Making the leap from a full-time management consulting job to her own startup was a big step for 29-year-old Sydneysider Emily Yue, but one that is paying off.
Yue and Bridget Loudon, a former colleague at management consulting firm Bain & Company and good friend, launched Expert360 in July 2013, as a way to help businesses of all sizes find consultants and advisers for freelance projects.
The online platform now connects businesses with more than 3500 consultants in more than 50 countries, and is now on track to turn over more than $1 million this calendar year.
Expert360 is an online platform that connects businesses looking to hire talented individuals for a particular purpose. It allows them to bring in the talent they need in a flexible way.
Bridget and I worked together at Bain & Company. We were both management consultants and good friends. I worked at Bain for three years.
We realised all businesses have a need to hire talent, both big and small. For small businesses, they might be too small to hire full-time but they need someone to join the team and there’s not always an easy way to find them.
As a small business, your needs are so variable and they can change very quickly. As a chief executive you’re in charge of strategy, but you might just want an extra hand and skills and to bring them in quickly.
Often it is in an area that is not core to the business right now, but the business wants to test the waters. Hiring someone in a small business is as much about finding the right person and testing them before they go full-time. For big businesses, the issue is how do you do this efficiently?
We also thought there were a number of other important macro trends. Professional services and consultancy were on the verge of disruption and flexible work was on the rise. Work is no longer just a place.
Businesses are now more willing to search online for people. We saw that happening with other verticals like Freelancer, which kicked off a new way of hiring people. Then Airtasker came along, and LegalZoom, which has kicked off the commoditisation of legal work online.
Clearly there was an online model we could test for consulting and business services. So Expert360 became a way to find white-collar, tech-enabled consultants.
At Bain, we learnt a lot of skills that are useful as entrepreneurs. One of the first things about moving from a steady life of full-time work to the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship was the lack of structure there.
What we learnt at Bain was to build structure where there isn’t any, to have a methodology and tackle different hypothesis to prove them, and then come up with a solution. This method of problem solving was very useful. There’s an emphasis on getting to the answer in an 80/20 way. It’s very practical.
Working in a startup is about testing and learning, taking what we are learning and using it to work out how we can change.
We are constantly building and creating, coming up with new processes and providing guidelines for our team.
It was very exciting to make the leap, but there have been ups and downs of course. One of the key things that was exciting, but also challenging, was having to wear multiple hats. One hour you are working on sales, the next customer support and even accounting.
We invested our own money in Expert360 and completed a round of seed funding at the end of last year from local and overseas investors. We haven’t done another round this year.
At first we wanted to test the platform and see if we could engage and on-board experts efficiently and effectively and get the right people. We got a really fantastic response from the experts and we now have over 3500 experts from over 50 countries on the platform.
With a lot of startups, it’s about finding those ‘concierge customers’ and building close relationships with them. It’s about building those early adopters, getting their feedback and then word-of-mouth spreads.
Building a marketplace is a balance but it is going really well.
We use a business plan as well as a marketing strategy and a product development roadmap. It is great to have it down on paper and we are constantly revising the models to help make decisions.
We are planning to grow Expert360 by working with more and more businesses. It takes a long time to become the ‘go to’ place, where businesses know to come to you, but that’s our goal.
It’s really important to find the right team. If Expert360 is to be the global business we want it to be, we need to keep finding great people and building the right culture.
We hire for fit and commitment, from the interns to the senior team. We currently have six full-time staff in Sydney and three who work remotely, as well as interns.
We strive to create an open and positive culture that is customer-centric and empowering as well, in line with our young and innovative brand.
Bridget and I are really excited about where Expert360 can grow. But we both have different interests in technology and the social space, so another business is a possibility.