My life has taken a largely entrepreneurial slant after leaving BCG. Over the years, I worked as an independent consultant and as part of a series of startups, including a year-long stint as COO of a human resources technology startup. One issue kept coming up across my various engagements: hiring. Everyone had trouble with hiring, from attracting the right candidates, to identifying and assessing them, to onboarding and integration. Some had problems with specific aspects, while others struggled with the entire process.
Startups and small medium enterprises (SMEs) face the additional challenge of having nobody to turn to for help. The bulge bracket HR firms are usually too expensive, while niche consultancies may be too limited in their expertise or have a large variability in the quality of their work. This looked like a space ripe for disruption. How could we offer consistent high-quality consulting on talent attraction at a price point affordable to startups and SMEs? That led to me to found TalentKraft, a company that combines technology and the consulting toolkit to create recruiting and HR solutions that are targeted, yet cost-effective.
As an alumnus of the BCG recruiting team with over 300 interviews under my belt, I have always felt that pre-interview screening left much to be desired. Orthodox thinking often eliminates good candidates for trivial reasons, such as a typo on their CV or cover letter—I’ve certainly been guilty of doing this myself. Then having whittled the pool down to a set of immaculately formatted and impressive looking CVs, there is nothing more depressing than walking into the room and realizing within five minutes that the next forty-five minutes will be a waste of time because there are slim chances the candidate would pass the interview.
I had the idea of creating an automated test that closely mimicked the actual case interview process to provide an early indication of the candidate’s aptitude in problem solving and structured thinking. This led me to partner with a local recruiting chatbot company to create “Casey,” the case interview chatbot. Just as in a real case, Casey presents candidates with a scenario and asks them how they would go about diagnosing the problem and proposing solutions. It does so through a combination of structured questions, free-text answers, and a video summary. The net outcome is a scalable way to assess key consulting skills, such as problem structuring, business judgment, quantitative rigor, succinct communication, and beyond.
Casey can be used higher up the recruitment funnel, even at the CV-screening stage, selecting candidates based on their actual consulting ability instead of their skill in marketing themselves through a one-page life summary. Casey is consistent and objective, assessing candidates purely on their answers.
We’ve successfully piloted and validated Casey in Southeast Asia and are now in the process of rolling it out globally. Beyond consultancies, I think that such a solution would be of interest to anybody who hires for the consulting skill set, which may include strategy teams in corporate, private equity and venture capital funds, startups, and anyone who sees the value of case interviews, but lacks the time or necessary expertise on their teams to conduct them.
Our hypothesis is that you can improve outcomes by reducing reliance on human intuition and substituting it with a combination of analytics and technology. In this unprecedented global pandemic, many things that used to be dismissed as impossible are being implemented—nationwide lockdowns, entire companies working remotely, and more. Hiring someone without meeting them in person has similarly gone from impossible to inevitable, and we play our part to make this transition painless.
The BCG skill set has been invaluable in every aspect of running a startup. Many things that are obvious to an experienced consultant seem almost magical to others! I remember preparing for a major pitch, and I made the team brainstorm all the possible questions and how we would answer them. It turned out that we anticipated most of the key questions and were able to navigate them smoothly. Communication skills are another area that I use constantly in the form of live presentations, client discussions, and slide decks.
Part of the challenge is knowing when to turn it off. For example, on websites or in marketing communications, sometimes what you need is emotional language or some other way to connect to the reader.
I think everyone should give entrepreneurship a try, but only when their life circumstances permit. It is undoubtedly terrifying, yet also very satisfying. Not knowing when you will see your next paycheck is scary and hence probably not recommended for those who have a lot of liabilities! However, that feeling you get when people are willing to pay real money for a product or service you created is orders of magnitude more satisfying than it is when you sell something that already exists.