Independent matchmaking platform Comatch enters UK consulting industry

20 March 2018 Consultancy.uk

Comatch is a disruptive start-up, aimed at providing independent consultants with a platform through which to reach clients. The group, which has swiftly assembled a network spanning Europe, has entered the UK consulting industry, as it looks to boost its growth with access to Britain’s burgeoning freelance scene.

The UK’s freelance consulting sector is experiencing a period of rapid expansion, as former employees turn their backs on life at firms, amid the allure of a better work-life balance, and the suggestion of better pay. A recent survey found a majority of 58% earn more money as an independent consultant than as an employee. In part, this is likely due to the fact that there is no longer a middleman to tap into the fees incurred by consulting work.

The expanding independent space also presents challenges, however, particularly with respect to how freelancers can get noticed by potential clients in an increasingly crowded market. Meanwhile, clients face a complex and cluttered environment, through which they are expected to find the best value for their resources. To this end, the market is so crowded, that SMEs in the UK looking for external expertise to complement their operations currently feel that as much as £12 billion a year is wasted on professional services bills. With this state of play placing businesses under pressure to find consultants which will deliver value, and freelancers under strain to distinguish themselves from the crowd, Comatch has announced its entry to the UK market.

Comatch is a platform aimed at helping clients find reliable experts to supplement their operations, and to providing independent management consultants with a digital route to potential work. Launched in 2015, the firm has worked to match consultants with companies of all sizes; including international corporates, consultancies, start-ups and SMEs. In order to ensure quality and value from consultants for clients, freelancers who wish to join the network have to pass a two-step selection process to guarantee high quality of consulting. Applicants need at least two years in consulting with a large firm, or 10 years in the industry more broadly to convince Comatch in an interview. Should they pass both rigorous checks, they can be registered. Meanwhile, Comatch further ensure that clients can feel they obtain value, only charging them once they find a match they are happy with.

Independent matchmaking platform Comatch enters UK consulting industry

Due to the nature of the freelance consulting industry in the EU, in its first year of operations, Comatch developed its database to nearly 500 consultants, and facilitated a requested project portfolio of over €17 million in fees. Building on this growth, Berlin-based founders Christoph Hardt and Jan Schächtele – both former consultants of McKinsey & Company – set their sights on international expansion.

The German-origin digital platform has since been working continuously to expand its global presence. This began in late 2015, with the group’s arrival in the neighbouring Netherlands. Comatch quickly expanded its headcount in order to chase the firm’s growth target for the number of independent consultants in its database.

Since then, Comatch has entered into France, the Nordics, and the Middle East. On the way, the start-up received a €4 million injection from Acton Capital Partners, Atlantic Labs and b-to-v Partners – investment which the firm vowed to use to push deeper into the management consulting markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland – and managed to break through the barrier of 300 projects and 2,000 professionals in its database – a figure it has since grown further. 

UK arrival

Now, the firm has finally set its sights on the UK, which is presently home to the world’s second largest management consulting industry, and is estimated to be worth more than £7 billion. According to the firm, entering the UK is a key part of Comatch’s long-term goal of becoming Europe’s leading online marketplace, as it is also the market where hiring independent consultants is most common, with an additional £2 billion in annual revenue attributed by some experts to the independent workforce.

Brexit is also likely to affect the industry, with industry analysts anticipating demand for consultants peaking as the UK concludes its withdrawal from the EU. The local consulting sector could be facing a massive talent shortage, as free movement of talent could end, restricting consulting firms’ access to skilled workers on the mainland – while exiting firms in the professional services sector stand to take large numbers of top workers with them. Comatch believes it is well positioned to help UK firms counter this trend with its continuously growing database of consultants. The company now counts over 4,200 handpicked management and strategy consultants and industry experts among its database, covering every functional expertise, all market sectors, representing 60 nationalities and speaking 90 languages.

Toby Toudal Nielsen

Next to UK Director Toby Toudal Nielsen, who helped orchestrate Comatch’s successful entry into the Nordics two years ago, Adrian Elkmann will be responsible for Business Development. In order to meet the firm’s demand, Comatch already plans to grow its operations in the UK quickly. According to Nielsen, the firm is due to recruit a Managing Director, alongside several open positions relating to the development of the business. This is in line with global plans for the group, which has grown to 80 employees, and is planning to announce another funding round soon.

Christoph Hardt, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Comatch, said the expansion is a major opportunity, as well as a logical consequence of the firm’s evolution, stating, “It’s a next natural step as we have experienced a growing demand from UK-based companies in the last months, especially consultancies, but also international companies that are staffing their UK based projects with us. With the experience from many European markets, we are now ready to provide our full set of services also in the United Kingdom.”

Keen to stress Comatch’s unique selling point amid a crowded market place, UK Director Nielsen added, “It is true, hiring independent consultants with the help of a matchmaker is more familiar to British clients than for clients in other markets, for example Italy. That is because other services, agencies, platforms are active in the market for years, [however] Comatch is focused on quality and speed. The quality assurance is essential for us. We might not have the biggest consultant pool but we make sure our pool is quality checked.”

Related: Consulting matchmaker named Germany's 10th fastest growing digital start-up.

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New ‘open consultancy’ Riverflex racks up eight clients and 300 consultants

16 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Digital consultancy firm Riverflex is celebrating a successful first year of business, following its launch in 2018. As the freelance consulting market continues to boom, the independent model–based conultancy has expanded to more than 300 members, working with eight corporate clients on projects like the Samsung store innovation drive. Co-founders Victor Hoong and André Azadehdel spoke with Consultancy.uk to explore what the future holds for Riverflex.

The freelance consulting sector of Europe is experiencing a period of rapid expansion, as former employees turn their backs on life at firms, amid the allure of a better work-life balance and the suggestion of better pay. According to Consultancy.uk analysis based on the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE), the UK’s industry alone contains a labour pool of around 5 million people (or around 15% of the workforce), having increased from 3.3 million (12% of the workforce) in 2001.

With this state of play pressuring businesses to find value-delivering consultants, the need to match demand between businesses and freelance consultants has boomed. As a result, a growing number of firms looking to support businesses in that process have arisen. This includes platforms such as Nordic company Worksome and Berlin-based Comatch, which both entered the UK market in 2018. Financial services–focused Outsized also recently enjoyed a bullish UK debut.

With digital transformation currently one of the fastest growing areas in consultancy – accounting for more than $44 billion in annual revenues – there is also a large area to be filled by specialism within the market. With 80% of respondents to a recent Management Consultancies Association poll indicating that that technological and digital disruption pose a significant threat to businesses in the coming years, there is a significant opportunity for a firm which links client demand for digital skills to freelance consultants with the relevant experience and know-how.

Fast-growing Riverflex builds community of 300 consultants in first year

Riverflex arrives

Another new entrant in the digital consulting space is Riverflex, which celebrated its first anniversary at the end of March. Riverflex sells and delivers consulting projects, but with an independent model, catering to the demand for digital skillsets, lean teams, flexibility, and experienced industry hands. The start-up was launched by Victor Hoong and Andre Azadehdel in 2018, with the former Deloitte Consulting duo looking to close the gap between client needs and traditional consulting solutions, providing an alternative option to the Big Four and MBB firms for clients and consultants alike.

Speaking with Consultancy.uk, the duo commented on the need for consulting to change. Amid huge changes across nearly all industries, they see consulting being done the same way, more than a century after its first firms were founded. For this reason they decided to establish Riverflex – an ‘open consulting firm’ consisting of high quality vetted independent professionals and small partners. In this model, professionals can join from tier one consultancies, top agencies or industry blue-chips to deliver top consulting projects.

“Digital is transforming companies at a faster pace than ever, and business needs are evolving too," Victor Hoong said. "We dreamt of a top consultancy that could match these needs, and deliver real impact; a consultancy with digital in its DNA. Connecting teams of top independent talent from the best consulting firms and industry leading companies, and enabling them to do what they love: creating real value based on true expertise.”

Andre Azadehdel further elaborated: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Victor and I have worked in consulting since the turn of the century, helping businesses become better. We love this work. Helping others deliver hard business results is rewarding, challenging and exciting. But we also saw that the gap between client needs and traditional consulting outcomes is too far apart.”

Since its launch, Riverflex has worked to set itself out as unique along four essential pillars of business. Central to the company is a willingness to foster innovation and work towards providing excellence. With businesses increasingly being convinced of the business case for diversity, Riverflex also hosts a network with a multitude of viewpoints and backgrounds, focusing on helping its members to grow in terms of professionalism, and as individuals.

“The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent. Abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path.”
– Andre Azadehdel, Riverflex co-founder

First year

In the last year a number of key steps have therefore been made. The organisation has grown into both the UK and the Netherlands, and is currently working with eight corporate clients. Meanwhile, over 300 consultants have joined Riverflex, which now boasts a huge amount of experience at top tier consultancies such as Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, advertising agencies like Jellyfish, AKQA, Deloitte Digital, WPP and Publicis, and tech companies such as eBay, made.com, asos.com and bol.com.

Stating the firm’s emphasis on diversity, Hoong explained, “The variety of skill sets and backgrounds of our consultants means we can shape teams for our clients that have the muscle to robustly drive projects, combined with the deep know-how from professionals that wear the industry business scars needed to make a real impact.”

Azadehdel added, “The independent model has become a rational choice for top talent, abandoning old ways of working to take on rewarding projects and shape one’s own career path. We believe that being independent does not mean being alone. To us, being part of Riverflex means being part of a team of top digital professionals that share methods, knowledge and insights. Providing a real career alternative.”

Keen to show the strength and depth of its growing professional network, the company also hosts a monthly blog which highlights an exceptional Riverflex member. The most recent ‘Riverflexer in the Spotlight’ focused on former BearingPoint consultant Lies de Smit. In the past, De Smit had also worked at Deloitte Consulting's Technology practice. Despite her experience, however, she still entered the independent sphere with some trepidation – something which Riverflex helped her overcome.

Illustrating the importance of a network to freelancers, de Smit commented on Riverflex’s site, “I was afraid of what consulting would be like without having a team or people to discuss problems with… Riverflex is full of knowledgeable and experienced consultants. As an independent, I feel like being able to share my own knowledge can help all of us grow as consultants.”

“We work differently to work better. Better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants, better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition.”
– Victor Hoong, Riverflex co-founder

The future

Having made such a promising start, Riverflex's leaders have already made extensive plans to capitalise on their momentum. The firm will continue to focus connecting independent specialists from the open-talent network to provide clients with the right skill sets, while also playing to the company’s strengths in rapidly providing specialist talent and interim management for the quickly shifting needs of clients.

Azadehdel said, “A year ago, Riverflex was just a dream. A year later, this is a real company, making real impact. Together with our consultants and clients, we are on a journey to build the consulting firm of the future from the ground up… Working with lean teams that only do what is needed to meet our clients goals, flexibly scaling up and down and applying digital tooling and agile ways of working to work faster and deliver effective results.”

Victor Hoong concluded, “We work differently to work better: better consulting from us, better lifestyles for our consultants and better results for our clients. This will be our focus and ambition – to continuously innovate and improve what we do and how we do it, delivering quality outcomes for clients.”