objective has always been to protect my ability to pursue the work and projects that had meaning for me. I built OMS to help others obtain the same freedom. So far, so good.”
The Take Away
This piece is the first of a series that introduces readers to freelance platforms they might be interesting in learning about. Rather than long form singular profiles, as I often write, this format allows readers to meet several platforms that form an interesting group, and in a way that hopefully leads to follow-up interest about them. In this case, each of the four pioneers has had an outsized impact on independent management consulting in their market, continues to grow and innovate, and provides an important window on the future of their space. We can take away some common demand drivers: interim management is a new growth edge for a number of the platforms. All report a growth of demand in expertise to provide strategic guidance and reduce time and risk in transformational project initiatives, especially operational and digital transformation. And, all see investment firms and consultancies as important clients in their portfolio. The biggest challenge facing all four is also the challenge facing freelance platforms as a whole across most sectors: converting the democratization of opportunity into real shared economic prosperity by providing greater work opportunity at a fair rate to more of their freelancers.
Watch for more pieces in this series. It’s tough to keep up with new members of the #freelancerevolution. I receive at least 3-4 Linkedin introductions each week from platforms in beta or development, and a comparable number from ecosystem partners in beta or development, wanting to connect and make sure I know about them. Many are worth reader’s attention. I look forward to sharing these platforms, agencies, professional communities, and service partners with you.
Viva la revolution!