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“London is a fantastic environment to build a company”: Interview with Daniel Callaghan, founder of MBA & Company

A few days ago we had the chance to interview Daniel Callaghan, the founder of MBA & Company (Update – January 2023: The startup seems to be no longer in business under this name and we therefore deactivated the link).

The global marketplace for MBA jobs, and PhD and professorial talent, was launched back in 2009. Daniel Callaghan and his London-based team understood that during the economic downturn companies did not have the funds available to use recruitment agencies or expensive consultancies. MBA & Company aims to democratize the consultancy process and bring top tier business insights to the masses.

When did you have the idea to create a marketplace for MBA jobs, PhD and professorial talent, and what made you sure it was the right one?

The idea for MBA & Company first came about when I was studying in the US and became aware of other freelance marketplaces. I was familiar with the idea of student consultants at university level, having previously built a similar division as an employee at a European Business School, and thought that the model would transfer well online and was scaleable. The only concern was how to differentiate the proposition from the existing models out there, and provide added value to the users.

This is when we decided to only accept to the marketplace MBAs, PhDs and postgraduates from the world’s leading schools, as this would provide an assurance of quality that the users deserved. Additionally, this would provide a wide enough scope to ensure that we could handle client requests.

I was sure it was the right idea due to a number of factors. Companies were working with reduced headcounts and limited cash, and therefore needed to find a new means of getting high quality pieces of research done in a cost effective manner. I also knew that MBAs from my school wanted to do additional consultancy work and earn extra cash, and assumed that this would be the same worldwide. Finally, the business plan had received excellent feedback from investors, stakeholders and competition placements, which helped to eliminate a lot of the insecurity that goes with launching an idea.

How did you finance the startup phase of MBA & Company, and who invested?

MBA & Company was financed on air for its first year. We used a website template that was £7 per month to host and people would just sign up to a newsletter that would get set up. With school loans to pay back, as well as rent and London living expenses. there was not a lot of money to spend on the business. The flat became an office and the only marketing expenditure was telephone calls as a direct sales method to drive business. For the first 12 months we spent less than a £1000 on the business. However, the business won a competition with a cash prize which was then used to rent desk space in a shared office, which helped morale after working from home for a number of months.

We were always in talks with investors and attracted several small offers, however knew who we wanted to partner with and just had to wait for the appropriate moment to pitch to them, as they only accepted presentations every 6 months.

On the first anniversary of the business, we secured our first round of funding, and after a drawn out due diligence process had a board consisting of: representatives from Cabiedes & Partners (a fund based out of Madrid that we had been in close conversation with from the start), FINAVES (a VC-fund run by IESE Business School); and a syndicate lead by another professor at IESE Business School.

What were the main stumbling blocks during the first two years of MBA & Company, and would you have done something differently from today’s perspective?

The main stumbling blocks in the early years were similar to those in any young company. We needed to build traffic and awareness of this new community and type of service. We needed to find a suitable technology partner, and we needed to build a team.

Finding the right people to join the team has been the toughest especially when you make a mistake and realise you have to call it a day with that person quickly. There is no room for deadwood in a small business.

The thing that would have been done most differently is starting to build the tech platform out sooner. Even when there were limited funds available, it would have been wiser to find a student who could have built a prototype for the platform, which would have helped customers and investors understand the concept more clearly.

What makes MBA & Company unique or better than other marketplaces in this space?

The reason MBA & Company is unique is because of the talent we offer. All project consultants have been pre-screened and have a strong blend of commercial and academic excellence. Our global network are so dedicated to their profession that they have gone and invested a further two years in improving their knowledge and performance.

Additionally, MBA & Company’s service ensures that the person doing your project has direct experience in your industry, function and market to eliminate any learning curve required, therefore saving the client money and further improving the quality of the work.

Finally, we can offer an account managed service to help define your project more clearly, so that the results are aligned with what you wanted.

How big is the global talent pool of MBA & Company right now and how many companies have yet registered to hire these talents?

We have over 6,500 members know ranging from 2nd year students, to CEOs with 25 years of experience. The membership is growing quickly and we have built a number of close relationships with the business schools themselves who enjoy referring their alumni to our service.

From the company side, we have been really pleased with the traction and have worked with hundreds of companies over the last two years. The most exciting thing has been the range of companies both in terms of size and geography.

We have worked with startups, SMEs, multinationals, Fortune 500 companies and governments.

Startups have found us particularly useful in finishing off business plans, investor models, marketing strategies and brand books which can range from £300 upwards. The larger companies have been using us as a means to deliver more complex projects analysing multiple markets or building case studies on what best in class means to an organisation.

Do you have plans to add additional languages to the platform or are there any new services or features in the pipeline?

Yes – we have a worldwide network and already carry out projects in India, Brazil, Chile, France, Spain, Germany, USA, UK, Ireland, Belgium, Italy, Australia, Turkey, China, Sweden and many others. Looking to provide access to these services in the client’s native language is an obvious next step, as is expanding our sales efforts internationally.

We also have a number of new services and features in mind, although are not able to talk about these just yet. However, improving the user experience and providing greater value to all of our members is a key priority for us.

How many people are working for MBA & Company at the moment and are you hiring right now?

We are a commercial team of four, however we like to use the network for any projects or analysis on work that can be outsourced. We also have a development team of two working on the site.

We are hiring. As said, finding the right people has been the toughest thing so far, as it takes a different professional mindset to want to work in a start up. We are looking for bright, young and hungry people who can see the long term potential of a project and enjoy the benefits of its growth over that time as well. If that sounds like any of your readers then please ask them to get in touch!

What is your experience of London as a location to start up a company?

London is a fantastic environment to build a company. It’s fast, dynamic and young. It has a strong entrepreneurial vein running through it and there are some good support or social networks for young businesses. The only downside is the cost.

Living here is expensive, and therefore the cost of talent is also expensive as you want to make sure your team can eat and enjoy life. The cost of travel can also rack up, as London’s transportation system is unbelievably overpriced.

All that aside, its a great place to be and we wouldn’t have wanted to launch anywhere else.

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Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr
Thomas Ohr is the "Editor in Chief" of EU-Startups.com and started the blog in October 2010. He is excited about Europe's future, passionate about new business ideas and lives in Barcelona (Spain).

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