Foursquare’s Naveen Selvadurai, Craiglist’s Craig Newmark, dotcom doyenne Esther Dyson and Nassim “I see black swans” Taleb walked into a Chelsea loft. No, it’s not a lead-up to some joke about how Wall Street is drowning the tech bubble. It was the scene of a dinner party hosted by Takeout, a budding consultancy that sloughs off the dated McKinsey model–train an army of MBAs to travel around the country consulting–for a fresh look more appropriate for the digital age.
Why ask an MBA to tell you how to fix your company when you can hire someone who runs their own? Hey, it could have saved Conde Nast somewhere in the six figures. Just imagine how their troubled iPad editions would look if they’d tapped the brains behind New York’s tech scene to figure out the internet instead.
Takeout, a reference to “taking out” the status quo (and not, say, Seamless deliveries), started in London in 2007, but recently ramped up its efforts in New York. By next month, it expects 75 percent of its business to be based out of its New York office. Microsoft, Gilt Groupe’s Jetsetter, and iVillage are already clients, along with a few other big players that prefer not to be named. But the proof is in the pounds.
For a project with The Central Office of Information in the UK, Takeout brought in two young company founders–Moo.com’s Richard Moross and Moshi Monsters’ Michael Acton-Smith–to help government employees think like a start-up. The end result were ideas like “g-bay” (eBay for governments) that auctioned off unused goods and resources to other departments or the public, as well as a text messaging service that nudged citizens about paying fines and court appearances. All told, the projected saving amounted to roughly £1 billion pounds. “I wanted the intellect without the rubbish,” Alex Butler, the COI’s Transformational Strategy Director, emailed Betabeat. “This wasn’t a project about charts and fancy words.”
As for the Chelsea loft with all those bold-faced names, that belongs to Takeout’s founder, Judith Clegg, a former consultant and entrepreneur voted Top 100 Digital Powerbrokers by Wired UK. Jess Kimball, a former speechwriter for futurist Faith Popcorn (the woman the New York Times‘ once called the “Nostradamus of marketing”), was recently brought in to head up Takeout’s New York operations.
Mr. Selvaduari and the like were gathered there for a pro bono assignment that Ms. Kimball was only at liberty to describe as a project for a senior British policy staffer. In that case, it was just a one-night assignment. But that’s exactly the point, explains Ms. Kimball. By leveraging “a consortium of the smartest entrepreneurs, academics, artists, journalists, and former executives around” rather than career consultants, Takeout’s clients get access to thinkers who have no interest in a full-time gig.
“One of the things we’ve learned about smart people,” she added, “is that they tend to have so many more interests than what they picked for their career. The current economy knows how to capitalize on then, figuring out how to use people’s strengths.” Through Takeout’s associate network, some experts only work with the company a few days a year. “We’re able to offer more flexibility and intellectually interesting projects,” said Ms. Clegg. Experts are paid a fee, but Takeout is also putting in place an equity share program that gives their network a pro-rata share in the business.
As the operation expands in New York, Ms. Kimball says she wants to put the call out to all brainiacs–“basement tinkerers, big dreamers, weekend experts”–that Takeout is hiring. And if the start-up fever should infect McKinsey-types who want to leave the corporate box, Ms. Kimball sounds open to that as well. When Betabeat told her we’d mentioned the company to an MBA friend, she quickly emailed back, “Oh, fantastic! We love recovering consultants.”