Best Friends And Business Partners

Daniel Callaghan and Adam Riccoboni are a perfect example of how being best friends can often transfer into a really successful small business partnership.

Together they run MBA & Company; an online marketplace where companies can have short freelance research or consultancy projects delivered by high calibre independent professionals in a cost effective and flexible manner.

All 15,000 of the consultants signed up have at least five years experience and an MBA, MSc or PhD from a top school and they are available for hire for one off projects, which could last from as little as two hours, or as long as a year.

The projects could be anything from writing and editing, to market research and insights, to strategy and finance.

They've won several major awards for their start-up business, and if this isn’t impressive enough, the pair of them are still only 30!

Daniel Callaghan and Adam Riccoboni are a perfect example of how being best friends can often transfer into a really successful small business partnership.

Getting Off The Ground 

Daniel told us that he was at the IESE Business School in Barcelona when he came up with the concept of MBA & Company.  

His idea was to save other businesses money on consultancy fees, and help postgrads find work without having to be employed by agencies.

'As we all know, having qualifications doesn’t guarantee you a job and the internet is a fantastic place for connecting skilled people with those who need help but don’t want to pay the large corporate overheads or hire someone full time. I could also use the internet to reach a wider pool of highly-skilled freelancers so he could extensively scale the idea.'  

His business school was instrumental in getting the company off the ground. He had to come up with an idea for a business and draw up a plan, but the concept was so strong that the school’s venture capital fund and some of the professors invested their own money in it so that he could start it up.

'It was a good business model because it hadn’t been done before and it solved two problems – enabling consultants to find work quickly to fill any excess capacity and helping businesses slash their costs.' 

Daniel developed the business from a desk in his living room in Clapham and then, six months later, he won the Shell Livewire Grand Ideas Award, roped his closest friend Adam in, and upgraded from Daniel’s living room to a hot desk in an office on Carnaby Street in Soho. They’re now in an office of their own in Westminster.

In just three years they’ve grown their freelancing talent pool from 1 to 15,000 (operating from over 100 countries) co-authored a business book called Buy Me! Ten Steps To Selling Yourself In Business and built teams in London and New York. 

Day To Day

Daniel says that his day is incredibly varied but largely falls into three activities: investor relations, new sales and team management. 'Sales are by far the most fun but all three are extremely important - especially ensuring you have the right team and that each person knows what they need to be doing.'

And the best part?

‘Reading the feedback from clients who have had a piece of work delivered via the site. The value they get from it can and often has a dramatic positive impact on their business which is exactly what we designed the company to do.’

Working From Home

So what does Daniel think was the best thing about working from home in the early days of his business?

'The convenience of it all and the freedom. I had a clear list of what was required and what needed to be achieved, and so I could operate without distraction or interference' - what all homeworkers long for!  

Working from home also kept Daniel’s start-up costs – on rent and travel – right down. He made a concerted effort to get out of the house to interact with the world when it was possible, otherwise it would have all become a bit stagnant.

'Fresh air and a change of environment help with the thinking process.'

Working With A Close Friend 

Working with close family and friends isn’t always easy – so what made Daniel so sure that he and Adam would be able to forge a strong business bond on top of their friendship?

Daniel says that they were the top two students in sports and academics in a small school, so they were always very competitive with each other.

'But it was the sort of friendly competition that made us want to do better and where they helped each other do better as well. It's much the same in business; whether that's in bringing in new clients or ensuring we get the best feedback.'

When we first started working together our staff remarked that we would sometimes argue like parents, and it took some practice to separate the social from the professional. Our clashes were quick and loud but it was quickly back to business afterwards!' 

Daniel and Adam have known each so long that they have a very good understanding of each other.

'We know where the other person is coming from and understand their thinking very easily. Also there is a level of candour and honesty that develops over all that time. We are quick to let the other person know when something is right or wrong and that kind of feedback can be invaluable.'

The book they wrote together is a clear example of this. Daniel and Adam found that they were able to quickly divide the chapters and review each other’s work without hesitancy.

'It certainly made for a better book and was an interesting experience for us.'

Their Biggest Challenge

Daniel was adamant that the hardest part of their success was getting businesses to become clients! It proved quite a challenge for the pair just to convince them that the traditional ways they used to work with consultants or recruiters could be improved. They were paying too much and receiving too little.

MBA & Company’s solution (letting small business owners access the talent that was typically the reserve of the corporate giants in a cost effective, accessible and flexible manner) was, in many eyes, too good to be true which meant that people were quite sceptical.

'However, once we had completed a few client projects that they could then mention to potential new clients, this scepticism became easier to overcome.'

The Future 

He states that the austere economic climate has played a big part in the company’s development. A key part of their value proposition is based on providing an unparalleled cost to quality ratio. They’re saving small and large businesses money, and that’s helped them grow rapidly amid a long and drawn out recession.

Daniel and Adam are thinking big for the future. They are expecting to become the world’s largest marketplace for highly skilled professionals with a focus on strategic research and analysis. They are looking to expand further worldwide, and they’ve got the USA and Asia Pacific countries in their sights.

Advice

We asked Daniel what advice he would give friends thinking of going into business together. 'I would recommend clearly defining the roles for each person so that you both understand who is in charge of what. This eliminates any confusion and ensures that tasks get done.'

Daniel also added that persistence pays, and even if you work from home you should try to think big. 'Work on the basis of each action having maximum impact to your business and its bottom line.'

 

  

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