The Oblique Life: a member community for freelancers in London

25 January 2019 Consultancy.uk

One of Europe’s busiest hubs for freelancers, London, is filled with ambitious, talented independent consultants. While self-employment often brings many advantages such as greater flexibility and work-life balance, recent surveys show that a sizeable chunk of freelance consultants may miss the sense of belonging to a team/firm and support environments taken for granted in full-time employment.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, the UK currently has 2 million freelancers, of which the largest group work and live in Greater London. However, even with everything that London has to offer, it can be an isolating city that requires that extra effort when working as a freelancer in order to make new connections both professionally and personally. 

In a bid to help freelancers form new friendships and meet people outside of their normal circles, three brothers – Romi, Shonil and Keyu Sumaria – teamed up to launch The Oblique Life. The members club strives to create welcoming environments through events that actively encourage people to break the ice and socialise. “The events are designed to cover a variety of interests across food and drink, music and art or even travel and shopping, with the aim to attract a community of like-minded individuals from all walks of life,” explained Romi Sumaria.

The Oblique Life: a member community for freelancers in London

Brother and co-founder Shonil Sumaria added: “Whether it’s life drawing with unlimited wine or yoga followed by brunch, every event has a social element, so you can turn up solo with the guarantee that you’ll meet someone new.” 

Having launched three years ago, Romi Sumaria said that he sees a number of patterns as to why freelancers, including independent consultants, enjoy using a coworking space or private members’ clubs to fulfil their professional and personal interests. “Freelancers often miss out on the little things that make a team such as Christmas parties or team lunches. This is also compounded when under pressure to deliver results or manage your own time.” 

Further, according to a survey by Epson, 91% of freelancers work from home alone. This means that 9 out of 10 freelancers may feel that they miss out on a supportive structure and moments of celebration, as opposed to their peers in full-time employment. “By connecting with a community of people who are social and open-minded, freelancers are finding that the members’ club can open doors whilst expanding social circles. Rather than heading to after-work drinks with their colleagues, freelancers can rely on attending an event.” 

Personal and professional support

One of the biggest concerns for freelance consultants is securing a pipeline of work. Building trusted networks based on face-to-face introductions and shared values can help facilitate the search for engagements. “Freelancers often don’t have the time they need to expand their network and it can be difficult to find new clients without having the spare resources to make new contacts. As a community of like-minded professionals, The Oblique Life is also being utilised by freelancers as an opportunity to network, pitch concepts and offerings and share professional interests.”

Romi Sumaria: “There’s no denying that freelancing has its pros and cons. Running your own business or freelancing can quickly become isolating, and finding a community to be a part of is key for achieving a successful and happy freelance career.”

Related: 5 reasons why independent consultants enjoy the freelance life.

More news on

×

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.”