Bradley Jacobs, CEO and Founder
Many professionals have the impression that only engineers and designers can become freelance consultants. It's just not true: there are millions of people across the globe consulting in sales, product, operations, marketing, legal, business development, etc. If you have good experience and a unique value-add, you can work part-time on a contract basis. Here's a story about my first project in Operations, and made over $20,000 per month.
For this story to make sense, you'll want a quick glimpse into my background. Let's start there.
- I graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Duke University
- I worked for a boutique management consulting firm called Kaiser Associates for nearly two years across a number of industries and clients, mostly doing market research, market entry analysis, and organizational alignment
- I joined Uber in May 2014, where I worked on the Rides business in Operations, managing nine markets in North Carolina (based in the DC). I built up a team, fought tooth and nail to beat Lyft (achieving 90% category position within 12 months) and eventually managed the Ops and Marketing for those nine markets for two years
- In summer of 2016, I moved over to UberEATS where I launched Miami, Florida, and Milan, Italy
- In early 2017, I moved to San Francisco to launch the Uber Freight business, and ended up managing our Carrier Operations team: a team made up of operations and data analysts aimed at automating the brokerage.
- I left Uber in October of 2018, with ambitions of starting my own business, but I wasn't sure what business I wanted to start, so I had the idea to use my experience to help other companies with their operations, and make a few bucks while I tested out start-up ideas
Now, back to the story. I started responding to LinkedIn messages - in my time at Uber, I'd get messaged from companies and recruiters asking me to interview for various Operations roles. I went back through these messages and found 12 in the most recent six months.
I was very honest in these messages: I was open to helping their company out using my Uber experience, but I wasn't looking for a full-time role at this time. See a copy of my simple message below:
My thought process was "I have no idea if this is possible, but what do I have to lose by sending a few messages and seeing what I get back."
11 of the 12 companies either didn't respond to me or told me that wouldn't work for them. One company responded positively:
I ended up interviewing with the company and eventually pitching them to have me come in as a consultant. To do this, I had to navigate a few items:
- What was I going to charge?
- What would this part-time "project" look like?
- How would I bill? Hourly? Monthly? Project-based?
- I wanted some equity in the company - how would I structure this?
Let's go in order.
1. What was I going to charge?
I worked on this for a while and ended up doing a calculation that included my previous Uber salary, benefits, stock compensation, and a conservative estimate of my hours worked. I tacked on a buffer to account for additional costs I'd have as a consultant. I ended up with $287 per hour. It sounded high to me, but I went with it.
In my proposal I pitched this, and they told me it was "a little high." Music to my ears. They asked if we could agree to $250/hr split between 90% cash and 10% equity. I agreed on the spot.
For those in a similar boat: you're looking to get to a "no." If they say yes right away, you could've gotten more.
2. What would this part-time "project" look like?
I did my best to put myself in the shoes of the company and think through how I could help them without being full-time. Their situation was they were looking to launch a food delivery marketplace using autonomous vehicles. They had the Engineering expertise, but not the Operations experience to launch a three-sided marketplace. Luckily, I did. I crafted a proposal (in the form of a Google slide presentation) that included:
a. The company's objectives
b. The company's challenges in achieving those objectives
c. How I would think about overcoming those challenges
- For their three-sided marketplace, this included customer acquisition for restaurants and eaters (they had their cars doing the deliveries as opposed to couriers), funnel conversion, their launch plan related to geography and restaurant mix, customer service, team structure and hiring priorities, overall branding and marketing, marketplace supply and demand balancing, operational processes leading to scale, and recommended product features (to name a few).
d. Compensation and the project arrangement
- This included how I'd be paid and how we'd communicate. I agreed to go onsite one day per week
3. How would I bill? Hourly? Monthly? Project-based?
Given this was my first project, I had no idea the best practices here. I wish I had. I agreed to get paid hourly, which meant I needed to keep a timesheet so they knew how much to pay me, and in that time sheet they asked me to write down what I accomplished that day. They capped my hours at 25 hours per week, with the expectation that my hours would be between 20 and 25 hours per week.
This hourly arrangement where I had to keep track in a timesheet was 1) a pain and 2) annoying given I think I'm an efficient worker, and I'm basically incentivized to work more slowly to make more money. I never agreed to an hourly project again.
4. I wanted some equity in the company - how would I structure this?
This was really tough. Given I was billing hourly, we tried to come up with what one hour was worth (in terms of shares), just like we had done with cash. We went back and forth on the value of a share between the 409a value and the latest preferred (investor) round. We ended up taking what I would normally get as an employee, and dividing by the number of hours I was expected to work (20-25 hours per week). This resulted in a number of shares per month, which vested every month.
Note: it took us months to get to this agreement, with a ton of back and forth. Knowing what I know now, I would've taken this latter approach from the beginning.
So there you have it! I was working 25 hours per week, adding meaningful value to this company, and making roughly $20,000 per month: $250 / hr paid 90% paid in cash across 22.5 hours on average per week and 4 weeks per month (250*.922.54 = $20,250).
For the contract, luckily they had a consulting template that I could use, otherwise, since Mylance didn't exist yet, I wouldn't have known where to get one.
I was really expensive for this company. They were well-funded, but it got to the point that they stopped asking me questions because my time was so expensive. So, after 3 months we renegotiated to lower my number of hours and my hourly rate in exchange for more equity. This was a tough negotiation, but I still ended up with a good deal ($187 per hour) and fewer hours, which meant more time to focus on my start-up ideas.
I ended up working with this client for a full 9 months before we parted ways, and it completely opened up my eyes to an entirely new way of working. I ended up freelance consulting for over 18 months, bringing in over $250k and learning a ton in the process, enabling me to eventually start and run Mylance.
For executing on the project itself, I clearly laid out what I would be responsible for and what I wouldn't be. I had been responsible for every unfulfilled restaurant order when I launched Miami and Milan. I didn't want to be on the hook for that here, so I told them I wouldn't be. I told them I could be reached in Slack, but I'd only be on at certain hours of the day, and I shouldn't be expected to be on call.
I set my boundaries, and I kept them.
Is there anything specifically I did to make this opportunity possible?
- I asked for it. It's as simple as that. I've gotten opportunities in my career that wouldn't have existed if I didn't ask. I asked to launch UberEATS in Miami, I asked to launch UberEATS in Europe, I asked to launch Uber Freight, and I asked for this consulting project
- I presented myself well. I clearly outlined where my experience would be helpful to the company, and I presented it in a way where they could see the value I'd bring to them. Because of this, they were willing to pay what I asked for, and it was still cheaper than bringing on someone full-time that they'd need to commit to for years. This is where I see a lot of people struggle: taking your experience and translating it into a "personal brand" that you can present to a company. This is the first part we lean into in the Mylance Bootcamp, and something you should do regardless of whether you take our Bootcamp or not
I wrote this for you to see what's possible. This opportunity didn't exist - I transformed an existing opportunity for a full-time role to make this exist. And it ended up being a transformative experience for my life.
This company had reached out to multiple folks with UberEATS experience before they reached out to me. A full-time role hadn't worked with any of them. It didn't work with me either, but I turned it into a highly profitable consulting gig.
If you still don't believe that more than just engineers and designers can consult, reach out to me at email@example.com, and maybe I'll expand your horizons.