Acton Capital
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Acton Capital

Sustainable Investing | since 1999 | COMATCH

The COMATCH Story — New Work Order

Read how COMATCH founders Christoph Hardt and Jan Schächtele have built Europe’s leading curated marketplace for independent industry experts, shaping the future of consulting by adapting to the future of work.

Change has always been inevitable. But in an age where technology sets the pace, times are changing rapidly, globally, and irreversibly in both personal and to a greater extent professional spheres. With unlimited access to information, we are connected everywhere we go. Further fueled by a global pandemic, communicating, and collaborating around the world independently of location and physical presence has become easier and more crucial than ever. All these changes have a profound impact on the way we live, the way we think, but also the way we work; and they trigger new ideas for the way we want to work in the future.

COMATCH matches independent management consultants and industry experts with international corporates as well as consultancies, start-ups and SMEs in the need of external support. Founded 2014 in Berlin by two former McKinsey consultants and backed by Acton Capital since 2016, COMATCH has built Europe’s leading freelance marketplace in the consulting industry. Today, the company has teams in Germany, France and the UK, clients ranging from large corporations to innovative startups and a pool of 15,000 vetted strategy consultants from all over the world. In March 2022, COMATCH joined forces with the freelance community Malt from France, to establish Europe’s largest network of highly skilled freelancers that can take projects from strategy through to execution. Their combined client base is now covering 80% of publicly traded companies of the CAC40 and DAX40, matching a pool of 350,000 of freelance talent in Europe and beyond and aiming at €1 billion in business volume in 2024 (TechCrunch, 27–03-2022).

Jan Schächtele (co-founder COMATCH), Vincent Huguet (co-founder Malt), Christoph Hardt (co-founder COMATCH), Alexandre Fretti (MD Malt), image source: Malt

“How do I want to work in the future?”

After being employed at McKinsey for almost eight years, Christoph Hardt asked himself that very question long before the COMATCH launch. “When I started working there, my aim was to survive the first two years,” the co-founder of COMATCH remembers. “But it went very well, I enjoyed it there and received good feedback.” Although he kept thinking about leaving McKinsey to start his own company, time went by. “There was always something else coming up, projects I really liked.” Until one day he woke up in his hotel room in Louisville, Kentucky, and somehow realized: “I have to do something else.”

Christoph took three months of unpaid leave from McKinsey — to free his mind, or, as he says today, “to scout the situation and intensely think about founding my own business.” He then reunited with his former colleague Jan Schächtele. They had met five years previously when both were working in the Netherlands on a project for McKinsey. It was the summer of 2014, and Jan had just returned from traveling the world and renovating a farmhouse in Provence. “We talked about potential start-up ideas and COMATCH was one of them.”

COMATCH founders Christoph Hardt, Jan Schächtele, image source: COMATCH

A business idea “close to home”

The business idea was simple and “close to home”: most likely, there were other consultants out there who were tired of rat racing within the confinements of a large company and would prefer to choose for themselves how much or when or where to work. So why not offer industry clients flexible, precise, and less expensive consulting services as an alternative to large consulting companies with strict structures and high costs? In 2014, Christoph and Jan founded COMATCH, ‘The Consulting Marketplace’, a tech platform that connects companies with freelance management consultants and industry experts. The site went online in March 2015. “You register, we comatch. Fast, reliable and personal”: it all made perfect sense — modern, cost-efficient, and flexible. Exactly what the “future of work” is supposed to be.

“Today, ‘future of work’ is quite fashionable as a buzzword, but back then hardly anybody was familiar with the term,” says Sebastian Wossagk, Managing Partner at Acton Capital. “Though we later added other ‘future of work’ start-ups like zenjob or expertlead to our portfolio, COMATCH was our first investment in the sector.” Acton hypothesized that the industry’s demand for independent specialists and consultants was going to grow, a trend soon to be known as the ‘expert economy’: a little-known, high-growth sector, made up of networks that connect specialists with companies that need them.

“Either I try to make partner, or I take the plunge.”

Add to that the shift within the consulting business towards a more independent and flexible way of working and you have a formidable business idea. “Our personal experience before Acton definitely affirms that development,” former McKinsey consultant Sebastian confirms. “In the first months at a consulting firm you have a steep learning curve, but it flattens after about one and a half years. Sooner or later, you come to a point where you have to decide either to make partner, or to take the plunge.”

Hardly surprising that the number of founders with a consulting background is above average: hundreds of entrepreneurs in Germany alone worked for McKinsey before founding a start-up. The company’s consulting style is known to be extremely analytical, detailed and structured — and COMATCH co-founder Christoph confirms: “We couldn’t do what we do without our McKinsey experience.” Even though Sebastian emphasizes that the very fact both founders are former McKinsey consultants — just as most of Acton’s team are — did not affect the final investment decision, “it was definitely helpful during the pitch that they spoke the same language and knew how to format and edit a presentation.”

In many ways, the two founders’ consulting experience would turn out to be relevant to their success as entrepreneurs — from the skills they had learned such as project management, strategic, operational, and financial analyses, defining executable and trackable milestones, scaling business, meeting deadlines as an important determinant of customer satisfaction; to their business insights and broad network. “They knew the industry inside out and could deal on a par with freelancers and clients,” says Sebastian Wossagk. “By the time we invested, COMATCH already had a high-quality consultant pool, an important strategic advantage.”

Today’s headquarter in Berlin, image source COMATCH, credits Phil Dera

“And the call was clear: YOU have to build this competence,”

Another advantage was that they were extremely down-to-earth and cost-conscious. The Acton partner vividly remembers the first time he visited the founder team in their original headquarter in Berlin, a “super shabby office with a broken fireplace and smoke damage on the walls. It was obvious that they needed to find a new place soon but, in a way, we liked to see that they were more focused on getting their business going than on having a fancy office.” Acton’s attention to detail did not go unnoticed. “Based on our interactions, we knew they were going to be ‘a pain in the ass’ sometimes, because of their very strong orientation to numbers and detail,” COMATCH co-founder Christoph laughs. “Yet we didn’t choose them despite but because of that. Needless to say, we are very happy with that decision.”

“We knew they were going to be a pain in the ass.”

Acton Capital advised COMATCH the way it advised all its portfolio companies: with a sense of proportion and a healthy growth in mind. “In this case that meant to focus on their domestic market first, then test internationalization,” Sebastian Wossagk remembers. Could the business be replicated in smaller countries before heading to complex heavyweights? France and the UK — the biggest consulting markets in Europe — were a milestone, but a stark contrast to previous markets, namely the UK, where the focus was much more on financial services. Also, there is a huge variety of consulting topics within the producing industries: supply chain, optimization of production, research processes and development, strategy, and internationalization.” The investor insisted that expansion first and foremost meant qualitatively expanding its organization and strategically establishing a sales structure. “And the call was clear: YOU have to build this competence,” Sebastian adds.

Sebastian Wossagk, Managing Partner at Acton Capital invested in COMATCH (source: Acton Capital)

The first milestones and new ways to expand

In 2016, COMATCH reached its first milestone: DACH market leadership. In the same year, the company expanded its network to the Benelux. In 2017, they added Nordic countries to their list, followed by France and the UK one year later. In early 2019, COMATCH opened its first US office in New York City. The team has been adapting to the rising demand for soft skills, such as communication abilities, creative and critical thinking, experience in leadership, problem, and conflict resolution. “Since our beginnings, we have grown to become the leading online marketplace for independent management consultants and industry experts in Europe,” Jan Schächtele says. Fueled by Covid19, COMATCH was setting up new ways of expanding and improving its pool of more than 15,000 high-profile consultants. ”Initially, the screening process primarily focused on expertise,” COMATCH-investor Sebastian Wossagk explains, “now, soft skills are playing an important part.”

COMATCH headquarter Berlin, source COMATCH, image credits: Phil Dera

This approach resonated well with the market and the mindset of Vincent Huguet and Hugo Lassiège, the co-founders of Malt. “COMATCH is a champion in the field of business consulting marketplaces.

Acquistion by Malt and plans for the future

As a fellow company that shares our “community first” approach placing our talents at the core of the product and business to our vision for the future of work”. The two French entrepreneurs founded Malt, Europe’s biggest freelancer marketplace, 2013 in Paris. With more than 320,000 freelance consultants putting their skills and expertise at the service of companies looking for external talents, Malt has built a network of more than 30,000 clients and established teams in France, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.

“Regarding the next five years, we’ve set our goals even higher.”

With COMATCH joining the Malt platform, the leadership team plans to broaden the offerings for their clients as well as growing their international community of highly skilled freelancers. Combined, the two companies already work with 80% of the CAC-40 and DAX-40 companies. Together, they aim to build Europe’s largest client network with more than 1,000 enterprises. Sebastian Wossagk: “Since both teams have managed to put together a pool of first-rate clients and talent, they can now increasingly focus on customer relationship management.” By hiring 150 new employees, the joint company plans to grow to a total head count of 600 by the end of 2022. “Together with Malt, we’ve set our goals even higher regarding the next five years”, says COMATCH-founder Christoph Hardt. “We want to become the leading access point for business expertise in Europe.” By shaping the future of consulting, COMATCH will continue to impact and evolve the way we work.

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