Hi guys, tell us about the team behind Brainbroker?
Larry - I met Jonathan 4 years ago at a New Entrepreneurs Foundation event, ever since then we have been experimenting with new ideas and even set up a company two years ago which eventually led us to build Brainbroker. I met Seb at university and we have collaborated on projects since then. Jonathan’s background was in venture consultancy and mine was in M&A and headhunting. Seb joined Brainbroker when we decided to make a real go of it bringing his experience as a data and BI analyst into the fold.
How did you come up with the concept?
There were several influences on the creation of Brainbroker. First of all, was Jonathan’s experiences in venture consultancy where he saw first-hand the benefits of decentralising consultancy. The firm he was working at consisted of project managers who put together bespoke teams of experts for each project they pitched for, frequently outbidding and undercutting massive traditional consultancies like Bain & Mc Kinsey.
It was clear that assembling a crack team of specialists was massively more relevant to the client’s needs and at the same time it was 1/3 as expensive. So, that was very much a spark in our minds that there could be another way to do consultancy. We have spent the last year working out what SMEs specifically need help with the most and it has turned out to be technology so that’s what we now do. We deliver on technology projects with higher relevance and better results at a price below any agency or consultancy currently in operation in the UK. We decided to create a pool of expert freelancers and the latest software products which we call upon to deliver our client’s projects.
It's an usual but really useful concept, how did you get your 'Brains' on board?
Turns out the rise of the ‘Gig’ economy and the proliferation of new Software tools has helped our company greatly for obvious reasons. When you start freelancing, you want opportunities, you start managing yourself as a business.
So when we call freelance experts about potential paid projects, believe me they are happy to take the call. My experience in Headhunting has helped me massively in identifying, locating and on-boarding very senior people so I tend to handle that side of the business. Essentially, we lead generate for our brains and take a commission from them on success so the model couldn’t be more interesting to Brains once they become aware of us. The secret sauce is in how we vet and assess each Brain before they enter our network.
What's been the most difficult hurdle you've overcome since launching?
Our platform development. We made the mistake of trying to fit our idea as neatly as possible into existing concepts or businesses. We ended up committing to a complicated platform build and as time went on the challenge has been to let go of that platform vision and realise that our SME clients are not interested in that. They prefer to communicate by email or over the phone. That has let us focus on sales and discover what our customers actually want. As such our new vision for the platform is built on top of their preferred communication channels and is a significant departure from existing freelancer or software discovery platforms.
What's been the best bit of business advice you've received?
It sounds very basic but the best advice has been: Keep chasing people. You would be amazed at how many of our projects have come from the 4th or 5th follow-up. The reality is that people have a lot going on and you should never stop trying to get their attention and remind them of what you can do for them as eventually you will catch them on a relaxed day when they can take things forward. There are some amazing tools you can use to keep yourself in the front of people’s minds. Only a definitive rejection is a no, everything else is a delayed yes.
How effective has social media marketing been for your brand?
To be honest I would say it’s not very effective and I would caution every young B2B business to really park that idea on the nice-to-have shelf. What works in Startup B2B marketing is paid networking and email marketing. Get yourself in front of people and build a relationship. Once your concept is off the ground and you have fully found a market for your product then you can worry about social media, AdWords etc.
It sounds odd to say from a company that has helped many other companies find talented PPC or Social media consultants but you must respect the stage of your company. In your first year as a B2B company just focus on making sales whatever the channel of least resistance is. The added benefit of face to face business development is that you see in people’s face and tenure what they think of your offering. Hiding behind your computer will delay your learning massively.
You have two offices, one here in London and the other in Paris, how does the start-up market in both cities compare?
Our company is based here and our office in Paris is a sales office where we target mainly traditional SMEs so we are not actually that involved with the Frenchl start-up scene. That being said, we have spoken with several people from the ecosystem and the general feeling is that it’s very behind London.
The support infrastructure and funding opportunities are severely lacking and my estimate would be that the scene is 10-20% of London at best in terms of aggregate quality to a potential Start-up Founder. London after all is the second biggest city in terms of Start-ups created and therefore healthy ecosystems, support network sand funding opportunities are there to exploit.
What other plans for expansion do you have?
For the next year we will keep pulling in Brains from Eastern Europe. For many technical skills, European countries, due to their lower cost of living and fantastic technical colleges produce massively qualified developers and data scientists charging a fraction of UK rates. We are planning to meet several institutions all over Eastern Europe in the next year to cement relationships. The longer term plan is to open another sales office in Berlin, Tel Aviv and Switzerland before eventually looking to the US and China.
How do you measure the success of the company?
Of course we measure success in terms of hitting our quarterly targets for number of new clients and projects won, but deep down we all know that we won’t have achieved success until our consultancy is mentioned alongside Accenture, Cognizant and Infosys. We want to be seen as either a challenger consultancy or bigger in our own right than our traditional consultancy competitors. When they eventually catch wind of us and begin to take measures ,whether friendly or not, that’s when we will all smile and say: ‘We did it.’
What are your top tips for kicking back and relaxing after a long week?
Doing a Startup with huge ambition demands your full attention. Since we are all in our late twenties the temptation can be to work hard and play hard. Practical experience has taught us otherwise. Work hard and relax hard is more appropriate for today’s founder. I enjoy visiting castles and historical sites with the team on the weekend.
We pick a local historical site less than three hours away and go and bask in the sun (If there is any) and enjoy a pub lunch outside all the chaos of the city. We are all quite keen on meditation, movies and gatherings of close friends. The trick is to keep it low key and to give your mind the space and time to recover from the assault each week undoubtedly brings.