The latest startup hiring trend you want to consider: Hiring an ex-consultant or -banker

Aaron
5 min readMay 3, 2020

There’s a growing trend in the startup space, which is to hire ex-consultants and ex-bankers to teams. With highly selective interview processes, rigorous training programs, strong mentorship, and hands-on experience at leading companies, investment banks and consulting firms are known to produce top-tier talent. Nice to know, but how does that translate to startups?

We find consultants and bankers commonly fill five roles within startups. Let’s take a closer look at the roles and dive into why consultants and bankers can be a great fit.

Business Operations

The Business Operations, aka BizOps, team is commonly viewed as a startup’s internal SWAT team and is often tasked with some of its most critical projects.

Examples include:

  • Product Pricing. How should we price our products to further drive growth?
  • International Expansion. What are the first markets we should target? How should we penetrate them?
  • Customer Growth. How do we monetize our customer base? What new customer segments should we target to drive growth?
  • Cost Reduction. How do we reduce supply chain and logistics costs?

In addition to executing key projects, BizOps folks drive strategic planning, process improvements, organizational change, and KPI tracking.

Why consultants and bankers

BizOps teams at many high-growth startups and tech companies such as Stripe, Uber, and Google are filled with former consultants and bankers. Why? Consultants and bankers have experience answering their clients’ most complex and ambiguous questions. They work on relatively similar strategic projects that BizOps teams work on. As a result, they are strong at structuring problems, running analysis, and drawing out insights — key skills required for BizOps personnel.

Chief of Staff

The title “Chief of Staff” commonly brings to mind the President’s Chief of Staff, acting as his right-hand, setting his daily agenda, and coordinating across the rest of the White House leadership team. At startups, however, we see Chief of Staff duties vary a lot in terms of day-to-day responsibilities.

On one side of the spectrum, much like the President’s Chief of Staff, it can be a very strategic role and viewed as a key member of the leadership team. In this case, the Chief of Staff will work in close partnership with the CEO and key members of the leadership team on a wide range of critical activities, including strategic planning and execution, special projects, board presentations, and internal and external communications. On the opposite side of the spectrum (i.e., non-strategic), some CEOs are looking for a typical assistant — someone to help schedule meetings, book travel, and buy lunch for the team — yet still call this a Chief of Staff. Important to note — as the role becomes less strategic, it typically less suited for a former consultant or banker.

Why consultants and bankers

Consultants and bankers have significant experience working directly with “C-Suite” executives and other senior leaders. Often hired by a client’s senior leadership team, consultants and bankers work directly with senior leaders to scope the project, gather and analyze critical data, and ultimately provide recommendations on the go-forward plan. Since they work in small teams, junior team members are given responsibilities beyond their tenure and gain experience working with “C-Suite” executives and other senior leaders early on in their career. They also are comfortable wearing multiple hats, can ramp up on different initiatives quickly, and possess a “get stuff done” mentality — all key traits required for this role.

Strategic Finance

Strategic Finance personnel support key strategic decision making and model out the financial impact of new opportunities. For example, a direct-to-consumer company may be considering whether to enter the retail space. In this case, Strategic Finance may be brought in to model out the revenue and profitability potential of pursuing this strategy. In addition to supporting strategic projects, they also help with strategic planning, develop board materials, support fundraising activities, and assist with company-wide budgeting and forecasting.

Why consultants and bankers

While in some cases a consultant may fit, this role is usually best suited for a banker. Bankers have strong financial modeling skills and a very high level of comfort with Microsoft Excel — which are absolutely critical for these roles. In addition, they have strong analytical skills, and the ability to distill complex issues into structured frameworks and action plans. Their experience working on fundraising deals can also be beneficial as the company looks to raise venture funding and potentially IPO.

General Management

General managers at startups own the P&L for a particular product, service, and/or market. They are responsible for driving revenue growth and profitability and leading operations to help achieve the organization’s growth goals. For example, at Sonder — a hospitality startup valued at over $1B — each General Manager owns the P&L for a particular market / geography (e.g., Los Angeles market). They are responsible for scaling the city and for delivering on the brand’s promise across operations, hospitality and business development. In addition, they are responsible for building and managing their local teams and play a critical role in their team’s career development.

Why consultants and bankers

We find candidates that have consulting / banking experience, as well as operational experience, are well suited for General Manager roles. Consultants and bankers have a strategic mindset, high analytical horsepower and work well under pressure. They may, however, be more used to simply “advising” clients (i.e., “here’s what we recommend you do next”) vs. “executing”. We, therefore, find that it’s important for General Managers to have proven operational experience (i.e., having been in the trenches and run operations) as well. Those that have proven that they have a mix of both backgrounds make strong General Managers.

Customer Success

Customer Success roles, particularly those that are strategic in nature, straddle between services and sales. After the Sales team makes the initial sale, the Customer Success team takes over managing the customer relationship. When it comes to supporting customers, their role is two-fold: 1) they aim to ensure customers continue to love using the company’s products or services; 2) they play a critical role driving adoption and cross-selling / up-selling products or services to existing clients. Within their organization, they play a pivotal role in representing the voice of the customer throughout the organization (i.e., what are our customers saying and how can we incorporate that into our strategy?), supporting strategic planning, and helping sales and marketing teams achieve their growth objectives.

Why consultants and bankers

Consultants and bankers are a natural fit for these types of roles. They have significant experience building strong relationships with customers at all levels of an organization — from mid-level managers to Fortune 500 executives. They are natural problem solvers and serve as the face of their respective firms during projects. They are also adept at driving new proposals and follow on sales opportunities. Important to note — they are best aligned for roles that tend to be more strategic and analytical in nature (vs. purely sales oriented).

Opus is a boutique search firm that helps strategy, finance and operations professionals get connected to opportunities in the startup and tech space. For more information, feel free to reach out to us at info@joinopus.com.

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