After leaving Accenture having been in the consulting industry for nearly 30 years, I sat down and reflected on my time in the industry. My stance as a challenger and disrupter had made me realise that big consultancies had become stale and safe. The industry had become too politicised, driven by popularity votes. True consultants are not politicians – they are leaders, they ask the difficult questions and don’t just comply with the narrative of the day. Looking at the weaknesses of the big firms, I wanted to build the best consultancy – one that prides itself on being forthright, honest and creating real dialogue that forms a view. That was the catalyst for founding Elixirr in 2009.
To become the best consultancy in the world. Elixirr is straightforward and stands for something honest in an industry that has lost its true values and cause. We believe in innovation and accountability. We treat our client’s business like they’re our own and want to support them to challenge their industries, just as we are challenging our own.
No business is perfect from the start and any business journey is challenging. The first three years were a question of survival, followed by another seven + years of scaling the business. One of the biggest challenges along the way was to find the right Partners – when joining from the big firms, typically they didn’t have the entrepreneurial attributes to succeed, knowing how to ‘make markets’ or sell without a big brand reputation. A major drive in our acquisition strategy was to get the people with a disruptive and creative mindset by acquiring the smaller boutique consultancies – people who ultimately knew how to build businesses themselves.
The first landmark moment was when three friends lended me £100K each in 2009 to set up the business. There was no business plan at the time but they trusted my character and ability to create success. This was a real symbol of trust and belief which was incredibly empowering. The moment my co-founder and now CFO, Graham, took the risk and resigned from his secure job at Accenture and joined me was another milestone for me as Founder. One of the biggest moments for Elixirr was the IPO on July 9 2020 which was driven by the desire to accelerate growth into new geographies, expand our capabilities and make all of our people shareholders of the business.
The biggest challenge for an entrepreneur when building a company is to find people who are extremely talented, have an exceptional work ethic and live and breathe the values of your business. It’s easy to find intelligent people – it’s harder to find people who are passionate, honest, dedicated and fit the culture of your business. Loyalty, teamwork and a strong work ethic are key differentiators – you need people who are committed to being on that journey.
It’s critical to think carefully about where to find these people. Headhunters aren’t necessarily the right route as they don’t always find the most hungry and entrepreneurial people – it’s better to look at other firms that embody similar values to yours and then acquire those companies. Going to university career fairs could be another strategy to find young, ambitious entrepreneurial talent and invite them for Dragon Dens style tasks to identify their creativity and risk taking.
When it comes to applying innovation, it’s important not to focus on innovation for innovation’s sake. Too many people invest too much money on beanbags, beer on tap and ping pong tables, which are not necessarily conducive to innovative thinking. The best approach is to focus on the proven innovations that already exist on the market, curate them and deploy them in your business in an efficient way. That’s where the real business opportunity lies.
As a CEO and an entrepreneur, you have to be a leader and not a politician. If you spend more time on internal politics than business leadership, something is wrong. You also have to be intuitive and constantly aware of the environment around you. The world is complex and it’s not always a case of right vs wrong. You have to have sensitivity to moments but it should not change your philosophical position.
I admire Elon Musk. Although he can be irresponsible with some of his statements and visions, he’s a free thinker, doesn’t go with the status quo and is one of the most disruptive entrepreneurs today. Another is Richard Branson who builds businesses that address and solve real problems.